November 2020

New State, New Licenses

My South Dakota driver’s license was set to expire on my birthday in 2020. It was around that time that effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus caused the closure of the offices where people go to renew their driver’s licenses. The expiration dates of licenses were extended so that people could continue to drive. So, for a time, I was driving with a license that said on its face it was expired but it wasn’t in fact expired. I wondered how that would be interpreted by authorities in other states if I were to be stopped for a violation when driving out of state, but that never happened, so I do not know. Eventually the license bureaus in South Dakota reopened in a limited fashion. I was able to obtain an appointment and got my license renewed. I breathed a sigh of relief. But, in my case, the relief was temporary.

Now I am in Washington State. The law in Washington requires motorists to obtain Washington license plates for their vehicles within 90 days of establishing residency. The law also requires that persons seeking to license their vehicles in the state obtain a Washington driver’s license before the apply for vehicle licenses. Washington is one of the states that issues a super license that can be used in place of a passport when traveling to and from Canada and Mexico. Although we have passports and intend to keep current passports, it seems like the super license might be handy living this close to the border. There is a hill near our son’s home where, on a clear day, you can see the buildings of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. The closest zoo to our grandchildren’s home is in Canada. And we have had some wonderful times exploring British Columbia and hope to return there once the virus allows the reopening of borders.

At any rate, in Washington the process for a person from another state to obtain a driver’s license is to fill out an online application and be issued a driver’s license number. Then you print the form from the completed application, gather the necessary documents for proof of residency and citizenship, make an appointment and appear in person at the driver’s license station. I filled out the application and prepared to make my appointment, but as had been the case in South Dakota months ago, there were no appointments available at the driver’s license station. The station does not schedule appointments more than 30 days in the future and every slot was taken. This means that I need to check for appointments every business day until a slot opens up and take the first time that becomes available. Assuming that I don’t run into a similar problem with the vehicle licenses, I might get all of this accomplished within 90 days.

The process got me to thinking about the places I have lived and the process of obtaining driver’s licenses and vehicle licenses. We went through four years of graduate school with Montana “Big Sky Country” plates on our car. It is legal for students to maintain residency in their home states when attending university in other states. Montana plates variously have read “Treasure State,” “Big Sky Country,” “Big Sky,” and also been issued without a slogan. Currently Montana’s Motor Vehicle Division has made more than 230 different license plate designs available, each from a sponsoring college, business, advocacy group or non profit organization. It’s confusing. But in those days there was just one design and our plates said “Big Sky Country.”

When we established our residency in North Dakota, we had to trade in our “Big Sky Country” plates for North Dakota “Peace Garden State” plates. The International Peace Garden, on the border between North Dakota and Manitoba has, since the 1930’s been a 3 1/2 acre area that is officially accessible to citizens of both countries. It features formal gardens and a place for people from both countries to meet without having to cross the International border.

I thought it was a bit of a downgrade when we had to trade in our “Peace Garden State” plates for Idaho “Famous Potatoes” plates. I never really understood the “Famous Potatoes” slogan. I know that Idaho is home to some large potato farms and was home of the developer of instant potatoes as well as the potatoes that were the source of McDonalds french fries for many years. But North Dakota grows some pretty good potatoes and, frankly, I found the North Dakota russets to be preferable to the giant potatoes offered as Idaho bakers. Maybe Idaho isn’t the state of good potatoes, only famous ones.

While we lived in Idaho special plates became available, and we left the state with beautiful plates featuring mountain bluebirds that benefitted the state’s non-game wildlife fund.

We traded those for South Dakota “Famous Faces, Famous Places” licenses. At the time, the plates were printed with colors that didn’t have much contrast and the long slogan plus the lack of contrast meant that it was nearly impossible to read the slogan from another car. We went through several design changes in the 25 years we lived in South Dakota and for many of them I had vanity plates on my car that read REV TED.

Now our “Famous Faces, Famous Places” plates will be traded in for “Evergreen State” plates. Or perhaps we’ll get state parks or national parks special plates. Washington doesn’t have the large number of different plate designs that are featured in Montana, but there are several choices. The standard plates feature a picture of Mount Rainier, which is a pretty good design as we love the Cascades. And, since the days of my vanity plates, I’ve become less inclined to pay extra for a special look to the license plates on my vehicles.

Of course all of that is dependent upon my being able to get an appointment to get a driver’s license. It’s just one of the many tasks of changing one’s residency. Fortunately, registering to vote is a bit easier.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Advent begins

“How did the children’s scissors end up on your desk? I was almost ready to ask you to pick up some new ones at the store.” I had no answer to the question. My best guess is that the scissors were taken from their usual place by a grandchild, used and returned to my desk instead of the secretary where they usually live. At any rate, it was no problem. They are found and have been returned to their usual place. I have, however, had some items show up on the shopping list that one might not expect: “Glue sticks sometimes come in packages of multiples. Get at least three if you can find a package.” “Clear contact paper. We could use a roll.” “We’ll need colored paper in the large 12” x 18” sheets.” “Oh, and we’ll need marshmallows, the miniature ones.”

Those items may seem strange to some retired couples, but they aren’t that strange to me. I’ve been married to a very creative woman for 47 years and for at lest 42 of those years she has been planning Advent festivals and fairs for children. It makes sense that among her priorities these days is creating Advent craft projects for our grandchildren. Now that we live close to their home, it is easy for us to “borrow” children for adventures. Today the plan is for us to pick up the children right after lunch. Their father will come down and have supper with us and pick up the children. Actually, we’re borrowing more than just the children. We’ll leave our car at their place and take their minivan, complete with car seats for three children and swap cars again when our son comes to our place.

There is a tulip farm not far from our new home and we’ll take the children there to pick out tulip and daffodil bulbs to plant at their house. Then we’ll come home for stories and hot chocolate by the fire. The craft project is making paper chains as we talk about hope. Then a traditional Sunday dinner of hot dogs, vegetable sticks and “ants on the log” (celery with peanut butter and raisins), topped off with the last of the Thanksgiving pie and a bit of ice cream.

For those who think that we are spoiling our grandchildren, I quote my mother: “Love never spoils anything. You can’t spoil a child by loving.”

Advent is a very special season of the year for me. During the shortest days of the year, when the nights are long and the weather is cold, we set aside time to focus our attention on anticipation and waiting. We renew our understanding that hope is not a matter of expressing our wishes, but rather of shifting our attitude. We need to invest time each year renewing our belief in the future. A wise colleague once reminded me that God is always in our future, calling us to new life. The mistakes and regrets of the past can be forgiven. John Robinson’s sermon to the 17th century Pilgrims still rings true: “There is yet more truth and light to break forth from God’s Holy Word.”

Hope is a deeply ingrained part of the fabric of our faith that we received from those who have gone before and we leave to our children and grandchildren. Hope is the starting point of our Advent journey each year. Peace, joy and love will come as we travel through the season and each of them is undergirded by hope.

We often think of hope in terms of desire. It can even be expressed in selfish ways. People use the word hope to express the lists of things they want. They will say the hope to get a new car or they hope someday they can afford a bigger house. As a theological virtue, hope is something deeper, however. It lies in the fundamental belief that there is good in the future that extends to all of creation and that good is difficult, but not impossible to attain with God’s help. At the same time as we are longing for change, the rest of the world shares that longing and hope is the element that enables us to believe that the change will come.

The Christmas Carol, “O Holy Night” expresses it this way: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” The whole world is longing for peace, joy and love. It isn’t a purely personal desire, but rather a benefit for all people. And it can seem impossible - beyond our abilities to bring about. Hope bursts forth when we realize that we are not alone and that we can participate in something much bigger than ourselves. The tidings of comfort and joy of which we sing do don’t come easy in a world beset by a pandemic with the infection and death rates rising. They do not come easy for those who are facing the loss of income and the loss of their homes. The solutions to the world’s problems are not easy. In order to face the hard work of bringing justice and peace to the world requires a deep belief in the possibility of making hard changes.

Teaching difficult theological lessons - ones that took generations for our people to discover - to children is a challenging and difficult task. And it is one that we need to repeat - over and over again, recognizing that each year we are able to understand a bit more clearly and embrace the concept a bit more deeply.

We wish you renewed hope in this Advent season. May you discover new depths of possibility in the season of darkness.

You can see why children’s scissors, glue sticks and colored paper and even miniature marshmallows have made it to the list of essential items for Advent at our house.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Tools

When I was very young, my father made me a workbench for Christmas. It was sturdily constructed with a drawer that held a hammer, a couple of screw drivers, and a pair of pliers. There was a space to put a small crosscut saw and a couple of places for nails. It even had a small vice for holding items. I spent many hours at that workbench, until I got tall enough to use my father’s bench in the basement. That workbench, somehow, is one of the things that has survived from my childhood. When we were cleaning out our childhood home to prepare it for renters, I put the bench in the back of my pickup and brought it home. It found a place in the corner of our garden shed, where it lived for a couple of decades, a place to put a can of oil or another object while I was working on other things. When it came time to make this move, I contemplated getting rid of the workbench. Our grandchildren will soon be too big for it and it is need of some repairs. The top is pock-marked by hundreds of hammer blows. In fact, I tried to pull out the drawer and discovered that there are a half dozen nails driven all the way through the top of the bench extending into the drawer so that it cannot be pulled all of the way out until those nails are pulled. Just getting it ready for our grandchildren is a project, and I have a long list of projects in the works.

The workbench is in the back of my pickup at the moment, ready for the next trip to our son’s family farm, where it will have a new home in the barn. There I’ll pull out those nails and stock it with a few tools, nails, screws and scraps of wood so that it will be available for projects. I still have the vice, which has been used as a hobby vice for years. That can be cleaned up and re-installed on the bench.

I grew up with a fascination of tools. One of my earliest memories is watching my grandfather plane doors to install in the upstairs of our home. That addition to our home was completed when I was about 2 years old. I loved the curls of wood that came off of the plane. Later, I was given the job of pulling nails as my father worked on various projects around the house. There was always a pile of boards from some remodeling project that had nails that could be harvested and straightened with the use of a hammer and vice and re-used for building things from tree forts to soapbox racers.

As I grew, I gained access to my father’s shops at the airport and at the farm supply store. I learned to appreciate the importance of respecting tools. A borrowed tool had to be returned to its proper place as soon as I was finished with its use. But the shop that held the most fascination for me for years was the quonset hut on my uncle’s farm where he and my cousin shared the space and repaired vehicles and farm machinery. My cousin loved auctions and would return with buckets full of old wrenches and sockets. When I was 14, I was allowed to go through a bunch of buckets and assemble a set of wrenches for myself. I learned to pick out Craftsman brand tools, because they had a lifetime guarantee and could be replaced regardless of where I got them. I obtained a couple of new wrenches by returning ones that had the jaws spread from having been used with excessive force, probably long cheater bars. I still have some of those wrenches in my tool box.

That started a life-long process of collecting tools. My tool boxes grew as the years went by and the tools began to spill into buckets and boxes over the years. I’ve never had a dedicated shop, but we have had garages in the homes we have owned, so space was made for tools and work benches. When I decided to build my first canoe, I didn’t have space to work, so I hung plastic around an outdoor patio and built the canoe there. When we moved to South Dakota, I decided to use one half of a two-car garage as a workspace and built canoes, kayaks and a row boat in that space. The space was tight, so I often obtained duplicate tools so I could have one on each side of the boat. And there is one tool of which no boat builder can ever have too many: c clamps. I started collecting clamps, buying them in twos and threes when I had a little extra cash.

All of my tools were part of the reason that it took us so many trips to move - that and my projects. One trip was made with the box of the pickup jammed with tools and our trailer hauling canoes and kayaks. One consideration of this move was my desire to have a workspace. I dreamed of finding an old farmstead with a barn.

Our son found the barn! He recently moved his family to ten acres in the country with an old farm house, a barn, and several other out buildings. We have decided to set up a shared shop. It has taken me several trips to move tools from storage and the garage in our rental home out to the barn. Yesterday we worked together arranging tools and figuring out the general layout of the shop area. It is going to take me weeks, or even months, to get the space organized, but when I do, there will be a complete bay for storing boats, space to work on building new projects and even a dedicated clean space for varnishing.

And, of course, there will be a corner for that little workbench with plenty of scraps of wood and nails for grandchildren’s projects. I’ve even got plans to build toolboxes for the grandkids so they can start their own tool collections.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Holiday parades

When we were children, winter brought a slowing of our father’s business. Thanksgiving usually marked a time when our dad was around home a bit more for a few weeks until New Year’s. The shop had less work and the airport shifted from as much active flying to more maintenance. There were a few large end-of-the-year deals to work out as people made investments to affect their anticipated tax burden and an annual inventory to be completed and other end-of-the year business to conduct, but there was also more office work that our father could do from home. He’d leave a bit later for work, linger a bit longer at lunch time and make it home a bit earlier for dinner. One year, after resisting having a television set in our home until nearly all of our neighbors had televisions, our father tackled a Heathkit Color Television, completing the kit between Christmas and New Years, in time for us to have one of the first color televisions in our town for the annual Rose Bowl Parade. The color balance wasn’t adjusted correctly for that parade which was more “orange and green” than “full living color” as advertised by NBC. He later got more skilled at adjusting the color on the set and we watched quite a few parades on that television.

The kickoff of the television parade season was, of course, the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade “live from New York City.” While the turkey cooked in the oven and a host of other cooking preparations were being made in the kitchen, we would anticipate the big dinner while we watched the giant balloons making their way between the tall buildings of New York City. In those days, before I visited New York City for the first time, I was always a bit disappointed that the buildings of the city appeared on television to be rather dull and gray. I had been taught to sing about “Thine alabaster cities gleam above the fruited plain,” and expected that New York, the biggest of them all, to be shining white. It never seemed to be so on television.

But you could tell, even from television, that the balloons were spectacular. Imagine a balloon so big that it took a huge team of people to hold it down! The big parade in our home town was the annual Rodeo Parade, held in the summer, with floats from most of the local businesses. We always created some kind of float for the parade, usually on a trailer pulled by a tractor or on the back of our delivery truck. One year our dad landed an airplane on the highway at the edge of town and towed it through the parade route with a saddle over the tail upon which I rode. That generated a bit of excitement and conversation about how he got it to fit between the trees on main street.

Still, our little parade, complete with every fire truck in the department and both cars of the Sheriff’s Department and the lone local police car, went by pretty quickly. The whole show was always over in less than an hour.

Later, when I was an adult, we enjoyed the annual Reeder Appreciation Days Parade in a small North Dakota Town where the three block of Main Street were so short that they would run the parade around the block and cruse back down main street in the opposite direction so everyone could watch it twice and see both sides of the horses, floats and fire trucks.

My fascination with parades continued well into my adult life. When we moved to South Dakota, I participated in the chamber of commerce sponsored Leadership Rapid City program. My class started an annual night lights parade on the Friday after Thanksgiving that continued every year until this year, when the event was cancelled due to the pandemic. I volunteered for several years, directing traffic and staffing parade barricades.

This year, however, isn’t a year for parades. There was an annual Macy’s Day Parade in New York City, but it was restricted to a single block and the television show featured pre-recorded entertainment. On of the featured artists, Dolly Parton, wasn’t even in New York, having recorded her part of the show from Tennessee. They did have the big balloons, but I didn’t watch the parade. We have a small television, but it hasn’t been unpacked. I did watch a 59-second video summary of the parade on the BBC website. That’s about it for holiday parades for me this year.

