Moving on

Today we are moving on from Big Timber, Montana, the town where I grew up. We’ve spent six nights here on this trip, which is more than I’ve spent here for quite a while. in recent years it has been our custom to spend a night when traveling through here, and a couple of times we haven’t even stayed overnight when we were in a hurry to travel many miles. During our move last fall we spent more nights than we had planned because a blizzard kept us off of the roads for a couple of days. However, short stays are not the only way we have been a part of this place. Back in 2001, when I had my first sabbatical during my time of serving as pastor of the church in Rapid City, I spent much of the summer at this place. I was writing resources for Seasons of the Spirit, a lectionary-based curriculum that was an international partnership between several denominations. The design team had decided on using Canadian spelling and grammar rules in the written materials. Since the resources were being used in the USA, in Canada, In Australia, New Zealand, England and other parts of the UK, there were bound to be some challenges with spelling and grammar. The choice of a single regional dialect made sense. It took a bit of focus to remember to use the correct spelling. During that summer, I did a bit of work on the place, cleaning up downed branches and cutting up downed trees. I made repairs in the cabins, installed new fixtures and kept the place mowed.

Over the years I had done a lot of the mowing, making multiple trips each summer to prepare the place for my mother’s coming and to keep it up for her summer stays. I also learned how the plumbing system worked and turned on the water and drained the system each spring and fall. Other members of the family have taken responsibility for chores other years and three of my siblings have lived here through winters even though the place is primarily a summer cabin.

We have spoken of selling the place and moving on from this chapter of our lives and I think that we have finally come to the conclusion that we will do so soon, but it is a decision that is filled with emotion. We are different in our attachments and different in our choices about where we will live. For some of us, the location of our living has been primarily a factor of the jobs we have held. For others, multiple factors have influenced location choice. Now that we are elders, the places where our children and grandchildren live influence our decisions as well, though not all of us are able to live near our grands. We have the unique situation of having two children who live 3,000 miles apart. That is unique among my siblings, but not unique in this world. Many families have children in multiple countries and have to make choices about where they will live.

It is clear that this place, which is so meaningful and so valued by us, is no longer the center of our lives. One sister, one niece and two nephews are the only family members who have attended this gathering who now live in Montana. Two brothers came from Washington. A niece and a nephew came from Oregon. A niece came from New York. Others were not able to attend because of travel required and commitments made. Our family center is not a single physical location, but rather a web of relationships that continues to become more complex with each passing generation.

The conversations about what to do with the land and cabins our parents purchased and developed are a challenge. Some of us have been more involved in the management of the property. Some of us have made larger financial investments than others. Our mother understood that the property had to be managed and that management by a large committee wouldn’t work. The trust that holds the property names only two trustees. The trustees had to form a management corporation in order to accomplish that task. Different siblings have different resources and different means. The decision about the future of the property does not fall to a committee of the whole, but rather to just two of us.

However, this gathering of our family has been an opportunity for us to listen to others and to receive their opinions about what should be done. Some of the things I have heard over the past few days are not feasible. Other suggestions have merit. We’ll sift and sort and use our judgment to make the best decisions of which we are able.

It has been good to be in this place and to share a gathering of the family. As we prepare to leave, however, I am aware that my sense of the location of home and the importance of any place has shifted over the years. For me it is a theological issue. For as long as our people have remembered, we have had a unique relationship to land. Abraham and Sarah left the land of their ancestors in search of a promised land. God’s promise to them, however, wasn’t a promise to a single generation. It took a lot of wandering and a time of slavery for our people to enter the promised land and then, after it was occupied for generations, the land was lost through the complexities of geopolitics. The exile and return sobered our people and changed their feelings about land. Along the way, we were refining our theology. We became monotheists who celebrated One God, creator of the entire universe. We began to define ourselves as a people of history instead of a people of place. We spoke of our lineage and we kept our stories even when we had no land to call our own. Then, as the centuries passed, we began to spread our faith across the globe. We are a people of a story, not a people of a place.

So we are moving on from this place, understanding that all land is sacred. God has spoken to us in this place and it will always be meaningful to us. But it is not the only place where we experience God’s love. We can continue to move and to celebrate God’s presence in new places.

Ours has always been a story of adventures. Our generation will continue the journey.

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