November 2019

The things you learn

In the winter of 1977-1978, as I was preparing for my final semester of Seminary and anticipating that I would obtain a call to serve a church, which would make me eligible for ordination, I prepared my first Ministerial Profile. The Ministerial Profile is the denomination form that serves as a resume for pastors seeking a call to a congregation. Among the standard questions on the form at the time was a request to report on your four most recent professional positions in the church. I put down my internship at the Wholistic Health Care Center and the Union Church of Hinsdale, My work as a church janitor at University Christian Church, My two summers as manager of Camp Mimanagish of the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference and my nine months as a licensed minister for pulpit supply at the Custer Community Congregational Church in Montana during my senior year of college. That was all of the professional church experience that I had. Then I submitted my profile as was the custom in our seminary to the teacher of my United Church of Christ Polity Class for his review before submitting it to the denomination for distribution. When I got my draft form back from my professor, Dr. Rooks has written across the experience page in red ink, “Are you sure you want to report your work as a janitor? They might expect you to clean the bathrooms as ‘other duties as assigned.’” At the time, I was a bit incensed, I was applying to be ordained to serve the church and if that meant cleaning up a bit, I was willing to do what I was called to do. I was wary of ministers that thought they were somehow above the people that they served and who thought that some jobs were beneath their dignity. I left the report of my work as a church janitor in my profile. It worked. We received a call to begin our ministry serving the Reeder and Hettinger, North Dakota congregations, a position that we held for the next seven years. It was a great beginning to our ministry.

Over the years, by the way, I have cleaned a lot of bathrooms. I’ve cleaned up after toilets overflowed and I’ve plunged clogged toilets. I’ve cleaned up after children, and I suspect adults, have had “accidents” in the bathroom. I’ve scrubbed toilets and walls and floors. I’ve also moved furniture, installed new shingles, replaced siding, caulked windows, painted walls, hauled out garbage and recycling, and escorted vagrant people, curious children, stray cats and dogs and a couple of birds out of church buildings. I even chased away a marauding bear, but that was during my time as a camp manager before I was ordained.

Along the way, I’ve learned to do a lot of jobs that require skills that aren’t taught in seminary. I know how to fire up a boiler, pull Cat5 and Cat6 ethernet cables, install phones, administer a database, update computer software, split firewood and change the tire on a trailer.

For the record, my theological education did not include any classes in computer network installation and maintenance. There were virtually no computers in churches when we began our ministry. I did help our first parish purchase an electric typewriter and a photocopy machine. I did learn how to run a spirit duplicator and a mimeograph machine. I’m pretty good at replacing typewriter ribbons and cleaning type. My seminary had no classes on kitchen appliance maintenance or lawn and tree care. I have no professional expertise in forming budgets or accounting procedures.

There is a fair amount of learning on the job that occurs when you choose to become a minister. What I’m saying is that my job isn’t all preaching and teaching and reading books and leading discussions and making pastoral calls. There’s a fair amount of basic administration, personnel management, building maintenance and other work that ends up on my desk from time to time.

Which is why I know how to properly install the lower spray arm of a Hobart Commercial Dishwasher. I didn’t take a class. I just learned it from doing what needed to be done. I mention that particular task because our church’s dishwasher quit on the crew washing dishes three weeks ago. We called the Hobart Company who sent out a technician who said that the problem wasn’t the machine but the fact that there was no pressure gauge on the water line. We called the congregation’s mechanical contractor who sent a plumber who installed the pressure gauge. The Hobart repair man came back and said the pressure was too low. I told him that it now had a pressure adjustment that was installed with the new gauge. He claimed that it would not work. We had the plumber come back. He thought the problem might be the hot water heater, which was a brand that his company does not sell and he thought might be suspect. Since we have plenty of hot water in the building, I questioned his diagnosis, but we sought to find a way to get that checked out.

Meanwhile time is passing with the dishwasher not available to the congregation. We have a pot luck lunch coming up in tow weeks, panic is starting to set in.

Last night a couple of us put our heads to gather and took another look at everything. We found out that we have plenty of hot water and that there is more than the required amount of pressure for the dish washer. I also discovered that the lower spray arm of the dishwasher was not installed properly. I reinstalled it and ran the dishwasher, which cleaned the dishes we put into the machine. It turned out that the machine wasn’t completely repaired, however. The top spray arm is not rotating or spraying. But I am left with a dilemma. Do I call the Hobart repair man again after he has proven that he doesn’t even know how to properly install the lower spray bar? What would convince me that he knows more about the upper spray bar than the lower one?

The entire process reminds me once again of how many people bring only a narrow set of skills to work with them. The dishwasher repair man doesn’t do plumbing. The plumber doesn’t repair dishwashers. They can blame each other out of any unsolved problem. And we sit with a dysfunctional machine and don’t know who to call.

I wonder if there is a class in commercial dishwasher repair that I could take. I think I’ll check YouTube.

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!

Addicted to incarceration

Our community has two facilities that are designed for the incarceration of people who have committed crimes. Our county jail, which also houses prisoners for the state and federal court systems, is a large facility with many state of the art features. It is perpetually full, in part because it is also used to house those who have been charged with crimes as they await trial. Another facility, specifically designed to detain youth aged 11 to 20 also is a part of our community. This facility also houses local, state and federal detainees. Both are fully accredited facilities and a great deal of time and money has been invested in making sure that they comply with all of the regulations regarding detaining individuals. Both employ fairly large numbers of guards, control room operators, nurses, and other workers. In addition, the juvenile facility has a fully-functioning school with teachers who work under the administrative umbrella of the local school district.

The original idea of keeping a person confined to a single building or set of buildings was not itself considered to be punishment for crimes. Prior to the 18th century, most crimes were punished by corporal punishment. The concept was that if you caused a person physical pain such as being beaten with a whip, the person would be deterred from future similar behavior. The most serious crimes were punished by death. Prisons didn’t need to be very large because they were designed for temporary housing until punishment could be completed.

A British philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, was opposed to the death penalty and created the concept of a prison that itself would be the punishment for a crime. His concept was that if people were kept isolated in an austere setting they would be forced to contemplate the error of their ways. His ideal of a penitentiary, or a place for penance, included isolating inmates from each other and from the guards. If a detainee did not know how many guards were in the facility and if they didn’t know when they were being directly watched and when they were not, they would become peaceful because of the threat of overwhelming force.

By the 19th century prison were being built for the sole purpose of housing inmates. Those who were sent to prison and stripped of their freedom were no longer able to commit crimes and thus the facility deterred crimes by locking people up. From that time, there have been intense debates about whether or not prisons serve to reform those who have committed crimes. Some people feel that fear of being locked up deters crimes. Some believe that the experiences in prison can help to reform criminals and make them less likely to commit other crimes.

Most of the corrections officers I know are convinced that despite the programs of social and psychological examinations, educational programs and other opportunities offered by corrections facilities, those who are incarcerated run a very high rate of recidivism. They often expect to see those who are freed from incarceration to return at some point in the future.

I am certainly no expert when it comes to incarceration. I am merely a chaplain to those who serve in corrections facilities. What I do know is that incarceration is not an effective treatment for addiction and our facilities are filled with people who have various kinds of addictions.

I realize that there aren’t many people in our community who want to discuss the philosophy of anything, let alone the philosophy of incarceration, but our facilities are full of people whose crimes are the result of addiction. In South Dakota consumption of a controlled substance is a crime and you can be convicted of possession by consumption. That means that there are people in our jail facilities whose crime was not something over which that person had control, but something that was beyond their capacity to control. Addicts do not have the capacity to control their addictions. It is not a choice. Addicts are aware that their addiction is causing them harm, but they are powerless to stop the behavior. The cause of addiction is not a series of bad choices, even though addiction may come after a series of bad choices. The cause of addiction is pain. People experience trauma. They seek pleasure to counter the pain in their lives. Some of the pleasures they find cause tremendous harm to themselves and others. And they cannot escape their addictions.