There was no lack of entertainment at our house, however. Our grandchildren came streaming into our house at a full run from the car as soon as they pulled up out front. We made holiday placemats for each other and got down on the floor to play with toys including an ample supply of Lego bricks saved from when their father was a boy. We feasted on traditional foods and checked in over Skype and FaceTime with our daughter’s family and with family friends back in South Dakota. Some of us had two kinds of pie with ice cream and whipped topping for desert. It was a wonderful day. I think our celebrations were muted enough that we didn’t annoy the neighbors, which is a good thing because we definitely are the new kids on the block.

As for work, things are a LOT laid back for us this year. Usually the First Sunday of Advent involves a few extra hours at the church. There are banners to change, an Advent Wreath to set out, and craft supplies to gather for the Advent fair. Gathering craft supplies for craft projects for our grandchildren was a somewhat smaller task.

On Sunday afternoon we’ll take our children out to a local farm to purchase tulip bulbs to plant. They’ll need to be planted quickly. Early November is the time to plant tulip bulbs around here. And they know tulips. The annual tulip festival in our new home town occurs each April and they’ve planted well over five million tulip and daffodil bulbs this year. The fields and fields of flowers are producing bulbs that will be sold across the country for summer planting in gardens. We are looking forward to the festival this year, which will be our first in-person visit to the fields of flowers. In the meantime, our grandchildren will plant a few bulbs at their new home to brighten up the spring while their grandparents talk to them about anticipation and waiting.

It seems that I have no need for a parade this year.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Thanksgiving 2020

My childhood home address was “Street.” My college address was “Drive.” In Seminary and in our North Dakota home we lived on an “Avenues.” In Idaho, we lived on a “Road.” Our South Dakota home was on a “Lane.” Now we’re back to an “Avenue” one again. We’ve so far not yet had an address with “Way” or “Loop” or “Boulevard.” Like our South Dakota home, our current home is on a hill. “Hillcrest Avenue” really does go over the crest of a hill. For us this means that like our South Dakota home any walk from our house involves an uphill return. You have to learn to save some energy for the end of the walk. Nonetheless, the hill involved at this house is a lot less steep than the one at our Rapid City Home. Some days we feel like hopping in the car and driving a bit before taking our walk, exploring some of the various nearby trails. Some days we just walk around the neighborhood. Since we are new, there are lots of things to explore by food within an easy walk. A short walk from our home we can turn onto the Kulshan Trail, a 2.5 mile section of a converted rail bed. The trail is paved and passes by salmon rearing beds and other natural areas. There are several beautiful and interesting metal sculptures along the path. Near one end of the trail is the Habitat for Humanity Restore. At the other end of the trail is Bakerview Park. We pass bicycle commuters and runners as well as other walkers when we walk there.

Yesterday, we walked east on the trail, which led us alongside LaVenture Middle School, home of the Falcons. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Mount Vernon Schools have paused on-campus learning, so there weren’t any students out on the large field next to the school which doubles as a soccer field and a football field. The football goalposts are fixed, but the soccer goals can be moved depending on which game is being played. No human players, yesterday, however. The bleachers were empty of fans. We didn’t see any birds of prey, either. Instead, the field was occupied by large groups of Canadian geese. The Skagit Valley is winter home to a lot of wintering ducks, geese and swans. By numbers, there are a lot less Canadian geese in the area than snow geese. You might think that being so close to the border there would be more, but then again the border is closed at present due to the pandemic. Perhaps geese are considered essential business and exempt from the closure. Yesterday, however, the school field was a place for Canadian geese. We were trying to figure out their game, but could see no ball in play, though there was quite a bit of “cheering” coming from the fans alongside the field. Filling the trees near the field and occupying a few strategic locations around the field was a murder of crows. The Crows were raising their voices above the din of the geese. For that short section of our hike, the usual quiet of the natural places was filled with lots of raucous noise. It appeared that the crows were arguing with one another, not with the geese. We decided that the competition on the field wasn’t between the crows and the geese.

We have seen plenty of crows in the Black Hills, but never in the large groups that we have seen here. As birds go, crows are fairly intelligent. When I was a kid one of the neighbors “adopted” an injured crow and helped nurse it back to health. The bird “learned” several words and would hang around the neighborhood and it sounded like it was talking as it imitated the sounds its human friends had taught it.

There are plenty of birds to watch in our new home. Yesterday was garbage day for our neighborhood. Our day is usually Thursday, but the Thanksgiving holiday is a long weekend for the workers who drive the garbage and recycling trucks, so we had an early pickup. Those whose usual day is Friday will have to wait until Monday for their pickup. Around the corner from our house I saw a garbage can that had been filled to overflowing with a large garbage bag peeking out of the partially opened cover. It had attracted a group of seagulls who were finding food in the bag and spreading the rest of its contents on the street. I’ve heard of other animals spreading garbage and we worried about the wind in South Dakota, but this was my first experience with birds getting into the garbage. They were making a mess that rivaled any made by raccoons.

So far we haven’t seen any deer or turkeys in our neighborhood, but we seem to have plenty of non-human neighbors to keep us entertained for the present. We have always been grateful for all of our neighbors and enjoy the antics of all kinds of creatures.

As we develop new traditions in a new place, we will be thinking of our South Dakota family gathering for Thanksgiving dinner today. The numbers will be smaller, as everyone is being careful to avoid large groups during the pandemic, but there will be a gathering of our friends in a place where we have often celebrated the feast. Due to the difference in time zones, we’ll probably be sitting down to dinner a bit later than the folks in South Dakota, but they will be on our minds as we say our thanksgiving prayers.

The Pilgrims of Plymouth colony must also have been thinking of family back in England and Holland after a year when nearly half of their number succumbed to disease and hunger. Perhaps their Wampanoag neighbors were also feeling a bit nostalgic for the former days before their numbers had been reduced by epidemics. Thinking of those who are not with us in this time and place is a long honored tradition of the day.

Who knows, maybe the geese are also thinking of their cousins who are spending this winter north of the border.

Copyright (c) 2020 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 Day of Preparation

Today will be a baking day at our home. With a kitchen and an oven that is new to us, we decided that we didn’t want to risk putting off all of the preparations until tomorrow morning. Also, frankly, our retirement lifestyle seems to involve sleeping in a bit in the mornings. So we’ll be baking buns and pies today. Susan announced some time ago that this Thanksgiving dinner would feature foods chosen by the whole family. She asked each of us to name one food that we wanted for our feast. She chose turkey and a nice turkey was ordered at the grocery store. I chose buns. I’ve been baking buns for Thanksgiving for most of our married life. My mother was an excellent bread baker and each thanksgiving she made dinner rolls that were just right for sandwiches with leftovers. When we were married, I took over the bread baking because I had the recipes and the tradition. I still love the smell of bread baking and the taste of warm rolls, fresh from the oven. The thing about baking a day ahead is that a few of the buns will be consumed before the rest of the family arrives tomorrow.

Our son chose jellied cranberries - the kind you buy in the can and serve - no preparation necessary. Our daughter-in-law is making two different vegetable casseroles: one with beans and another with squash. Our oldest grandchild picked apple pie. Our middle grandchild picked pumpkin pie. Our youngest grandchild picked ice cream. I sense a theme in the choices of the children. When we did our big shopping trip on Monday, I noticed that the list included ingredients for a few more foods such as stuffing, potatoes, and much more. It will be a feast for sure.

So we will also be baking pies today. Now about those pies: There is little known about the original harvest festival held by the Pilgrims of Plymouth colony in the 17th Century. The feast is mentioned in William Bradford’s journal “Of Plymouth Plantation.” We do know that there were only 53 surviving Pilgrims, down half from the 102 that arrived on the Mayflower. The survival of those Pilgrims was thanks to considerable help from members of the Wampanoag tribe, thanks in no small part to the fact that a member of the tribe, Squanto, spoke fluent English, having earlier been taken as a slave to England. Facing their second winter on the North American continent, the Pilgrims had much more ample food supplies than was the case a year earlier. According to Bradford, about 70 members of the Wampanoag were included in the celebration. Chances are it was a bit like a church potluck, with everyone bringing food to contribute to the feast. It seems fairly certain that no one brought pie.

Pie crust requires butter, or some other shortening, and flour. Neither of those staples were available in any quantity in those early days of the colony. That also means that there were probably no dinner rolls at that feast, either. The Pilgrims would have been focusing on their newly acquired skills of survival in the new place, not on the recipes of England, where pies were as often filled with meat and vegetables as with fruit and berries.

Various squash, including pumpkins, might have been on the menu, but there is no record of the exact foods that were served. It is unlikely that our granddaughter’s choice of pumpkin pie is based on extensive study of the practices of the Plymouth colony. Since she is only six years old, I suspect that it came as much from the stories she has read and the reports of her friends as from any long-standing family tradition.

The civil engineer and poet Richard Blanco, in his collection, “How to Love a Country,” makes mention of pumpkin pie. In his Cuban-American immigrant family pumpkin - calabasa - “was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.” His poem about an immigrant family’s attempt at a celebration of the American holiday is delightful and funny.

I’m glad our granddaughter chose pumpkin pie. I happen to like it. Furthermore, I think it is important that we teach children that pumpkins are food. After years of various Halloween celebrations with the children of the church, I’m always a bit surprised that there are quite a few children who think of pumpkins as decorations, not as food. They remove the insides without any knowledge of the flavor of roasted pumpkin seeds. Then they carve a jack-o-lantern that lasts for about a week before it is thrown away. In our South Dakota home, the jack-o-lanterns were a special treat for the deer, who sometimes even found the courage to venture onto the porch to get a snack before they were taken to the compost pile.

Apple pie is a natural for Washington, a state that produces a lot of apples. In the years when we lived in South Dakota and our son lived in Washington, we always returned with at least one box of apples. They are delicious, plentiful and relatively inexpensive here. So we’ll have the luxury of two kinds of apples for our pie. Granny Smiths are rich in pectin and provide a bit of tart as well as firm flesh. Sweet apples will round out the flavor.

I already know that the temptation to take a test taste of the pies will be resisted. It is too obvious when you try to snitch a snack from a pie. The treat will be saved for tomorrow. After all, there is much joy in preparation and anticipation. Waiting is part of the fun of a celebration. And as we prepare, we are aware that for our daughter, who is in Japan where it is a day ahead of our time zone, will already be celebrating their last Thanksgiving in that country before they move back to the United States in February.

We’ll also know that in our house the celebration and feast will continue after the actual day with leftovers and a big pot of turkey soup on the menu for next week.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Not in South Dakota anymore

autumnwalk
One of the treasures of our former home, Rapid City, South Dakota, is that there are wonderful wilderness trails that are easily accessible to anyone in the city. A M Hill, anyone can walk from the city park system onto a system of trails that crisscross a forested hillside and give contact with the rugged terrain and beauty of the Black Hills. Skyline Wilderness Park is on a ridge in the midst of the city and offers spectacular views and moderate trails. We could walk up into the park from our church or, when we wanted a less strenuous hike, drive to near the top and hike for miles on trails right in the city. After a health scare, daily walks have become an important part of our physical and psychological health and Rapid City is a great place for walking.

So far, our new home doesn’t disappoint us in that department. At Lion’s Park, the urban Riverwalk connects directly with a trail through the tall trees of the Skagit flood plain. The Kushlan Trail is a converted rail bed that covers several miles from Bakerview Park down to and connecting with the Riverwalk. Little Mountain, on the south side of the city, is criss-crossed with trails through the forest that are reserved for mountain bikes and hikers. It is easy to walk away from the developed places and explore the rich temperate rainforest, surrounded by huge cedar, Douglas fir, Hemlock and Spruce trees.

notinkansas
Yesterday, while hiking on the lower half of Little Mountain, we had one of those “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” moments. If you aren’t a fan of the Wizard of Oz, the heroine of the L. Frank Baum fantasy has a moment of realization that a tornado has transported her far from her home. Well, as we were hiking on Little Mountain, we were well aware that we were no longer in South Dakota.

Walking among trees that are 150 feet high was the first clue. I remember having a conversation with our children when we visited Portland, Oregon from our home in Boise, Idaho about how much bigger the trees were and saying, “That’s what happens when trees get all the water they want.” Of course the climate of the coastal mountains is far more complex than simply the amount of water, but rainfall is an important part of the lush forests that grow along the west coast of the United States from Alaska to California. In the Pacific Northwest, the forests are especially lush and gorgeous. As we walked along the trail, we were also walking next to lush undergrowth of mosses and ferns. There aren’t any ferns growing under the pine forests of our South Dakota home. As we walked the squish squish sound of the damp dirt trail was much different from the crunch of walking on dry pine needles. The leaves that had fallen on the trail were, like the trees that surrounded us, a lot larger than anything we would find in the Black Hills. One giant maple leaf was more than twice the span of my hand with my fingers spread. It was nearly the size of the maple leaf on the Canadian Flag.

As we walked, we had one experience that was reminiscent of hiking in the Black Hills. We hear the sound of jet engines overhead as some of our nation’s military hardware flew by at a high rate of speed. As one who grew up listening to the sound of airplanes, however, I knew right away that we weren’t hearing the sound of Air Force B-1 Bombers with their afterburners and wings that can sweep back as the plane accelerates. These weren’t the planes of Ellsworth Air Force Base, but rather F-18 fighter jets from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, about 25 miles west of Mount Vernon. We couldn’t see the jets due to the cloud cover, but know from our experiences in the summer that they are the type of planes flown by the Blue Angels flight demonstration team. In fact, we’ve seen the Blue Angels practice in the skies over Mount Vernon when they were on the west coast at the opposite side of the country from their home base in Pensacola, Florida.

“Susan, I’ve a feeling we’re not in South Dakota anymore.”

littlemountainhike
However, it doesn’t really rain all the time in our new home. We’ve had quite a bit of rain, as we enter the wettest months of the year in this location, but we’ve been able to walk during periods between rain showers. Yesterday there was just a brief shower in the middle of the day and plenty of time to take a walk when it wasn’t raining. Only once, in the time we’ve been here have we walked in a light rain. Other days, we simply pay attention to the weather and walk when it isn’t raining. Having said that, however, we are well aware that enjoying the outdoors in this place is going to require a few changes. Christmas this year at our house will probably include gifts of new rain coats and waterproof shoes. That squish, squish sound is kind of fun as long as it isn’t inside of your shoes. Back in South Dakota I would sometimes opt for the less expensive walking shoes that weren’t water proofed. They were good for about nine months of the year. I’d just switch to boots when snow and slush demanded waterproof shoes.

We are so fortunate to have been able to live in places of great natural beauty. The magnificence of the forests in our new home take nothing away from the beauty of the Black Hills that we have loved for so many years. We count ourselves as fortunate to have been able to live among the pines of South Dakota. Now we are exploring the natural beauty of a new place as we walk among different trees. Even though we’re not in South Dakota anymore, we are very fortunate to be in the place where we find ourselves.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Rethinking Thanksgiving

Psychologists have done extensive research about the stories that we tell. It seems that our memories are not completely accurate. Moreover, the more we tell a story about an event in our past, the farther from the actual facts of the event we stray. The stories we tell the most often are likely the least accurate in terms of the details. This iOS true not only of personal stories, but also our collective stories. It was not always this way. Our biblical tradition, for example, comes from a long history of oral tradition in a culture that was incredibly accurate as it passed stories from one generation to another. The process was on of collective storytelling. Stories were told over and over again by a group of people who checked each other for word for word accuracy in the telling. Studies of existing tribal people in the middle east have revealed cultures where accurate story telling has been well documented.

