Many modes of healing

Modern, scientific medicine has brought many gifts to those who receive treatment for a wide variety of illnesses and diseases. the increases in knowledge and understanding of disease have been dramatic and there have been a host of improvements in quality of life for those who suffer both major and minor illnesses.It is not hard to find examples of the benefits of scientific medicine. 50 years ago the survival rate for those suffering heart attacks was only about 3 out of every ten people who suffered attacks. Today the survival rate is more than seven out of ten. the understanding of the complex dynamics of the heart have been greatly enhanced by modern diagnostic tools such as ultrasound, catheterization and micro optical devices. Doctors have ways to monitor heart rate and rhythm and there are a host of treatment options available through the study of chemistry. The combination of complex scientific studies of physics, chemistry, electricity and other disciplines has lead to a revolution in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide variety of heart conditions.

Similar advances in the understanding and treatment of various forms of cancer have led to dramatic increases in survival rates and quality of life.

Often we think of the study of medicine in terms of the scientific and technical knowledge that is transmitted through a rigorous and challenging form of education. It takes years of classroom preparation and practical experience to become a doctor and those who have specialized training and skills often spend additional years in training and clinical observation. We think of hours in laboratories and hours of treating patients in controlled settings when we think of medical education.

There is, however, another field of inquiry that is bringing promise to the treatment of illness and injury. The study of history and anthropology has led to the discovery of aspects of healing arts that have been successfully practiced for long periods of time. Some of those medical practices don’t meet the modern standard of double blind studies and controlled inquiries. However, there are examples where the careful study of ancient practices have yielded benefits for the treatment of certain conditions.

Once example of the use of an ancient practice in modern medicine is the use of acupuncture. This traditional Chinese medical practice has often been called a pseudoscience because the way that the practices have been learned have primarily been through tradition and person to person training as opposed to scientific method. However, there have been modern scientific studies, including double blind studies that have shown acupuncture to be effective in the treatment of pain. There are some studies that have observed pain management rates that match and even exceed those of chemical treatments. Scientists have also observed that there are fewer risks of side effects from acupuncture than from some modern medicines used for the treatment of pain.

Less studied, but possibly very effective are ancient aboriginal practices for the treatment of depression practices by native Australians. Australia’s indigenous Aboriginal people are thought to be the oldest living human culture on the planet. There are modern practitioners of physical, mental and spiritual health whose training and practices are as old as 60,000 years.

Western psychiatrists treat depression with a combination of chemical medicines and cognitive-behavioral therapies. While these treatments can be very effective, no medical treatment is completely effective in every case. Furthermore, access to scientific-based treatment for mental health issues is restricted in most parts of the world. Shortages of staffing, funding and facilities means that many are simply unable to access treatment.

The aboriginal practice of reconnecting with nature as a technique for rebalancing the spirit has proven to be successful in the treatment o depression. Non-indigenous people have traveled to remotes areas of Australia for treatment by traditional mubarrn practitioners. These treatments have been observed to be effective. The traditional healers invite that visits to sacred sites guided by particular rituals and ceremonies. Additional study is needed to understand the practices and to measure their results, but there is increasing anecdotal evidence that individuals have found the treatments to be both effective and long lasting.

It is important to understand that there are no treatments for depression that offer a complete cure. Although sufferers may see a reduction in symptoms and in some cases experience years of remission, depressive illness often remains a threat to health for years and even decades. It is extremely difficult to effectively treat.

Tradition attributes supernatural abilities to healers, but modern scientific studies reveal that rather than supernatural powers, healers have access to a body of traditional and historic information and practices that have proven to be effective over thousands of years of practice. The knowledge is passed down through the generations and is honed by an extremely long chain of trial and error. Modern scientific studies of the practices can lead to the discovery of drugs that appear in natural plants and animals, techniques such as immersion in cold water and guided meditation and other practices that hold hope for effective treatment.

Additional studies are needed, but it is clear that there are many avenues of exploration for those who are willing to conduct research into areas that are not considered to be part of a modern, scientific education. Our system is heavily weighted for scientific, technical, math and engineering skills and less funding and support is given to the study of anthropology, history and other areas where measurements are more difficult and assessments are challenging at best. Yet these fields of inquiry offer the possibility of discovering new treatments for illnesses that have caused suffering throughout human history.

As we continue to learn about how to bring relief to those who suffer, there is an obligation to make careful study of all possibilities for treatment. Dismissing possible treatments because the mode of education and transmission is not the same as contemporary scientific inquiry is to miss entire fields of study and potentially to fail to understand effective modes of treatment.

The knowledge and skills of the worlds oldest culture are fields of inquiry that hold the potential to reveal truths that have long been known by some, but largely ignored by the rest of 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!

Honest doubt

With the increase in secularization and the decrease in church attendance across the United States, I find that there are many challenges for those who assume religious leadership. Two have become especially evident to me in the past few weeks. The first is well known and many Christian writers have addressed it. There are a number of people who find faith to be a personal matter and who feel confident that they can pursue it on their own. We often hear of people who do not participate in a church who find God in nature, in personal spiritual disciplines and other places. They feel that they have no need of an institution to live their spirituality and that they are not less faithful than others, just more independent in their faith. And I am sure that these are good people and that they do have faith. The problem, which was illustrated in the lives of some people I encountered this week is that you can’t be the body of Christ all by yourself. I do not deny that God is revealed in beautiful sunrises and mountaintop experiences. I enjoy my opportunities to see the beauty and glory of creation as well.

To put it bluntly, however, Mountains don’ make nursing home visits and beautiful sunrises won’t prepare food for a funeral lunch. There are times when we need community deeply and the care and concern of other people is critical to our survival. Encountering God in the everyday is wonderful and I wouldn’t discourage it in any way. But it can be insufficient when crises arise. Our people discovered this truth many generations ago - around the time that the first parts of what we now call the Bible were being collected as stories to be shared. There was a time when people thought that God was somehow limited to specific special places. They encountered the power and beauty and grandeur of creation in special places and so they concluded that God was present only in those wonderful places. They made regular trips to those places and they communed with God and they had deep religious experiences. Then, for whatever reasons we don’t remember, our grandfather Abram and our grandmother Sarai decided to leave their home and the places of their ancestors and the places where they experienced God and they discovered that the God they had experienced in those special places was also present in distant places they had never before visited. The idea that God was everywhere began to form as their entourage of people traveled across the ancient middle east. Their story became part of the foundations of our faith.

There is another problem that is a bit more subtle, but very real. As the country has become more secular, and the church has diminished in size and influence, fewer people are attracted to the profession of ministry. They don’t see it as having a future. With fewer ministers, the church has learned to modify its expectations of ministers. Youth and charisma have become valued qualities and age and experience have become less valuable. Even education and preparation has diminished as a quality desired by churches, who are panicked to find new leaders. As a result there is a form of “Christianity Light” that is being preached from many pulpits. Leaders of good faith, but limited knowledge of history and limited life experience, think of the verses and parts of the Bible that are attractive to them and preach part of the gospel. They speak of blessings and of salvation and of forgiveness of sins, sometimes powerfully and eloquently. But they rarely talk about doubt and despair and increasingly treat them as if they were somehow enemies of faith. They portray themselves as experts, but don’t seem to have read the entire Bible. The passages thy know and love best are great for good times, but seem shallow and hollow when real troubles come.

