Supply and demand

Yesterday, while looking at home improvement items in a big box store, I overhead a conversation between a store employee and a customer. The customer was reacting to the high price of flooring. The employee said, “Yes, ever since the Covid craziness prices have gone through the roof.” The statement, a way of engaging the customer and perhaps encouraging a sale, was a simplification of a complex problem. There certainly have been and continue to be supply chain issues during the pandemic. Shifts in consumer demand have created shortages, at least in retail sales outlets. Some of the shortages have been relatively short-term. I haven’t noticed any shortages of toilet tissue for many months, although I have noticed that the stores where we shop seem to stock fewer of the large packages and have filled the shelves with more small packages. We never experienced the shortage as a problem. We purchased tissue when we needed it and never felt a desire to stock up and fill our cupboards.

Purchasing building supplies, however, is conundrum. The price of lumber is high and doesn’t seem to be giving any signs of heading down anytime soon. It isn’t quite the issue of supply and demand that was affecting toilet tissue, or at least it is a bit more complex. It is true that more people staying home triggered an increase in home improvement projects, creating an increase in demand for lumber. Prices started to go up. But the high prices started a slow down in new construction and the actual demand for lumber wasn’t excessive because builders adopted a “wait and see” attitude, delaying projects in hope that prices would decline. Thus at the current moment, prices are high, but there are few real shortages. Earlier this week, I purchased a single 2 x 10 x 10’ pressure treated board for a front step project at our son’s home. I paid nearly $60 - about 3 times the price I paid for pressure treated lumber a year ago when making repairs to our deck in Rapid City. Then I went out into the lumber yard to get my board and watched as the yard attendant moved stacks of unsold boards to get at the board I needed. There was no shortage of supply. The lumber yard was over stocked with lumber. High prices have definitely affected demand and there are plenty of discretionary projects that can wait in hopes of decreasing prices.

I don’t understand all of the dynamics of the pandemic economy, but I do know that it is more complex than simple supply and demand.

In the store where we purchase groceries, there is plenty of chicken available for sale, but the price is going up dramatically - much faster than other meat. They say there is a shortage, and some of us are decreasing the amount we purchase, but I can find chicken for sale if I am willing to pay a higher price.

At the same time, there is a widespread shortage of workers. Businesses have “now hiring” signs out all around time. However the shortage has not affected the price at all. The United States continues to experience dramatic wage stagnation. If there is a shortage of supply and an increased demand, you would expect the price to go up, but it appears that the majority of employers are unwilling to pay increased wages and benefits despite the shortages.

I read somewhere that there is a shortage of ketchup packets and that some restaurants are limiting the amount of ketchup a customer can take. We don’t buy much fast food at our house and we don’t have much need for ketchup in packets, so I haven’t noticed, but I guess that the increase in carry out food sales during the pandemic has led to a shortage of supply.

The price of chlorine is high because of shortages. I’m not sure what created the shortages, but I suspect that it has something to do with more intense cleaning and disinfecting in order to combat the spread of disease. At least I haven’t noticed a dramatic increase in the number of swimming pools, so I doubt that the cause is something like that.

Shortages and increases in price are related to supply and demand, but there are many factors that can affect demand. In the case of toilet paper, the threat of shortages really spiked demand. People were definitely hoarding the product. The recent cyber attack on the Colonial Pipeline caused a decrease in supply of gasoline across the southeastern United States, but people also dramatically increased demand during the shortage. They were making sure that their vehicles were topped off at all times, thus effectively increasing the amount of fuel in storage. It was just that the fuel was being stored in vehicles rather than dealers’ tanks. It is unclear whether or not the increased prices currently being charged will go back down now that fuel has begun to flow in the pipeline.

There are always those who attempt to profit from market fluctuations, but in general it is a challenging way to earn a living. There is plenty to be lost when the market is misinterpreted. I have no plans to invest my retirement savings in lumber speculation and I have no hoard of ketchup packets. My mother-in-law was always careful to save all of the extra ketchup packets from a visit to a restaurant. Perhaps if we had saved all of those packets we could be selling them on E-Bay for supplemental income. I have a couple of packages of chicken thighs in the freezer, but I think we’ll probably just cook them on the barbecue some evening rather than offer them for sale at a profit.

And, for the record, I haven’t been quick to dive back into the labor market. Maybe I’m waiting for the price of labor to go up, though my career field is not one noted for high wages. More likely, I’m just learning to enjoy having a bit more time for projects. On the other hand, I can’t afford to build many more steps out of pressure treated lumber. Some of that will have to remain at the lumber yard.

A bit of sacramental theology

To some it may seem like an obscure theological argument, but it is an item that came up a few times in my career. Each time I was exploring a call with a congregation, I sought to make it clear to the congregation that was considering calling me that I would not be making judgment calls about who could or could not be baptized or who could or could not receive communion. In the United Church of Christ ordination confers the authority to preach and teach the Gospel and to administer the sacraments. The United Church of Christ recognizes two sacraments: baptism and holy communion. I administered those sacraments in a congregation for a year under authority of a license before I was ordained and then for 42 years as an ordained minister. To my knowledge, I never refused anyone who asked to receive either sacrament.

It might seem like a small thing to some, but it is very important to me and it goes to the core of sacramental theology. I believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, acts directly in the sacraments. That means that God is not dependent upon human officiants in order to be present. Denying the sacrament to anyone for any reason is assuming that the human officiant is the one in charge of the sacrament. It is, in my opinion, a sign that the officiant does not trust God. We humans are quick to judge as if we don’t think that God’s judgment is sufficient.

