I am a Protestant

I am a protestant. I was born into a protestant family and have participated in a protestant church all of my life. I have celebrated Reformation Sunday as a regular part of the Christian Year. I have tried to avoid public criticism of any part of the Christian Church and I have many good friends who are Roman Catholic. While we have far many more points of agreement about theology and the expression of faith, we appear to be divided for now and for the rest of my life by the Roman Catholic Church’s unwillingness to accept the leadership of 50% of its faithful members. By denying ordination to women, the church has turned away so many capable, qualified, faithful, committed, and prepared leaders that the entire leadership of the church is skewed in its opinions and understanding of the members of their congregations.

But it is not my place to tell any member or leader of the Roman Catholic Church what to believe or what to do.

Yesterday, however, I once again understood the deep divisions within the Christian Church. I know that while we all pray for unity within the church and we all reach out with Christian love to one another, we cannot become a single church. My heart breaks, not only for the unity of the church, but also for the faithful members of the Roman Catholic Church by the yesterday’s decision of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to draw hip a teaching document on politicians who support abortion. Specifically the move, which easily passed on a vote of 168 to 55 with six abstentions, will declare that those who support abortion are out of community with the church and therefore not eligible to receive Holy Communion.

The Most Rev Liam Cary, the bishop of Baker, Oregon, said the church was in an “unprecedented situation,” with “a Catholic president who is opposed to the teaching” of the church. I want to point out that he is factually incorrect. The situation is not unprecedented. In the first place the only precedent is John F. Kennedy. Joseph Biden is only the second president in the history of the nation who has been a member of the Roman Catholic Church. That aside, there have been hundreds of American politicians who are Roman Catholic who have supported the death penalty, in direct opposition to the teaching of the church. Moreover, and more importantly, Holy Communion is not reserved for persons without sin. The liturgy for Holy Communion includes a prayer of confession. We confess that we did not earn the right to come to the table by our own righteousness, but rather have received that invitation by the Grace of God to us who are all sinners. The “holier than thou” attitude of the Bishops, who believe not only that they are all worthy, but also that they have the right to determine who is and who is not worthy to receive communion, is itself in direct conflict with the teachings of the church. The notion that anyone, including the officiating clergy, would be free from sin was rejected by the church more than a thousand years ago.

The action of the bishops is in direct conflict with the opinion of the majority of the members of the Roman Catholic Church. In the debate, the Bishops argued over a single politician, Joseph Biden, although the name of Nancy Pelosi, also a member of the Roman Catholic Church, was also mentioned. According to recent polls, 67% of US Catholics favor the president being able to receive communion regularly. That is not a small majority. A cynic could say that not only do the bishops favor denying ordination to women, they also do not listen to the opinions of female members of the church.

The bishops do not even represent the majority of US ordained priests. Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, one of the few members of the Conference of Bishops whom I have personally met, stated that most priests will be “puzzled to hear that bishops now want to talk about excluding people at a time when the real challenge before them is welcoming people back to the regular practice of the faith and rebuilding their communities.” The Most Rev Robert McElroy, bishop of San Diego, warned that the document now being drafted will lead to the “weaponization” of the Eucharist.

The document that will be drafted will not be binding. Each individual bishop retains the right to decide who should be blocked from the Mass in his diocese. And it will be debated when the Bishops gather in November. The Vatican, the center of power in the hierarchical church expressed opposition to yesterday’s debate, urging the bishops to delay the vote. I guess they didn’t feel obligated to listen to the teaching of Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s theological watchdog. I guess they didn’t feel obligated to listen to the Pope himself, who warned against weaponization of the Eucharist. I confess, I don’t know what they were thinking.

In recent decades the Conference of Catholic Bishops has failed to deal with its own sin of paedophilia and the sheltering of predatory abusers of children. The decline in membership of the Roman Catholic church in the United States has been in part due to this decades long scandal. The choice to consider punishing the best-known American Catholic, a man who attends Mass weekly and regularly speaks of his faith, is nothing less than a partisan political move.

I think it was Jim Wallis of Sojourners, who coined the phrase “insufficiently pro life.” It is a phrase that could be applied to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Opposition to abortion is an official teaching of the church, but it is not the church’s only teaching. The church also has official teachings about the care of the poor. The church has official teachings about the welcoming of immigrants. The church has official teachings about the death penalty. If they decide to deny the eucharist to those who disagree with the official teachings of the church, they quickly will find themselves without anyone who has been deemed “worthy” of receiving communion. That hardly is building up the community of the church, the body of Christ.