These good time preachers speak the truth, but often don’t tell the whole truth. Go to any contemporary evangelical church and listen for references to the ending of Psalm 137 or Jesus cry from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” You probably won’t even learn that Jesus was quoting Psalm 22 when he said those words. Deep within our faith are stories of our people experiencing doubt and despair and depression. Sadness is not the enemy of faith. Doubt is not the opposite of belief. Wondering about where God is in a difficult situation is a constant theme of our people. But this is not being explored in preaching or in bible studies in so many churches. Pastors are threatened by doubt and often resort to pious advice about praying more or redirect people to scriptures that come from happier times. They seem to think that having the right beliefs is the answer to doubt, instead of accepting doubt as a normal part of a deep and abiding relationship with God.

I’ve attended far too many funerals where the message is that the one who has died was a wonderful person. They even call them celebrations of life and try to behave as if grief and despair aren’t part of losing a loved one. It is true that these are amazing and wonderful people and their stories should be told and thanksgiving and praise should be given for having those people in our lives. But if all we can say is “It’s been good and it’s over,” we miss the genuine treasures of our faith. The same God who is present in the sunsets and mountaintop experiences is also present in the moments of despair and doubt and grief. The community who loves you on the days of weddings and baptisms and celebrations will love and support you on the days of sorrow and sadness and grief. God’s love is communicated not only through creation, but also through creatures.

Beyond that, our people have been here before. Ours isn’t the first generation to have experienced grief and pain and doubt and despair. The Bible is filled with the stories of widows and orphans and immigrants. It is also filled with stories of survivors. On the days when survival is all we are able to accomplish it is good to know that we belong to a people who have survived other dark times.

Despite secularization and decline in religious participation there is still an important ministry for the institutional church. I have no doubt that the church will survive this downturn. I have no doubt that new leaders will emerge. And when I do doubt, I am strengthened by the stories of our people of the times when it looked like all was lost.

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!

Work schedules

When we were students, many students, including my wife would, on occasion, pull “an all nighter.” They would be working on a project and as the deadline approached, would work straight through the night without sleep. I never acquired that skill. In the first place, I am a compulsive person who generally beats deadlines. Yesterday I scrambled to make sure that I had all my notes in place for Monday’s service, even though it was only Friday. If I had not had them in place, there are several blocks of time during which I could work on them, and I may make some adjustments and changes, but I am ready to go right now. I have four services before that one, but it just the way I work. As a result, I usually had college papers finished and typed in final form several days before the deadline.

The other reality about all nighters is that I have never been able to stay away all night. I remember that when we were kids our parents would give us permission to stay up until midnight on a couple of special occasions such as new year’s eve. My brothers and sisters would stay up, playing games and eating snacks and I would give up and go to bed. On the few occasions when I did manage to stay up, I didn’t literally stay up, but dozed and woke to watch the ball fall on the television and yell “Happy New Year.” We live in the Mountain Time Zone, but I observe New Years on Eastern Time and I’ve been known to catch it on the computer when it occurs in Australia, where it is midnight when it is mid day here.

It is not that I sleep more than other people. I am good at waking in the middle of the night and getting up to respond to a crisis. I can get by with smaller amounts of sleep than is typical. Although I’ve noticed that I need a bit more sleep now than was the case 20 or 30 years ago, I still am pretty good at gaining a bit of extra time by rising early in the morning.

I have had many different work experiences, but I’ve never done shift work. Hanging around with law enforcement officers, I’ve gained appreciation for those who do that work, having to adjust their lifestyles to sleep during the day so that our community has coverage around the clock. In my imagination, I think I could adjust to that kind of schedule without too much problem, but it is purely theoretical. I haven’t ever tried it.

When we travel long distances I seem to be quite similar to others in terms of how much time it takes me to adjust to jet lag. A couple of nights of being awake at the wrong time and I am usually adjusted to the new time zone quickly.

At the hospital, where it is essential that coverage be continuous, there are all kinds of different schedules. The hospitalists seem to work 12 hour shifts with 7 days of work followed by 7 days off. The nurses also work 12 hour shifts, but work 3 days on followed by 4 days off. Then they cover by working an extra day from time to time. The result is that there is a lot of change in staffing. A patient who has been in the hospital for five days can have been seen by four hospitalists and a dozen nurses. I haven’t yet figured out how they divide up what areas in the hospital different employees work. they are good at keeping all of the areas staffed, but there is a huge turnover of staff. It is a good thing that they all wear name tags and that there is a marker board in each patient’s room where they write their names, because learning all of those names when you aren’t feeling well would be a huge challenge. Add to that the fact that the average patient sees people from transport, lab, and a variety of diagnostic specialties and a stay in the hospital involves meeting a constant stream of people who had not previously met.

It makes working in a church, with a constantly-changing congregation a piece of cake when it comes to remembering names.

I used to think that remembering names was a natural talent, and it is true that some people are better than others, but I’ve learned that it is also an acquired skill. I am capable of learning and remembering people’s names and when I focus on the task, I can improve my skill. In general my memory is not as strong as it once was, but I think I’m a bit better with names than was the case a few years ago. That may be just my perception, but I think I’m right.

I woke early this morning, ahead of the alarm clock. I felt well rested and ready to tackle a long day with many events and obligations. My schedule has been disrupted a bit this week, but I’ll need all of my energy for the next three days. It helps to feel good at the start of the marathon. However, I have no intention of pulling any all nighters. I expect to be in bed and sleeping at the usual time for the next few nights. I’ve got my notes in order and I’m ready for the work that lies ahead.

Of course my days are never completely predictable. There will be changes in schedule, new demands for my time, interruptions and encounters with people who need to talk more than I anticipated. That’s the way of my life. I’ve learned to reprioritize my task list over and over again. I’ve also learned to go to sleep when there is work that is undone. That is a very useful skill when the job is bigger than I. One thing about my vocation, I’ll never run out of work.

I thank God for that meaningful work. It is a blessing that makes sleeping an easy task.

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!

Medical terms

Since I’ve been spending a bit of extra time in the hospital this week I’ve become aware of the amount of specialized language that is a part of health care. Most of unfamiliar language comes from scientific and technical terms. The names of medicines , for example, tend to be a bit difficult for a lay person pronounce. The doctors and nurses have practiced, so they can reel off Cardizem, Lovenox, Digoxin, Metoprolol, Tikosyn, Eliquis and Amiodarone like they were everyday language. When I try to take notes on my cell phone, my spell checker doesn’t know any of those names. And there are all kinds of acronyms and letter combinations. TEE is not a beverage, but rather a diagnostic test: transesophogeal echocardiogram. NPO means “nothing by mouth,” but the letters come from a mix of Latin words: Non per oral. As I have been hanging out at the hospital there have been new words and phrases every day and for someone who enjoys words, it is a fun new learning curve.

Being at the hospital is a mixture of a few challenging, and sometimes frightening moments mixed in with a lot of waiting. A new medicine can take an hour or more to become metabolized and it can take 24 hours or more for a medicine to leave a body when it is discontinued. Some treatments require patience. In addition the hospital staff are serving a lot of patients and though they rush from room to room, the patients need to wait at times. This hospital has a continuously open kitchen so patients call to order meals off of a menu. It takes about 45 minutes for the meals to arrive and patients learn to anticipate the delay while they anticipate when a procedure or visit from a doctor might occur. Sometimes it works and they get a hot meal delivered and are able to eat it in peace. Sometimes the tray arrives at the same time as a person from the lab or a doctor or a procedure and the tray sits and the food gets cold while other events take precedence.

Even though I have a computer and work to do and a book to read, I find my self sitting with my mind wandering more while I’m at the hospital than is the case in my usual daily life. Yesterday I began to think of “new” hospital terms and their definitions.