It may be that in general tribal societies have a better grasp on accuracy when it comes to telling stories than more individualistic cultures. This does not mean, however, that any group of people holds ultimate truth. Perspective and bias creep into all of our stories and we tell them from a particular point of view. I grew up in a place that was originally the land of the Crow people, who call themselves Apsáalooke. Their name has also been spelled Absaroka and Absarokee. Those of us who grew up speaking English as our primary language are reminded every time we pass by the highway sign for Crow Agency, which reads “Baaxuwuaashe” that we have trouble pronouncing the words of their language. Later in my life, when I lived for 25 years in the Black Hills, land sacred to the Lakota, that the two tribes tell different stories about each other and the time before European settlers arrived in the northern plains.

Now that we have made the move to the Pacific northwest, we have begun to learn more about the indigenous people of this country. Tribal names don’t yet roll off of the tips of our tongues. Tulalip, Stillaguamish, Swinomish, Samish, Skagit, Lummi, and Nooksack nations are all crammed into a small amount of space in this region. Their former lands are now occupied by settlers and retirees and tech workers who can work remotely. Some of the island people can no longer afford to live on their traditional islands, having been driven off by out of control real estate prices.

This week invites reflection on the stories we tell because we have long told stories of Thanksgiving, especially what we have called the “first Thanksgiving” that have strayed a long way from historical accuracy.

There was an even that happened in 1621 when the Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe shared a harvest ceremony, but the way we tell the story probably has little similarity to the actual historical event. There is no evidence that turkey was on the menu and pie could not have been because there was no flour or butter available to make crust. The popular historical narrative of friendly Indians handing over food, knowledge and land to kindhearted Pilgrims is certainly not that way most indigenous people recall the story of the coming of Europeans to this continent.

There are plenty of indigenous people in the upper midwest whose version of the story includes the killing of tens of millions of buffalo that led to mass starvation and the nearly total genocide of plains tribes. We don’t tend to tell those stories when we sit down to our annual November feast.

This year as we struggle to find meaningful ways to tell our stories in the midst of a global pandemic, we have a fresh opportunity to look at the stories we tell, how we tell them, and how the stories of other people differ from our own. Many tribal nations have taken a particularly strong stance in efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in part because of the strong tribal memory of other diseases that ravaged indigenous people. Smallpox, measles, and other diseases were unknown to indigenous Americans before the advent of settlers form Europe. The settlers brought with them diseases that ravaged the locals. Some of the land that was taken by settlers was vacated by the deadly effects of rampant disease. This pandemic has already had a disproportionate impact on people of color in the United States, a reality that hit home personally last week as we received news of the death of our friend Matt Iron Hawk. Matt was a deeply patient teacher of Lakota ways, who invested a lot of effort in teaching us a few Lakota words. A native speaker, he was recognized as a wise elder among the people of the southwest corner of the Cheyenne River Reservation. Matt died of Covid-19 and his wife is very seriously ill. With Matt’s passing a great opportunity to learn the stories from a Lakota perspective has been lost.

Long before settlers arrived on this continent, indigenous people practiced ceremonies of giving thanks. With each animal killed for food, prayers of thanksgiving were offered. Traditions that emphasized giving rather than taking were deeply ingrained in indigenous cultures. There is much that we can and need to learn from our neighbors, but we can’t learn those lessons by taking. Pretending to be native, telling others’ stories as if they are our own, and other forms of cultural appropriation do not heal the wounds of the past. Rather we are called to be ourselves in our relationships with indigenous people, while we accept the honesty of their stories and seek to be more honest in the telling of our own.

It is a lot to think about as we prepare to celebrate the holiday with our family. Perhaps this year can be a year of telling our stories in a different way and of teaching our children and grandchildren of the importance of listening to the stories of others.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Reign of Christ 2020

I once met a woman who had suffered terrible abuse as a child. Her father had abused her for several years from the time she was very young. She survived the trauma and learned to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. She found a loving and supportive partner, married, and became a mother who protected her children and raised them to become happy and successful adults. I might never have known of her history of abuse, but the story came out in a small group Bible study. Like many other groups in which I have participated over the years, we prayed together at the opening and closing of our meetings. The group became close and shared honestly our doubts as well as our faith. One day she told the group that she struggled with the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Addressing God as “Our Father” seemed out of place for her. Because of how she had been treated by her father, she could not think of God as father, even though she had grown to see other fathers who expressed love to their children. For her faith to grow, she needed to think of God as radically different from her experience with her human father. She found it easier to simply use the word God instead of father. She prayed in unison when we shared the prayer, but personally, she thought of God as distinct and very different from father. For her, God is love in a form that is different than any human person.

I still admire her perspective. She taught all of us an important theological truth: God is not some kind of super human, who reflects all of our human traits. Rather, we are created in God’s image and have the capacity to reflect some of God’s goodness and love. The similarities between humans and God are not the product of our projections about our own nature, but rather our acceptance of the love of God.

It is a theological concept that many faithful Christians never fully develop. It is so easy to think of God in our own terms and pray as if God were similar to us. For generations, artists have depicted God, and even Jesus, as looking like themselves. These great works of art are not the products of unfaithful creators, but rather a projection of an incomplete theology.

Today is one of the holidays in the Christian year that offers an opportunity to develop a more mature theology. The Reign of Christ is the last Sunday of the Christian year. A new year begins next week with the First Sunday of Advent. For generations, we called this day “Christ the King” Sunday. It is a day of reminding ourselves that Christ is a gift of God to the entire world, not just the people we know and like. When we experience conflict with others, we need to remember that God loves all of the people of the world, including those we consider to be our enemies. Christ came for everyone and, having ascended after his resurrection, offers God’s love to all. The change in the name of the holiday is the product of the many failures and imperfections of human monarchs. If we say Christ is King of the entire world, we need to understand that Christ is not the same as human kings, who abuse power and fail to care for the least of their subjects. It is a bit like the woman in the Bible Study group. She learned to love and be loved by God, but the language of human relationships provided a challenge that helped her to think of God in a more expansive manner. Reign of Christ language invites us to think of Christ as much more than a human monarch.

The coming of the end of this year seems especially welcome in some ways. The past year has been very difficult for so many people. The politics of our nation have been especially divisive and troubling. People have resorted to anger in their discussions and the anger has spilled out into the streets as protestors have cried out for justice and counter protestors have sought to demonize those they see as the opposition. The rule of law has been brought into question by a very human president with very human flaws and an inability to acknowledge his shortcomings and failings.

So many people have suffered because of the pandemic and the failure of leaders to express compassion for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones.

The year now ending has not been easy for so many people. We are ready for a new year. Advent, with its promise of new life and the birth of love once again into a world of pain and suffering, is especially welcome. I’m ready for a new year. I’m ready for light and life and hope to reemerge.

Our faith, however, teaches us that new life is not instant. We begin each new year with waiting and preparing. It is Advent, not Christmas, that is our place of beginning. Fulfillment will come. Christ will be born into our lives, but first we wait. First we prepare.

For many years we have sent small Advent grifts to our grandchildren. Usually they have been a series of small art projects. They have made bird feeders and planted bulbs and colored and painted calendars. This has always been a process of us mailing supplies and hearing about their preparations from a distance. This year we have the gift of being with our grandchildren each week of Advent. We will be able to share the joy of watching them discover the daily surprises of the Advent calendar. We will be able to share the advent crafts in person. We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.

Like other years, the reign of Christ is combined with the expression of gratitude through the celebration of Thanksgiving. This week will be an intense time of shopping, baking and preparing. May it also be a time of deepening our faith and growing in our understanding of the true nature of God’s love.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Getting connected

I’ve been thinking that I need to expand the subjects for my journal. I’ve been writing about the process of retirement and moving for five months now. I suspect that my journal entries are repetitive and a bit boring. There are so many things that I could be writing about. The snow geese and trumpeter swans are arriving in Skagit County. We’ve already seen small groups of the birds. By the end of December, there will be 10,000 to 12,000 trumpeter swans in the area. Smaller numbers of tundra swans and snow geese also winter in the area. At 25 to 30 pounds, trumpeter swans are among the largest birds capable of extended flight. They are magnificently beautiful in flight, on the water and on the land. Their distinctive calls are the reason for their name. They have also been called whistling swans. I plan some excursions out into the county to photograph the birds this year and I want to discover where they are congregating so I will be able to show them to others when the pandemic eases and we are once again able to welcome guests to our home.

Although it is just 25 mile away, we haven’t been to the coast to gaze out at the islands and watch the ferries. There are dozens of interesting topics for my journal just a few minutes from our home.

However, the process of settling and adjusting are the topics that are occupying my mind at the present and therefore the easiest topics for my journal. After a dozen years of writing a daily essay, I’ve learned that the topic that is on the top of my mind is often the easiest way to produce a journal entry.

Today marks one week of being in our home after our last of four trips to make the move. We no longer have a home or any of our possessions in South Dakota. I turns out that our timing was fortunate as infection rates soar in South Dakota. The risks are still high here, but with a mask mandate and restrictions on gathering including no dining in restaurants, it seems a bit safer to us. Settling in and unpacking is occupying our time and we aren’t venturing out in ways that increase our exposure. So far our bubble includes only our son and his family. Of course their bubble includes others, so our bubble is bigger than just those five people, but it remains quite small.

One week into our settling, our house is beginning to feel more like home. We still have boxes in several rooms, but there are fewer of them. We are getting unpacked and organized bit by bit. Our garage is still filled with unorganized items, but we’re tackling that as well. Yesterday felt like a day of big accomplishments. I got the leaves raked and the lawn mowed. It didn’t hurt that we had a whole day without rain. The big accomplishment was that we finally got connected for Internet service in our house. That is so different from the last time we moved. Back then Internet wasn’t considered to be an essential utility. We had a land line telephone connected and I used a modem to connect to the internet at very slow speeds. We didn’t stream video or visit with family over Skype or FaceTime. In this move, we are using our cell phones and probably won’t get a land line for telephone. But having high speed internet with plenty of bandwidth seems essential as it is our way of connecting with our daughter and her family - something we are used to doing daily. There are some very good places for free Internet in the city, including the parking lot of the library where our son is the director, so we have been able to connect each day. Still, it seems nice to have gotten connected in our home so we can browse the Internet whenever we want. Last night we were both on our computers for quite a bit of time after dinner.

We’ve got all of the utilities connected. We’ve figured out how to shop for groceries and we’ve found the hardware store. We’ve unpacked and organized. We’ve even gotten the lawn mowed. Our son and I are setting up a shared shop in their barn and we are looking forward to several shared projects. By the end of the month we will, for the first time in several years, have no need of rented storage space. More importantly, we’ve hosted our son’s family for dinner and been out to visit at their farm several times. It feels like the first week has been a time of accomplishment.

We are working down the list of places where we need to register our change of address. It seems like that list is a lot longer than it was when we moved to South Dakota. Back then we weren’t on Medicare, we weren’t taking any daily medicines and we didn’t have a list of medical specialists with whom to connect. Back then we switched our primary bank in the move. This time we had to be careful about the timing of reporting address changes to our bank and credit card company so that we would know what zip code to use when using our credit card at gas pumps during the trip. There are a lot of complexities to the move that we had not fully anticipated.

Still, we feel a sense of accomplishment in having met each challenge and figured out a plan to get the things we have done taken care of. We have received and paid all of our last utility bills form our former home and we are connected to all of our utilities in this home. We’ve received mail at our new address including mail that was forwarded from our old address. I’ve even received magazines here, and magazines are not forwarded by the US Postal Service.

The news is that we are settling and making connections in our new home. I guess that’s not too bad for our first week.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

We are winging it

Along the journey of my career, I have had several mentors who have shown me the way. Being a church camp kid, I knew a lot of ministers in my growing up years. My parents were active not only in our local congregation, but in the Conference, so we often went to church meetings where I got to renew my friendships with the pastors I met at camp. When I went to college, I met other ministers, some of whom were professors. When we got married, we had the luxury of two ministers, both very special people in our lives, who shared the officiating role. In seminary, I met other ministers and served internships with some excellent mentors.

One of the lessons of my early years as a pastor in rural North Dakota was that the leadership structure of the church, at least the part of the church occupied by the United Church of Christ, is not hierarchical. There were some great mentors and models for our pastoral work, but not all of them occupied positions of power in the Conference or the National setting of the church. Sometimes the people who had positions in the structures of the church disappointed me. There were, however, many other pastors with whom I served who were guides and models for my ministry.

Throughout my career, I’ve been in on many discussions about pastor to pastors. If the pastor of a local church provides support and nurture to the people served, who provides that support and nurture to the pastor? My father died the third year after I was ordained, so the question was very real. I turned to the pastors I had known growing up for the care I needed. I also found that I had a very supportive colleague who was serving a congregation of another denomination in our town. When our son was born, we were fortunate that one of the ministers who had officiated in our wedding was willing to travel to the congregations we were serving to officiate at the baptism. Not long after that, I served on the search committee for a new Conference Minister for our conference. Finding someone who could be a pastor to our pastors was a high priority for me and it became a priority for the committee. We made our choice and that minister became a pastor to us. He baptized our daughter when the time came.

I also had experiences when those occupying positions within the church disappointed me. I clearly remember turning to a church leader for support when I was serving as the moderator of our Conference. In hindsight, I found out that the leader was enmeshed in a personal and professional crisis, but I was unaware of that struggle at the time. I was overwhelmed with disappointment when I got no support from the place where I thought I would find the support I needed.

Since I have had pastors for friends and colleagues for all of my life, I have watched a lot of them move from active careers into retirement. Some have made the adjustment well. Others have struggled. One of my colleagues felt he was pressured to retire before he was ready. He found great meaning and provided a great service to the church by serving in multiple interim pastor positions. He became very good at serving congregations in the time between one pastor leaving and the congregation calling a new person to the position. He traveled all around the United States, serving congregations in many different Conferences and found great meaning in this new phase of his life. When health forced him to settle down and stop that work he was ready. Having responded to the call of the church to go where he was needed, he struggled in this new phase to figure out where to live. It seemed like he and his wife moved every couple of years for a while. Once, when they were in the midst of a move, he said to me, “I never thought I’d be homeless, but now I have no home.” I admire his dedication to the church and his choice of a path of service, but I grieve his sense of being lost and homeless at the end of his life. He was a good mentor and model for me, but I have chosen not to follow in his footsteps.

For us, after 42 years of going where we were called, the place of our retirement became important. It isn’t that we had a favorite place to which we returned, but rather that we wanted to live close to family. The closest we lived to other members of our family during our active careers was 300 miles. Fortunately for us, my mother and Susan’s father both chose to move to our city near the ends of their lives so that we could provide the love and support they needed. Other than those years, we have always lived a long way from family. So we decided that our retirement would mean making a move to be close to family and chose the town where our son works. We aren’t completely settled yet. We have a lovely rental home where we will live for a year while we evaluate the housing market and choose a more permanent place to live.

