New Year's Eve again

2021-12-30viewwalking

Please note: This is the final entry for the web page, "Journal 2021." Tomorrow's entry will be on a new page in my site, "Journal 2022." If you have bookmarked this page to check my journal regularly, you may want to set a new bookmark on the new page. As has been the case for several years, there is an icon at the upper right hand corner of every page in my web site that, when clicked, gives a menu of the site. Also, please be advised that the journal archives are undergoing a major reorganization, there may be entire sections of the archives that are not available at certain times. If you are looking for a specific entry, you can contact me and I'll help you find it. Thanks for the gift of your time to read my journal. May the New Year bring you many blessings.

A year ago, I promised myself that during 2021, I would go through my web site, make it more streamlined, and do something about the size of the files. Because I write an essay every day, the amount of text and pictures on my web site is fairly large and there are other ways to organize the site, especially the journal archives. Quite frankly, there probably isn’t a very good reason to have all of my journal entries available all of the time. Very few, if any, users of my site are interested in looking up journal entries from years ago. However, it takes time to do that organization and I find myself interested in other activities and put off the task. I have been doing quite a bit of background work, preparing journal archives in a different format and should be able to start transforming the archives within a short amount of time, but New Year’s Eve has come and tomorrow I need to start a new entry for “Journal 2022.”

I suppose that it has always been the case with me that I imagine I can accomplish more than I actually do, but 2021 held a lot of surprises and many things didn’t go according to plans.

So here we are, on New Year’s Eve, looking back at a year with all kinds of ups and downs and feeling like somehow this year has been momentous. It has been in many ways for us. At the start of this year, we were anticipating the development of a vaccine that would slow or even stop the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. Susan and I were living in a rental home with nine months left on our lease, feeling that it would give us plenty of time to find a home to buy and get moved. Retirement in the middle of 2020 hadn’t gone the way we expected, but we had pulled off the move from South Dakota to Washington and we knew that there were still a lot more changes ahead.

At that time, we couldn’t imagine that by the end of the year we would have received two doses of vaccine plus a booster shot, that the issue of vaccination would become political, that there would arise a significant number of people who were opposed to vaccination for a wide variety of different reasons. We were thinking that our new address might be in the town of Ferndale, but we hadn’t thought of looking for a home close to the beach. We were anticipating the return of our daughter and her family from five years of living in Japan, but we didn’t know where they would be living in the United States. We hadn’t thought that they would make their home on the opposite side of the country, that we’d undertake a 6.000 road trip with our camper to visit for our grandson’s birthday, or that we would return from that trip and go back to work.

On New Year’s Day, 2021, we were worshipping remotely with our new congregation in Bellingham. We had only worshiped in person with that congregation one time, and didn’t even know the way to drive to the church without using a map or GPS.

And now, here we are, on the cusp of a new year, firmly into the third decade of the 21st century. I’m publishing my web site from our new home in Birch Bay, within walking distance of the Salish Sea and just a few minute’s drive from the Canadian border. We are serving as the Interim Ministers of Faith Formation at 1st Congregational Church of Bellingham. We not only know the way to the church, but we have an office in that building and are working there half time. And there is a lot of work remaining on the web site.

I am learning to cut myself a bit of slack and to relax a bit when it comes to tasks that are undone. My experience of the life of a minister is that there is always much more that can be done. I never had the sensation of having finished all of my work in 42 years of serving as a local church pastor. There always was another call, another job, a bit of filing, a bit more study, and a lot more work that I could do if I had more time.

New Year’s Eve is a good time to reflect on the passage of time and consider the accomplishments of the year past. It is also a time to look forward to a new year, to renew our hope, and get to work on the things that are most important. And, for me at least, it is a time to admit my limitations. I am only one person and the timing is fairly short. I can’t do everything. I can’t save the whole world. I have just one life to live and the time is precious.

One of the things about being human is that we are aware of the passage of time, of our own aging bodies, and of our mortality. And, as we grow older, we have the sensation that time is passing more quickly. For a two year old a year is half a lifetime. A year is a much smaller fraction of my life these days and I am aware that I have more years behind me than ahead of me in this life.

Still, the new year brings renewed hope for me. I am starting this new year with a new book next to my chair. “The Book of Hope,” a collaboration between Jane Goodall and Doug Abrams, seems to be just the right place. The subtitle of the book is “A Survival Guide for Trying Times.” Indeed we are living in trying times, but there are many amazing people in this world who inspire us and give us reason for hope. Certainly Jane Goodall is a woman of hope who gives others reasons to hope and practical invitations to turn their hope into meaningful action.