A common example of this is methamphetamine addiction. For most users, the initial use of the stimulant produces the most intense “high” that they will ever experience with the drug. From that point forward they continue to seek that intense pleasure but it eludes them. The intense pain and depression that follows the drug, however, persists. They take more of the substance to try to drag themselves out of the hole of withdrawal that follows the drug. The cycle continues and they do not have the capacity to “choose” to stop. The pain is too intense. Some meth addicts can become temporarily detoxed by incarceration. If we lock them up without access to the drug they do get some of the effects out of their system. The underlying pain, however, remains and as soon as they are released from incarceration they seek more of the substance in a hopeless effort to end the pain.

There is, however, a societal appeal of removing people with intense problems from public view. Locking them up in jails and prisons is one way of removing them from sight. However, when we don’t solve the underlying problems, the problems increase. The number of people who are incarcerated continues to increase. Here in South Dakota we have roughly 25,000 people or about 3 percent of our population locked in prisons and jails. The crime rate in South Dakota is below the national average, but our incarceration rate is nearly twice the national average. The more we lock people in facilities, the more we need to lock them in facilities. Our social problem functions exactly like an addiction.

Building more jails and prisons will not solve our problem. If we could realize that, we might develop more compassion for those whose addictions can’t be solved by obtaining more of the substance they abuse.

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!

Technology

A few decades ago, when my parents were still alive, I don’t think I would have been able to predict how cell phones would transform certain aspects of our life. My father-in-law was one of the first adopters of the new technology, when a mobile phone was a fairly large case that you carried in your car and required a special antenna to be installed. We borrowed that bag phone when we came to Rapid City on our house hunting tour in 1995. A few years later, I got a flip phone to help the office staff find me. I spend quite a bit of time out and about in the community, calling on folks and making visits in a variety of settings. Having the cell phone gave the office a way to get messages to me. Before long, I had become quite addicted to the technology, carrying my phone with me nearly everywhere I went. Years passed, phones become more capable, and these days, I grab my phone as I wake in the morning and it is a nearly constant companion throughout my day.

What I don’t think I expected was how much we would use our phones for things besides talking to folks. Yesterday, I was with another grandparent and we were exchanging views of our grandchildren by scrolling through the photos on our phones. We were passing around the phones and admiring each other’s grandchildren. It probably isn’t significantly different from the old wallet photos we used to cary of loved ones, but our photos are much more up to date. I receive new photos of my grandchildren nearly every day. With children and grandchildren living so far away it is a definite treat for me.

It isn’t just that we receive more pictures, however. We also take more pictures. I a barista adds an extra d to the spelling of my name, I’m likely to snap a picture and send it to a family member. When I see something that catches my eye, I get out my phone and take a picture. The current generation of smart phones has meant that I nearly always have a camera available. Using my phone doesn’t afford the same focus and concentration as using my camera, and I’m more likely to take a photo that is less well framed and less artistically appealing than I am with my camera, but the advantage of the phone is that it is constantly available and the photos I take with my phone aren’t all that bad. The resolution of the digital photography from my phone is about the same as my good DSLR camera.

I remember years ago I was amazed by a Minox camera. The subminiature camera used 16mm film and was tiny. You slid the outer case to the right and exposed the shutter and lens. It was the stuff of a spy movie. I don’t remember seeing any spectacular pictures taken with the camera. It was more of a novelty. I know that lighting was an issue for the tiny device. It was a relic of the Second World War in terms of technology, but the miniature camera was still a fascinating device. The cameras we carry in our cell phones are much smaller, much better and many provide artificial lighting.

Another device that struck me as interesting when I was a youth came directly from the comic pages in the newspaper. Dick Tracy had a two-way wrist radio. He could talk into the watch-like device and receive messages on it as well. We had portable radios that we used in our family’s business. They were very expensive, fairly fragile and bulky. You could clip one to your belt, but you had to extend a metal antenna that was very prone to being broken and they didn’t seem to work in many of the places whee we wanted to use them. I thought the device that Dick Tracy used would be a marvel of the future. Like a flying car, it was something that didn’t exist in real life, but something that someone might develop some day.

I doubt that i could have imagined the watch that I wear today. It has a digital assistant. I can talk to it and ask it to display certain information. It receives email messages and even works as a telephone. It is brand new to me, a purchase made in response to our recent issues with heart rhythm. It acts as a heart rate and rhythm monitor and we can check our heart rate at any time by touching an icon on the screen. The device, however, has far more capability than we’ve learned to use.

I can’t help but think how much my father would have loved this futuristic devices that we have. He loved the simple calculators and computers that were available when he was living. He purchased many different generations of communications radios. We had a basement full of devices that were purchased, used and then put away when the next latest one appeared. I’m pretty sure that he would have been an early adopter of modern digital technologies had he lived to see the devices.

What is clear to me is that the changes and advances in technology are occurring so quickly that I have no ability to predict which technologies I will be using a few years from now. I have wondered if driverless cars will avoid that awkward conversation with my children when it is time for me to quit driving. There are devices that appear in fiction - in movies and on television that we don’t yet have. There is no such thing as a teleport that can instantly move a human being from one place to another. That, however, would be a great technology for grandparents. We could beam ourselves to a kindergarten graduation or a birthday party and be home for dinner.

When that time comes, I probably won’t have the money to purchase the device. I will have spent all my money on gadgets that are currently available. It is, however, fun to imagine what might be coming.

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!

OK Boomer

I came of age during the Vietnam War. That pretty much makes me a boomer. I fit into the definition of that generation of people. When we were teens we first heard the phrase “Generation Gap.” It was a reference to a difference in opinions and beliefs between youth and their parents and grandparents. My own experience, however, didn’t bear out much that was a gap. I was close to my parents and as I entered my teens and young adult years, my parents were very supportive of me. I was a very opinionated young adult. I spoke out and was quick to argue over my opinions and beliefs. I did not, however experience conflict with my family. Sometimes it did seem that there were some older people in our church and in the community who didn’t seem to “get it” when it came to certain beliefs and political positions, but inside of our family, I felt like we could communicate and support one another. That didn’t mean that we always agreed. We were arguers. We debated at the dinner table. My brother who is closest to me in age and I had some intense arguments during your late teens and twenties. I did not feel, however, that we were dismissed or ignored by our parents. They listened to our ideas. This was true of other elders in our extended family. There was always respect for the opinions of others even when there was not agreement. I can remember some fairly complex arguments with uncles and cousins. Describing the relationships in our family as a generation gap, however, didn’t make sense. We’ve always had some pretty left-wing elders and some pretty right-wing young people in our family. And we have plenty of opinions that fall on a wide spectrum in every age cohort. My father an my uncle didn’t agree on much, but they knew that they were family and that they would be seeing each other often.

I never suffered from the generation gap. And I have yet to receive an email, text or social media post with the phrase, “OK Boomer!” I know about the phrase because it is hard to escape some articles about it. The BBC, which is pretty much a boomer news source has had several articles talking about the phenomenon. A 25-year-old New Zealand politician made headlines in her country for using the phrase in parliament when and older lawmaker interrupted her speech on climate change.

I suppose that there have been, in ever generation, people who become entrenched in their ideas and ways of life and others who challenge that entrenchment. It is fairly easy to find legitimate criticisms of the decisions and lifestyles some of the people my age have chosen. We have, so far, proven ourselves to be ineffective at solving some major problems such as income inequality, global climate change and racial injustice. It isn’t that we don’t care, but rather that as a generation, we have been unwilling to give up on ideas such as continual growth. We seek lives of comfort instead of making sacrifices for future generations.

One of the changes in the church over the span of my career has been a shift in the value of experience. When I began my career, I was advised by a trusted colleague to go to a small church and gain several years experience before applying for another job. The common wisdom is that those who wanted to serve in larger congregations or in Conference or national church positions needed to have experience in a variety of different local congregations in preparation for those roles. Somewhere in the span of my working the general opinion of that has shifted. Different size congregations have different leadership needs and specialized ministries such as Conference or denominational work have specialized skill sets. And youth and enthusiasm have become highly valued commodities in the marketplace for ministers. Congregations and Conferences alike seek younger leaders. This may have something to do with a decrease in the number of people entering the ministry as a first career. Whatever the reason, we have seen younger ministers assume roles that once were considered to be at or near the “top of the ladder.”