I have no right to tell the US Conference of Catholic Bishops anything. I understand that. All the same, on this day I am grateful that I am a protestant and will continue to celebrate the brave church leaders of our heritage who sought to reform the church, even at the risk of themselves being denied the sacrament. And, I know another thing that the bishops do not. They cannot control the Holy Spirit. Thousands of people that the bishops seek to deny the sacraments of the church receive the sacraments through other communities of faith. It doesn’t take a bishop for the sacrament to exist. We protestants have known that for hundreds of years.

A stroll along the bay

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The other day I stopped by a fruit stand to pick up a few local strawberries and cherries. Our son and his family have a cherry tree that is producing rainier cherries enough for their family to eat and to freeze a few for later use and we have had a few tastes. Their strawberry plants are also producing a few berries, but competition from the children and from slugs and snails in the garden is intense and so it doesn’t seem right for us to be taking their harvest for our use right now. In a few weeks they’ll have more strawberries and we’ll be able to have some of them. For now, the bounty of other farms is readily available at fruit stands for a reasonable price.

At the fruit stand there were four bicyclists. Their bikes were loaded down with camping gear. They also said skis strapped to their bikes. I struck up a conversation with the bikers and asked if they were going to or from the snow. They said they had come from California and were nearing the end of their trip. Their destination was Bellingham.

I decided not to mention to them that it is a 55+ mile trek from Bellingham to the Mount Baker Ski area and that it is a good climb with steep hills for the bikes. They’ve learned that by themselves by now. Instead I told them that they were in for a beautiful ride from here to Bellingham. The 30 mile trip is a good distance for a day’s bike ride and the Chuckanut highway is a scenic drive along the shore with great views and ample shade from the giant trees alongside the highway. I’m sure that they were rewarded with a good day’s peddling.

I’m not up for the adventure of loading up ski gear in California and pedaling all the way to northwest Washington to go skiing. But I am amazed at the beauty and the recreational possibilities of this place. In one direction we have the snow-capped heights of the North Cascades. North Cascades National Park is just a short drive from our home. In the opposite direction we have a relatively sheltered coastline, dotted with islands and filled with all kinds of amazing sea life from the harbor seals to the orcas and migrating whales that swim along the coastline. It is possible to visit North Cascades National Park and San Juan Island National Historical Park in the same day.

To be fair, we have been allowed to live our lives in some places of amazing scenic beauty. The Black Hills of South Dakota offer endless variety and diverse scenery. You can visit Badlands National Park and Wind Cave National Park in the same day and see abundant wildlife including prairie dogs and buffalo along the way. In Boise, Idaho, where we lived, I used to tell people that I could mow my lawn and go skiing on the same day. There it was beautiful high plains desert in one direction and gorgeous mountains in the other. Our home in North Dakota was not far from the badlands and offered amazing open prairie views. Chicago is where the prairie meets the great lakes. And the people who ask about why Montana is called Big Sky Country simply haven’t been there. So our lives have enabled us to live in places of spectacular beauty.

In each place where we have lived, we have enjoyed taking walks through historic neighborhoods and admiring the old homes. For the most part, those homes in those neighborhoods are not something we’d want to own. I can look at a beautiful home and see the grace of its design, but I can also imagine the hard work of maintaining such a large structure and the high cost of heating an older building. Just keeping up with the electrical and plumbing systems in an old home can be costly and time consuming. And having to paint a multi-story building is no joke. So I like to admire beautiful old buildings without having to be the one responsible for their upkeep.

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Here, I’m discovering another kind of looking and admiring without owning. There are several places where we can enjoy walking along the shore of protected waters near marinas. The South Bay Trail in Bellingham goes from downtown to the historic Fairhaven district. We’ve walked the entire 2.5 mile trail, but we have a preference for the southern half of the walk. Going about half way and turning around to return gives us a reasonable walk and allows us to look at a lot of scenery. Part of the trail is a boardwalk over Bellingham Bay where we can look out at the boats moored there. Not far from Taylor Dock there is a beautiful old wooden commuter that I’ve noticed. It is truly something I like to admire from afar. If one actually owned a boat like that, just keeping up with the maintenance would be a full time job. There is a lot of wood to be scraped, sanded and repainted. The old systems are in need of constant repair. On the other hand, I’m glad that someone is investing the energy and financial resources required to preserve the beautiful old boat. Like some beautiful old houses, old boats are fun to admire from a distance.