So, ready or not, here we go with a new year, filled with new possibilities and, I am sure, with surprises unforeseen.

Singing faith

When I think of my own journey of faith formation, the companion book to the Bible has to be the hymnal. I grew up with singing about faith. There was always a hymnal on the piano at our home, and there were other hymnals in the bench or on the bookcase above the piano. We belonged to the Congregational Church, but our mother grew up Methodist. There was no Methodist Church in our town, the product of an old parity agreement between Presbyterian, Congregational and Methodist Churches in Montana. Our church was the default church for Presbyterians and Methodists in our town. For my parents, one of whom grew up Methodist and the other Presbyterian, the situation was just right. But we always had a Methodist hymnal in our home. I still have that hymnal in my library even though I gave away my collection of hymnals when we moved from South Dakota.

There are all kinds of hymns that are so ingrained into my memory that I cannot separate my faith from those songs. This is especially true at Christmas. I think of Christmas in the words of Carols: Away in a Manger, Silent Night, The First Noel, We Three Kings, While Shepherds Watched their Flocks, Joy to the World, Angels We Have Heard on High. The list goes on and on.

Our family has sung Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee at so many special events, including the memorial services for both of our parents. The words of that hymn are part of how I think of what it means to be Christian: “Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife. Joyful music leads us sunward in the triumph song of life.”

We sang table graces including the doxology, which can be sung to the tune of Hernando’s Hideaway. We had our own version of the Johnny Appleseed Song that included the line, “for sun and rain and the family,” instead of appleseed. Amazing Grace wasn’t one of our mother’s favorite hymns, but the hymn is common meter, something that is true of a great number of 1960’s television sitcoms. We’d sing the hymn to “Gilligan’s Island,” or “The Brady Bunch,” or “Green Acres,” and laugh ourselves silly.

We had our own versions of sacred hymns with altered words to make jokes: “Amazing grace, O what great fun to play a joke on Grace!” We even learned that our mother had her own version of “I Was Sinking:” I was sinking, deep in sin, Whee!” The whole family, from youngest to oldest would sing.

When the organ peeled potatoes,
Lard was rendered by the choir.
As the sexton rang the dish rag,
Someone set the church on fire.
“Holy Smokes!” the parson shouted.
In the crowd he lost his hair.
Now his head resembles heaven.
‘cause there is no parting there.

When I have faced trials in my life, I have meditated on memorized scriptures, but I have more often sung hymns to myself. I sang hymns to our children as lullabies, a practice that I remember our mother doing.

In a strange twist of events, however, I now find myself in a position where I am asked to teach Christian Faith Formation without the use of hymns. Because Covid-19 is a virus that is spread by aerosol, there is evidence that singing makes it more likely for the virus to spread. Singing can propel the virus a greater distance than speaking according to some research. Our congregation’s Covid Advisory Committee, using the information available to them, has decided that at gatherings of our church, there will be no congregational singing. The current protocol allows for up to four singers, all masked and distanced from each other to sing, provided that they are more than 20 feet away from the congregation. They also have recently allowed members of the congregation to hum along, something that they couldn’t really prevent in the first place. I got really good at humming very softly, but there are some hymns, especially Christmas carols, that I cannot avoid humming just a bit.

Four part congregational singing is so deeply ingrained in me that I can hardly avoid joining in. Our father had little or no formal musical education, while our mother played piano, cello and trumpet. She had a beautiful alto voice and he learned to match pitch. In church, he usually sang the alto line down one octave as he sat or stood next to our mother. I learned to sing melody and then tenor and as my voice deepened, I could hit most of the bass notes even though my usual part is tenor. When I was in high school, I used to sing hymns by going through the parts, singing the soprano line on the first verse, alto on the second, tenor on the third, and bass on the fourth. For many years I sang in church choirs and learned to sing unison on the first verse and then four part harmony for the rest of the song.

Music has been an important part of the passing on of faith for thousands of years. It is likely that most of the book of Psalms was set to music, though we don’t have access to original tunes. Psalm 119 serves as a kind of “Introduction to the Jewish Faith.” It is arranged like an alphabet song, with a verse for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Poetic sections of other parts of the Bible also might have been recited to particular tunes. At least they were read in rhythm.