From my point of view this has not been a negative thing for he church. Over the years I’ve witnessed enough incompetence and poor job performance from people who are middle aged to know that the ability to do a job well is not the possession of a single generation. And I have enjoyed the energy and leadership of younger colleagues. It is true, however, that I have not personally suffered in any way from the younger generation of leaders. I’ve never failed to get a job because a younger person got it. I’ve had a career path that has been rich in meaning for me and have not faced barriers that others have avoided.

I do, however, have a sense that the time is coming for me to step aside and allow others to move into some of the positions I hold. I don’t worry much about the congregation I serve. It is a wonderful and healthy congregation and it will seek leadership that is appropriate for the next steps in its history. I do, however, worry about some of the volunteer organizations in which I am active. I don’t see younger people stepping up to do the work that our generation has done and is doing. I am active in several organizations where young people are scarce in the pool of volunteers. Habitat for Humanity, for example, has plenty of young employees, but few young volunteers. And the young people who do volunteer tend to give smaller portions of their time than the older volunteers. I understand that they have busy lives and that they don’t have the luxury of time that some of us older folks have, but I’m still working full time and I have always felt that volunteering is an essential calling on top of my regular work schedule. Sometimes I wonder if the next generation will rise to the challenge of volunteerism.

Then I think, “OK Boomer.” It might just be time for me to step aside and allow new leadership to emerge.

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!

The weather outside

I remember the year we moved to North Dakota. I would go down to the cafe in town and have coffee with a few of the ranchers and local businesspeople. The conversation ranged from polite to weather to sports. It was a good way to get a feel for the community and to connect with the issues that were most important to those I served. After several months, or perhaps more than a year, I came home one day and commented to my wife, “No weather around here is typical.” It didn’t seem to matter what occurred, the talk at the coffee shop was that this was “unusual weather for us.” If it was hot, it was unusual. If it was cold, it was unusual. After I started paying attention, I became convinced that it was the way the locals talked about the weather. “It doesn’t normally get this cold and stay cold for a long time.” “Usually our summers are milder than this one.”

I sort of understand that way of thinking, especially this year in South Dakota. The series of spring blizzards we experienced last spring was surprising to me, even after 25 years of living her and a lot of spring blizzards. And the wild swings in weather this fall have surprised me as well. On Saturday, we were unloading firewood in our shirtsleeves and enjoying being outside. On Sunday afternoon, I was trying to scrape the ice off the windshield of my car in a raging snowstorm. By last night, the snow was deep enough that I had to be careful to get the car into the driveway. This morning I’ll be blowing 6 inches of fresh snow out of the driveway.

The forecast calls for temperatures in the 50’s tomorrow.

It isn’t just us. I’ve been reading about the bushfire crisis in Australia. At least three people have died. More than 150 homes have been destroyed and the fires are raging to intensely that officials are warning of catastrophic danger. New South Wales and Queensland have been experiencing hotter and drier weather this spring than typical.

But I also have friends who live in Melbourne. Victoria is facing the coldest spring in more than a decade with the mountains just north of town covered in snow and antarctic cold bringing rain, gusty winds and hail across the state. The cold front crossing the state is bringing thunderstorms and flood watches.

Sydney’s forecast calls for a “hot, dry and dangerous day.” Melbourne’s calls for “chilly weather, strong winds and the possibility of snow in higher elevations.”

It is springtime in Australia.

All of the extremes in weather prompts conversation about climate change, but the science behind climate change is complex. It isn’t as simple as blaming climate change for the extremes in weather currently being experienced. Attributing the cause of a specific event to climate change is probably not accurate. Climate change can, however, be used to predict some general trends and patterns in weather. It is not my area of expertise and there are many who are far more competent than I to comment on the global climate crisis.

In the meantime, I’m thinking that people have always been fascinated by the weather. I’m also thinking that the weather continues to be able to surprise us even with all of the advanced technologies and weather prediction models that we have.

I remember when we used to call a flight service station for weather forecasts before going on a trip in an airplane. The forecasts were fairly general and it was a challenge to get the specific information needed to make a safe decision. These days we have applications on our phones that show the latest doppler radar and illustrate the cloud cover in real time. We have more tools for predicting what the weather will be, and yet we are still capable of being surprised by it.

The shifts from warm to cold to warm that we are experiencing this week have so far been fairly accurately forecast by meteorologists. We knew that the snow was coming when we were enjoying the warm weather on Saturday. And I know that warm weather is coming as I prepare to clear the snow from my driveway this morning. Even an accurate forecast doesn’t keep us from feeling a bit amazed at the weather we are experiencing.

Maybe it is just like the coffee shop in North Dakota four decades ago. There is no such thing as typical weather. All of it is unusual.

There is some evidence that while most of the human-caused pollution that is affecting the global climate has come from places in the northern hemisphere, the most severe effects of climate change are being experienced in the southern hemisphere. Whether or not this will become a continuing trend is uncertain, but what is clear is that we are all connected on this planet. What occurs in one place has effects in another.

What is abundantly clear is that there is always some kind of weather-related disaster going on somewhere in the world. Our access to real-time news means that we are constantly aware of extreme weather events. I’m continually amazed that nursing homes leave television sets tuned to the weather channel. The television might be reporting wildfires in Australia and a cyclone in India, or flooding in the UK, but the residents don’t always process the location of the news that is bing broadcast. They look out the window and see clouds and wonder whether or not the flooding will affect them. They see a reporter standing in high winds and wonder whether or not there is a tornado heading for their location. More than once I’ve suggested that a care facility turn the channel on their television - or just turn it off.

So, if you’re new the Black Hills, welcome, and don’t worry about the snow outside. Our weather isn’t usually like this in November - except when it is.

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!

The fancy Italian dinner

I don’t think I have any amount of Norwegian ancestry. At least the ancestors we know come from German and English roots for the most part. I have some relatives who have really gotten into studying genealogy and there is quite a bit of information available, but I’ve never made much of study of my ancestors beyond great-great grandparents or so.

I did, however, grow up in a community that had a lot of Norwegian families. Norsemen from Greenland were probably the first Europeans to reach North America. Leif Erickson reached America via Norse settlements in Greenland around the year 1000. The wave of immigration to the areas where I have lived, however, came as a result of a variety of agricultural and natural disasters that created famine in the Norse countries in the last half of the 19th century. The attempt to form a union between Norway and Sweden never worked out the way people wanted and in 1895 ongoing tensions between Sweden and Norway resulted in a retreat of Norwegians from Sweden in 1895 and sparked a new wave of immigration to America.

Our children were both pretty blond, blue eyed and fair skinned and fit right into the community with a lot of Norwegians where we lived in North Dakota. North Dakota welcomed nearly 70,000 Norwegian settlers between the 1880 census and the 1900 census. This wave of immigration corresponded to the settlement of the county where we lived in North Dakota. I used to joke that we raised our children on the Norwegian Reservation in North Dakota. It was a culture with which I was familiar because the town where I grew up in Montana also had plenty of Norwegians. So when I moved to South Dakota, I had heard a lot of the Ole and Lena jokes that had been so carefully collected by the pastor of the Lutheran Church on the west side of town. I don’t know if I ever succeeded in telling him one that he hadn’t previously heard, but we exchanged quite a few. Rapid City has a reproduction of the famous Burgundy Stavkirke known as Chapel in the Hills. It reminds me of the chapel in Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot, North Dakota.

So it is with a bit of caution that I make a report on the activities in my home town. Friday night was the big Italian Dinner in the town where I grew up. It is an annual fund-raising event for the Episcopalian Church. I’ve never attended the dinner, but it is a kind of big deal to the people who work hard to serve a nice dinner to their friends and neighbors. But when I think of my home town, I don’t think of Italian dinners. So here is a scenario from my imagination that has no bearing on the actual event.