The combination of wonderful summer weather and the release from pandemic restrictions brought about by increased levels of vaccination has brought out a lot of folks. As we walked along the bay yesterday the path, especially the first section between Fairhaven and a popular park with a coffee shop, was almost crowded. We passed a lot of folks as we kept up our usual brisk pace. We are used to seeking places to walk where we can be alone with nature. Still, the open air kept the path from feeling crowded. It was just a different kind of walk than our usual.

Looking west across the bay, Lummi Island’s forested hills hinted of the other islands that lie beyond. It is hard to imagine that we are north of Victoria, the capitol of British Columbia, at the southern end of Vancouver Island, further out.

There is so much more to explore as we learn about this new to us place.

Juneteenth is coming

In the midst of a very divided congress that struggles to pass any legislation, the overwhelming vote by both the Senate and the House to make Juneteenth a national holiday came as a bit of a surprise. The effort to establish the holiday has been underway for several years, but Senate rules made it nearly impossible to pass the legislation. A single member of the Senate could block the bill from getting a full vote. However, the long effort to commemorate the day was overwhelmingly passed and the holiday will be established. The act establishes a new holiday for federal workers. It maintains the traditional day of recognition, June 19, unlike some federal holidays that are always observed on a Monday. President Biden is set to sign the bill into law this afternoon.

Most states already have an official observance of Juneteenth. Earlier this year, Governor Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1016 making Juneteenth a paid holiday for state workers in Washington. The bill does not go into effect until 2022, but it will make Washington the fourth state, after Texas, New York, and Virginia to recognize the Juneteenth by giving state employees a paid holiday. Only North Dakota and South Dakota have no official statewide recognition of Juneteenth according to the Congressional Research Service.

I am not aware of a Juneteenth observance in Mount Vernon, but in nearby Bellingham, the celebration will be held at Maritime Heritage Park between 3 and 7 pm on Saturday.

I don’t remember Juneteenth being a part of my formal education as a child. We learned that the salves were freed by the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation and executive order, issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, declared “that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward shall be free.” I thought that the proclamation ended chapel slavery in the United States. My simple, grade school understanding, however, didn’t reveal the full story.

There were several limits to the Emancipation Proclamation. It applied only to states that had seceded from the United States. There were states where slavery was legal that remained loyal to the Union. Furthermore the proclamation expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Finally, the promised freedom was dependent upon a Union Victory, which after three bloody years was far from assured at that point in the war.

Nonetheless, the Emancipation Proclamation was a critical step in a long overdue struggle to end slavery in our country. The movement to end slavery, while supported by abolitionists and religious leaders, really began with actions taken by the slaves themselves. In the Civil War, slaves acted to secure their own liberty. This movement added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically.

It took several years for slavery to be officially ended in our country. Juneteenth marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 - 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation - to take control of the state and to inform the state’s slaves that they had been emancipated. The day was one of celebration and June 19th has been recognized as African American Emancipation Day ever since. Most contemporary celebrations across the nation emphasize education and achievement, with picnics, guest speakers and family gatherings.

The holiday is both a recognition of the past, which has many events worth celebrating, and the acknowledgement that the work of justice and equality is unfinished. On Juneteenth people not only celebrate the end of slavery, but also recognize that systems continue to marginalize and oppress people of color in our country. Dr. Martin Luther King used to frequently quote Theodore Parker: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Juneteenth recognizes that the journey towards freedom continues with opportunities to join together with others to make significant and lasting improvements in our society.

Winston Churchill adapted a quote from the Irish statesman Edmund Burke to write, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Recognizing the importance of learning as much as we are able from the mistakes of the past is important. Juneteenth, however, is not just a time to learn about the horrors of slavery and the incredible inhumanity of those who came before us. It is, rather, a celebration of the American spirit to recognize wrong and to work together to make things right. The establishment of a national holiday is yet another opportunity to celebrate our country’s greatness and to work together for justice.

The holiday seems to fit well into the flow of the year. With the coming of summer in the northern hemisphere we celebrate longer days and the approaching solstice. Public schools go on vacation and people engage in a variety of outdoor activities and events. It is a good time to recognize and celebrate freedom. Coming a couple of weeks after Memorial Day and a couple of weeks ahead of the July 4th celebrations of American Independence, the national holiday fills out a season of remembering and honoring the struggles of so many of our forebears to give us the freedoms we enjoy.