Prior to the pandemic, songs were a very important part of my teaching of the faith. I always sang songs with children at Vacation Bible School, at church camp, and in weekly class gatherings. I made references to hymns and often led the singing of a verse during Bible Study classes. I quoted hymn lyrics in prayers. The restriction on singing in our church has left me searching for ways to lead faith formation activities.

I am eager for the return of singing to our church and while I wait, I continue to repeat the lyrics to hymns. While I recite out loud, inside I’m singing: “There’s a song in my heart I am singing today.”

The van in the driveway

It got cold here. I was thinking that it was nothing we couldn’t deal with. We’ve lived in places that get cold all of our lives. This home has the mildest climate of any place where we have lived. Although we didn’t need our warmest clothes last winter, we still have then and our vehicles are prepared for winter. I made sure there was anti-gel in the fuel in the truck. Our house has an efficient furnace and we have a gas fireplace as well. It seems to be well-insulated and tight. A small gap in the weather seal on one door could easily be countered by laying a rug against the gap. What I didn’t realize that there is a water pipe in an outside wall of the garage feeding a hose connection. The wall is sheet rocked and I assumed that the plumbing was properly insulated. When I checked after a couple of very cold days, however, there was, sure enough, a split in the copper pipe. I shut off the water.

I’ve done my share of plumbing over the years. It is something that a homeowner gets to do. We had a place in our house in Boise where the pipes would occasionally freeze. A short session with a hair dryer solved the problem. We learned to use a bit of heat tape on that one place and didn’t have further issues. When I was manager at a church camp in Montana, the first year when we turned the water on I discovered that the water had not been properly drained the previous autumn. I don’t remember how many leaks occurred, but there were dozens. I got pretty good at cutting, splicing and sweating copper pipe. But I have done enough plumbing to know that it is a challenging operation and leaks can be frustrating.

I remembered that when we moved into the neighborhood we commented that there was a box van in a driveway about a block from our home that was a billboard for a plumbing company. It had the company’s emergency number on the outside in large characters and advertised 24/7 service. I went down the street far enough to read the number off of the van and made the call. The person I got informed me that they had at least 20 other emergency calls ahead of me and they would put me on the list but that it could be a couple of days before they got to me.

Given that I wasn’t especially fond of the idea of doing without indoor plumbing for a couple of days, I decided that I could at least cut out the burst section of copper pipe and cap it so that I could turn the water back on. I made a trip to our son’s farm to pick up a torch, solder and a tubing cutter.

Without going into all of the details, the plumbing job went like many other jobs for me. That is, I made several trips to the hardware store. The first was to purchase a bit of copper pipe, a couple of connectors and a plug. That way I would have the means of either making a complete repair or just capping the pipe. Then I made another trip because I ran out of solder. I also bought a new tube cutter as I had broken my old one. The third trip was to purchase a cap and clamp for PEX plastic pipe because I discovered that the copper was connected to PEX and there was a split at an elbow where the two came together. In usual fashion, I was able to complete the job after three trips. The water was turned back on. There are no further leaks.

In my adventures, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one with plumbing problems. The hardware store was filled with people seeking a variety of different solutions to frozen pipes. I talked to folks who were helping their neighbors with frozen pipes and folks who had problems in their own homes and folks who were seeking ways to make temporary repairs while they waited for a plumber. It was another of those “we’re all in this together” moments to which we have been accustomed during the pandemic years. I’m not the only one with problems, and my problems aren’t as severe as some of my neighbors.

My frustration, however, was intensified because on each trip to the hardware store I had to drive by that plumber’s cube van, painted with information about their 24/7 emergency service, that obviously had not been moved since it snowed on Christmas Eve. I don’t know the story of the van. Perhaps it is the home of a plumber who is sick. It could be the home of a plumber who is taking a much-needed vacation. Or maybe it is the home of the owner of the company who has an extra van because of a shortage of employees. Maybe the van is broken down and they don’t have time to get it repaired because they are too busy helping fix people’s plumbing. Whatever the reason, that parked van seemed to mock me each time I drove past. I needed a plumber. I was willing to pay a fair price for emergency service. But it will be days before I see one. In the meantime the truck sits in the driveway.