The committee got together to plan the meal there was Lars Larson and Olie Olson and Pete Peterson and Swen Swenson. And, of course their wives, Olga, Oola, Uma and Helga. Olie says they should start with a salad, so there is much discussion about what an Italian salad would be like. Pete thought that he saw some Genoa Salami in the Costco the last time he went to the city, so he said he would bring some. They could cut it into little chunks and add it to a regular salad with lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Pete said that what they needed was some black olives, so Uma agreed to get a can when she went to the grocery store. “Might better get two or three cans,” said Lars. “You never know how many people will show up.

They decided that spaghetti was served too often at Italian dinners in the past, so they planned to get some rotelli pasta. Oola was pretty sure she saw some that was multi colored at Walmart and it is only 60 miles to get there. They could pick some up. Of course tomato sauce is easy to come by with all of the tomatoes from the gardens that have been canned at the end of the summer. Each family has rows of jars in their basement filled with canned tomatoes. “You got to have cheese for it to be Italian,” says Swen. Maybe we could melt some Velveta and pour it on top. “No,” responded Helga. You need Parmesan cheese.” “I thought Parmesan was French,” responded Swen. “That shows what you know,” Helga said. “Parma is a city in Italy and it is where Parmesan cheese comes from.” “How we gonna get that stuff? I bet it is expensive,” Swen said. “You can buy it in big green cans from Kraft,” she responded. Swen conceded that the Parmesan cheese would be just fine.

“So what do Italians have for dessert?” Pete wanted to know. “You know,” Olga said, “We once ate in a fancy Italian restaurant and had a fancy dessert called Tiramisu. I wish I had a recipe for that.” Uma remembered eating the same stuff once, but she didn’t have a recipe either. “How hard can it be to make something like that?” she said. “I bet I can come up with a recipe.”

So they served a fancy Italian Dinner in the basement of the Episcopalian Church. Everyone had a good time and even though there was the same salami in the salad and int he pasta dish, which also sported olives, a good time was enjoyed by all of the participants. And a lot of people asked for the recipe for Uma’s tiramisu, so I thought I’d pass it on to you:

First you take a sheet of lefse. Spread some butter on it and then sprinkle hot chocolate mix on the butter. Then take a piece of Grandma Lena’s Rum Cake and put in on the lefse. Put a dab of cool whip on the rum cake. Sprinkle generously with Folger’s coffee crystals. Add another piece of lefse on top and smash the whole thing down. Cut into squares. Add a dab of cool whip and a bit more hot chocolate mix on the top.

Trust me, Grandma Lena’s Rum Cake is so good and so laced with Rum that no one complains after eating it.

I make no claim to the accuracy of the events reported in this journal entry.

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!

Two types of treatment

18 years ago I suffered burns on my hands, arms, chest and face in an accident. The burns were mostly superficial, 1st and 2nd degree, but the area was fairly large. After being treated in the emergency room, I spent the night at the home of my in laws. The next morning, having failed to drink enough water, I was dehydrated and I fainted. When I regained consciousness, we returned to the emergency room. I was a middle-aged, slightly overweight male who was experiencing lightheadedness. The response was nearly instant. I was plopped in a wheelchair, rushed to a treatment room, loaded on a gurney, fitted with leads to a heart monitor, given a pulse oximeter, hooked up to oxygen and within ten minutes of arriving at the emergency room there was a cardiologist at my bedside. I remembered the quick response and care at the end of September when my wife was admitted to the hospital in AFib. We didn’t have to wait in the waiting room. We were rushed into a treatment room and quickly began to receive life-saving treatment.

If you have symptoms of heart disease and arrive at an emergency room they don’t mess around. They also have all of the necessary emergency equipment and personnel with special training to respond to your condition. You get to see a doctor who has extensive specialized training in the treatment of heart disease. There are crash carts filled with all of the equipment and medicines needed to make a quick response to a heart attack.

There are a few simple questions which emergency rooms and hospital triage departments ask to determine a person’s risk of heart attack. As soon as they have a general sense that a heart attack may have occurred or might be about to occur they know exactly how to respond.

The response stands in stark contrast to another experience I have had in a hospital emergency room. I was with a person who was experiencing thoughts of suicide. In fact he was so suicidal that I didn’t dare leave him alone. I accompanied him to the emergency room because I didn’t know where else to obtain help and I knew I was up against a situation I couldn’t handle on my own. We were asked a few questions by an admitting clerk and then spent the next couple of hours waiting to be seen. The patient was taken to a triage area where blood pressure, temperature, and other vital signs were assessed. No one in that area asked any questions about mental health or thoughts of suicide. Eventually the patient was seen by an emergency room doctor who wrote a prescription before ordering the discharge of the patient.

Death from suicide in the United States has been on a steady climb for the last 20 years. The rate has increased 33% nation wide since 1999. We lose more than 47,000 people to suicide each year in our nation. The increase in the rate is steepest among teenagers. Suicide is now the leading cause of death among adolescents in our state.

Every patient who presents to a hospital emergency room receives a simple screening for heart disease. Blood pressure and blood oxygen are tested. The patient is asked about chest pain, light headedness and other common symptoms of heart disease. It would be even simpler to screen all emergency department admissions for suicidal thoughts. “Have you ever had thoughts of suicide or attempted to harm yourself?” That question isn’t a perfect screening question but a new study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School reported that the question increased the number of people who were treated by psychiatrists or given other suicide prevention resources increased by 90%. The effectiveness of simple suicide screening is so apparent that it is require of physicians who expect reimbursement from medicare for the treatment of patients.

Emergency rooms, however, are still not employing universal suicide screening procedures. The reason is not that they are ignorant of the latest research. The reason is not that they do not care. It is that they lack the resources to treat those suffering from suicidal ideation. While every emergency room is equipped with personnel and equipment to render life saving care to those suffering from heart disease. Most emergency rooms don’t have the resources to treat acute mental illness. They can get a cardiologist within minutes. They might not be able to get a psychiatrist within 24 hours.

Think about that for a minute. In South Dakota’s largest cities, the emergency rooms in our hospitals do not have the resources to treat the leading cause of death among our teenagers.

If a teen suffers from cancer, the community holds fund-raising and awareness events. If a teen is injured in an accident, we all go to work to insure the best possible treatment. When a teen suffers from mental illness, the stigma is so great that we don’t talk about it. The teen and the family are unsure if they can talk about their problem with their family, friends and church.

Emergency departments will tell you that they find it harder to get reimbursed for mental health treatment. Physical ailments result in payments. Mental health issues often result in the hospital having to swallow the cost.

I have decided that I will no longer support that stigma. I will not go silent or use euphemisms when talking about death from suicide or acute mental illness. When we lose members of our community to suicide I refuse to be silent about the cause of death. When I officiate at a funeral, I treat mental illness as a fatal disease in the same way that I treat cancer or heart disease. I speak out loud.

And when I take someone to the emergency room, I will advocate for proper treatment and intervention. A simple two-day training program can equip people to make emergency interventions for suicidal thoughts and behavior. Every emergency room technician is trained in CPR, which often does not work. ASIST suicide prevention training has been shown to be nearly 80% effective. A simple safety plan of making sure the patient knows who to call when suicidal situations arise, including mental health providers and crisis lines; limiting access to lethal means such as guns or poisonous materials; and a few additional practical steps have been proven to be lifesaving measures.

We can do better. We can save lives.

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 hosptial thoughts

I’ve learned a lot of things in the past couple of months that I had not previously known. We visit in hospitals a lot, so I thought that I had quite a bit of familiarity with the setting. But having a family member hospitalized for a couple of weeks teaches you quite a bit that is easy to miss when you are a visitor. For example our hospital provides recliners in each room. They are fairly comfortable and it is quite possible to sleep in the chairs and hospital staff provide pillows and blankets for family members who want to spend the night. They are good about offering coffee and water and other amenities. The hospital has a good cafeteria and you can order a tray to be sent up to the room if you don’t want to leave the room. The prices are very reasonable and the food is pretty good. A hospital, however, is a busy place and even for the patients, who are now often referred to as “guests” in hospital literature, there are lots of interruptions to sleep. Medications are delivered on a precise schedule regardless of the time of day. Lab tests and other diagnostic events are scheduled around the clock. Vital signs must be checked regularly. If you are visiting a loved one and have settled into the recliner, you’ll be awakened often during the night. However, if you are visiting a loved one, you don’t mind that part of the experience. You want to be alert enough to pay attention to the one for whom you have come. Periodic checks throughout the night are reassuring.