This year we plan to spend part of the day with our grandchildren and it will provide an excellent opportunity for us to teach them a bit more about the history they are inheriting and the sacrifices of so many along the long, long road towards freedom and justice. After a career of teaching the stories of Israel's Exodus from slavery in Egypt, we have a few ideas about how we teach the concepts of freedom and justice to a new generation.

A new holiday is an opportunity for new learning for our country. The ability of Congress to come together to find common ground in a season of partisan struggle and conflict is a long overdue sign that shows a level of maturity and dignity that has not often been demonstrated by our leaders in recent years. It is long overdue. It is worthy of our recognition and celebration.

Exploring

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When we lived in South Dakota we would purchase a State Park pass. Most of the time that pass was used to visit Custer State Park, a real gem of a park that is filled with wildlife and gorgeous scenery. We loved seeing the buffalo calves. I know that they are American Bison, but I still call them buffalo. I also pronounce coyote the way fans of University of South Dakota Coyotes athletics do.

Being new transplants to Washington, it made sense to me for us to purchase a Washington State Parks Discovery pass so that we could explore the many different state parks within our immediate region. Birch Bay State Park is only 4 1/2 miles from our son’s farm and it offers a great place to explore the coast with our grandchildren. Peace Arch State Park, on the border with Canada is just a few miles farther up the road. There are more than a dozen state parks within 25 miles of where we live. We are avid walkers and state parks offer many trails for walking and exploring. We have only begun to explore the richness that is offered close to our home.

Washington State Parks began with Larabee State Park, the first area to be recognized as a state park. The park, just south of Bellingham, offers views of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands as well as opportunities for paddling, viewing tide pools, and exploring the forests. In addition to the ocean shore the park has two lakes to explore. Although currently closed to shellfish harvesting, the park is known as a place to find clams. We also enjoyed the winding Chuckanut Drive south from Bellingham to Burlington. It isn’t as quick a drive as Interstate 5, but far more scenic and a good alternate route when driving between our home and our son’s farm.

We’ve also taken walks at Camano Island State Park and explored other areas as well, but there is much more we want to see.

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Yesterday, we took a hike along the shore at Deception Pass State Park. The park, located on both sides of the Canoe Pass and Deception Pass bridges connecting Fildago and Whidbey Islands, is a short 15 - 20-mile drive from our home. The bridge itself is picturesque and although currently covered with tarps for sandblasting and repainting, it is still a dramatic structure. Under the bridge the rushing tides create strong currents that are a danger to boaters unfamiliar with the area. Still, the waters around the park are filled with kayakers and small boaters. Kayak rentals are available within the park.

Deception Pass is Washington’s most-visited park, but it was not crowded when we visited yesterday. We parked at Rosario Beach, where there is a boat launch and took a hike on a trail that wandered along the shoreline and through old growth forest out to lighthouse point and circled around back to the parking area.

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When we walk through the forest out here, I find myself looking up at the tall trees. After so many years of living in the hills and thinking that a 60- or 75-foot tree is a tall tree, these forest giants that stand 150 or more feet high never fail to impress me. Looking so far up is slightly disorienting and I have to be careful not to become dizzy if I walk and look up at the same time. All the same, the trees are incredible and it helps us sense the size of creation as we walk along.

The coastline in this part of Washington is dotted with islands and looking out towards so many islands gives the coast a different feeling that is the case in places where the beach faces an expanse of open water. The islands are inviting and one can imagine taking a kayak and paddling to explore the shorelines of many different islands. I haven’t been doing much paddling recently, waiting to connect with experienced local paddlers and guides to teach me about paddling in these waters. There is much to learn about tides and currents and the techniques of saltwater paddling. What is more, I’ve been a bit busier than I expected as I adjust to retirement and have not paddled as much as I expected I would. That will change as we learn our way around. Yesterday, a lovely birthday hike was just the right thing as we wandered along the trail enjoying the views of the ocean and the areas where the path led through dense undergrowth that made us feel like we were wandering through a J. R. R. Tolkien story. We did not encounter any trolls or hobbits on our hike, but the paths were inviting nonetheless.

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We didn’t have a sense of being in a remote wilderness area, as the park is very near to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island where navy pilots engage in Field Carrier Landing Practice. The fighter jets flying overhead on approach are noisy, but for an airplane buff it is the kind of noise that doesn’t bother me. I do suspect, however, that there are much quieter places to camp. Having camped next to railroad tracks, however, we are the sort of people who might take our camper to the park one day.