Wrapping a vehicle in advertising to make it look like it is painted with all of the phone numbers, web addresses and other information is effective advertising for a company. It gets your name out to the public. The van worked for the plumbing company. They were the first call I made when I discovered I had a problem. I got the number off of the side of the van because it was quicker than looking it up. The advertising, however, was having the opposite effect on me yesterday as I drove by. People are in great need of plumbers and here is a plumbing service vehicle that is just sitting. It wasn’t enough to get me to go searching for another plumbing company. I’m still on the list for the plumber when one becomes available. But that poor plumber is probably going to have to explain the parked truck in the driveway down the street and, I’m guessing it will be a question that will have been asked a lot of times before the plumber gets it from me. They could probably save themselves some frustration by parking the van at their business when the work is backed up.

Competition

Lately it seems like every game that our 10-year-old grandson plays with his 7-year-old sister is some kind of competition. He, bing older, is a frequent winner in these contests. She finds the situation to be frustrating, but will quickly engage him in another competition. The emotions can run high in these competitions, and their parents and grandparents regularly feel the urge to intervene. “Why does everything have to be a competition?” we ask. Occasionally we suggest that the distance between the kitchen and the living room is simply too small for an all out running race and that some games simply work better outdoors even though there is snow and cold outside.

I’m sure that chid psychologists and other experts would say that a certain amount of sibling rivalry is completely normal and that we shouldn’t be too concerned about the behavior. I’m pretty sure that they would also point out the ways in which we members of older generations contribute to the competition. After all, the parents of these children gave them a ping pong table for Christmas. The grandparents gave them a magnetic dart board. We frequently encourage playing games and gentle competitions.

Win or lose, there is a lot that can be learned from competition. By playing with the children and supervising their competitions, we can insist on fairness and discourage cheating. Children can learn right and wrong from the games they play. There is a reason why we use the word “loss” in connection with games. There is genuine grief in not being the winner. Learning to lose is, in part, learning about how to deal with grief. Learning to deal with small griefs is part of preparing for larger griefs which are a part of every life.

The competitors may not realize it yet, but their lives are about to get even more complex. In about six weeks they will have a new brother or sister, bringing the total of children in the family to four. That means, in coming years, longer waits to use the bathroom, a bit less private space in the family home, and a lot of other changes. I know. There were seven children in my family of origin. We never had all seven living in our home at once, because of the differences in our ages, but there were always plenty of kids. I’m number four and the last two were adopted and came into our lives together. My younger brother went from being the baby to having two little brothers in one event. I went from having one little brother to having three.

Today is one of the days that I remember the competition between the children in our family because it is our father’s birthday. When you are one of seven children and have a very limited budget, selecting a gift for your father is a real challenge. Add to that the simple fact that our father’s birthday was only three days after Christmas, another huge gift-giving challenge, and the race was on. The one gift that always showed up at every occasion for giving gifts to our father was orange slice candy. He seemed to really love the candy and the first thing he did when the gift was opened was pass them around, so we each got a piece. The problem with the orange slice candy is that we somehow knew that one package was sufficient for any occasion. Therefore it was always one of our older sisters, who seemed to also be better financed, who got to the store and purchased the candy before us. I think that I only was the one to get the package of candy one time in all of the years of birthdays, Christmases and father’s days celebrated in our home. If you weren’t the first kid to buy the present for dad, your choices were limited and the competition to find a suitable gift was on. I learned to keep a secret in those days, because not only did I want to surprise my father, I also didn’t want to share my ideas with my brothers because if I had a good idea one of them was likely to go out and purchase the gift before I could figure out how to scrape together the funds. We only had three days to pull off the birthday celebration, and although our mother was sensitive to our financial crunch, normal household chores were not items for which we were paid. Earning a bit of extra money usually involved doing chores for the neighbors or working at our dad’s shop. And payday for work at the shop was the end of the month, so we wouldn’t have the money in time for his birthday on the 28th. I rarely had funds left over after Christmas. I had a lot of siblings for whom I was expected to provide presents. Sometimes I could convince one of my sisters or brothers to go into a partnership for a gift, but that rarely worked out. Father’s Day, in the summer, was so much easier. Fishing gear was always in order and some lures and flies are not all that expensive. Besides Father’s Day is usually right after my birthday, when I seemed to have a few more coins in my bank.

Somehow we emerged from our childhood without major scars despite all of the competitions of growing up. I gained some valuable skills in the process. Having been well trained to wait for the bathroom, to never look inside a woman’s purse (and don’t you ever forget it!), and to wait until all of the dishes on the table had been passed before eating your first bite have all been skills that have benefitted me in my adult years. Thinking creatively and planning ahead for special occasions also has been an asset in my life. I’ve never regretted being a child of a large family.