Here is something that I learned. When it comes to visitors, fewer visitors and short visits are the best. As a pastor, I often feel that I need to rush to the hospital to see those who are receiving treatment and that I need to make frequent visits so that they know of the love and support of the congregation. There were a couple of pastors who visited us who knew how to make short visits, but there were some other visitors, whose visits were exhausting. The same was true of doctors and nurses. All have bee trained to seek questions from patients. Some know how to provide concise answers. Others spend a lot of time talking when they are visiting.

I think I’ve developed more empathy that can be helpful when visiting in the hospital in the future.

After several days of spending most of my time at the hospital, I was telling family members that when I retire, if I am looking for something to do, I could become a hospital volunteer. The thing I’d like to do is to get some glasses cleaning equipment and go around the hospital cleaning glasses. Patients take their glasses off a lot and they get fingerprints on them. Staff members handle fluids and other things and their glasses are constantly dirty. Visiting family members haven’t been paying attention to maintaining their eyewear. A hospital is full of glasses that need to be cleaned. I think one could start at the top of our hospital and clean glasses all the way down and when you got to the bottom it would be time to start at the top again. You’d probably go through a lot of glasses cleaning fluid and clean cloths.

Speaking of cloth, a hospital goes through an enormous amount of laundry. Sheets and pillow cases and blankets have to be changed frequently. When a patient is cold, they simply pile on more blankets. At one point, I was counting how many blankets there were in a single room. I lost count, distracted by something else, but there were a lot more than you’d find in a typical bedroom. The nurses know where the linen closets are and they keep bringing in more and more. Once, I asked for a blanket and the aide brought me three. The people who work in the laundry have good job security.

I spend a fair amount of time with law enforcement officers. Most of them have really good flashlights. There are some new devices that put out a lot of light and aim it isn a concentrated pattern. The love of flashlights hasn’t taken hold in the hospital. When they need light, they turn on the room lights, regardless of the time of day. I think a flashlight would be a handy device when delivering a single pill in the middle of the night, but I didn’t see any of them in the hospital.

For an institution that treats some of the effects of our society’s over-consumption of caffeine, they sure have a lot of coffee. I was offered coffee again and again. Even when I was visiting in the cardiac intensive care unit, hospital staff offered me coffee multiple times each hour. Since I no longer drink coffee, I also know that it is very easy to get a glass of water. I also had a couple of tea bags in my backpack and hot water was easy to obtain. This wasn’t in the hospital, but I had a diagnostic test at a medical clinic this week. Among my instructions was that I was to be careful to have no caffeine for 24 hours prior to the procedure. The instructions were specific: no coffee or tea, no decaffeinated beverages, including herbal teas, no chocolate, nothing with caffeine. The minute my procedure was completed they asked me if I wanted coffee or a soda. It was at that point that it struck me that I was the oldest person in the room. Hospitals and medical facilities are staffed by people who are young. Their energy and mental acuity are good qualities for those who offer care, but I suspect that they abuse their bodies as much as I did when I was that age. I’m learning a lot about moderation - and a lot about things I can live without - that I didn’t know when I was their age.

Since we’ve had such a good outcome from our treatment in the hospital, I think that it was a good experience for me to learn a bit more. Maybe I should take some chocolates to the nurse’s stations at the hospital - then again chocolate is laced with caffeine. Maybe I’ll just offer to clean their glasses - then again they’re so young not many of them wear glasses.

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!

Cody the wonder dog

Since my wife’s hospitalization in October, we have had a constant stream of guests in our house. Our son arrived the day that she was moved to the ICU. Her sister and my sister were not far behind him. Her other sister came. A week later our daughter and grandson came for a visit. I have joked with friends that the sisters don’t believe that I am competent. For most of the time since Susan’s hospitalization, there has been either my sister or one of Susan’s sisters in our home helping with every kind of care and household chore imaginable. Our freezer has filled up with delicious food. Grocery shopping, laundry and routine housekeeping have been done. Meals are prepared and dishes done with less participation from me than usual. It has all worked very smoothly and I am deeply grateful for the dedicated and generous support of family.

Among the guests in our home at present is Cody, my sister’s Australian Shepherd. He is a wonderfully smart and energetic dog, who loves to play. He has more patience for throwing and retrieving a ball than I. I throw the ball a dozen or more times and he remains eager to chase and retrieve after I’ve become bored with the game and am eager to move on to other tings. He is a polite guest, knowing his place to lie down and he sleeps through the night without waking us.

This morning when the snowplow made its way up our street there were two warning barks from Cody and that was it. He was quiet after he made sure we were aware that there was a truck working on our street. His response to the garbage and recycling trucks is quite different, however. Monday is our regular garbage day and Cody seems to be worked up all day long. Whenever there is a garbage truck in our subdivision, even if it is blocks away, Cody is at the window barking. If we let him out on his cable, he will run to the end of the cable and bark until he is hoarse.

When he is at his home there is a haul road at the top of the hill. The garbage truck makes several trips along that road on its way to and from the transfer station. Cody gets his exercise by running parallel to the road at the bottom of the hill, back and forth, barking at the garbage truck. It seems to be a regular part of his exercise and activity. Since my sister lives on a place with several acres, he has room to run and since he is at the bottom of the hill and the trucks are at the top, there is no danger to him for chasing them.

He also has a thing for the UPS and Fedex trucks. They get quite a vocal greeting from the dog whenever they drive up or down our street. And, on the rare occasion when they stop to deliver a package at our house, he gets very worked up.

It is hard to understand this beautiful, well-mannered dog, who responds to voice commands and seems to be well controlled, but who has no control whatsoever in the presence of garbage or package delivery trucks.

On Mondays we always get two rounds of pickups: one for garbage and another for recycling. During the late fall we also got a third truck for yard waste to be composted. This seems to be Cody’s main activity on Mondays.

When we had children at home, the pet of choice in our household were cats. The cats lived longer than our children lived at home, so we were happy pet owners until the end of their lives. In the early days of my journal writing, there were so many posts about the cats and their behavior that I made a conscious decision to stop writing about the cats. Time passes, however, and we have not sought other pets to replace those who have died. For a while we didn’t have pets of our own, but enjoyed the pets who lived in our children’s homes. The bonds that develop between humans and animals is a wonderful thing and over the years we have witnessed the value of pets in the lives of children and adults alike.

I like Cody and enjoy having him around. I take him with me in the pickup when I go to work at the woodpile. I play with him in the yard and go for walks with him. He is a very pleasant animal, except on Mondays when the garbage truck is around.

I have been saying to him that it is not OK for him to bark at my friends. I don’t currently have any friends who drive garbage trucks, but the drivers who serve our neighborhood seem like very nice people. I do, however, have a couple of friends who drive for UPS, so it makes sense to me to say that the people who provide these services in our neighborhood are our friends and we don’t want our dog to bark at our friends.

Of course Cody isn’t “our” dog at all. He is my sister’s dog and he is a guest in our home. But when you hang out with an animal, there is a sense that he is a member of the household and that he belongs not just to my sister but to all of us.

Our daughter will occasionally suggest that we ought to adopt another pet. Her suggestion usually is that we get a cat. I don’t have anything against cats. I enjoyed the ones who lived with us. On the other hand, I enjoy the freedom of not having to arrange for care of the cat when we travel. And our daughter is one of the reasons we travel so much and aspire to travel even more in years to come. I keep saying she should get the cat and we will visit as often as we are able.

For now, however, our household has a resident dog, and he seems to be enough pet for all of us. I’ve even found myself referring to him as “our” dog when talking to others. And most of my clothing has enough dog hairs on it to back up my claim.

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!