I’ve been using my PED to track my HIEP to offset the PWA and CWB. My PED is my personal electronic device or cell phone. My HIEP is the “hospital induced exercise program.” Since the room I’m visiting is on the seventh floor, that is six flights up and six flights down each visit. The hospital has elevators, but I use the stairs because I ned the exercise and I feel better when I’ve had some physical activity to offset the hours spent sitting and waiting. According to my cell phone I climbed a total of 36 floors yesterday. I take a medicine that keeps my heart rate from going too fast, so I get a bit winded on the stairs and usually stop to catch my breath after three or four floors, so it take a bit of time for me to get up and down. PWA is “Physician waiting anxiety.” Since we don’t know when a doctor will make rounds, we spend quite a bit of time waiting to talk to the doctors. I want to be present for doctor visits as much as possible, but I also need to take care of things at our office, so I do quite a bit of running back and forth and then waiting for the doctor to arrive. CWB is “clinical waiting boredom.” There is a lot of waiting in the hospital. It takes time for lab tests to be processed. It takes time for the pharmacy to deliver medications to the floor. It takes time for different procedures to be performed. The term “patient” is appropriate. It requires patience.

Most of the time I consider waiting to be a gift. I have a very busy life and sometimes I fail to take time to reflect and meditate. If I end up in a waiting room, I try to take advantage of the opportunity to think and pray. But the balance of waiting and acting is thrown off by spending extra time at the hospital this week. I seem to be either rushing or sitting with very little in between. As a result my mind wanders in strange directions as I sit.

I’ve been remembering my mother quite a bit this week. One reason is the simple fact that the room I’ve been visiting happens to be a room that my mom occupied briefly more than a decade ago when she was receiving treatment at the same hospital. Another reason is that she was a nurse and when we were children she taught us a few medical terms. In her days as a nurse medical schools used a lot of Latin and doctors and nurses loved the specialty language. I studied Latin in high school, so we had a few shared words. Neither of us became fluent in the language, so it it wasn’t a private language, just a few words and phrases that we could use from time to time.

Learning a bit of the hospital culture is helpful when you end up spending a bit of time there. It can be frightening and intimidating with all of the activity and the processes of quick decisions and actions, but learning about what they are doing and the reasons for the decisions can help to ease anxiety. I’m grateful that I have a capable cell phone with internet access and a son who is a medical librarian to help me lean all of the necessary terms and concepts. Doing a bit of research has been very helpful for my understanding.

And who knows, perhaps I’ll add something to the medical literature. I’m hoping HIEP sticks. I think I’ll start using it whenever I’m around doctors or hospitals.

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 sort of prayer

OK, God, I need a break here.

I know that there is so much that should cause me to express my gratitude to you. I am blessed in so many ways that it is impossible for me to count them. I have a wonderful family. I have been loved all of my life. I have a meaningful career and work that has purpose. I have a beautiful home in a beautiful part of the world with magnificent animals for neighbors. I live win a community that is caring and compassionate. And that is just the start of the list.

And I know, God, that there are so many people whose lives are filled with so much more tragedy and pain and loss and despair than mine.

I know I don’t have much to complain about at all.

But yesterday left me feeling like I need a break.This week has been harder than I expected. Harder than other weeks. And when I add it to last week, I’ve spent too much time at the hospital, too much time with those who are grieving, planned too many funerals, It seems like a long stretch.

Is it too much to pray for a break?

Yesterday afternoon, for the second time in as many weeks, the Custer County Search and Rescue folks had a search that ended up with a body bag. These volunteers train and organize and give hours and hours of their time because they want to help those in need. They train to rescue those who have wandered off the trails and become lost, or who have attempted a climb and need a bit more technical skill than they possess. The point is that they do what they do because they want to preserve life. Recovering the body of a 22 year-old college student is a service that they are willing to perform and they are proud to serve however they are needed. But, truthfully, Lord, they live for the successful rescues, the lives saved and stories with happy endings.

They could use a break.

One of the deep honors of my life and work is that I have been granted the privilege to walk with those who are grieving. I am called to serve people who gather to remember and grieve by officiating at funeral services. It is work that is deeply meaningful. And I think I’ve gained a bit of skill through years of practice. But this weekend I’ll have two funerals on Saturday and another on Monday, with my usual Sunday services tucked in between. I’m up to my eyeballs in bulletins to prepare, orders of worship to plan, meditations to write, and stories to tell. It is good work, but it never comes evenly spaced in any period of time. I want to serve. I want to help, but each service takes it toll on my energy. I wouldn’t mind a couple of weeks without a funeral.

I could use a break.

I know that you have a lot of other prayers to answer, God. I know that my concerns are small in the scheme of things. I’ve spent enough time in the emergency room and the halls of the hospital this week to fully understand that there are lots of people with problems that are deeper than mine and pain that is worse than I can even imagine. I count myself among the most fortunate of your people. And, God, I am grateful. Thank you for all of your blessings.

But I read the stories of Moses, who dared to argue with you and even question the wisdom of your judgments. I nearly cry when I read about how he intervened to save the children of Israel when you had every reason to simply give up on them. I know I’m no Moses, but I admire the way he stood up for his people. I would like to have the courage to stand up for the people I serve as well. They’ve had a rough time recently. They plan the funeral lunches. They bake the cookies. They usher the mourners. They serve without complaining.

They could use a break.

I know that there must be days, God, when too many of our prayers sound like whining. It must get old to hear your people crying out to you. And I know that you love your people unconditionally and you always seek what is best for us. I know that I couldn’t do the things that I do if it were not for my absolute faith in your providence and presence.

You alone know how many times I’ve thought about Tevye, the character in the musical play Fiddler on the Roof and his prayer to you, “Would it foil some vast, eternal plan if I were a wealthy man?” And I know the answer to his question. “Yes, Tevye, it would foil the vast eternal plan. Wealth always comes at the cost of poverty for others. And praying for wealth, while entertaining in a musical play, is not the prayer God longs to hear from the people God loves.” So I, God, am not praying for wealth. I am not praying for luxury. I am not praying to somehow magically escape the trials of this life. I am not praying that I would escape being touched by grief.

I just want a little break. A day off. A few minutes to catch up. A morning to sleep in without being awaked by my list of tasks to be accomplished and people to visit and problems to solve. Is that too much to ask, God?

I remember, God, that the Fiddler in the play is a metaphor for survival in a life of uncertainty. The fiddler assumes a precarious position up there “trying to scratch out a pleasant simple tune without breaking his neck.” I know that you don’t ask of us more than we have to give. I know that trusting you is the path to my future. I know that I will receive a break when I truly need one.

There is another song that is a part of the original musical that has been left out of most modern productions. In that song Tevye sings:

When the Messiah comes
He will say to us
’I apologize that I took so long
But I had trouble finding you
Over here a few, and over there a few.
You were hard to reunite
but everything is going to be all right.

I get it God. I need to just show a little more patience.

So, dear God, if you can’t give me a break this week, how about a little patience? It couldn’t hurt.

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 cars I drive

I’ve never been much of a car person. I like to have reliable transportation, but I don’t care very much about having the latest model or the most stunning features. There was no sports car to accompany a midlife crisis. There might not have been much of a midlife crisis anyway. I sometimes will walk around a car lot while my car is in the shop for service but I don’t seem to be tempted by the new models. We have, on a couple of occasions, purchased new vehicles, but most often it has made sense for us to purchase used vehicles. We haven’t been early adopters of the latest automotive technology.