It is interesting to me that our choice is different from any of our mentors or colleagues. We don’t really have a model that we are following. And, because we have moved a long way from the place where we were serving, we don’t know very many pastors in this area. There are a lot of retired pastors in this region of the country, but we’ve only met a couple. The pandemic has altered church life and changed how we connect with others. Livestream church isn’t the supportive community that we have experienced in other phases of our lives.

So we find ourselves creating our own path rather than following the example of mentors and models. Looking back, I realize that some of the ministers I have known and respected during their professional lives weren’t very good at retirement. It may be that our best models for retirement come from lay persons and not from ministers. Time will tell how we travel this part of our life’s journey, but for now we’re “winging it.”

And that, my friends, seems to be a good way for us.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

No Worries

Friends, Our adjustment to our new home means that we are connecting to a new internet provider. For the next few days, we will not have regular Internet service. Therefore the journal entries will be published later in the day when we will travel to a place with Internet access. I apologize for any inconvenience.Blessings!Ted

Gratitude

We grew up with the tradition of a family prayer before each meal. At our house we had several prayers that were learned through repeated use. We knew that before the food was passed, we would pause and say a thank you prayer. When we became adults, we continued that tradition with our children, using some of the same prayers that we had used when we were growing up. Our son and his family have adapted that tradition slightly. When they sit down for a family meal, they go around the table and each person shares some of the specific things for which they are thankful. It is a delightful time of connecting with each other’s day and being reminded of the blessings that surround us each day.

Last night we had a family dinner at our home with our son and his family. In the late afternoon, our daughter-in-law had an errand to run, so she dropped by with the children and left them at our home for a little while. Our son came to our house after work and soon his wife was able to join us. We are in the process of developing new routines for our grandchildren when they come to visit. They know that there are toys upstairs and that they are welcome to play with them. Yesterday they found out about the shelves of children’s books in the living room. It was their first visit since the books had been unpacked. As diner approached, the children were given tasks to complete. The nine-year-old set the plates on the table. The six-year-old filled water glasses. The three-year-old put a napkin at each place. The children were cheerful in their tasks, adjusting to the new routines in a new place.

As we went around the table, sharing the things for which we are grateful, the three-year-old was exuberant. She was thankful for the dinner. When pressed to say which food she liked best, she said, “Everything! I like the meat. I like the carrots. I like everything!”

I couldn’t match her unrestrained enthusiasm, but I had a sense of how she felt. It was hard for me to name just one thing for which I was grateful. The temptation was to go on and on with a long list of things. We are just adjusting to a new way of life. For the first time since we have been grandparents, we live close enough to our grandchildren for them to drop by for a short visit. After many years of just the two of us eating at our table, the leaves are in the table once again and all of the chairs are around it. We still have a lot of boxes to unpack and we have all kinds of undone tasks, but enough things have been unpacked to give us a functional home. We have learned enough about our new place to go grocery shopping and put a meal on the table. We have been blessed with good health and the rain stopped long enough for us to take a nice walk yesterday. Life is good.

Thanksgiving is just a week away. With the pandemic and the fact that we have been traveling a lot over the past few months, including having moved from a place where the infection rate is soaring out of control, we are being very careful to keep to our “bubble.” When we go out, we wear our face masks and keep our distance. At home we are limiting our contacts to our children and grandchildren. Most of the business we need to transact can be done over the Internet or telephone. So our Thanksgiving celebration will be the same people as we had for dinner last night, around the same table.

We aren’t the only ones who are learning new routines. Celebrations for many will be muted as they limit exposure and keep to themselves. I’ve read several articles about how to scale down celebrations, and prepare recipes for smaller gatherings. There have been quite a few articles about people who are cancelling the celebration of holidays all together out of fear of spreading the infection.

I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic nor the need to take extra precautions, but I am also aware that there is a unique character to the Thanksgiving holiday. We need to find appropriate ways to express our thanks for the blessings of this life. Setting aside one day a year to give thanks is, obviously, inadequate. We need to be aware of our gratitude every day. And I am aware of the cultural problems with the history of settlers imposing the holiday on indigenous people. Still, the concept of thanksgiving is a worthwhile investment of our time.

It seems to be a good thing that we are in the process of discovering new traditions to go with a new phase of our lives and a new place to live. Like our grandchildren learning the chores and rules of being at grandma’s and grandpa’s home, the new experiences don’t have to be a burden. They can become a new adventure. Without minimizing the pain, suffering and grief that have come with this pandemic, perhaps there are some good things that can come out of it as we reexamine our priorities, reevaluate our traditions and rediscover our connections to one another.

We’ve got a week to go. There are more boxes to unpack, more things to put away. There are a few more things that need to be passed on to others. There are some new lessons to be learned. May we undertake these aspects of our lives with a sense of gratitude and remember the good gifts we enjoy. May we rediscover the enthusiasm of a three-year-old who is at home in her world and excited about the new possibilities that are unfolding every day.

Thank you for everything!

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Speaking of the weather

When we left Montana for graduate school in Chicago, I expected that we would be gone for three years and then return to Montana. I thought of myself as a Montanan and my sense of my call to the ministry had to do with the congregations I knew through church camp and the activities of the Conference. I also grew up with geographical biases. I suspect that it is still true, but when I was growing up, North Dakota jokes were a staple in my state. People made fun of the intelligence of their neighbors to the east. They joked about the weather and the lack of mountains in North Dakota. I had a bit of sensitivity to the jokes because my father had been born in North Dakota and he would occasionally defend his home state when the jokes got too wild.

Our first call to ministry was to serve two congregations in southwest North Dakota. I had to face my prejudices and learn to live with the reality that I had become a North Dakotan. Both of our children were born in North Dakota, so the place is forever a part of my story. One of the things that I remember about moving to North Dakota is that there was a certain apologetic stance when it came to discussions of the weather. It seemed like it didn’t matter what the weather was doing, there would be someone at the local coffee shop who would tell me, “This is very unusual. It usually doesn’t get this hot,” or cold or windy or snowy or rainy or dry or whatever the current weather was doing. I used to joke that North Dakota doesn’t have usual weather. Only unusual weather occurs in that place.

My experience, however, was that North Dakota had pretty good weather. It got hot there in the summer, but not as hot as Chicago had been. We never had air conditioning in our home and only got a car with an air conditioner just before moving from the state. We didn’t suffer. It got cold there, but not any colder than my home town when I was growing up. We did have some really big thunderstorms and I saw a couple of tornadoes, but we also had some wonderfully pleasant days. We walked a lot in our small town and the weather was almost always quite bearable for a short walk.

I still hear people talking about the weather in North Dakota. Wherever I travel, people have an opinion that it is a very cold place in the winter and when I tell them I lived there for seven years, they wonder how I survived.

Somehow the subject of the weather in North Dakota has been on my mind because we have moved to a place that is quite different from the other places we have lived. The pacific northwest is a region that is described as a temperate rain forest. It does rain a lot on the west coast of Washington. There are, however, some places that get more rain and others that get less. Mount Vernon, where we live, has an annual rainfall of 32 inches a year. That is quite a bit more than Rapid City, where the average is 18. On the other hand, it is lower than the national average of 38. And it is a lot lower than the 53 inches a year in Olympia, the city where our son first lived when they moved to Washington.

Mount Vernon has, for the most part, shown off pretty well for us when we have visited. But it is showing us a wetter side in our first week of living here. It has rained every day and we have had to strategize how to take our walks between showers and even then we get sprinkled on. November and December are the wettest months on average here. I don’t know how often I will need my insulated coveralls and winter parka, but I’ll be wearing my rain jacket a lot and a person definitely needs waterproof shoes in this country.

We human beings are remarkably adaptable creatures. We can adjust to some pretty big changes. And I know that part of what is going on with me during these first weeks of being a resident of Washington is that I am grieving. I’m going to miss South Dakota. I enjoyed living there. I have a lot of really good friends in that place. And this is just the first week of my transition. I haven’t adjusted to living in this house. I haven’t established new routines. I miss my basement library with three walls of floor to ceiling bookshelves. I’ve given away most of my books, and although I still have plenty, the shelves I do have here seem small by comparison. I miss the big deck out back where I watched the deer every day. We have a nice back yard here, but it isn’t the same. I know enough about myself that I am aware that I need to give myself time to grieve. Just because we are moving on to a grand new adventure and are so happy to be close to our grandchildren and our son and his wife doesn’t mean that there are things I miss during this time. I used to teach stress management classes in which I told participants that grief is good. It is a normal human reaction to change and that learning to live with grief is an essential skill for managing stress.

So, like a true North Dakotan, I will probably talk about the weather a lot in the weeks to come. It may not be unusual for this place, but it is unusual for me. I’ve never lived in a place with perfect weather. However, I’ve never lived in a place with unbearable weather, either. And I can console myself with the fact that it is warmer here than the place we lived in North Dakota and it will probably be warmer most days throughout the winter. Then again, this is unusual. it isn’t usually so cold in North Dakota.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Changes

My father once bought a new truck that was so stripped down of options that it not only did not have a headliner, it didn’t have a passenger seat or a visor on the right hand side of the windshield. In the mid-1960’s when all cars began to have radios as standard equipment he complained that they were driving up the price of vehicles by including unnecessary equipment. In 1969 he bought his first and only vehicle with an automatic transmission, a bit saddened that they didn’t offer a “three on the tree” in that particular car any more. He was not a miser. He was a generous man who donated widely and who supported those in need in many different ways. He wasn’t opposed to spending money. He invested wisely in his businesses and he used credit wisely. He was successful as a business man and happy as a father and community leader. He just didn’t like the sensation of not being in control of purchase decisions. He didn’t listen to the radio when driving a car and he didn’t see the need of having a radio in a car.

I thought of him and his ways yesterday as I drove our 9-year-old car to the grocery store for our weekly shopping trip. For several years my daily driver had been a much older model. I drove that car to the age of 21 years and over 292,000 miles. It was a good, reliable car. This newer car that we now have is similar and has many of the same features, but it also has heated seats. Yesterday was a rainy day and it was chilly outside and there was something quite nice about having a warm place to sit as I drove. I don’t know if heated seats are standard in this particular car, but they did come with that trim level that year. The list of features that might have given my father rise is long. To start with, the car has all wheel drive. Although my father always had a Jeep around and he was, for a brief time, a Jeep dealer, he thought of 4-wheel-drive as a feature of a specialty vehicle. He had no use for an all-wheel drive car and never owned a 4-wheel-drive pickup. For many years all of our vehicles have had all-wheel-drive. Then there are the electric windows. I know he would have gone on about the lack of need for a motor to make the windows go up and down. There is nothing wrong with a hand crank. Our car has a bluetooth stereo with a hands-free telephone function. My father never had a cell phone and never felt the need for one. A car stereo that links to the phone for on the road calls would have seemed like a totally unnecessary feature. The list goes on and on: ABS brakes, computerized engine controls, LED lights, reclining seats in the front and the back, and, of course those heated seats. There are cars sold today on which the list of options is more expensive than my father ever spent on an entire vehicle.

My father’s thoughts and feelings aside, however, there is something quite nice about interval windshield wipers and heated seats on a chilly, rainy day. And we are new enough in our home that it hasn’t escaped me that the forecast for today is for a high of 45 degrees and rain, while back in Rapid City the high is projected to be 63 degrees under sunny skies. We may have found a place where we will not need our snowblower, but I’m starting to think about the possibility of mowing the lawn in the rain if we don’t get a break pretty soon. (Yes, I know I wouldn’t have to mow my lawn in November back in Rapid City.) Yesterday I was quite surprised to see the neighbor’s lawn service drive up and use leaf blowers to pick up the lawn in the rain. I didn’t think leaves would blow very easily in the rain, but they got the job done.

Now that I’ve reached an age that is several years older than my father ever saw, I have more understanding of his resistance to some of the changes in the world. It used to bother me that he so eschewed luxury when he could easily have afforded it. I thought he deserved a little comfort from time to time. But I know that the newest or latest thing didn’t bring him much joy.

There are some features to life in these times that I think he would have enjoyed. I routinely get over 50,000 miles out of a set of tires. He used to be glad to get 15,000 miles before needing to replace tires. We drove our last car for 21 years and never needed to replace the muffler. He was happy if he got a second year out of a muffler. I can’t remember when I last had trouble starting a vehicle. He struggled with getting vehicles started every winter of his life.

Change is sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. But change is inevitable. As much as we complain about the changes in our lives, there is no way to avoid change. And things don’t always go the way we had planned. There is much in this life over which we have no control. The good health I have enjoyed is not a matter of merit. I have been fortunate. It isn’t just my health. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful marriage, happy and healthy children and grandchildren. I’ve had a career that was meaningful and work that I enjoyed for all of my adult life. Life has been very good to me.

I’ll make the adjustments to this new place of living. I’ll learn to watch the weather and choose the time of day for my walk. I’ll invest in some better rain gear. And I’ll enjoy the heated car seats.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Love of stranger

Jesus engaged his followers in discussions about the nature of life and what it means to live in a complex society. Christians are quick to point out that Jesus named two great commandments about love from the Old Testament tradition. In the 22nd chapter of Matthew, there is a report of an exchange between Jesus and some Pharisees:

“When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

This direct teaching appeals to our contemporary way of thinking. A question is posed and an answer given. We like that formula and are quick to point it out to others and incorporate it into our way of thinking. Jesus, however, did not stop with these two ancient commandments when it comes to love. In fact, one can argue that he, like the Old Testament tradition on which he stood, put more energy into teaching a third and more challenging commandment about love.

The law of Moses repeats another commandment about love more than these familiar instructions. That is the commandment to love the stranger. It appears at least 36 times in the Mosaic tradition. It must have been more challenging for Jesus’ contemporaries because he kept teaching this law through parable and story. We know the story of the Good Samaritan and its challenge to the definition of neighbor. We forget how often Jesus told other stories and repeated the commandment to love not only those whom we know and whom we perceive to be similar to us, but to love the stranger and the foreigner.

The commandment comes from generations of experience of the people of Israel. “Love strangers because you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” It is commandment that is expressly aimed at the human tendency to overlook those who are downtrodden and displaced. It is a simple translation into modern language to say, “love the homeless because you were once homeless,” or “love the immigrants because you were once immigrants,” or “love the victim, because you have been a victim too.”

The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once put the commandment this way: “Love the stranger because to him you’re a stranger.”

We find it easy to love things that are familiar. We love the people with whom we live in part because we know them. Love, however, is far more challenging. Returning to the first great commandment - the one about loving God - we often fail to love God because we are too enamored with our personal images of God. Instead of seeking to fully know God, we become comfortable with our projections and our sense of who God is. Any serious student of the Bible, however, discovers that God makes us uncomfortable. God challenges our notions of what God is like. Sometimes God is a stranger to us.

Can we fully love God if we fail to love all of God’s creation? Or, to put it in Jesus terms, Can we fully love God if we fail to love our neighbor? Then, to challenge us even further, Jesus redefines the concept of neighbor to include those who are unknown to us and different from us.

The concept of love for stranger is explored in Rabbi Sacks’s book, “The Dignity of Difference.” In that book he argues that we need to go beyond looking for similarities in the various religions of the world. We must also reframe how we see our differences:

“The test of faith is whether I can make space for difference. Can I recognize God's image in someone who is not in my image, who language, faith, ideal, are different from mine? If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his.”