Driving Hazards

I pulled out of my driveway yesterday and headed down the hill as I usually do. In the middle of the street a couple of houses down from mine there were two does looking back over their shoulders. I knew that they weren’t looking at me so I stopped for a minute. They stood there much longer than usual. The deer in our neighborhood are quick to get out of the way of cars and people walking dogs and other traffic except at this time of the year. I looked where they were looking and sure enough there was a good looking buck in pursuit. He looked a bit tired, but he was on his way up the hill after the does.

We know that this is the season of the rut, when the deer are distracted and drivers need to be a bit more cautious. It happens every year. In our neighborhood, we don’t see the bucks very much until the rut. There will be a couple of bucks early in the fall, cruising the neighborhood and looking at the does, but their timing is off and the does don’t show any interest. Things speed up by the end of October and we start to see the bigger bucks in the neighborhood.

It is one of the joys of living where we do. We get to watch the natural world and be reminded that we aren’t the only creatures who enjoy this place to live.

There is a flock of turkeys that comes across my back yard at about the same time every morning. They head out across a major road and most of them make it. At least the turkeys speed up when they get to the pavement. The deer often seem to slow down when crossing the road as if they know it is dangerous and fear making a misstep.

They say that it isn’t a matter of “if” but of when you will hit a deer if you drive in this country. That isn’t completely true. In our family of four, three of us have hit a deer and one of our family barely hit the deer. It jumped and kicked a rearview mirror. The mirror broke but that was all of the damage to the car and it appeared as if the deer suffered no damage at all. But accidents with animals can be more severe. We had a car totaled on a foggy evening. It was being driven slowly because of the reduced visibility, but the deer darted right in front of it and was struck in a way that pushed the radiator out of its mounting brackets. The crumple zone in the car also suffered. It was an old car and the damage exceeded the value of the vehicle. Of course the accident happened the day after I put new tires on the car, not the day before. But we have been fortunate. None of our encounters with wildlife have caused any injuries to people. Every deer strike has left us with a car that was able to get the driver home. We know plenty of stories of neighbors and friends who have had much more serious accidents with animals.

Sharing the neighborhood with animals does have its risks, but on the whole I think that those who live in dense urban areas with lots and lots of human neighbors have riskier commutes and more accidents with their cars.

When it comes to hormone driven behaviors, I suspect that human teenagers with drivers’ licenses pose a larger danger than deer in rut.

I suppose that observing the antics of the neighbors has been a human pursuit as long as people have been around. We certainly find it interesting to pay attention to the behaviors of our human and non-human neighbors.

Among the other behaviors of our neighbors that can pose a potential risk to safety is the annual “learn to drive on slippery roads” course that the weather and terrain around here offer. Those of us who grew up in hills or mountains find it amusing to watch flatlanders drive in general. They tend to be afraid of hills and curves, taking them at a very slow pace, and then speed up when the road is straight and flat. There is a curvy section as you head out of town towards our home. It is easy to drive that section of road at the marked 50 mph, but I know I will often encounter a driver going 35 mph or slower. Then that same driver will speed up to 60 or more when they reach the straight section of the road. We also know that flatlanders would rather die in a flaming head-on crash than slid off the edge of the road. They will cross over the center line to avoid driving near the edge of the road, especially when there is a drop off at the edge of the road. This behavior is more exaggerated when the road becomes wet or a little slippery. In addition, people with little driving experience on slippery roads tend to think that the solution to the slippery is to drive slowly, without regard to spacing between cars. The space between cars is the cause of more fender benders than anything else. When they follow close, they can’t stop. The United States Air Force has a real sense of humor about this one, frequently transferring airmen from a base in Georgia to Rapid City. If you’ve lived in this town for a while, you know to watch out for Georgia license plates when driving on slippery roads.

All in all, however, we live in a very safe neighborhood. Folks around here watch out for one another for the most part and the animals generally show a little caution about the busiest of roads. Those of us who have lived here for a while learn to be cautions and we learn where the deer cross the road. And we also learn that during the rut they’ll cross anywhere.

Be safe out there.

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!

Public and private

One of the struggles of my life is the balance of being a public person and a private person at the same time. Even as I write it, I know it sounds strange. From inside of me, I feel like I am a very private person. I don’t crave attention. I like just being at home with my family. I prefer to see others in center stage. And yet I have a job where I stand up in front of a congregation and speak publicly every week. I address large crowds on occasion. I am asked to pray in public places on public occasions. But there is always a part of me that is uncomfortable being the center of attention. I still get nervous every week before I walk into the chancel of the church. I am at home in my role in the church. I have confidence when I speak to the people I serve, but there is always a bit of me that would like to have someone else be the center of attention. I have written a lot of liturgies that have been read by other people. Often those who hear those words assume that the person who is reading them wrote them. I don’t mind. I feel flattered when others ask for copies of my sermons or journal posts or prayers or other things that I have written.

I think I could have been happy as a speech writer for a famous person, but I couldn’t write well things with which I disagree, and I think speech writers have to do that on a fairly regular basis.

At any rate, I have discovered a new awkwardness to my life that occurs when others announce my plans before I’m ready to have them announced. It takes me a long time to make certain decisions. I like to keep my options open and ponder them. I like to try out various options before i make a commitment. As we have pondered the next phase of our life, it seems that my ideas have been made public on others’ time and not in the way I thought they might be announced. Over a year ago now, I met with our Pastoral Relations Committee and explored with them the timing of the end of my call to this congregation. It is complex because both my wife and I work for the same church and the timing will be the same for both of us. It is complex because we want to do what is best for the congregation and yet we also have to be aware of the financial realities of being the age that we are and the challenges with finding other employment at this phase of our lives. So I tested the waters with colleagues and then with the committee, exploring various options. Then, after meeting with the committee, I went on sabbatical, thinking it would be a good time to contemplate and explore options. The committee, however, thought it would be a good time to poll the congregation on the issue of timing, effectively announcing my leaving the congregation when I wasn’t even in town. I felt like the discussion became public before I was ready for it. It certainly forced my hand. We had to put a date on the calendar.

It was a sense of deja-vu on Saturday night as I rose to offer the invocation at a large fundraising gala and the CEO of the organization announced to all who had gathered that I will soon be moving away from Rapid City. I guess that is what is going to happen, but I wasn’t really ready to make the announcement. Since that announcement, nearly every conversation with my friends and acquaintances around town has begun with “Where are you planning to move?” The pharmacist, a friend I ran into at the store, members of our congregation, and others have all been asking me that question.

It isn’t that we don’t have a plan. We do have a general sense of where we will be going. But things aren’t firmed up. We haven’t prepared our home to list it on the market. We don’t know the exact timing. We have no specific neighborhood in mind, just a sense that it is time for us to be closer to our family. After a career of moving where the church called us, we are not experienced in making an independent move and choosing the location all by ourselves. We haven’t selected a church, or chosen a neighborhood, or checked out our options. All of those things have been handed to us in past moves. This time we are on our own and are a bit intimidated by the process. And this time there is no firm deadline. Although we have a date for the end of our call to this church, we don’t have a date for beginning the next phase of our lives. It isn’t like the times when everything was planned around a start date of a new job.

I would prefer to have all of those details worked out in private conversation with family and friends. But they are beginning to play out in public. Inquiring minds want to know.

When we moved here from Idaho we had just accepted the call to this church when we met with a realtor to make a list of things we wanted to change in our home before we put it on the market. The realtor asked if the home could be shown as is the next day. It was shown at lunch, we had an offer in the evening and the home was sold before we were ready to move out. We ended up negotiating an arrangement to rent the home back from the buyer so that we had a place to live until we found a new home and got moved. It turned out to be a very good arrangement. Maybe part of this process is letting go of control. Maybe I don’t have to be in charge. Maybe it is best if a committee or a friend make the decisions about when and where to announce our decisions. After all I’m not very good at those kinds of public announcements anyway.

Now that it has been announced that I’m moving, I guess I’d better get busy and decide where that will be.

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!

Moving toward freedom

A small group gathered yesterday afternoon. As we were checking in with each other, the conversation revealed that six of us were win the process of thinking about moving to smaller homes and downsizing. We had quite a bit of conversation about sorting and shedding some of our possessions. After the meeting I went through the list of who attended and the conversation with which we began our gathering. Six out of ten participants are giving serious thought to finding smaller homes and learning to live in less expansive ways.