Yesterday I was driving the car we refer to as our “new” car. It is only eight years old as opposed to the 20 year old model I usually drive. It is a very nice car with a bunch of features that we don’t have in our other vehicles. But I don’t drive it very often and though it is the same brand as the other car, the controls aren’t quite the same. It was a fairly warm day yesterday with a high of 77 or 78 degrees. I was busy and making quite a few trips from one place to another. As I was driving down the street, I found myself thinking that the air conditioning in the car wasn’t working as well as it does in our other car. Air conditioning in a car has been a topic of conversation in our house. My father never owned a vehicle with air conditioning. He argued that the need for air conditioning occurs only for a few days of a few months in the part of the world where we live. When we lived in North Dakota we didn’t have air conditioning in our car for most of the time. Then we purchased a used car with air conditioning and every car since has been equipped with the feature. Our daughter, who lives in northern Japan where the weather is similar to what we experience here has been driving a car with air conditioning that doesn’t work for a couple of years and it was no problem when we were visiting her during the hottest part of the summer this year.

Anyway, I was driving the car and thinking that it was a shame that the “new” car’s air conditioning doesn’t work as well as the air conditioning in the “old” car. “Oh well,” I thought, “It isn’t hot enough to run the air conditioner anyway.” I rolled down the windows and went on with my trip. When I pulled into the parking lot and stopped the car, I examined the various controls in the car and discovered that my warm sensation had nothing to do with the air conditioner in the car. I had turned the controls so that the air conditioning was directed to the defrost vents. When it was directed through the dashboard vents, it was working perfectly. More importantly, I was hot because the seat heater was turned on to “high.” This is the only vehicle we’ve ever had with seat heaters and I don’t think about them very much. Turning off the seat heater made the car much more comfortable on the next trip.

It wasn’t very long ago when the idea of seat heaters in a car was a very strange idea and a feature that we never would have considered.

There are lots of other things that we take for granted in modern vehicles that I once thought were frivolous. I’ve never experienced any problems with turning a crank to lower or raise a window, but all of our vehicles have electric windows these days. That’s four motors, four actuator assemblies, four switches and a host of wiring that can go wrong in place of simple mechanical devices that rarely failed. It used to be that a car seat adjusted forward and back, but all cars now have adjustable back angles, and most will adjust in a host of other directions as well. That is more mechanism that holds the potential for failure and needs service. The list of features that once were considered luxuries and now have become standard is a long one.

The concept of basic transportation has been replaced by a great deal of complexity and expense. Our first car as a married couple virtually never required servicing in a dealership. I did all of the routine maintenance such as oil changes myself. I made basic repairs, such as replacing the starter, adjusting the carburetor, and performing tune ups by working on the car in the parking lot. I pretty much understood how it worked, what could go wrong with it and how to fix it. I don’t possess the skills to diagnose and repair problems in the complex vehicles we drive these days. I don’t even do my own oil changes, though I don’t think it would be all that hard or require any special tools. On the other hand, I once owned a pickup that I drove about 60,000 miles with the “check engine” light on. That record was nothing compared to the almost 140,000 miles I’ve driven my current set of wheels with the “check engine” light on. Not all of the features of modern vehicles are worth the expense of repairing. In both cases, I have had the codes read periodically and know that the reason for the light is not related to safety or even to the long-term operation of the vehicle. It is just that the warning light could indicate other problems and I don’t have that particular warning device to use because it is constantly on for another reason.

Then again, if I’m not smart enough to turn of the seat heater, I might not be smart enough to discern whether or not a maintenance code is critical.

At any rate, I don’t need any different vehicles to be a happy person. The ones we have provide sufficient entertainment to make me laugh.

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!

Hospital observations

I spent several hours at the hospital yesterday. It is something that I do fairly often and there is nothing particularly uncomfortable about being at the hospital when I am not a patient. They don’t poke or prod me and my presence is accepted by the staff, who are polite and helpful. The experience, however reminded me of some bits of hospital practice and culture that are distinct and different from other parts of my life.

You’d think that technical language and jargon might be a barrier in a hospital dedicated to scientific and evidence-based medicine. However, I’ve found that almost everyone in the hospital, from doctors to nurses to aides to technicians, is pleased to explain things to you if you ask a question. Most of them are very good at explaining things in terms that can be understood. Actually, I think that they are used to bridging the gap between medical technical language and common lay language.

There are, however, some things about hospital culture that stand out as I reflect on the day. Here are a few observations.

Hospital staff have been trained to avoid apologies. I suppose this has something to do with the fear of lawsuits, but they have learned to be very natural without using the words, “I’m sorry,” or even “excuse me.” Instead they listen carefully, repeat what you have told them, and use euphemisms such as “I could do this another way,” or “lets try again,” when they are communicating that they will be changing their behavior. I don’t think that this is a conscious effort for those who have been working at the hospital. It seems to simply be ingrained in their culture.

I, coming from a culture and a tradition of confession, am constantly apologizing. When I stand in a place that is blocking another, I apologize for being in the way. I apologize for not remembering some detail that I am asked by a hospital employee. I say “excuse me,” and “I’m sorry” enough that several times yesterday I was told, “You don’t need to be sorry,” or “No need to apologize,” and even “You’re good.” I actually think that if I made a point of offering a apology for each time I was even slightly in the wrong place or in the way of hospital activity, I would end up making others uncomfortable. Then I’d have to apologize for that.

I don’t have any complaints about the hospital or the way I was treated, but I did notice the difference between the culture of the hospital and the culture of the church where I work every day.

Another difference that I’ve noticed is that people don’t make reference to shortages of staff. In a hospital the phrase “shortage of beds” is almost always a reference to a staffing shortage, not an actual problem with a lack of furniture. I don’t think I heard that particular phrase yesterday, but I’ve often heard it in reference to behavioral health patients and the lack of services available. If you listened to what is said about Regional Behavioral Health, South Dakota Developmental Center, Northeastern Mental Health Center, or The South Dakota Human Services Center in our community, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that there was some kind of a strange furniture shortage in our state. One might even be encouraged to go into the business of manufacturing hospital beds to address the acute shortage. But “shortage of beds” doesn’t mean a furniture problem in our state. It means a lack of staffing and sometimes it means a lack of funding.

The phase I did hear yesterday was “the hospital is full.” It didn’t mean the same thing as that phrase means during the motorcycle rally, when they sometimes have to have patients in the hallways or double up in some treatment areas separating patients with curtains. What it meant yesterday is something that you often encounter in a motel if you arrive too early. The room is not prepared. The hospital, like a motel, has a limited amount of cleaning staff, who work diligently but can only be one place at a time. As they work through the rooms, preparing them with fresh linen, cleaning out bathrooms and making sure that all surfaces have been disinfected, it take time. When a patient is dismissed from the hospital or transferred to another area in the hospital, it takes time for the cleaning staff to get to the room and make sure that it is fully prepared for the next patient. You won’t however, hear anyone at the hospital go into detail. They’ll just comment on how busy the hospital is and use terms like “We’re full.” I suspect that staff have been told not to make references to staffing shortages in any of their conversations with patients or families.

Actually, as my experience yesterday illustrates, much of medical care involves waiting. A patient literally has to be a patient person. The hospital moves a significant amount of people through their triage, treatment and patient care rooms and the system works in many ways that are very efficient, but there is a reason why every doctor’s office, every treatment area in the hospital and every floor of the institution has a “waiting room.” Being a patient or a family member involves quite a bit of waiting. The hospital has invested significant resources is making those waiting areas comfortable. They are kept very clean. They have comfortable furniture. There are television sets everywhere in the hospital. And there are quite a few volunteers and staff who try to ease discomfort and keep patients and families informed. I don’t know how many times I was offered a cup of coffee yesterday, but it was a lot. As one who doesn’t drink coffee, I was aware that with all of the potential health effects of caffeine, the hospital might want to consider revising its beverage offerings for those who occupy the waiting rooms.