The times in which we are living are times of great opportunity, but also of great risk for our religious institutions. As churches are challenged by the pandemic and the deep divisions in American society, they face an existential threat. With people not attending church in person, revenues fall and buildings are underutilized. Just carrying on the way we’ve always done it will not work in these times. Embracing new ways of practicing religion and teaching religious truths will mean letting go of some of the old institutional structures. These times, it seems to me, call for people of faith to embrace difference and explore that which is unfamiliar. It is not just that we were once strangers in a strange land. We once again find ourselves to be strangers in a place that we do not recognize and where we did not expect our lives to take us. We are strangers even to ourselves.

Perhaps that is the deep lesson of the teachings of Jesus. The commandment to love God is also the commandment to love neighbor. And our neighbor is not just what is familiar. Our neighbor is different from us. To love God is also to love the stranger.

This challenge is intensely personal for me right now because we are strangers in a new place. Our neighbors notice the unfamiliar cars in the driveway - the ones with license plates from South Dakota - a state that is far away and unknown to many of them. They see our unfamiliar faces as we walk around the neighborhood. The clerks in the grocery store don’t know me. And we are all partially hidden by the face masks we wear whenever we go out in public. As I learn to live in this new place and as I become a part of a new neighborhood, I know that I am a stranger.

It is a good thing that our faith teaches us to love the stranger.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Still wrestling with the texts

Part of being retired is that I have removed a lot of automatic notices from my calendar. My calendar used to display a half dozen items every day - reminders of recurring events, notes about planning, and other items that were programmed into it over the years. In addition, retiring many retiring my work email account and moving meant retiring my most-used personal email account. I used to receive hundreds of emails each day. Now it is dozens. I used to have a half dozen calendar reminders each day, not I go several days in a row without a calendar reminder.

There is one reminder, however, that I have not yet removed from my calendar. It popped up yesterday, as it does every Saturday. Yesterday’s reminder said, “Proper 28 (33) Year A.” It might not mean anything to some, but to me it is my weekly reminder of where we are in the lectionary - the cycle of readings for worship. The thing about that particular reminder is that when I was actively preaching every Sunday, the reminder came too late to be of much use. I began my preparation for worship on Monday of each week. On Tuesday I would check in with the worship staff of the church to make sure our music and other worship elements were coordinated with the lectionary. On Wednesday I would participate in an ecumenical Bible study to go deeper into the readings for the week. By Thursday, I had the outline of the sermon in my mind. A Saturday reminder wasn’t really necessary. I used it mostly as a quick way to look ahead. I could click on any Saturday in my calendar and see the texts for the week ahead.

I have left that reminder on my calendar, however, precisely because for the first time in 42 years of ministry I am not immersed in the lectionary. These days I often don’t know what the weekly texts are off of the top of my mind. The congregation in which we are participating has a weekly bible study and the pastors produce a video reflection on the text early in each week, but so far we haven’t become that plugged into that a congregation. We participate in online worship on Sunday, but the truth is that we haven’t yet even made a final decision about which congregation we will join.

The Saturday reminder, then, pulls me back into the cycle of thinking about and living with the texts. Yesterday’s reminder brought to mind a big challenge for preaching. The Gospel for today is the parable of the talents. The basic story, reported to have been told by Jesus, is of a slave owner who entrusted three servants with some of his money. To one he gave 5 talents, to another 2 and to the third 1. The slave who received 5 talents invested them and doubled the amount. The master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Similarly, the second slave invested the 2 talents and doubled them and received praise. The third, however, was fearful and buried the talent in the ground so that when the master returned he gave it to him without having lost it. He was condemned by the master for being fearful and lazy and not earning interest on the talent. His talent was taken away and given to the one who had 10.

The story leaves us hanging. We don’t know how to think of it. There are all kinds of problems with it. First of all, we don’t normally think of God as a slave owner. The relationship between the slaves and master is troubling and not the way we normally think of our relationship with God. For generations, preachers have focused on the talents, suggesting that the parable is a reminder to all to invest our talents wisely. The parable has also been used to glorify capitalism and as a basis for a prosperity gospel that links financial success with God’s favor. I’ve preached sermons on the text where I focus on the fear of the slave and how fear can hold us back from doing what needs to be done.

There are so many other places in the bible where money and possessions are treated in an entirely different manner. This parable seems to honor a rich get richer and the poor become poorer view of the world.

Maybe it is a good thing that I am not preaching a sermon today. After 42 years as a preacher, I still don’t understand the basic texts of the lectionary.

The Bible isn’t an answer book. It doesn’t work like a dictionary or encyclopedia. You don’t go to the Bible to look up your problems and gain solutions or to ask questions and receive answers. The Bible is a companion for the journey of a life of faith. It contains challenges and offers as may questions as answers. Jesus is a teacher who engages the minds of those who follow him. He makes us think. He illustrates, over and over agin, how complex our world really is and what a challenge it is to live a life of faith.

There are plenty of times when I connect with the slave in the story who received the one talent. There are some harsh judgments in this world. There are lots of opportunities for failure. There are times when I feel like I’ve been left on my own with challenges and I don’t have a clear sense of what is the right thing to do. In a way, I can imagine that this slave felt a bit of relief when the talent was taken from him. Now he doesn’t have to fear what will happen because he is no longer managing the resources of the master.

This is not, however, a parable of my retirement. It is a challenge to the ways we think about possessions and our call from God. It is an invitation to think about how we are connected to one another.

I am grateful for the reminder in my calendar that gives me an invitation to think theologically each week. Wrestling with the texts, even when I don’t emerge with answers, continues to bring meaning to my life.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Diwali

Diwali greetings! May you find the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance! Actually, being Christian and not being an expert in Hinduism, I don’t know much about the festival. If you look at a calendar of religious festivals, it will probably show today, November 14, as the day of Diwali or Deepavali. For some of those who actively practice Hinduism, today is the middle day of a five-day festival during which lamps and other lights are displayed both inside and outside of the home. Homes are decorated, fireworks are lighted, and there are gifts, sweets and feasting. Prayers are offered. The date moves around our calendar, because the timing is based on the Hindu Lunisolar calendar. It is nearly as late as it can fall on our calendar, where it occurs between mid-October and mid-November each year.

In India, it is common for those who follow other religions to observe at least some of the traditions of Diwali. Muslims and Christians have had modified celebrations and recognitions for many years.

I didn’t know about Diwali, other than a brief account read in a book, before I moved to South Dakota. In Rapid City, international students at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology hosted a Diwali festival that included special foods and invited participation of the community. Through a special relationship that we had with an Indian-American student, we learned more about the celebration when he made a presentation on it at one of the adult forums in our church.

With the switch from Daylight Savings time a couple of weeks ago and our switch to a new time zone the day before yesterday, a move farther north, and our move to a new position within the time zone, we are aware of the cycles of light and dark, but we haven’t yet adjusted. Actually, the change isn’t as dramatic as it seems. Sunset here is only four minutes later than in Rapid City. Sunrise, however, is 29 minutes later, making the day 25 minutes shorter here than in our previous home at this time of the year. Since today is our first full day in our new home, we don’t even know what that means, other than that we will be doing a few more things in the dark than usual.

Religious festivals of light all share an awareness of the cycles of the year. Our Christian festival, Epiphany, begins on January 6. With the winter solstice on December 21, shortly before Christmas, Epiphany falls when we begin to be aware of the lengthening of days after an autumn of days getting shorter in the northern hemisphere. Diwali occurs earlier, but at a time when people on the northern half of the globe are aware that the days are getting shorter.

Part of the celebration of Diwali in India is housecleaning and decorating. We should fit right in. We have 12 days to get unpacked and our house organized enough to host a family Thanksgiving festival. And in those 12 days we will need to devote some time to cooking and baking and getting everything ready.

Last evening we were relaxing in our living room with a fire in the fireplace and reflecting on where we are in this process. Sorting and moving took longer than we expected, but it feels like we have been working hard every day to reach this goal. While we gave ourselves the gift of a relaxing evening, we were making lists of things to do in the next few days in order to settle into our new home. It is a good thing we are retired. I don’t know if we would have enough energy to work and to get all of the home chores done.

And, in this new place, there are other adjustments. The lawn needs to be mowed and there are leaves to rake. After 25 years of living in a place with no deciduous trees, we have leaves to rake. They look like they’ll rake easier than pine needles, however. And the growing season for grass is much longer here. I don’t think I’ll have to mow every week at this time of the year, but the lawn is lush and green. I’m used to living in a place where the snow covers up the undone yard work and we can live with the illusion that we’re caught up as long as the driveway is shoveled.

Adjusting to the changes, however, is part of the excitement of a move. We’re on a new adventure in life and at the start of a new chapter in our story.

So it makes sense to be aware of dark and light, good and evil, knowledge and ignorance. A new season in our life is also a new season in the story of our nation with the election of a new president in the midst of a world-wide health crisis. The decisions of the transition team have immediate and significant impact on the lives of the people of this country. We’ll need all of the knowledge of all of our best scientists to cope with the rapidly rising number of victims of the disease. We will each need to bring all that is good within us to the process as we provide care and understanding to our fellow citizens.

We’ve never gone in for lots of outdoor decorations at our home. When all of our neighbors had their homes brightly decorated with holiday lights, we chose a more subdued and less showy celebration. And I don’t think I’ll be climbing up on this rental house to string lights this year, either. But the lights and warmth of this home will be an important part of our celebrations this year. As the flicker of the fireplace added warmth and light to our evening last night, we began to settle and relax into new ways of living.

We Christians believe that praying is always a good thing, so we are eager to pray with others whenever invited. May our prayers this day be added to those of our Hindu sisters and brothers. Happy Diwali!

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Inventing new traditions

holidaylightfestival
On our journey we were driving 65 mph on the Interstate when a semi truck came up in the left land and blew by us at 75mph or so. As it passed, I noticed that it was a load of chickens on a flatbed trailer. The chicken coops were stacked high and I thought to myself, “that’s a lot of chickens!” As the truck returned to the right hand lane ahead of me, I had to turn on my windshield wipers and washer because of the spray of mud, ice and snow that washed over my pickup. Among the other items was a bunch of feathers. Here’s how my thoughts progressed over the next few seconds:

1) Wow! That’s a lot of chickens!
2) What a cold ride for the birds!
3) Feathers!
4) Those feathers aren’t white! Where would a load of exotic chickens be going?
5) Of course, silly, those aren’t chickens. It’s November. Those are turkeys!

I keep myself entertained with the thoughts that come to me as I drive along. When we planned this move, we never imagined that we’d let it get so late and we would still be making trips. We intended to complete our move in September, but things don’t always work out the way you plan and we are new to the process of being retired. The job of downsizing and leaving our home of 25 years was a bit bigger than we anticipated. Even though our home sold quickly and easily, there were delays due to the high volume of home sales this year. The appraisal took longer than anticipated. After the appraisal was completed, it took the finance company, escrow agents and title company time to process the paperwork. We left Rapid City as soon as we were able.

There are some advantages to making the trip at this time, however. In general, we have found that there are fewer people traveling. There are fewer places at the service stations when we stop, fewer people at highway rest stops and we have been able to select places to stay where we don’t have to deal with crowds.

Our timing was just right for our stop last night. We have been driving during daylight hours and those hours change a bit as we travel west. Yesterday’s travel included crossing a time line, so darkness was descending at an earlier hour by the clock when we pulled into Leavenworth, Washington. We had decided in the morning that this community, nestled on the east slope of the Cascades, would be a good stopping place after having negotiated two mountain passes, the winding roads of Idaho and the traffic of Spokane. We were ready to stop. As we pulled into town, we could see three large vertical lifts working in the park at the center of the town. They were stringing lights on some very tall trees.

Leavenworth Washington is a Bavarian-styled village in the Cascade Mountains, in central Washington State. Years ago as the timber industry was in decline in the area, planners decided to give the town a makeover and turn it into a tourist attraction. Alpine-style buildings with restaurants serving German beer and food line Front Street. The Nutcracker Museum displays thousands of nutcrackers, some dating back centuries. Leavenworth is a gateway to nearby ski areas and wineries.

The covid crisis, however, has put a dent in the tourist trade. Washington has a state plan for the pandemic that specifies restrictions for each county depending on the infection rate in that county. Leavenworth, like most of Washington is in phase two, which means that large gatherings are not occurring. Restaurants are operating at less than 50% capacity with no tables seating more than six. Leavenworth is set up to deal with this a bit better than some communities because they have a large outdoor pedestrian mall and many restaurants are set up for outside seating even in the winter with canopies, heaters and, in some cases, fireplaces at each table. Still, they have had to cancel many of their events, including the annual Christmas festival of lights. In a normal year, the community gets all decorated with Christmas lights and there is a big festival with promotions, shopping, live music and more. The festival runs from Thanksgiving through Valentines Day. There are special events every weekend to encourage skiers and other tourists to linger in the community. This year, however, the Christmas Lighting Festival has been cancelled, and replaced with a more laid-back mood in the community. The lights have just been put up and they turned them on for the first time last night in preparation for this weekend, but they are not doing the promotions and are discouraging the crowds that normally fill the streets. Last night there were just a few people walking in the streets and we didn’t feel crowded at all. There were, however, plenty of lights. Some of the buildings had so many lights that it was hard to think of how they could put up any more. The little park had lights on every tree, even the giant ones. Even the community hospital had lights around the eaves of the building.

We all are going to experience modified holidays this year due to the pandemic. Churches are limiting in person gatherings and, for the most part are running at about 25% of normal capacity or less. Some families have had to change their plans. Our son and his family have, since they have had children, gone to San Diego to celebrate Thanksgiving with his wife’s grandmother, but are not going this year to reduce the possibility of infection and to honor grandma’s need to remain isolated.

For us, it is an opportunity to invent some new holiday traditions. Our son and his family will come to our house for Thanksgiving this year. No airline travel needed for the first time since he went away to college.

I wonder if the turkey we ordered form the local grocery store was one of the ones traveling by semi down the highway.

Copyright (c) 2020 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 thoughts while driving

I have a friend who moved from Colorado to South Dakota a number of years ago. To make the move, they purchased a used cube van and hauled their things. It depends on which of the couple you talk to, but they made either 19 or 21 trips with that van before they were completely moved. We are a little over half way to our new home on our fourth trip moving our possessions. I’ve pulled a trailer every trip. The first trip we pulled our camping trailer. The second trip, we pulled a trailer with all of our canoes and kayaks. The third trip, we had a U-Haul truck and a U-Haul trailer. This trip we have a U-haul trailer. This is our last trip. We have our pickup with the trailer and our car. Since we aren’t driving together, I’ve had a bit of time to think over the past couple of days while I drove. Here are some very random thoughts that have occurred to me in no particular order:

The Wyoming Department of transportation puts up brown signs with white letters to inform those driving on the Interstate highways of the state about local attractions. The signs point the way to parks and museums and other attractions. At Gillette, there is one of those signs inviting people to check out the Campbell County Rockpile Museum. Since I was driving, I didn’t have an opportunity to check it out until later, so I wondered exactly what one would exhibit in a rockpile museum. Would there be just one rockpile, or several? Would there be pictures of rockpiles or actual stones piled one upon another? Maybe I should stop sometime. I know a bit about rockpiles because we used to be able to make a few cents by picking rocks in the field of a neighbor. We made a sizable rockpile that later got sold as landscaping rock. Why someone would want to transport a load of river rocks to their yard is beyond me, but people do it. I’ll have to check out how the museum in Gillette got its name some day.