One area in the park that I want to check out is Kukutail Preserve. It is located on Kiket Island and co-managed by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. I think that access is by kayak, but I have to learn more before visiting that particular area. I know that there is a neck of land on the island that is completely off limits to people to protect the fragile native plants growing there.

We have had the luxury of a lot of travel and exploration in our lives, but walking in the park to celebrate my 68th birthday reminds me of how much of this wide world we have not yet explored. There is a whole lot more to be discovered and much of it is very close to home and accessible to us. More adventures await.

Birthday

The story is that when I was born, my father flew his airplane over the home of a friend, cut the throttle so the plane was quiet and yelled “It’s a boy!” loud enough that the people on the ground heard him. I don’t know who the people on the ground were. I don’t even know if the story is about me. I also have heard the story told that it was when my sister was born that he did the trick, only yelling, “It’s a girl!” It seems a bit unlike our father to have done it twice. It is quite like him to have done it once. He was a pilot by profession. He flew light aircraft that were relatively quiet. He often flew low and slow, not too high above the ground. Our father is no longer alive for us to ask him the story. Whoever he yelled the news to is probably not around either. Still, it makes a good story and I’ve told it as if I was confident that it was bout my birth.

Another story about my birth that I think is accurate is that when I was born, my mother waited until the last minute to go to the hospital. Our house was right next to the hospital, so it was just a matter of going out our back yard, past our garage, and across the alley to the emergency entrance of the hospital. At any rate, the nurse had called the doctor, and was helping my mother settle in when I was born. I didn’t wait for the doctor to arrive. My mother told me that story several times and she often did so as she commented about the fact that I have always enjoyed getting up early in the morning.

Some people like to sleep in as a special birthday treat. I’ve never wanted to spend my birthday in bed. I like to get up and do things. As I age, I don’t seem to have gotten much better at sleeping. If I’ve averaged 8 hours a day of sleep, which seems like as good a guess as any, I’ve spent one third of my life sleeping, which comes to 22.67 years at this point in my life. That seems like enough to me so that if I occasionally miss a few minutes of sleep I have plenty of sleep in reserve.

Here is something I do know: when I was born my parents were glad to have a son born to them. The family, prior to my birth, consisted of my father, my mother, and three sisters. There were plenty of females in the family and I was the first little boy. The novelty probably wore off by the time our family was complete. There were three brothers born after I came into the world. I don’t know the significance of being the first boy, but it has always been a privileged position in the family for me. When I was a child, I got lots of time with my father. He would often take me to work with him at the airport. I loved going to the airport and being in his office and his shop. His office was filled with maps and the shop was filled with airplanes. I am the only one of my siblings who learned to fly with our father as my instructor. I got my pilot’s license after taking formal lessons with him, but that followed so many years of flying with him that it seemed to me like he had always been teaching me to fly.

When I started to seriously date my wife, I came into a privileged position in her family. She grew up the oldest of three girls. Her father was the only male in the family. Even the cat and the dog were female. When she became serious about me, I was warmly welcomed into the family. Her mother and father always treated me very well. I often say that it was because I was the first son in their family, too.

Whenever my birthday lands on a Sunday it falls on Father’s Day. Before I became a father, I thought it was a special treat to occasionally share the day with my father. After I became a father the day is even more meaningful to me. I like being occasionally able to “double dip” with two holidays on the same day.

As far as I can remember, I’ve always looked forward to my birthday and enjoyed the day. Last year my birthday landed on a Monday. It was my first day of retirement. Technically, I was employed to the end of the month, but I had saved two weeks of vacation so my last official day of work was June 14, 2020. I’ve still not fully adjusted to being retired, but it seems like a kind of a milestone to have come to this day one year later.

I have friends around the world. Right now it is late afternoon in Melbourne, Australia. That means that I got birthday greetings from a friend who lives there before I went to bed last night. I had already received cards and posts on social media from other friends as well. Part of the fun of the day is that birthday greetings stir good memories of good friends. I have a good friend whose birthday is the day before mine and another whose birthday is the day after mine, so I always think of them at this time of the year. Both of those friends have devoted their lives to the ministry, so we have lots in common to share when we are together. When we are together, I joke about the dividing line between youth and enthusiasm, and old age and experience, falling between us. Since I have a friend who is a day younger and another who is a day older than I, I can be the young one or the old one depending on which friend I am with.

So today will be a good day for me. A day to note that I am now 68 years old, which seems like a good age to be.