The conversation wasn’t all that surprising to me. I’ve had a lot of conversations about choosing the right time and finding the right place to reduce our impact and to make our lives a bit more manageable. What struck me about yesterday’s conversation is that the group wasn’t all elders. There were people of all ages in the group. Of the six who are considering a move to smaller places, two others were like me - considering a retirement lifestyle as opposed to those actively engaged in their careers. The other three were all younger people, in the early or middle phases of their careers.The oldest of that trio is 41. Further, those who were younger are moving more quickly, actively talking with real estate agents and visiting new places to live. It is likely that they will act more quickly than we who are older.

There was a time when it seemed like the trend in our society was towards bigger and bigger homes. When we moved into our home 25 years ago we were aware that there were lots and lots of homes that were bigger. Huge master bedroom suites with private baths were common. two-story entryways and grand staircases were available. Across the road from our home there is a home with six bedrooms and six bathrooms. Grand kitchens with room for multiple people to work, huge expanses of countertop and commercial grade appliances were common. We sought and chose a family home with small bedrooms, shared bathrooms and a modest kitchen and living room. We still see quite a few really large homes under construction in our area.

Interestingly, however, the people I spend much of my time with, are not considering bigger and more expensive homes. They are looking for modest living spaces and housing costs that are manageable of limited incomes. Affordable housing is more difficult to find in our area and in much of the country.

Over the years of our marriage we have made several conscious decisions to pursue goals that do not lead to the most wealth. We have enjoyed the benefits of meaningful work. We have been blessed with time for family, staying at home with our children when they were young, working around the schedules of teenagers and finding ways to participate in their education as young adults. We have chosen to live in places where salaries are lower but other aspects of life are rich. We haven’t counted our wealth in financial terms. And, we are happy with the decisions we have made. We have been blessed with being able to live in our home and not just work to make the payments. We have been able to travel more than some our age. We have formed lasting friendships around the globe.

As we begin to think about moving to a smaller home, one of the priorities that will remain for us is a place for guests. We no longer have children living at home. We no longer have our parents to live with us. But we still want very much to have a home where our friends and family can visit comfortably.

There are, however some things that we can do without. Our current home has an apartment in the basement. We won’t be looking for a home with two kitchens. And we have a daylight basement, a main floor and an upstairs with two bedrooms and a bath. We’d like to have a home that is all on one level, with perhaps a sleeping loft or some guest space on a different level. We currently have an oversized garage plus a large garden shed. We can probably downsize the number of tools and toys that we move. Our closets are filled with clothes we seldom wear. Those can be pared down significantly.

The Gospel of Luke reports Jesus most famous sermon without mentioning the mount. And when it comes to the beatitudes, it has blessings like Matthew’s version, but also has “woes.” What struck me as I read it as part of our All Saints Celebration yesterday was the advice concerning loving others in verses 30 and 31 of the 6th chapter: “Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” The golden rule is immediately preceded by advice about giving things away.

I am beginning to understand that downsizing and simply having fewer possessions is not a curse. It is a blessing. Figuring out how to deal with the accumulation of years can be a way of lessening the burdens of life. Fewer possessions mean less maintenance. Fewer possessions means less fear of losing things through theft. Fewer possessions means less baggage to weigh you down. Fewer possessions represent a form of liberation. We become enslaved to your desire for bigger and bigger houses and more and more possessions.

The bible is filled with stories of God taking the side of human freedom. The great exodus from slavery in Egypt is only one of the stories. God speaks to human freedom in the establishment of the commandments and in the words of the prophets. And in Jesus we find more invitations to freedom. Interestingly the road to freedom isn’t always what we think it will be. It turns out that unrestricted behavior isn’t really freedom. Living within the commandments is a better road to freedom that simply acting out. And learning to give away possessions is also a key to the land of freedom.

It is, however, also hard work. Sifting and sorting is one of the great tasks of human development. I think we are ready for the next step.

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!

Dalight savings time ends

When I was a child I taught myself to wake up and get up quickly. My father would occasionally come into my room and say, “If you want to go flying, I’m leaving in a minute.” I don’t every remember not wanting to go flying with my dad. I would bold from bed and get dressed in a flash. I learned to get dressed as soon as I heard his feet on the stairway, before he reached my room. For most of my life I’ve gotten up easily. When the alarm goes off, I rise and go about my business. I’m not sure that is a good practice all of the time and it definitely is not required for the lifestyle I currently lead, though it has advantages. When our children were little, I would hear them and could respond quickly to their needs. When they were older, I definitely woke when they came home a bit later than the agreed-upon time, though frankly on those nights, I usually was awake anyway.

When my wife was hospitalized and for a short time afterward, I was waking with a start. My heart would be racing and I’d be ready for action at the slightest interruption to my sleep. When I stayed with her in the hospital, I would be wide awake and out of my chair each time a nurse or technician came into the room. Now that she is home, I’ve been waking a touch more slowly. At least I don’t seem to have the racing heart and sense of panic that was a part of those earlier days.

This morning, however, there was a definite start. I heard Susan say, “It’s after 5.” One of the sets of pills that she takes is taken at eight hour intervals and we administer them at 5 am, 1 pm, and 9 pm. I was up in a flash and wide awake. I don’t sleep after five on Sundays. Then my mind processed what had happened. We have a bedside clock that I had forgotten to reset. It wasn’t after 5 by the time we are operating. My watch and my phone both displayed a time just after 4 a.m. Welcome to the end of Daylight Savings Time. Of course we need to adjust her medicine times and that can be done gradually over the course of the day.

It isn’t the first time that i’ve been a bit startled by the change in time, though I’ve been lucky and never forgotten it in the spring when to do so would mean to be really behind on a lot of important tasks.

The other time I remember forgetting about the change in clocks was many years ago. It was before we had children and we were new at serving two rural North Dakota congregations. Our first church was 17 miles away from our home, so we allowed a bit of extra time for the drive. On that particular Sunday, we got to the church and after we had been there for a while, no one else had arrived. Then it struck us. We were an hour early. It was no problem and not one was upset. Had we forgotten in the spring, they would still be telling the story of the day the preacher arrived late for church. Fortunately that has not happened to me.

I am, however, paying just a little bit less attention to time and deadlines than I usually do. Most of the time I drive my family up the wall with my need to be punctual. I like to arrive early for every appointment, and usually am pushing other family members to keep up with my desired arrival time. Last night, however, I was relaxed and comfortable arriving at an event that had a half hour social time before it began. The problem is that I had the wrong start time in my head. As we strolled into the event, most of the other people had already taken their seats. The mayor was being introduced. I was responsible for the invocation, which was still about a half hour away, but I was a bit taken aback at my tardiness. No one else noticed, not even the event organizers and MC who had to introduce me.

I guess you could say that I’ve been a slave to the clock much of my life, but it has not seemed like a problem to me. I think it would be a much bigger problem to be someone who doesn’t pay attention to time and who habitually arrives late at occasions and events.

The development of accurate timepieces was a critical factor in the process of developing systems of long distance navigation. In the days of sail transport, a ship’s chronometer was an essential device in measuring the location of the ship on the surface of the earth. The development of accurate timepieces enabled much more precise navigation.

Then, many years later, the establishment of train schedules demanded that the world go to a universal time system. Prior to what then was called by some “railroad time” each town had its own time. Noon was established by the moment when the sun reached its highest point of travel across the sky. It was known that 24 hours later the sun would once again be in the same position. Each town had its own time and a community clock, usually in a church or courthouse, established the official time for that location.

These days, our lives are filled with devices that report very accurate time. The GPS navigation system is based on extremely accurate digital clocks. Our telephones and some clocks are constantly in touch with the cellular network and in some cases multiple satellites to make sure that their read out is just right. In this world of always knowing the precise time it is a bit of a gift to have events, such as the birth of a child or even an illness, that interrupt our sense of time and remind us that time is an arbitrary invention of humans. It has a basis in observing the universe, but there is much that operates without reference to our clocks.