I have no conclusions about hospital culture today, just observations. It’s probably a good thing that I spend some time at the hospital so that I learn more about the culture of a place that is devoted to healing and caring for people.

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!

Remembering those who died

It has been seventy years since the Mann Gulch fire took the lives of 13 firefighters near the Gates of the Mountains in the Helena National Forest in Montana. The fire occurred before I was born, but I grew up knowing the basic outlines of the story. At the end of the Second World War it was known that parachuting from airplanes was an effective way to get fairly large numbers of people to remote locations. The airplanes that had been used in the Normandy invasion had transported the largest number of paratroopers every dropped in a single wave. The bulk of those paratroopers jumped from US C-47 aircraft, manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company. At the end of the war, there were a lot of surplus airplanes available for purchase by civilian flyers. The C-47s could bee converted to Douglas DC3 airliners and many were thusly converted. A few retained their cargo doors and were used for various applications. Johnson Flying Service in Missoula, Montana, in cooperation with the US Forest Service pioneered the use of aircraft to drop firefighters by parachute into remote locations.

The Mann Gulch fire was a lightning-caused fire in tinder dry conditions in the middle of August, some of the hottest days of the summer. Johnsons dispatched a plane with 16 smoke jumpers to respond to the fire. The hot afternoon and the mountains resulted in moderate to heavy turbulence for the entire flight and one of the smokejumpers got sick during the flight. 15 jumped on the fire. Within a couple of hours of the jump, ten of the smokejumpers were dead along with another firefighter who had been dispatched vie ground transportation. Two other smokejumpers were critically injured and died the next day. Only 3 of the 15 who jumped survived.

The area where the firefighters died was a very steep hillside and the fire was burning up the hill. As the firefighters attempted to outrun the fire it exploded into an inferno with flames reaching 200 feet into the sky. It created its own winds as it tore through the dry fuels.

Today the steep ridge is a national historical landmark and 13 crosses mark the places where the firefighters fell.

Norman Maclean is the author of the memoir “A River Runs Through It” made famous by the 1992 movie directed by Robert Redford based on the book. That story of two brothers, sons of a Presbyterian Minister, growing up in the Mountains of Montana paints a glorious picture of the geography and culture of the mountains despite the complex and tragic life of Paul. Norman wrote the book in part to sort through his grief and to tell the story of his brother. the book brought a lot of attention to the former University of Chicago professor during his retirement years.

Less popular and less known is the last book by Norman Maclean to be published. Young Men and Fire is his exploration of the Mann Gulch Fire. It represents a long obsession that McLean had with the events of that terrible day when the firefighters perished. Maclean had worked as a firefighter and had experienced close brushes with the power and danger of fire, while working a fire in the Lolo area west of Missoula. He visited the Mann Gulch area late in the fall following the fire and began what was a long obsession with the fire and the events of the day the firefighters died.

He wasn’t alone in studying the fire. Many of the safety rules and fire survival techniques taught to all Forest Service firefighters are based in lessons learned from the investigation of the Mann Gulch Fire.

I grew up in family whose primary business was based on the surplus airplanes and airplane parts that became available after World War II. Our family also used airplanes for fire patrol and on occasion leased planes from Johnson Flying Service and used our planes to guide smokejumper planes to the fires. I considered becoming a smoke jumper until I learned that I was not able to pass the eye test. It seems that glasses could be a liability when jumping out of airplanes to fight fires.

When I read Maclean’s book about the Mann Gulch Fire, I already knew the outlines of the story. What struck me was his obsession with the way that the men died. He went into each individual’s experiences as far as possible, examining where the bodies were found, what injuries occurred and imagining what their experience might have been like as they collapsed from heat and exhaustion and succumbed to the fire. I never understood Maclean’s obsession with how the men died.

Smokejumpers are generally young people. The crew that was dropped on the Mann Gulch fire ranged from 17 to 33. The youngest of those who died perished on his 19th birthday. The oldest to jump, the crew foreman, was the only one over the age of 30. He survived the fire by lighting a backfire and moving into the burned out area.

What is missing from Maclean’s book, in my opinion, are the stories of the lives that the firefighters lived. By focusing on their deaths, we never hear of what drew them to work for the Forest Service, what they loved in life, and what kind of people they were. Having grown up around wildland firefighters, I know a bit about the culture of those who fight fires. In general they are people who ave a special appreciation for the beauty of remote places. They love to hike and hunt and fish and explore. They often enjoy the solitude of wild places. They have a passion for living. The tragedy of the death of those who have fallen cannot extinguish the bright light of the joy of living shared by those who survive. The way in which the young men died is nowhere near as important as the lives they lived.

The last survivor of the Mann Gulch Fire was the youngest member of the crew. He died in 2014. The responsibility for telling their story has now been passed to those of us who were not living at the time. I hope that we will not forget that these were exuberant, passionate, wonderful people, full of life with hopes and dreams of the future. How they lived seems more important than how they died.

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!


My mother used to have a shadow box on the wall of her cabin that contained a large number of keys. I never counted them, but there were a lot. There were keys of all different kinds, from skeleton keys to more modern types of keys. Most of the keys probably had originally worked padlocks, but others were for door bolts and a few were car keys. Before she made up the shadow box, she simply had a shoe box where she kept keys whose locks were unknown or perhaps had been lost. At least one of the keys was to a car that had been sold, but not all of the keys had gone with it to the new owner somehow. My father was, among many other things, a farm machinery dealer, so there were a few keys that fit tractors thrown in there as well. After she made up the shadow box, I used to tease here, “Now all we need is to find someone who has a collection of locks.” I’m not sure what happened to the collection of keys. It is possible that one of my sisters acquired it after our mother’s death. We sill have the cabin, but the display of keys is no longer on the wall in the hallway.

I was thinking about that box recently because I have been sorting out some of the things in our home in anticipation of the possibility of putting our home on the market in the future. We’ve lived her for 24 years now and we’ve accumulated a lot of things. It’s time to reduce the inventory. Like my mother, I seem to have a box of keys. I didn’t set out to collect keys. I just somehow ended up with a key her and there that I forgot what it unlocked. Since I thought that I might one day need that key or remember why I had it, I kept it so that it could be retrieved. The fact that I keep keys has proven to be valuable a couple of times. Not long ago, I found an old bicycle lock in the garage and when I went to the key box, I was able to find a key that opened the lock. Now I don’t really have need for that particular bicycle lock, but at least at the moment the lock and key are reunited and they might prove valuable to someone who wants to lock their bicycle.

I am aware that the day will come when those keys will need to just be thrown away. Perhaps they can be added to a bucket of mixed metals at the recyclers instead of going into the dump, but it is possible that there is a spare key to a house we haven’ lived in for a quarter of a century. Come to think of it it is also possible that there are keys to the locks we had replaced on this house. The old locks are gone, but I somehow retained the keys. The bottom line is that I don’t need the keys and I’m likely not going to need them. Still, I’m keeping them around for a little while. Maybe I’ll find another bicycle lock or some other hidden treasure.

I used to make fun of folks of my parents’ generation for their ability to keep all kinds of objects. They grew up during the Great Depression when all kinds of things were scarce and they had an attitude that you should never throw anything away because it might become useful in the future. My dad had a box in the basement of scraps of wood all of which were too small for a future project. They probably would have had value as kindling or fireplace wood, but they were retained just in case he needed a wedge or shim. My Uncle Ted literally had a shoe box of “Pieces of string too short to save.” I knew what was in it because he had labeled it with a grease pencil.

I don’t make fun of those folks any more, because I’ve become one of them. Sometimes, when I am sorting out things, I think of how our children might react to all of the things I have kept. I suspect that if they somehow inherited the job of sorting out our house they would not be pleased with all of the things I’ve kept. Just thinking about that gives me a bit more courage to go ahead and get rid of a few things.