I have a theory that the size and expense of a head gate at the entrance to a ranch is inversely proportional to the amount of time the owner spends there. I haven’t checked it out, but the more ranch land that is bought up as second homes and recreational property, the larger the head gates are getting. I’ve seen some that reflect a heathy amount of money spent on custom welding and other features.

I’m not sure how the computers that control the large diesel engines in semi trucks have some kind of sensor that can tell when there is a car passing the truck. The sensor causes the truck to accelerate so that the car has to speed up by more than 10 mph to get around the truck.

Speaking of trucks, why is the cost of diesel higher than the cost of gas in South Dakota? It used to be that diesel, which requires less refining, was the less expensive fuel. And, as we travel west, diesel is less expensive than gas in Montana, Idaho and Washington. But back home in South Dakota, diesel is more expensive. What gives?

We saw a disabled snowplow alongside the highway yesterday. It was sitting there with its hood up. I got to thinking about the complex job of deciding how to allocate plowing equipment in a big state like Montana. There are a lot of roads and the weather is always difficult to predict. There must be times when there are too many plows in one area and too few in another. Plows, of course, are mobile so they can be moved around, but there are limits to how far they can go without becoming inefficient. They consume a lot of fuel and drivers must want to be able to go home when their shift is over. Somehow states that get a lot of snow, like Montana, figure out how to do a pretty good job of having the plows where they are needed. Our drive yesterday was definitely a lot better because there were a lot of plows in the places where they were needed.

On the way down from Homestake Pass over the Continental Divide, not far from Butte, there was a sign that said, “Incident ahead.” I slowed because usually this indicates an accident and sometimes it requires a change of lane. What the “incident” was turned out to be an enormous boulder, larger than a car that had fallen from the rocks above and landed on the shoulder of the road. It must have been dramatic when that rock landed. They had set up orange cones around the boulder. What struck me as I drove by was that a couple of the cones had been hit and toppled by passing cars. As I drove on, I wondered what the drivers of that car was thinking just before hitting those cones. Perhaps it was, “Oh no! I nearly crashed!” But it might have been, “Wow! that’s a really big rock, I want to get a good look.” Or maybe, “Hmm, interesting geology. I wonder what made that happen.” I suppose it could have been, “Oh no! that semi passing me isn’t in his lane!” It also might have been, “Hmm, this new trailer sure is cool! I wonder how wide it is. It must be wider than my tow vehicle because I can see it in my mirrors. Oh well, I’ll just drive like I do when I don’t have a trailer and everything will work out.” Whatever the thoughts of the driver, I’m glad it wasn’t me. Hitting those cones so close to that rock would have scared the daylights out of me.

With Covid, we have been planning our stops carefully so that we limit exposure to others. It was hard to stop to see my sister yesterday and keep our distance as we visited outside as she is in quarantine after having been exposed. Fortunately, she has had no symptoms and is feeling great, though a little “stir crazy” from the isolation. Because we chose to make our trip in four days instead of the usual three, our days have been a little bit shorter. Still, we are more than half way to our destination. We’ve got two big mountain passes to cross today, but the weather forecast is good. There will be more snow tomorrow when we cross the Cascades, but unless there are more snow plows broken down alongside the road, we should be in good shape.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Back to the high country

Decades ago, I had a conversation with a colleague who said, “There are two kinds of people. Some people are mountain people. Others are ocean people.” In his theory, mountain people were those who found the spectacular beauty of high places to be a source of spiritual strength. They go to the mountains for renewal. They find the contact with the Creator present there to be meaningful. The Bible reports that Moses went up on the mountain to talk to God. Ocean people, on the other hand, are drawn to the wide expanses of water. They are attracted to boats and they find the rhythm of the surf to be a reflection of the rhythm of life. They go down to the sea to discover their spiritual center.

At the time we were having that conversation, it kind of made sense to me. I commented that I was a mountain person. At the time I had only lived in Montana and Chicago and even though I did enjoy going to the lakeshore and walking along the water, and found it to be a kind of respite from the city, I knew that Montana was my home and I longed for each opportunity to get back to the high country. I longed for the backpack trips that took us into the land of bear and elk and the hikes up to the edge of the glaciers. I found God’s presence easy to discern in the mountains.

In those days i had been to the seashore to visit and I had enjoyed playing in the surf and looking out on the ocean. I could understand that there would be people who were drawn to live near the water. But I knew that if I had to choose, I would choose to live in the mountains. The theory of my friend seemed to make some sense to me. Roughly 80% of the world’s population live near major bodies of water. Big cities grew up in places with access to ocean transportation. Most of the world’s goods are delivered by boat.

Of course, from the perspective of many years later, it is easy to see that the dichotomy doesn’t hold up. There are not just two types of people. In addition to ocean people and mountain people, I soon learned that there are prairie people, who are drawn to and inspired by the beauty of rolling hills and grasslands and the creatures of the land. Generations of indigenous Americans followed the buffalo and found spiritual nurture in the spaces between the mountains and the ocean. And, if you look at the world, you know that there are rainforest people, who find their spiritual center in the tall trees and lush undergrowth. When we lived in Boise, I learned that there are desert people, who seek the seclusion of the harsh desert environment and find God’s presence among the cactus and native plants. There are jungle people and swamp people and tundra people. Trying to explain human behavior by dividing people into only two categories misses the complexity and a great deal of the beauty of human diversity.

Somehow I got to thinking about my friend and that long ago conversation yesterday as we drove up to Red Lodge Montana. We have so loved living in the Black Hills, with our deer and turkeys and the sound of the wind in the pine trees. We love the song birds and the sunrises and sunsets of the place that has been our home. Still, my heart stirs in a different way when I return to the mountains. As wonderful as the hills are, they are not the high mountains of the Rocky Mountain divide. The place where we are staying with family overnight is over a mile above sea level and it is down in the bottom, with mountains rising another mile above where we are. This is the land of moose and mountain goat. The bears are all in hibernation at this time of the year, with an especially early winter this year, but we know it is there home. We are in the town where my father’s parents lived when I was growing up. It is familiar to me right down to the paths in the snow, dug wide in the early winter because they will grow narrower as the snow piles up. I feel at home in this place. I sleep well.

I am drawn to the high places.

But we are on our way to a new home that is just 25 miles from the Puget Sound. The sound is protected from the open Pacific Ocean by other land masses to the west, but it is an entirely new ecosystem from anyplace else that we have lived. Fortunately, where we are goin is one of the places in the world where the mountains are very close to the ocean. 25 miles in the other direction from our new home brings you into the cascade mountains. North Cascades National Park is a true alpine environment with peaks rising above 10,000 feet. The main state highway stretching east from our new home closes in the winter as the snows pile up beyond the capacity of the plows to keep the roads clear. We will have access to both places, and, both types of people, one would presume. We have already encountered a bit of the bias of the area. Once, a few years ago, when visiting an island church, we heard a bit of bias about the people who live in the mountains from an island dweller. I’m pretty sure that the mountain people have some pre-formed opinions of the island dwellers as well.

Despite what the pundits and news junkies would tell us, our nation is far more complex than simply blue states and red states. We are not just two groups of people deeply divided. There are thoughtful and intelligent people who change their minds and who can see important insights in the arguments of those on the other side. There are peace-loving people who think that our differences are strength, not weakness.

Returning to the mountains as we head towards the ocean, we know that we can find God in many different places and that the search for God is always rewarding. Our new home is only 180 feet above sea level. It is the lowest place we’ve ever lived. I have no doubt that we will find God in that place as easily as we find God in the mountains.

Just because God is on our side doesn’t mean that God is not on the side of the others.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

"Camping" inside a house

On the fourth of July in 1995, we made a whirlwind trip to Rapid City to buy a house. We wanted our children, who were 12 and 14 to be a part of the process. Moving them as they prepared to enter middle school and high school was a big decision and selecting which schools to attend and which home to purchase were things in which we wanted to take their needs and desires seriously. Our realtor was a member of the church to which I had been called as pastor. Susan would be applying for a position at the same church, but that had not yet been decided. We looked at homes a bit farther from the church than we had previously lived. In Boise, our house had been a mile from the church - easily reached by bicycle and not an inconvenient walk. This time we wanted a bit more distance so that our family life and our work life would have two distinct locations.

After viewing homes in several different parts of the hills, we narrowed the choice to a house just outside the city limits. Knowing that we would soon have teenage drivers in our home and that the high schools in Rapid City didn’t have bus service, we paid attention to the commute to school and to the church. Despite the holiday, we made an offer on the house and after an evening of watching fireworks from the home of one of the members of the church we learned the next day that our offer had been accepted. We headed back to Boise to pack and prepare for our move.

In the first part of August, Susan and I returned to Rapid City for the closing on the house. After a couple of anxious days learning that a wire transfer from the Savings and Loan in Boise wasn’t instantly deposited in our account in Rapid City, we were prepared to sign the loan papers and take possession of our house. Our furniture and possessions had been picked up by the movers and we had left our Boise home with the remainder of items. Our children stayed in Montana with their grandparents and our friends from Australia. It was just the two of us as we signed the papers and then headed out to the house. It was late afternoon by the time we got all of the details covered. We camped out in the house that night. We didn’t have a bed, and I can’t remember if we had our sleeping bags, or just a few blankets, but we slept on the floor of the room that would be our bedroom for the next 25 years. In the morning, we locked up our house and headed back to Montana to get our children and friends to return to move in.

Last night, 25 years and three months later, we camped out in the house again for our last night. We have already signed the papers on the deal to sell the house. The buyer will sign this afternoon and the house will no longer be ours. Our camping was a bit more luxurious than the first night we spent in the house. We have a bed, which will be left for the new owner. And we have enough groceries for breakfast before we put our suitcases in the car and head, once again, for Montana later this morning.

It has been a wonderful home for our family. It also is a bigger house than we now need. Those teenage children have become adults with families of their own. They now are the ones who need the space for growing children. When we talked about making this move, we spoke in terms of looking for a home that is about half the size of this house. We didn’t downsize quite that much. We have rented a home that is about 3/4 the size of this one. We’ll live in that house for a year while we get a feel of our new place and shop for the house that is the right place for us in this new phase of our lives.

We are going a bit slower on this trip, planning to take four days to get to our new home. I’ll be pulling a trailer with the last of the things from this house and we are likely to see some snow along the way. We’ll spend two nights in two different towns in Montana, dividing up the high passes into different days of travel.

As we walked around the house last night, peering into empty cupboards and closets, looking at the rooms with nothing in them, we shared a few memories. And, as we pull away this morning we’ll likely shed a few tears.

Like the move of 25 years ago, however, we have a sense that we are doing the right thing. Life doesn’t allow us to hang on to the past. We have a special goal in our minds as we travel. We’ll be thinking of Thanksgiving 2020, when our son’s family will come to our house to celebrate. Since they have had children, their family tradition has been to go to San Diego to celebrate Thanksgiving with his wife’s grandmother and other family members. But the coronavirus has meant that this is a year to take a break from that tradition - the risk of exposure of grandma is too high with people traveling from all over. So they won’t be taking a big trip. Instead they’ll be coming to our house. We’ve already ordered a turkey and we’ll soon be making sure that all of the favorite foods are prepared. Perhaps it will be a one year break from the old tradition. Perhaps we will start a new tradition.

Then we will be looking forward to Christmas and after that, in early February, we will have two weeks with our daughter and her family who will come to stay at our new home in the middle of a big move from Japan to South Carolina.

Here we are, between the past and the future in the moment of time that is ours. We’ll say farewell knowing that we will treasure our memories and that we will be returning to visit before too long. At the same time, we are looking forward to a new adventure and some very special moments with our family. The future is calling us.

Abraham and Sara set off from the land of their forebears not knowing exactly where they were going. It took a few generations for their descendants to discover the promised land. Out of their trip we got a family story that we’ve been telling for over 4,000 years. Who knows what stories will emerge from this part of our lives? Perhaps we’ll tell of the nights we camped out in an empty house in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Copyright (c) 2020 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 future calls

My “to do” list for today is pretty long. There are only about three things on the list that involve going somewhere, but there have been plenty of days in the last few months when the list didn’t involve going anywhere. Today we wrap up living in a house that has been our home for a lot of significant events. Most of the rooms are already empty. The action seems to be focused in the kitchen where we are sorting out the final items to pack. Had this not been a season of coronavirus, we might have planned to eat a few more meals in a restaurant. As it is, we’ve been pretty good about eating our way through the freezer and pantry. We no longer have all of the staples that we might have once kept on hand. We’ve been paying attention to quantity when we go to the grocery store and some things have worked out pretty well. For example, we have the smallest quantity of rice on hand than we’ve had for a very long time. just a little in the bottom of the canister. On the other hand, we seem to have gone long on noodles. They are dry and easy to move, so into the box they go. We can have soup more often for a while while we balance our pantry in our new home.

There is joy and excitement in an opportunity to start over. I remember when we arrived in Chicago after three days of being on the road. We didn’t know our way around town. We didn’t know where to find a grocery store. We unpacked our belongings in a short amount of time because we didn’t have many belongings. We figured out how to get enough food for a few meals and began learning about our neighborhood. A year later we were eager to help new students learn their way around.

It is quite different for us in this move. We’ve been visiting our son and his family in our new hometown for several years. We know where to find the essentials. We won’t have to ask for directions to find the bank or grocery or hardware stores. We don’t need a map to make sure that we don’t get lost when we take a walk around the neighborhood. There is, however, a steep learning curve as we establish our home in a new place.

It is interesting to be making the move as our nation begins the process of preparing for a transition in leadership. Our first months of settling into a new home is taking place as our nation settles into a new administration. There are already signs that the process will have a few bumps and twists that are hard to predict. Of course transitions in power are built into our nation. We’ve been doing this every few years for a long time. Although there are days when it doesn’t seem like it, it has only been four years since we switched presidents. Those in politics become practiced at packing up and moving on.

On my mother’s side of our family there are a number of Methodist ministers. Part of the ordination vows they took was a promise to submit to the discipline of the church, which included going to serve in the places where one was called. It was the practice in those days for Methodist ministers to serve for short periods of time, often just a couple of years, rarely more than four. I read a few journal entries of pioneer Methodist Ministers who would pack up their entire household each spring as they prepared for the annual conference. They would head off to the site of the state conference, which changed each year, without knowing where they would be living after the conference. At the conference new assignments would be handed out and the families would head to their new assignment from the conference. First you pack up, then you find out where you are going, and onward you go.

It has not been that way for us. We’ve always had an opportunity to visit and learn about our next place of living before we packed up. We also have had the luxury of living in one place and serving the same congregation for a longer period than was the case for those early ministers. The calls of our careers were 7, 10 and 25 years - time enough to really get to know our congregations and to become a part of the communities where we served. Typically a move for us involved a year or more of searching and discerning about our call followed by interviews, trial sermons, and visits to the new place. Then, once the decision was made, we usually had 90 days back at our previous call to wrap things up and get moved.