And, when I am a bit frustrated with the contestant competition between our grandchildren, I remember not only how we competed as children in our growing up years, but also how intensely loyal we have been to each other over a lifetime. More important than who wins a particular game is that these children learn to be friends with each other and grow into adults who care about each other. On that score, I think things are going pretty well. They will have a lot of stories in common that they can tell and laugh about for years to come.

It's cold

Early in my career, when I was a pastor in small town North Dakota, I learned that there are times when folks end up talking about the weather for reasons that are not always caused by the weather. What I mean is that talking about the weather is a safe subject when folks are a bit worried that their opinions on other subjects might be controversial. Folks in that part of the country were careful to be polite and reluctant to say anything that they thought might offend someone else. If they were unsure of another’s political leanings, they might avoid talking about politics. If they don’t know another’s religious convictions, they might avoid the subject of religion entirely. That means that there are some settings where about the only topic of conversation left is the weather. Those people taught me a lot about patience. Sometimes I would be making a visit because of an illness or a tragedy in a family. I was eager to offer support and care. However, the conventions of the community demanded that I endure a period of talking about trivial matters before we got to the uncomfortable subjects.

I really don’t want to write about the weather all the time, but old habits die slowly. There are some days when I sit down to write my journal entry and the first topic that comes to mind is the weather. This morning, we are in the midst of record-setting cold that has descended on our area and is forecast to last much of the week. People often say about this area that the temperature ranges from 45 to 80 degrees year round. That hasn’t been our experience so far. While the weather is definitely more mild than other places we have lived, last summer brought record-setting high temperatures to the region and the daytime highs reached into the upper 90s. As I write the temperature outdoors is 9 degrees, three degrees colder than the previous record. And the wind is blowing. Gusts of up to 50 mph are in the forecast. It is definitely the kind of cold for which you want to bundle up before going outdoors.

I have an old, but very warm winter parka that I brought out each year in South Dakota. I owned a dress coat, but unless my day included a funeral, my parka was my go to coat for any time when the weather was colder than 10 degrees. And if I wasn’t wearing the parka, it was in the car with me when I headed out - just in case. I wore that parka in early November, 2020 when a foot of snow fell in the Cascades as we were making our last trip from South Dakota with a trailer full of household goods. By the time we reached our rental home, the temperatures were well above freezing and the parka was hung in the closet. It remained there for the rest of the time we lived in that house and moved to this house with us this fall without having been worn. I was thinking that I just might not need such a heavy coat now that I live in this place. I was considering giving it to Good Will. However, I have worn it both of the last two days and it certainly appears I’ll be wearing it quite a bit this week. Maybe it is a good thing to keep it in the closet. I might even consider getting out my insulated coveralls - another item of clothing that I haven’t worn since moving here.

There are, I’m sure, plenty of problems that will crop up because of the cold weather. There are places where water pipes and other infrastructure aren’t buried the deeply in the ground, because it isn’t common for frost to penetrate when the weather doesn’t stay below freezing. There are homes that are not well insulated. The high winds could result in power failures for some folks. There aren’t many snow plows and the roads are snow packed and slippery. Add to that the fact that people around here don’t have much experience driving on slippery roads while the traffic volume is pretty high because of all of the people and the result will be more accidents with people who are unprepared for the cold. Moreover, there are a significant number of people who are homeless and living on the streets, who are being exposed to life-threatening temperatures. Hopefully those folks are finding their way to the shelters that have opened up additional space.

in the midst of all of this, we are safe and comfortable. Our home is tight and secure and we have no need to travel much. Our pantry is full and we have all that we need for this weather. Other than some higher than normal utility bills which will crop up in a month or so, we won’t have much discomfort over the weather.

Perhaps, however, this extreme weather will give me an opportunity to practice the skills learned during our North Dakota years. Perhaps I can remember how to enter into conversation about the weather and be patient until the conversation moves on to more important topics. We need to talk about the problems of a lack of affordable housing and increasing homelessness. We need to talk about global climate change and the changes in our lifestyles that will be required as we take responsibility for a higher level of care for our environment. We need to talk about the failures of our mental health care system and the lack of resources to treat the illnesses of our neighbors. We need to talk about this global pandemic and how to protect the most vulnerable. All of those important conversations need to occur. They make talk of the weather seem trivial. I know, however, that sometimes you need to be willing to engage in small talk before folks are ready to talk about more uncomfortable topics.

Yes. It is cold out there. No, this freeze won’t last forever. And, yes, we have a lot more that needs to be said and heard.