Still, some things keep accumulating. I enjoy office supply stores and I often wander down the aisle with pens. I don’t often buy a pen, but once in a while I’ll decide that I need one. Mostly pens come into our house with advertisements from various organizations and companies. I have a container on my desk that is filled with pens. There is another one upstairs in the kitchen. There are a few additional pens in my desk drawer and another container at work. Sometimes, I check to make sure that all the pens work and throw out the ones that have dried up, but I still have a lot of extra pens. Last night I was sorting out my camera bag and I came across two pens that have never been used, still in plastic packages. On the side of the pens is printed “Narita Airport.” When I saw them I remembered that as we were waiting for our flight from Tokyo to Seattle over a year ago a kind gentleman approached us and asked us to take a survey about our experience in the airport. After answering his questions he presented us each with a pen. I slipped the pens into my camera bag and forgot about them. They came home to the US with us. They traveled from Seattle to South Dakota with us. The have gone wherever my camera bag has gone since, including going back to Japan this summer. I obviously have had no need for the pens. I found writing devices to get through my life just fine without them. For more than a year I carried them around and they became very well traveled. I know people who would have just tossed them in the garbage at the airport. They are, after all, just cheap advertising pens. I know people who would have tossed them when they discovered them in the camera bag. I haven’t done that, yet. At the moment they are in the container of pens on my desk, which is getting very full.

My attempts at reducing the number of items I posses aren’t going very well yet. I wonder if it it easier to get rid of pens than keys.

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 story of our people

I like stories. I read novels. Most of the time I have a novel that I’m reading among the other books that I have in progress. The novel I am currently reading is by Yoko Ogawa called “The Memory Police.” It is a dystopian novel about the people who live on an island where objects keep disappearing. Most of the people soon forget the items that have disappeared and learn to live without them, but there are a few, who are able to retain the memories of the objects that have disappeared. The main character in the novel is herself a novelist and after books disappear, she gets a new job, but she keeps the novel she has been working on when books disappear. And she keeps her editor, whom she hides in a secret chamber in her home and together they retain memory and preserve the past.

Of course my paragraph doesn’t do justice to the well-crafted story. One of the fascinating components is that the novel that the writer is working on is contained in the story - a literal novel within a novel. The story within the story is titled “The Typist.” In that story, the typist loses access to her typewriter. The story within the story is in some ways the same story as the novel itself. Even as I write these brief paragraphs, I realize how hard it is for me to describe the complexity and fun of this book. Perhaps it is enough to say that the story is worth reading and Ogawa has crafted a fascinating book.

Of course my life’s work is about a story as well, but it isn’t the same kind of story. My work has to do with the stories that our people have been telling for generations. Perhaps, like all stories, our story starts with lived experiences. Our people left the home of their ancestors and journeyed without knowing their destination. they formed strong family bonds and along the way they collected new family members, some by birth, others by adoption. Their identity was strengthened by the journey and the trials of life on the road. They found places to rest and to stay, sometimes for many generations. They faced hardships, including several occasions where others attempted to eliminate them through crew means. They suffered slavery. They found their way to freedom. They made a home. They lost their home. Of course there is a lot more to the story than just that. One of the important aspects to the story is that through all of the generations of people, they kept the story. Parts of the story of our people have been told for at least 4,000 years. Eventually our people decided that they needed to have the story written down in a permanent form. Creating that written book took many generations and as soon as there was something that seemed to be a complete form we started to encounter different cultures and languages and translation of the story was required. The translations themselves changed the story.

Along the way, as we told the story from generation to generation, it became more than a book. In a way much of what we do is theatre. We have specialized buildings just for the telling of our story. We have songs and motions and even specialized costumes that are a part of our storytelling. We developed ritual and ceremonies that we repeat with great care. We elevated some members of the community to the role of caretakers and tellers of the story.

There are some who find my way of describing our faith and religion as irreverent. I do not lack reverence for our traditions. I do not lack reverence for our story. In some ways I feel like the character in the novel. I have a distinct calling to preserve memories that others are beginning to forget. As more and more people choose lives that are distant from religious traditions and develop secular ways of living, those of us who are immersed in religious lifestyles become the keepers of the traditions and history of our people. We are deeply aware that there are elements and qualities that come from remaining connected to the past. We are convinced that those connections are essential to forging a future as a people. We are deeply dedicated to preserving the memories of our people.

So we tell the story and we strive for accuracy. We enact the rituals and we strive for faithfulness. We teach our children and what we teach them is the truth.

Elie Wiesel, in the introduction to one of his novels reports a conversation with a rabbi in which the rabbi questions the value of his use of novels and stories. The concluding line in that story goes something like this: “Sometimes in order to tell the truth you have to tell a story.” The deep truth of our human condition is so rich and complex that it can’t be fully described. No amount of words is sufficient to contain the whole story. So we use symbols and symbolic language. We can’t describe God, so we use metaphor and simile. We say “God is like . . .” We compare experiences knowing that they aren’t quite the same.

I am aware that conveying the Gospel is done as much with the life I live as it is with the words I say. Words are important and I try to choose my words carefully. But actions speak louder than words. I am aware that there are many settings in which I am being observed. People want to know what a minster is and they pay attention to what a minister does. My life is not just a matter of how I treat people when I am in the church, but also how I treat them when I am not “working.”

Communicating the faith of the many generations of our people is as much a matter of how I treat others in my everyday life as it is the words I write or speak in formal settings. Henri Nouwen wrote “All real living is praying.” I take the prayers I say seriously, but I try also to remember that how I treat the person bagging my groceries is another form of prayer. My interactions with the janitor who cleans the bathrooms is as important as my meeting with the donors who support our work.

The story of our people is far more than the words we say.

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 kids are watching

I attended grade school in a small town. During my elementary years most of the parents of the kids in our class hosted a field trip. We went to a dairy farm about four miles out of town. It wasn’t too impressive to me because my father sold and serviced the milking machines and cream separators that the dairy used, so I’d been out there a lot. We went to the lumberyard, another yawner for me. We went there all the time. We went to the grain elevator, slightly more interesting, especially when the manager told us a story about a huge grain elevator fire that he had witnessed in another town. We went to the doctor’s office, which was closed that day and there were no patients. We didn’t see any blood there, but we talked about the possibility of there being some at some times. My friend Jim, whose father was the doctor, said that he had to sew up people with bloody injuries all the time. David said, “They do that at the hospital not at the office.” An argument ensued. David’s dad worked at the creamery. After showing us all of the big machines, he opened up a large stainless steel butter churn and, after emptying out the contents, took his finger and ran it around the lip of the churn, withdrawing it with what looked like about a quarter of a pound of butter, which he promptly popped into his mouth and swallowed, declaring, “YUM!” It was just like the fairy tale of Jack Sprat. David’s dad was a tall and very slender man. I was impressed. I never ate that much butter at one time before, but once I had taken a big swipe at what I thought was ice cream in the freezer and put it into my mouth only to discover that it was lard, poured into an ice cream bucket. That wasn’t a pleasant experience in my memory.

I liked the visit to the telephone company. And Valerie’s dad, who was an electrician, fixed up a neat set of lights and switches that we could turn on and off.

The visit to the drive in where we each got an ice cream cone was worth the trip.

But, hands down, the best field trip of our entire elementary school experience was when the class went to the airport, where my father was the manager. He had lined up three airplanes and he and two of his pilots gave everyone a ride. There were 3 kids per airplane and 3 airplanes, so it took 3 trips to take all of the kids up for about a 5 minute ride. I had had much longer rides than we got that day, but all of the other kids in my class were jealous of me, being able to ride in an airplane whenever I wanted.