This time it was different. Although it wasn’t the way we had planned it, there was serious talk in the congregation a couple of years before our retirement. Folks had plenty of time to adjust to the coming change in leadership. Then the congregation hired an interim minister to serve for two additional years. When our retirement became official, we planned to take three months to get packed up and make our move, but that stretched into five months for a variety of reasons. The somewhat slower pace was good for us. We were able to do more sorting and move a bit less of the accumulation of the years in this place. We were able to make a studied move. And the transition is just beginning for us. Instead of buying a new home, we’ve decided to lease a home for one year while we learn about our new place and shop for a retirement home. The year will allow us to do a bit more sorting and to discover our community in the new place. It is a luxury we’ve never before known.

Today feels like a momentous day. Our last full day in this house. Our last night to sleep here before the new owner takes possession. And it is easy to slip into a bit of nostalgia and to think of what is ending. But there are wonderful new things beginning in our lives and much joy that lies ahead.

Years ago when we were serving in our first parish, a colleague urged us to consider moving to a new call. “The future,” he said, “belongs to God. And God is always calling you towards the future.” Those words seem as true today as they did 35 years ago.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Saying farewell

farewellrapidcity
Sometimes, when telling the history of our faith, we imagine that new ideas developed in a single generation. We often do that with the concept of monotheism. We read the book of Genesis and go through the story of Abraham and Sarah leaving the land of their forebears and following God’s call thinking that these two people, in one generation, left behind the concept of a god of place and embraced the idea of one God who is everyplace. In reality, however, this idea took generations and generations to develop. Jacob builds altars and celebrates events in specific places. Moses goes to the holy mountain to talk to God. Our people claim a specific piece of geography as the holy land. Even today, generations later, we tell the stories of our lives in terms of place. In this journal, I often write about the places where I have lived, despite having a fairly sophisticated theology of history. I have peached and taught that God is revealed in the history of our people and that Christianity, like Judaism is a faith of history, not of place. It isn’t quite that simple. Place continues to be very important in the stories of our people.

We are aware of place as we prepare for yet another move from one place to another. Our days of calling ourselves residents of the Black Hills of South Dakota are limited. In a couple of days we will head to our new home in Washington and a new owner will move into the house we have occupied for the last quarter of a century. This house, these hills, this community will always be special to us. But we’ll no longer have the keys to the door and the possessions of another will occupy the space where we once lived. When we bring our grandchildren to Rapid City to visit, it will be like when we took our children to Chicago: “Here is a place we used to live.”

blackhillsfarewell
We are trying to bid farewell to this place in a careful manner, savoring the many places where we have experienced community and the life of faith. We’ve been taking walks in some of our favorite places: Placerville, Skyline Wilderness, M Hill, Sheridan Lake, and Canyon Lake. Autumn is a good season for this kind of farewell. The weather has been good, but it is variable. A wind will come up and the air will turn cold. It can go from sunny and warm to snow in a matter of hours. The air has that autumn smell as the leaves begin to dry and turn to dust under our feet. The geese raise a clamor as they gather together in preparation for their fall journeys. They remind us that we aren’t the only ones who are leaving.

Our faith and our traditions teach us that we are not moving away from God. As sacred as these places are, we know that God will be present with us when we are in other places. We will find a community of faith in the place where we are traveling. But this has been a good and important place in our personal story and there is much that we will miss as we move on to the next chapters of our lives.

It has taken us nearly five months to make this transition. This week will be our fourth trip west. We have taken our time to sort and downsize. We have allowed ourselves the longest period of transition of any move of our lives. This seems appropriate because we are entering a new season of our lives. We are retired. I still have trouble noting that as we fill our forms for the utilities and enter change of address for various businesses. Like the weather outside, we are in the autumn of our lives. We move a bit more slowly. We cover a bit less distance each day. Things take us longer than once was the case. We feel a few more aches and pains as we move about. Maybe we are a bit like the geese. Something is stirring within us and making us restless - ready to move on.

canyonlakegeese
We’ve been living in our house with practically no furniture for a couple of weeks now. Our clothes are in suitcases - the dressers are in Washington. We have our patio table in the dining room - our beloved oak table has moved. There are only a couple of chairs in the entire house. Most of the rooms are completely empty now. Still, it feels very much like home to us. We seem comfortable in this place. But we definitely have a new home now. We know what our new address looks and feels like. We have a list of projects we want to pursue as soon as we get there. We are anticipating the celebration of Thanksgiving with our son and his family in our new home. My sister has already visited our new home and will return for another visit in December. We’ve been talking with our daughter as she and her family plan a two week visit for February. We know what our furniture looks like in the bedrooms of our home in Washington. We’ve met some of the neighbors. We’ve walked around our new neighborhood and know some of the vistas that will become favorites. Our new home is one of the places where trumpeter swans and snow geese spend the winter. There will be no shortage of birds with their raucous calls.

I remember the autumn I went off to college. I did not know at the time that I would never agin live in my hometown. It was early autumn, more like summer. The leave had not yet begun to change. The river was running low. I walked around, sensing that I was on the edge of a big change. I was excited to be moving on to a new adventure. There is a bit of that feeling this week as we prepare for our next trip West. Something big is happening, but we will always think of this place as our home.

Like the people of our faith whose stories we read in the bible, after many years there are many places we can call home for surely God is in this place.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

South Dakota dangers

My friends are delivering firewood today and I won’t be going with them. I haven’t missed many firewood deliveries over the past few years, but there have been a few. Each time volunteers step up and make sure that the wood gets delivered to those who need it. Things are a bit different for the volunteers this year. There are checkpoints on the roads leading to tribal areas in our state. Permits are required for some travelers, even if they are arriving from South Dakota. Our volunteers have prior authorization and will stay together so that those at the checkpoints will know that they will be going to an isolated rural location and will not be in close contact with those living on the reservation. They may have to adjust their usual travel pattern so that they can get fuel and use restrooms off of the reservation. I’ll be thinking about them and their travels all day.

We grew up in Montana, where winter conditions can make travel difficult. We are used to having extra jackets on every trip and survival gear in our vehicles during the winter. I know how to use tire chains and carry them. Over the years I’ve driven on a lot of slippery and snow-packed roads, but I also know how to use the road reports to determine when it is best to stop driving and wait out the weather. I am familiar with the online resources and ways to check road conditions before heading out. Knowing that we have a 1,200 mile trip ahead of us, I’ve been checking the forecasts and planning our travel.

There is, however, another map of which we need to be aware as we plan our journey. We will be traveling in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington. Traveling during the pandemic means that we need to be aware of pandemic-specific restrictions on travel. There are at least 17 states that have travel restrictions that specifically name travelers from South Dakota. Restrictions include quarantines and covid-19 tests pithing a specific amount of time. So far we are able to travel without required quarantine along our proposed route. The only travel restriction in our intended states of travel are reservations and the city of Boise, both of which can be avoided by simply not stopping as we travel across reservation land and crossing Idaho north of the city of Boise. But the map is constantly changing and new restrictions are being added, so we have to be aware of it as we plan our trip.

Like it or not, South Dakota is a coronavirus hot spot. Second only to North Dakota with the number of new cases per 100,000 residents, our health care systems are in crisis due to short staffing and the numbers of new diagnoses, people severely ill and those dying continue to increase. In addition to those very real statistics, our state already had a reputation as being a coronavirus super spreader. A lot of that has to do with the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. While events across the nation were cancelled our of concerns for safety, the rally went ahead.

Infectious disease experts warned that cramming thousands of bikers into the Black Hills was not a good idea during a pandemic. But organizers and officials decided that the bikers were going to come no matter what. 460,000 bikers converged on Sturgis in what has become the Woodstock of coronavirus defiance. Some called the rally a declaration of freedom and went home with T-shirts declaring, “Screw Covid I Went to Sturgis.” But others now admit it recklessly helped seed a new wave of cases raging out of control in the state. Family members who stayed away are angry at relatives who attended and brought the virus home. Sturgis council members who approved the rally have been bombarded with death threats. And health experts and politicians are still fighting over how many cases Sturgis may have caused across the country. Cases related to the rally have spread as far away as New Hampshire and have been reported in more than 20 states. At least 300 cases of the infection have been directly related to the rally including family members and co workers of those who attended.

We have a reputation. And it has been enhanced by our governor, who went on national television to declare that South Dakota is handling the virus, “flattening the curve,” and welcoming visitors. She has consistently refused to provide leadership in the area of prevention of the spread, including publicly questioning the effectiveness of masks, even going so far as to appear without a mask at a ceremony marking the expansion of a 3-M plant in Aberdeen. The plant is working 24/7 to produce masks to help fight the pandemic.

The map of places that specifically name South Dakota in their travel restrictions includes a lot of places where our governor has traveled in recent weeks as those who remain at home long for leadership to help mitigate the spread of the disease. Lacking leadership from the governor’s office, South Dakota organizations have gone ahead with a campaign to promote safe practices.

Behind a simple message of “Mask Up South Dakota” and a hash tag of #MaskUpSoDak, these organizations include the South Dakota State Medical Association (SDSMA), Monument Health based in Rapid City, Avera Health and Sanford Health based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota Nurses Association (SDNA), South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations (SDAHO), South Dakota Municipal League, South Dakota Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, Associated School Boards of South Dakota, and School Administrators of South Dakota, and the Great Plains Tribal Leaders Health Board.

Our move takes us to an area of the country that was first to experience a covid-19 outbreak, but where the current infection rate is only about one third of that in South Dakota. With much more widespread testing than South Dakota and statewide rules on mask use and other preventive measures it seems that we are reducing our risk by moving. It is not the reason for our move, however. Our instinct is to stay with our people and share the risks that come. It is what we have always done. However, the time has come for us to move closer to family.

I’ll miss delivering firewood, however. I’ll miss my friends. And I plan to keep in touch and pay attention to what happens in their lives. Safe travels, my friends. And be careful out there!

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Sad news

Educational and youth ministries have been very important to me for all of my career. When I was a college student, I served on the Christian Eduction committee of the congregation I belonged to. In Seminary, I served two internships. One was as a youth minister at Union Church of Hinsdale, Illinois. Together with other church staff I participated in planning and carrying out youth ministries in a large and complex congregation. We had weekly youth group meetings, youth church school classes and a lot of special activities for youth including camps, retreats, work tours, and recreational events such as bike rides, trips to amusement parks, and a host of other events and activities. I drove vans and busses and even a truck hauling bicycles as part of that work. I also followed the lives of youth as they navigated through their high school years. In addition to those activities, Susan and I were managers of the church camp of the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference of the United Church of Christ at a time when youth camping attracted 60 to 150 youth per week.

I was excited to develop youth ministries in the two congregations we were called to serve as we graduated from seminary. The smaller of the two congregations had more youth. There were a half dozen high school students in the congregation with a few younger siblings nearly old enough for high school. The other congregation had a few high school youth as well. Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s in rural North Dakota youth whose families attended church all participated in the church youth group. Wednesday was “church night” and the schools had no activities to compete with church youth group meetings. Our little church in Reeder began to attract youth whose families weren’t active in other congregations and we regularly had events that were shared with the Lutheran and Catholic congregations in town. Our Reeder youth were all boys in the beginning. I organized a work trip for the summer after we arrived. We traveled to Montana where we worked on a project at the church camp that we had managed and then got in some days of fishing, hiking and exploring the mountains as well. Four boys and I accomplished quite a bit of work and had some very meaningful times of worship, including sharing communion together on the last day in Montana.

Later I took those youth to the North Dakota church camp at Lake Metigoshe in the Turtle Mountains on the Canadian border, on annual ski retreats to the Black Hills where we stayed at Placerville Camp, and to youth rallies and events around North Dakota as well as regional and national youth events. Through it all we got to know each other very well.

I have followed the lives of some of those youth through the years as we have gone on to serve other congregations and be involved in other youth groups.

Because I have followed those lives yesterday was a particularly sad day for me, as it was for others. My excitement at receiving a phone call from the sister of one of those original youth group boys quickly melted into sorrow as she informed me that after a couple of days without contact with him they had asked for a law enforcement wellness check. An officer found his body. I do not know the details of his death, but I know that he was young. As the tragedy swept through his family and they began to deal with their shock and grief and undertake plans for some kind of memorial service in the season of Covid, I spent the day going through memories.

This is not the first tragedy in the stories of the boys in that youth group. It is the fourth death of one of those youth. It is the second death in that family.

I know that young people die. I learned that early in my career as a minister. The second funeral at which I officiated, while I was still an intern, was for a 15-year-old. I’ve officiated at many funerals for people younger than I. I’ve helped to care for families who have experienced the death of an infant or young child. I know that death is a part of life. Christianity is based in our deep convictions of resurrection. We know that death is not the end. Preaching hope in the face of tragedy is part of my calling.

Still, I am dwelling with my sadness and the tragedy that has unfolded in one family for a while.

In the 11th chapter of John’s Gospel, we read that a man, Lazarus of Bethany, was ill. When Jesus, who loved him, heard of his illness, he was in the midst of other activities and his arrival at the home of Lazarus was delayed. The delay was so long that Lazarus was dead and buried before Jesus arrived. People familiar with the story can repeat the part about Lazarus’ resurrection and how he came out of the tomb, but there is more to that story. Before Lazarus’ resurrection, Jesus spoke to his sisters. He comforted them. He heard of their anger at his late arrival. He visited the tomb. He wept. He didn’t ignore the pain and grief and even the anger. He participated in it fully. The story is one of the models for my ministry.

While it is not appropriate for a pastor to allow his or her emotions to get in the way of providing care for those who are served, pastors cannot ignore their emotions. We grieve, too. We weep.

Last evening, I read an email that I received in response to a change of email address auto responder that I have on one of my accounts in preparation for moving. The email asked me if I wanted to continue to be on a prayer chain now that I am no longer serving a congregation. I knew my answer right away. I do want to continue to pray with and for those I have served. Our lives are intertwined. It has been more than 35 years since I moved on from the congregation of the young man who died. I continue to pray with and for him and his family.

I don’t want to every stop praying with the people of the church, even though I already know that those prayers will bring tears to my eyes and sadness to my life from time to time.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Anxious times

Just over a year ago, as my wife lay in the intensive care unit of the hospital after having suffered two cardiac arrests in the same day, I was sitting with her and dozing when a call for a “code blue” went out over the hospital PA. I started awake, felt my heart racing, scanned the monitors in my wife’s room and realized that the drama this time was over another patient. It took me quite a while to calm myself and catch a few more winks of sleep. The process repeated that night and a more times during her hospitalization. Months later, sleeping in my own bed with my wife beside me I dreamt of a hospital code blue. I woke, thinking I was having a panic attack once again. I though my heart was racing. But this time I had access to a way to check my heart rate. In fact, my heart rate was normal. I wasn’t having a panic attack, I was dreaming that I was having a panic attack. Once I could assess my situation, my anxiety calmed and I was able to return to sleep. The dreams of panic attacks recurred several times, but seem to have faded now.

I have been amazingly fortunate in regards to feelings of anxiety and panic throughout my life. I have been able to sleep at night without undue worry. I grew up in a safe home and have not had too many traumatic experiences. Throughout my adult life I have often been on call and received calls in the middle of the night that required me to respond. I’ve gotten out of bed and gone to assist others time after time and I have been able to do so without negative thoughts or feelings.

Anxiety is a normal human response. We evolved to have mental and emotional preparedness to respond to dangers and attacks. Like other animals, we have a flight, fight or freeze instinct that protects us from inappropriate responses to threats. In our modern world, however, the threats are significantly different than those experienced by hunter/gatherer societies. Mental health experts are often called to assist patients with anxiety disorders. People experience feelings of worry, anxiety and fear that are strong enough to interfere with daily activities.