Welcome to standard time.

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!

Read aloud

The other night I send our son a text message asking him to recommend a book for read aloud with an adult audience. Within a couple of minutes I had eight excellent suggestions and a couple that we probably won’t choose. There is a distinct advantage to having a son who is a librarian. He can make those kinds of suggestions of the top of his head. He reads a lot and he reads out lout quite a bit. He understands that there are different dynamics in different books. He can see how we are seeking a bit of an escape as Susan continues to recover from a fairly traumatic experience.

I have loved reading out loud since I learned to read. I used to enjoy it when it was my turn to read out loud when I was a student. I learned to read easily and I liked putting a bit of expression into my reading. But we soon learned to read quietly to ourselves and that style of reading dominated my life for decades. I used to go to the library, check out a stack of books, and head to my treehouse where I would read book after book. When I got to college, the reading was a challenge simply because the volume of reading went up. I also had to pay attention in a different manner. I stopped reading in bed for quite a while. I discovered that reading myself to sleep resulted in the bad habit of sleeping as I read. That isn’t good for overall comprehension and retention of the material. I would make sure i was sitting up at a desk or in a comfortable chair and often outlined the material I was reading to make sure I stayed focused.

Eventually, however, we were blessed with children and that meant reading aloud once again. I read some books over and over. I know that some parents get tired of that phase, but I don’t remember it being a problem for me. We used to play games. I’d intentionally skip a page and get “caught” by the child. I would change a word to the same effect. The practice of repeated story goes way back to pre-literate times. When people did not have the capacity to read or write, they told stories. Often the important stories were repeated over and over night after night. They devoted stories that were passed down with word-for-word accuracy. This tradition was formalized with practices of group memorization. Unlike individual memorization where there can be significant alterations in the text memorized, group memorization is extremely accurate. The constant corruption of the most minute details assures consistence in the telling of the story. It is one of the reasons that we have sections of our Bible that date from times before literacy and reading. It is one of the reasons that we can count on the accuracy of those stories of our heritage.

At any rate, I read “Go, Dog, Go!” a lot of times. There were other books as well.

Our children, too, learned to read to themselves. Some of the first books that they read aloud to us were the same books we had read to them. “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish” was one of those books in our house. When our children grew into their teens, our home became quiet again as we all read different books.

Soon enough, however, we had grandchildren. Now we have four. The eldest is reading to himself most of the time, but he still enjoys having grandpa read to him. A few years ago, we were visiting and both of us and his parents were all available at story time. We asked him who he’d like to read his stories and after a thoughtful pause he said, “I think adult men with beards are the best story readers.” Since his father has no beard, it was obvious that I was the choice of that evening. I took it as the highest form of praise. His sisters love read aloud, too. Since I am on vacation when we visit, I have more time than his parents who have very busy lives. They read to their children a lot, but reading is one thing I can do that frees up a few moments for the parents. I’ve taken to just reading as many stories as the girls bring to me. Unless we are being called to dinner or it is time to turn out the light and go to sleep, I just read story after story. There are some great luxuries and deep pleasures to being a grandpa.

Then, as my wife recovered from her stay in the hospital, the process of reading aloud came back. We needed a diversion from the trauma we had witnessed and a novel provided just what we needed. We’d dole out a couple of chapters each evening, until we got near to the end of the book and Susan returned to the hospital for a procedure. That evening we just read to the end of the book.

Now I’ve got a couple of the books recommended by our own private librarian cued up for more evenings of read aloud. I think that we are entering a new phase of our relationship. For decades of being married, sharing parenting and working together we often went separate directions in our recreational reading. When we read the same book, it might be months between the time one of us read it and the other got around to it. Having a common story that we are reading together is kind of a new experience for us. It made me think of the days when we both were students and took the same class. We often shared a textbook to save money, but we rarely read at the exact same moment. I tended to read in the mornings and Susan in the evenings. In fact, in the process of joint studying and joint parenting we developed slightly different schedules.

For now we have a new recreation. And we have a librarian who is quick to recommend the next read.

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!

All Saints 2019

I am firmly rooted in the Protestant tradition. I could not and would not become a member of the Roman Catholic Church in this generation. However, I am also a student of the history and the evolution of theology in the Christian Church. The first 1500 years of the Christian Church, our particular strain of Christianity was immersed in the Roman Catholic Church. We separated during the Protestant revolution, but we continue to have more shared history than we do history of being separated. There are many things about the Roman Catholic Church that intrigue and challenge me. So today, being All Saints Day, I want to acknowledge the shared tradition of recognizing saints. Although we interpret saints differently, although we Protestants don’t have a formal process for canonizing saints, although we tend to think that all faithful Christians are saints, we share the quest for remembering and recognizing people of exceptional faith who have served God and the church and their fellow humans in ways that influence our behavior today.

One of the saints, formally recognized by the Roman Church, is a rather obscure one, but one that I want to mention in my journal today. Saint Dymphna was the daughter of a pagan Irish king and his Christian wife in the 7th century. Sadly, she was murdered by her father. But before her death she is said to of founded a home for the ill and many crazy people reportedly became a lot less crazy around her.

That’s right…St. Dymphna is officially the patron saint of the nervous, the patron saint of the emotionally disturbed, the patron saint of the mentally ill, and the patron saint of those with neurological disorders.

That is to say, she just really seems like our kind of saint.

In honor of All Saints Day and in honor of St. Dymphna, I want to tell just the briefest stories of some of the saints I recognize on this holiday. Most of them have stories that are not mine to share, so I won’t be telling stories where the characters can b easily identified, and I won’t use people’s real names. If you think you recognize any of these saints, give God thanks for their lives, but do not try to read too much into the stories I am telling.

One saint of God loved working in the family business and their family was exceptionally close. He loved to work side by side with his father and he was a good salesman when they were out serving customers. He loved to talk to his mother and they could share intimate details of their lives. He told his mother about his attempts to find a girlfriend. He had brothers who had girlfriends, but he just hadn’t met the right person. He had been rejected by several different girls for reasons that made no sense to him and one girl in particular broke his heart. At fifteen he didn’t have much experience and he was particularly tender. On the day he was rejected, he was feeling particularly blue and he called his mother and talked her into coming to pick him up from school and getting him out of his studies for the rest of the day. They went home and he went down stairs to take a nap. He died in his bedroom. The official ruling by the coroner was a self-inflicted gunshot wound, a single bullet fired from his father’s gun. He had been taught how to use the weapon properly and safely. The assumption is that he died by suicide and that his act was intentional. Of course God was the only witness to his final act. Only God knows his intention. God also knows the pain of the family. They will be thinking of him today as they do every day. They will be missing him and wondering what they could have done to prevent the end of his life that they never sensed was coming. They’ve examined their lives in search of meaning and have found nothing that satisfies the pain in their hearts. The bottom line, however, is that they are grateful for the 15 years they had with him. They would not choose for him to have never been born. They still know what a gift of God he was. And they refuse to be ashamed of the way he lived or the way he died. We do not have a clear interpretation of the full meaning of his life and death, but he is among those who have gone before whose lives and faith are connected to our own.

Another saint of God died too young, leaving a widow and two young daughters behind. He was a man with a keen sense of humor. He was a loving father. He was a firefighter and an outdoorsman. He was a hunter and a fisherman. He was haunted by deep depression and he fought valiantly to control the dark spirits that surfaced in his life. He was honest about his doubt. And he is not with us any more. The hole he left in his community is palpable. There is no easy way to make sense of his death. There is no easy answer to the pain that is left behind. There seldom is an answer to what seems to us to be senseless suffering.

I could go on and on through the list of a hundred or more suicides to which I have responded in the past few years. They are all saints in their own way.

The meaning of All Saints Day is connected to being a part of the body of Christ because it means that death is never the final word because in life and in death we remain connected, like each of these saints, to God and to one another. Love and life and hope do not die. The inheritance of all saints is shared by us all.

May the lives of these saints continue to shed light on our lives until the day when we join them in that great cloud of witnesses who together with God and Jesus and the disciples and all of the saints who have gone before share in the great banquet of love.

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!