It didn’t do much for my popularity or status at school, but it was a good day nonetheless.

I’m pretty sure that if such an adventure were planned for this day there would be so much paperwork what with liability waivers and permission slips and the like that the trip would include a tour of the hangar and a chance to sit in the airplanes without actually going flying.

Somehow I was thinking about those field trips yesterday as I was doing a bit of shopping for treats to take to the staff of Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center this morning. Twice a month, I stop by at shift change in the facility to deliver a few treats and to offer encouragement to the staff.Taking care of youth who have landed on the wrong side of the law can be a stressful job. Staff turnover is fairly high and most of the corrections officers are young and early in their careers. I like to offer them a bit of support and encouragement and be a listening ear as they sort out their lives. They were drawn to the career out of a desire to be of service. Some of them were drawn to the work because they feel like they can make a difference in a child’s life. As opposed to an adult corrections facility, all of the youth in the center are there for a limited amount of time and the focus on education and learning life skills for the outside world is essential. The people who become officers usually are fairly idealistic about their ability to make an impact. But it is easy to get jaded in that job when the same youth returns time after time and they witness examples of disconnected parents and other behaviors that most of us never witness.

I figure a donut now and again isn’t going to hurt the officers. Actually, most of them are very health and nutrition conscious, so I always bring fresh fruit and a large thermos of good coffee.

One of the things I bring to accompany the coffee is real cream. They are used to powdered creamers in the coffee at the center, so it is a treat to have a pitcher of real cream. We don’t use cream at our house, so twice a month I buy a pint of real cream and share it with the officers and staff of the center. Shopping for cream made me think of David’s father, who in addition to the display of eating butter all by itself once gave me a lecture on how real butter fat and real cream are good for you. He always drank cream in his coffee and said that heavy cream was the best. He lived long enough that I also knew him when he drank his coffee black and drank lots of it staying up late when he switched jobs to running the bowling alley.

Children learn a lot about life by observing adults. I was shaped by ministers and mentors from all walks of life. It is something of which I have to remind myself from time to time. When a little one greets me at preschool or a tot climbs up into my lap at the fellowship hour after church, I know they are studying me. “Can this guy be trusted?” “Is a minister a good thing?” The answer to their questions comes in the form of my behavior. They pay attention to what I do more than what I say.

I hope I never forget that they are watching.

Some of the most troubled youth in our community are watching and studying the behavior of the corrections officers at Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center. The least I can do is send those public servants off to work with a snack in their bellies and a pat on the back.

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!

Joy in the morning

I write my journal posts in the morning and usually do not re-read them. I you follow the journal, you know that it is fairly raw. I make a number of typographic errors. I tend to use a few too many run-on sentences. The entries could use a bit of editing. Yesterday, however, I took a few minutes to read what I had written after I had gone to the office. I wanted to check one of the stories I had told to make sure that I had respected those involved. It is a bit of a challenge for a pastor as I know a lot of stories of the lives of others and I want to have what I say be relevant and connected to the life of the community. On the other hand, the stories of others are not mine to tell and I know things that have been shared with me in confidence and that confidence is a trust that must be honored. So I just wanted to check. I decided that there was nothing in the journal post that was a problem in that sense, but that there were quite a few typographical errors. So I resolved to go back and fix the most obvious mistakes. However, my day got busy and I didn’t get around to that simple little task until this morning. I just went into the editing software and posted corrections to the most obvious errors.

The difference of a day, however, is fairly dramatic in my life. A lot of things happen each day. This morning as I read what I wrote yesterday, I found that I had gotten a bit whiny. I don’t mean to complain about my life and just publish stories of things that make me upset. In the first place, I have a wonderful life and I don’t really have that much about which to complain. I’ve been privileged in almost every aspect of my life. Sure, I’m human. I have some days that are better than others. But I count myself to be among the most fortunate of people. I have a loving family. I have meaningful work. I have a supportive congregation. I have an honored role in the community. I have a beautiful home in a beautiful setting. I have colleagues who are intelligent, competent and supportive. The list of joys in my life is far longer than the list of challenges.

So, to my regular readers, a quick apology: I don’t mean to complain in my journal posts. If I am truly a resurrection preacher as I claimed in yesterday’s journal entry, I should be about telling good news in the midst of this challenging and troubled world.

Today I want to celebrate some of the signs of hope that give me deep joy.

I am so grateful to have an incredible circle of friends and acquaintances who are the age of our children. There are some incredible people who are currently in their thirties who take the time to befriend me. I am genuinely impressed with their intelligence, compassion and energy. I am inspired by their dedication and commitment. Their lives are much different from my own. They are confident and competent with electronic technology. Their smart phones extend their community and they know how to use them to stay connected with their community. My devices seem to get in my way and I have no capacity for multitasking. But their attitude towards their devices is much less awkward than mine. But it isn’t just their attitude towards technology that impresses me. They have grown up knowing how to access great volumes of information. They can fact check a statement in seconds. They are continually sifting and sorting information in intelligent ways. The young adults in my life are building community that reaches beyond their age cohort. They are genuinely caring about their relationships with elders in ways that is genuinely impressive.

And they are becoming parents. The generation of our grandchildren are a deep gift of those young adults. Yesterday I walked down the hall in the church and a voice called out “hello” to me. It was a preschool student who is also active in our church. As I paused to greet her I was struck by how much she has changed in the past few months. She is much more confident and outgoing than was the case last spring. She is ready for preschool and is at home in this new environment of children. She is just one of many children who populate our church and my life.

The world is different from it was when I was 30 years younger. It is different from it was when I was a child. there are incredible challenges that face these people. But when I see who they are and spend time with them I am reminded over and over again of the great creativity, intelligence and leadership they are bringing into the world.

This morning as I look back at yesterday and recall my interactions with other people, I am not less aware that there is deep tragedy, pain and loss in the world. I am, however, filled with renewed hope as I see the caring and compassion with which people are treating each other. For each tragedy and grief I listed in yesterday’s journal entry there are communities of caring people who are responding with compassion, grace and dignity. My job gives me the opportunity to witness those who give of themselves to support their friends and neighbors. It gives me the joy of working in a building that fills with children each school day. It gives me real world examples of resurrection every day. It is not just tears and wailing and sorrow.

Natalie Sleeth was a hymn writer and composer who gave us some dramatic and wonderful songs. Her “Hymn of Promise” has been an inspiration for many and is used at all kinds of occasions. Another of her hymns is playin in my mind as I begin today: “There’ll be joy in the morning on that day, for the daylight will dawn when the darkness is gone, there’ll be joy in the morning on that day.”

That day seems to be today. May you rise to joy.

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!

Faith for the hard days

It doesn’t happen very often, but it has happened before. I woke this morning and for a brief moment I had the sensation that I was waking from a bad dream. I was slightly confused about what time and what day it is. Then I realized that I had not had a bad dream. The terrible thing that I had been thinking about wasn’t a dream. It was reality.

A brief article on the local newspaper’s web site confirmed what I already knew: “Custer County Emergency Management called off a Tuesday search for a missing man after using drones and dog teams to find him.” There aren’t any details in the article. The emergency management department will probably have a press conference and share more information later today, but I already know the information that I need to know. I had been following the story all day long and was kept informed by a family member on scene. It is not my story to share and I don’t want to go into details, but what I can say is that I’ve had this sick feeling since I received the news.