Among the most common anxiety disorders are panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Significant research, often boosted by the increased trauma of wars, has been conducted over the past century have produced a variety of treatment modalities for anxiety disorders. Medications, including antidepressants, have been effective in some cases. Counseling can ease anxiety. After my experiences with my wife in the hospital, i had access to our community’s law enforcement psychologist. A session with him diffusing the experiences combined with private journaling of the experience gave me relief and kept my worries from becoming a problem. The treatment of anxiety disorders, many of which are far more severe than my experiences, is still an imprecise science. Doctors are challenged by the many differences in individuals and medicines that have different effects on different patients.

Talking with friends and family over the past day, I am aware that there is a heightened sense of anxiety in our community, nation and world. Many are obsessing with the news, looking for each sign that their chosen candidate will win or lose. I’ve heard reports of loved ones who are experiencing intestinal disorders, increasing their use of over the counter medicines, and obsessing over election news.

Patience is sorely needed in our situation as officials use care to count the ballots and assure us that the results of a very close election are accurate. The process of determining the outcome of the election can take days or even weeks while the nation waits. Some are handling the uncertainty differently than others.

The stock market usually does not respond well to uncertainty, but it soared yesterday despite the anxiety of the nation. I have no real understanding of the stock market and how it works, but I would not have forecast the rise in stock prices that we saw. Like many other parts of our world, there are lots of mixed signals and misleading signs. A single up day in the stock market isn’t a predictor of a trend or of how the market will respond to other news. I find myself paying more attention to the markets now that my income is more closely tied to investments that are managed by others and deeply dependent upon stocks. We have a participating annuity that rises and falls with market conditions. On the other hand, our savings have been invested in the market for years and I have not experienced undue anxiety over daily market fluctuations. I’ve been quite comfortable having others manage the investments and trusting the church system to provide for my needs.

I am, however, aware of friends and relatives who are very anxious and I sense from social media that there is a lot of anxiety in the world today.

Tich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Budhist monk, peace activist and founder of Plum Village. He has written extensively and continues to be a sought-after teacher even though he is now more than 90 years old. Knowing part of his life’s story and the trauma he experienced growing up in war-torn Vietnam with violence extending well into his adult years, one might expect him to be filled with anxiety. He, however, has developed his techniques of meditation and presentness to such a degree that he has not only overcome any potential anxiety disorders in his life and is able to teach others to manage their anxieties. He reminds all who read his works that there is a spiritual side to living with anxiety without having it disrupt your life. Although my spiritual tradition is distinct from buddhist ways, I have learned from buddhist teachers to value prayer and meditation practices that are common to both traditions.

These anxious times are times that call for centering prayer and the best of our spiritual traditions. As I engage in my spiritual practices, I pray that the anxieties of others and of our community may be eased and that people may be freed from excessive worry so we can together work toward solutions to our common problems.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Liminal space

I was seventeen when I went off to college. I was a year younger than most of the other students in my class. For the most part, this didn’t make much of a difference in my life. Most of the time I simply pretended that I was as old as my classmates. But in private, I knew that I was younger. I struggled with roommates, changing roommates twice my freshman year and ending up getting a private room for the next two years, which I preferred. I was afraid of failing in college and perhaps overcompensated by working very hard and earning good grades. Looking back from a distance of half a century, I realize that I was going through what anthropologists call a rite of passage. The journey from childhood to adulthood took me through a phase of life when I was not still a child, but not yet fully an adult.

One of the terms for those in-between spaces is liminal. It is a term that I didn’t know at the time I was beginning my educational journey, but it is a good descriptor of that phase of my life. Different disciplines use the term in different ways with slightly different definitions.

In anthropology, liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.

Psychologists use the term liminal space a bit differently, describing liminality as the feeling of unease or disorientation that comes from being in between two places in one’s life. That feeling can come from certain physical spaces. Stairwells, elevators, and hallways are liminal spaces. They exist to provide transition from one room to another. The feeling of being in transition that one experiences in those physical spaces is similar to feelings that come at major points of life transition such as a change in career, a change in marital status, becoming a parent, or experiencing the death of a loved one. In the late 1960’s, Holmes and Rahe developed a scale for measuring the impact of stress on health. They defined 43 life events that cause increased stress and result in negative health outcomes. Events perceived as negative such as divorce, loosing a job, and the death of a loved one were seen as producing stress, but those deemed positive such as purchasing a home, graduating from school and the birth of a child were also identified as liminal events.

Theologians use the term liminal space to describe places where a person is aware of the presence of God. Our people encountered God in nature and certain spaces were identified as holy places. Moses encountered God on the mountain, Jacob named the place where he wrestled with an angel Peniel, which means “face of God.” Shrines and temples, altars and churches are constructed in places that are significant in the relationship between people and God. The sanctuaries of the churches I have served are liminal spaces for me. As I enter the space I am aware of the significant moments shared in those spaces. Baptisms, weddings, funerals, ordinations and other major life events have taken place in those spaces. Though I have presided in those rooms, those rooms have never been about me.

As is often the case in academics, different disciplines approach the same concept from different perspectives. Whether liminality is described as an anthropological, psychological or theological concept, the disciplines are all approaching a similar reality.

I am literally living in liminal space these days. Our furniture is in our new home in Washington. We are currently in the home we are selling in South Dakota. We have a few of our things around us, but most of our possessions are in another place. Our house is empty, its rooms bare, but it is still our house. It is filled with our memories. But we know it will be ours for only a little while. The date of the closing of our sale is rapidly approaching. In a few days we will move on from this place and someone else will call it home. We live in a liminal space.

I am writing in the wee hours of the morning when the Presidential race and the control of the U.S. Senate are still uncertain. In the case of some election results we don’t even know when we will know the results. We can remember an election when it took months and a major supreme court decision to give us the results. Our nation is in a liminal space as we try to discern our future together. We do not yet know how the deep divisions of our country will play out or if we will find the political will to overcome them. The decisions of this time seem to us to have huge consequences and we don’t know what the future will hold.

I return to theology. Liminal spaces are sacred spaces. We meet God in the spaces of transition and change. In the language of one of our church’s slogans, “God is still speaking.” Sometimes we don’t recognize God’s presence in the moment, but only when we look back from some point in the future. Sometimes we have to go through an experience before we are able to recognize its meaning.

God of all of the times of our people, we know that you are with us even when we are not aware of your presence. Help us to open our lives to the sacredness of the moment in which we find ourselves. Remind us of your abiding love in all times and places.

Hear our prayers for leadership in these uncertain times. Grant us peace in the moments of not knowing. Allow us to dwell in this liminal space long enough to discover your presence and know of your love.

May we sense the sacredness of this time as we wait.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

An election day diversion

It has finally arrived. Today is election day in the United Sates. We’ve been told that there is a good chance that we won’t know the results of the voting when we go to bed tonight. Still, I’m sure that I won’t be able to keep from checking for results as the evening goes on. It lacks some of the sense of a holiday that election days past held. As I did in the primary election, I took advantage of our state’s early voting to avoid being part of a crowd. The pandemic is out of control in our state and it isn’t a good time to be waiting in lines and standing close to strangers. I’m part of what is a record-shattering wave of voters who voted early, voted by mail, or otherwise cast their votes before election day. I’m pretty sure this makes the work of pollsters difficult. On the other hand, we have learned not to trust the polls, so there is a heightened sense drama about the day. It doesn’t help that the past four years have been among the most deeply divided years in our history and this year’s presidential election is one of the most divisive campaigns ever. It doesn’t help that there have already been cases of violence. A lot of people are carrying weapons. It doesn’t help that one party has consistently pursued suppression of the vote as a political tactic. It doesn’t help that there are already active lawsuits seeking to block counting votes that have already been cast. I used to look forward to election day. I approach today with a slight sense of dread.

Whatever happens, it will be our duty to reach out to those with whom we disagree. The unity of these states depends on each of us finding ways to work around our political differences and work together to provide for the health, safety and well being of all of the people of this great country. It is incumbent on all of us to set aside the division and hate speech and pick up the cause of unity. We need to see those on the other side as human beings with hopes, fears, aspirations, and dreams that are all their own. We need to understand how much we need each other.

But you don’t need my election day sermon. You’ve been reading and thinking and living through this bit of history alongside me.

So, I’m turning to a bit of escapism at the beginning of what is likely to be a long day.

illustration from old magazine
In the process of sorting out the last of the boxes in our home before our final move, we’ve sorted through a few papers that came from our parents’ houses. Among those papers was a magazine article that had been torn out of a family magazine. The date of the article is from our teenage years. The photograph on the back of one of the pages clearly shows clothing that we recognize from the era. The article is titled “What is a Mother?” It reports the reflections of early elementary students. One of our parents kept the article because she (and I’m sure it was a she in this case) was touched by the sentiments of the children who contributed to it. Perhaps there was a touch of nostalgia because her children were now older than the ones quoted in the article. Perhaps she intended to show it to someone else. This person was known to keep a lot of articles cut from newspapers and magazines. When we were cleaning out her house after her death, I was asked to take the contents of a drawer and put them into a box to be sorted later. Perhaps it is one of the boxes we’ve been sorting in the past week. The drawer contained all kinds of things: a few financial records and receipts, a bit of correspondence, and a lot of articles clipped from newspapers and magazines. At the very top of the drawer, easy for me to read as I opened the drawer was a newspaper clipping with the title, “How to avoid clutter.” It gave us a laugh.

from 68 clipping
This article is like a lot of articles that contain things that children have written. Usually the writings of children are part of a school assignment, collected by a teacher and turned over to a journalist who picks out a few and publishes them. Those in Rapid City are used to the local newspaper’s annual issue that contains children’s instructions for preparing a Thanksgiving turkey. The practice is a bit exploitative as the children don’t receive anything for their contributions. The newspaper or magazine copyrights the material and retains all of the rights to the work of the children. The articles don’t use the full names of the children, so they can’t be easily identified. But such articles make us smile and we enjoy them. I know at least one person who kept a few of those articles so that someone would read them even after the children had grown up and become adults.

68savedclipping
Most of the paragraphs of the children are cute and express love and care for their mothers. There is remarkable understanding of some of the sacrifices that mothers make for their children, cleaning up messes, keeping things organized and caring for children when they don’t feel well. One of the children, however, wrote his contribution on a day when he wasn’t especially pleased with his mother. Instead of answering the question with words of praise, he uses it as an opportunity to air his grievances. I’ve never met him, but I like Gary. His honesty is refreshing. His contribution stands out. His genuineness comes through even though he is a bit blunt.

I think of how Gary would be these days. He’s close to 60 now if some accident or illness didn’t claim his life prematurely. Perhaps he has just voted or is preparing to vote today. Maybe he wouldn’t vote the same as I have. He’s still a complex human with all kinds of ideas and feelings. He’s still worth listening to and understanding. I hope that we can still smile at our fiends and neighbors in the days to come even when we are aware that we disagree.

I like to think that Gary allowed his children to have a frog.

Copyright (c) 2020 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 big sort

It doesn’t seem to make sense to us to think in terms of phases, but this part of our big sort is nearing its end. If the weather cooperates, and it looks as if it will, we are in our last week of sorting and packing our house in Rapid City. We have made three round trips to our new home since we retired in June and we plan to head out on our last trip from this house in a week. We have begun to think of the time between June and November as the big sort. We have downsized significantly, probably not enough, but we have succeeded in decreasing the number of our possessions. We have given away items, sold items, found new homes for things, donated things, and thrown away quite a few things. The process has been, at times, exhausting.

Last night was one of the times when we ran out of energy before we ran out of time. Our bodies hadn’t adjusted to the end of daylight savings time, so we got an early start yesterday and we were ready to head to bed earlier than our usual. We pushed a bit, but didn’t accomplish much in the last hour of our work day. We are tired, and we might complain, but there has also been a lot of meaning in this part of our lives.

The educator and philosopher Erik Erikson has had a deep influence on our thinking over the span of our years. The German-American developmental psychologist lived just before we were born. His writings helped to shape a generation of teachers and thinkers. He is credited with coining the phrase “identity crisis.” His seminal work, “Childhood and Society,” outlines eight stages of life. The final of those stages, integration vs. despair, is the time of life when the task is to bring together all of the events of a lifetime into a meaningful whole. According to Erikson the time of retirement is a time of looking back, contemplating accomplishments, and viewing the successes of life. This is the task of all adults from about the age of 65 until the end of life.

Our big sort has been a time of looking back in a way that has been deeply meaningful for us. As we packed up household items, we saw connections that our lives have been. We moved furniture that has been in use in our family for generations. Seeing items that belonged to our parents, grandparents and great grandparents in the place where our grandchildren live is a clear illustration of the interconnectedness of generations. We have had to make decisions about what to keep and what to leave behind. In our case, the sorting is also sorting things of our parents. Both Susan and I have had to go through boxes of things from our parents that have been in storage for years. Our parents left behind the effects of their lives and though we sorted as we packed up their homes at the end of their lives, there were items that we did not have the energy to sort at the time. So we have had boxes to go through in the past few months. Some of the items we discovered were things that we wondered why we had kept. I found a box of aeronautical charts from the 1950’s. Those charts expired when my father was still alive. They should have been thrown away at the time. I don’t know why they had been kept for so many years. I also found the receipts from the purchase of several airplanes that my father owned over the years. They have a little historic value. He bought a brand new airplane, fresh from the factory, for under $6,000 in 1958. I learned to fly and soloed in that airplane a decade later. How the invoice for the plane was kept all these years is a mystery.

We also found a box from Susan’s mother’s desk in which she had kept all of her father’s pay stubs. I’ve spent more in a single trip to the grocery store than a week’s wages of a master electrician in the 1960’s. The stubs are a testament to hard work and careful financial management. They don’t need to be kept in order to be appreciated.

We’ve sorted a few boxes filled with our children’s school work. Some items have been kept. A few have been photographed and discarded. Others have been looked at and thrown away. I have a picture of a birthday card signed by our children. Our daughter was just learning her letters. Her signature reads, E, H, sideways C, A, backwards R, L. She had started near the center of the page with the first letter of her name, written the second to the left and continued until she ran out of space and then put the final letter, L, on the other side of the R. All of the letters are there, but they look like they are in the wrong order. She is a fine writer these days and has a distinctive and wonderful signature that is easy to read.

Looking through our children’s school papers is a way to review and remember their development through the years. They gained practical skills, such as writing. They also developed more complex thinking. Reviewing their work is a journey down memory lane. We often don’t know why the things we have got saved, but they stir memories and feelings that are important to us as we reflect on our lives. Some of the things from our parent’s lives seem crazy to us. “Why did they save this?” Some give insight and understanding into the lives that they lived.

Although there have been frustrations, the big sort has been a worthwhile adventure. There are still a few boxes to sort. There is a pile of items that need to be delivered to various individuals and agencies. But the end is in sight. A week from now we will have emptied the house where our family lived for more than 25 years. We’re down to just a very few pieces of furniture: one bed a couple of chairs and an old table that won’t be moved. The adventure is shifting to a new location, where there will be boxes to sort as we unpack. We’re pretty sure we moved too much stuff already. Our lives, however, are focused on the process of sifting and sorting. The move has given us an opportunity to work on an important developmental task in our lives.

How fortunate we are to have had time to do this work.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!