I have completed applied suicide intervention skills training. I know quite a bit about how to work with those who are contemplating suicide. I know the warning signs. I know some of the history of depression and struggle for mental health this family has witnessed. I saw and spoke to the victim a little over a week ago. But my knowledge and my training were not enough to prevent this tragedy. A man is dead before his 40th birthday. A young widow remains. Two daughters remain. Grief is washing over an entire family system and the depth of pain that they feel is overwhelming.

I know I’ll be playing the “could have,” ‘would have,” “should have” game in my mind for the next several days. None of that changes the reality. I will wake to the same reality as that family for each day going forward. And that reality is tragic.

It has been a challenging week and it is only Wednesday.

Yesterday morning I kneeled at the bedside of a woman I’ve known since she was about the age I am now. As I read a Psalm and said a prayer I looked at her hands and face. She never was a big woman, but now she seems so small. It is almost as if she is evaporating in front of us. She is receiving comfort care as she goes through a slow and quiet journey from this life to the next. Now in her 90’s she doesn’t have much family left. A loving niece attends to her and professionals provide the care she needs. I couldn’t tell what she hears or understands, but I chose familiar verses in the hope that there would be some spark of recognition in her and that the words would be comforting.

In the evening I gave a hug to a friend whose list of stressors is so long that It seems impressive that she can be out and functioning, let alone smiling and grateful, which she was. Let’s see: Her son is in the hospital with some kind of infection that they can’t get diagnosed. Her husband is filing for divorce. She has a meeting today with a surgeon about treatment for cancer. Her father died early yesterday morning. Her mother is experiencing dementia and may or may not fully understand the death of her husband. And that isn’t the complete list.

In the morning yesterday I met with a colleague and began our conversation by apologizing for not responding to his Facebook post because I couldn’t figure out how to say what I wanted to say in such a public forum. He is going through a life- and career-changing experience that is far too complex to death with in a Facebook post.

This is what I do with my life and work.

Yesterday, I listened to part of a radio interview with a colleague of mine. He was speaking of the tradition of prophetic preaching, founded in the historic Biblical prophets and speaking truth to power. This, he said, is especially needed in this time of global crisis and environmental destruction. As I listened, I couldn’t help but think that somehow I am not a prophetic preacher. I’ve never had that gift.

If I were to characterize my preaching, I guess I would have to say that I am a resurrection preacher. I am brought again and again to the truth that for our people death is not the end. Despite the stories of tragedy and loss and pain and destruction, God always has more for us. I know that the crisis my colleague is facing is not the end of his career. There will be a fresh start and new opportunities. I know that the problems that are currently overwhelming the woman are not the story of her life. I know that the woman who lies dying in a nursing home bed is only part of the story. I know that the body recovered near a hiking trail is not the end of love in the lives of those who are grieving.

Jesus told his followers, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” (John 15:9) He went on to tell them, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) I am not the one to carry the voice of judgment or anger to others. I am not the one to speak of justice to the halls of power. I am a pastor who is called to bear witness of the power of love. And love is stronger than death. And that means that I am called to speak that message in the face of death. I am called to speak it on the mornings when yesterday seems like a bad dream.

Today I proclaim that this is not the end. The grief, the pain, the sorrow, the loss, the sadness - these are not the final words on the condition of the human spirit. We were born to love. We live in love. We will die in love. And love never ends.

Even when the day is hard. Love never ends.

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!


Erik Erikson was a 20th century developmental psychologist who took Freud’s theories and modified them into a eight-stage theory of development. His work influenced a lot of psychologists and educators and was considered to be essential for teachers and leaders in the later half of the century. When I first read Erikson’s stages, they just made sense to me and I considered them to be a model for thinking about life and development. At the time I first read Erikson, I was not yet a father and had quite limited real world experience, but his theories seemed to explain a lot of what I observed in others and gave a framework for my thinking. I still refer to Erikson’s ideas.

As I have grown and experienced more, I have come to understand that what Erikson presented is just a rough framework and that his sense that the developmental tasks are sequential is not quite accurate. Human beings are complex characters and the definition of successful development and what it means to be well-adjusted can vary widely by culture and by individual. We aren’t all the same. We don’t all develop in the same patterns.

Nonetheless, his framework still colors my thinking.

Recently, I have been thinking about Erikson in part because I believe that I have reached the last of his eight stages. I guess I’ve done pretty well at the other seven. At least I have endured enough to have moved to a new area of focus. Erikson’s last stage of development is called “Integrity vs. Despair.” In his book, Erikson identifies late adulthood as beginning in the mid sixties, which is the age where I now am. He wrote that people in late adulthood reflect on their lives and either feel a sense of satisfaction or a sense of failure. If you have the sense of satisfaction, you have a sense of integrity and can look back without regrets. However, those who do not succeed in this stage of development end up feeling as if their life has been wasted. Bitterness, depression and despair can follow.

Of course, Erikson presents extremes to illustrate his stages of development. Few, if any, have absolutely no regrets. And few, if any, are overwhelmed by a sense of total failure. Most of us find ourselves somewhere in between. We’ve done some things right and we’ve made some mistakes.

What I find about this stage of life is that is requires a great deal of sorting and sifting. At times, I feel like I have so many memories and not all of them have the same value. I remember my father with great joy and those memories are ones that I want to treasure and keep for all of my life. There are some trivial details about my elementary education, including some of my classmates, that I don’t remember. I have other memories that seem to me to be unimportant.

It is similar to the possessions that clutter my life. I have a sense that this phase of my life is a time of sorting. I’ve collected and kept things throughout my life and now is the time to shed some possessions and to distribute some of the things that I’ve gathered.

Yesterday I spent some time sorting things in the garage. I’ve been trying to give a few hours each week to that task since we returned from our simmer trip. My goal is to get the garage emptied so that it can be used as a place to stage other items as we sort through the rest of the house in preparation for a move sometime next summer. The time has come for us to downsize and that means that we won’t be moving all of our possessions.

For the most part, sorting is a good exercise. there are a lot of things that I don’t mind putting into the Rummage Sale or Restore boxes. I’m a bit less free with the items that make it into the garbage can. I can think of uses of many items that I’ll probably never use. I’ve kept things that have potential uses, but for which I have no need. Scraps of wood might be used later. Pieces of wire could be employed in a repair.

There are other items of which I’ve simply collected too many for any one household. I think I have enough duct tape to last the rest of my life. Somehow, I collected new colors and obtained new rolls before I finished the old ones. Fasteners such as screws and bolts are easy to over accumulate. I know I have a particular screw or bolt in my garage, but it is too hard to find, so I go to the hardware store and buy a new package. The package has more than I need so more extras accumulate. Now that I’m sorting and consolidating, I discover that I have huge inventories of some items - far more than I will eve need. More goodies for Restore, I guess. I love Habitat for Humanity, so it is easy to support the Restore.

The accumulation of junk in my garage, however, doesn’t seem like a very good measure of the meaning of my life. Sure I’ve acquired more than I needed. Sure I have kept things that I should not have. But those remnants in my garage remind me of the projects I’ve accomplished. I built two canoes, three kayaks and a rowboat in that garage. I restored two additional canoes that might have been headed for the dump, but now are beautiful and useful boats. I built and repaired quite a bit of furniture in that garage. I’ve repaired broken toys and broken cars and scores of other broken items. My collection of tools and spare parts have proved useful in many ways.

So the next few months will be my time of working on my own development. Despair doesn’t seem to be threatening, but Integrity is an elusive goal.

When I get around to sorting my books, I’ll probably keep my copy of Erikson’s “Childhood and Society.” You never know when I’ll need to check up on his descriptions of developmental stages and see how I’m doing. On the other hand, I’m pretty close to the end of the book. he doesn’t have a stage after the one I’m working on.

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!