It is an argument that has been going on for centuries in the church. Before the great schism, as early as the 3rd century, Donatists argued that Christian clergy must be faultless for their ministry to be effective and their prayers and sacraments to be valid. They never represented the majority of the church and eventually official actions of the church created policies that understood that human clergy and not imperfect. They make mistakes. They are not God. And God has the power to work through imperfect humans in the life of the church. If a believer receives the sacrament in good faith, they receive the benefit of the sacrament whether or not the clergy person is worthy.

The argument is likely even more ancient than the 3rd century. In the Acts of the Apostles, one of the earliest sources of the stories of the Christian Church, there is the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. After what appears to be a chance meeting and a time of discussing the scriptures, the eunuch ask Philip, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” The assumption is that some early church leaders might have seen the fact that the eunuch was a gentile, from a foreign country, as a barrier to his baptism. Others might have seen the fact that he was the member of a sexual minority as preventing the baptism. The Bible, however, reports that “Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.” Philip did not refuse the sacrament.

The history of the church, however, does not stop Christians from arguing about who can and who cannot receive sacraments. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has scheduled a meeting for June 16. They plan to vote on a document about whether or not Catholic politicians who support abortion rights are able to receive communion. The reason for the meeting in just over a month is that President Biden is a member of the Roman Catholic Church and, in contrast to some others who have occupied the office, he is very visible in his faith. He goes to church regularly. When he is in Washington, D.C., he usually attends church at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown. And when he does, he participates in the Eucharist - Holy Communion.

The meeting of the Bishops has gotten the attention of the Vatican, which as already weighed in with a warning top the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Vatican is saying that they should not rush into making sanctions, but rather they should seek dialogue. In keeping with previous statements by Pope Francis, they are being reminded that Holy Communion is not some prize that is awarded to only a few. It is not the role of the bishop to make draconian laws, but rather to inform the conscience, to teach people, and to allow their teaching to inform the hearts and minds of the people they serve.

It is worth noting that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not taken up the question of whether politicians who support the death penalty, in contrast to the official teachings of the church, should be allowed to receive communion.

Observers expect the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to heed the advice of the Vatican. In doing so, they would also be paying attention to the issues that are more important to the members of their congregations. Like other Christians, Roman Catholics are concerned with the loss of community caused by pandemic restrictions. They are worried about people who are suffering and dying from Covid-19. While it is likely that most Roman Catholics have strong opinions about abortion, it isn’t the only issue for them. It shouldn’t be the only issue for the Bishops when they gather.

Furthermore, according to Roman Catholic law, the decision of the Bishops will not affect whether or not President Biden receives communion. It is the local bishop who regulates the administration of the sacraments in the churches of his area. The cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Wilton Gregory, has already made it clear that President Biden is welcome to receive communion at church in the diocese. His decision will remain in place despite the vote of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

I am not a member of the Roman Catholic Church. It is not my place to offer advice to the Bishops when they gather. But I do pray with and for all Christians. I do care about what occurs in other congregations than the one in which I participate. I do care about the voices of those who are often unheard, and that includes women in the Roman Catholic Church whose leadership and wisdom are denied because of their gender.

The eunuch’s question remains, “What is to prevent?” I choose not to be one to prevent people of faith from receiving the sacraments.

Columbine

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When we bought our home in South Dakota, we planed columbine in a bed in front of our house. We were happy to be in the hills after decades of living in prairies and cities. We figured the altitude of our house and its setting in a pine forest would support the delicate mountain flowers and we were right.

Then, in the spring of 1999, the Columbine High School massacre occurred. It struck especially close to home for us. We two high school students in our home, one a senior. And the year previously, we had a third student in our home, an exchange student from Japan. The physical layout of our children’s school was similar to Columbine High School, which we got to know fairly well through hours of news footage covering the tragic events of that day. For the rest of that school year, our children experienced repeated school evacuations caused by phoned in threats and tips warning of a copycat event. Although no such event occurred, students, teachers and parents were on edge. Our daughter found the evacuations to be especially frightening and confusing.

Somewhere along the line, we simply stopped growing the columbine in our beds. Columbine is a perennial, so I guess the delicate flowers got crowded out by the ever expanding iris bulbs in the ground or perhaps were pulled out along with weeds at some point. Whatever was the case, we kind of forgot about the columbine. The association of the flower with the shooting at the high school dampened our enthusiasm for the delicate blossoms.

With so many mass shootings, including fairly frequent school shootings over the years since Columbine, we have become a bit numb to the death and pain and grief and loss. There is just a tiny bit less shock when such an even occurs. There is a decrease in the attention we pay to the news reports. We still share the sadness and grief, but in smaller ways. Our children have grown up and somehow we feel just a little bit less vulnerable. We aren’t ignoring the violence of our communities, but it doesn’t occupy the same place in our consciousness as once was the case and our emotional reaction to shootings, even school shootings is a but less intense.

This spring marked the 22nd anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. The victims would be entering their forties this year as are the survivors.

We’ve moved on. Our home in Rapid City has a new owner who, I’m sure, is planning new plants for the beds and garden. We find ourselves in a rental house in Mount Vernon, Washington, a place with entirely different weather and a whole new set of plants. Because the landscaping and flower beds were planted by others, this spring has been a time of discovery. We were told that the tradition around here is to prune rose bushes on President’s Day. February seemed a bit early, but we had some fine weather and out came the pruning shears. I’ve never had so many rose bushes and the process took a couple of different attempts. Not long afterward, blossoms began to appear. The Skagit Valley is famous for daffodils and tulips and there were a few of those in the beds around our house. There are a lot more grape hyacinths that add color. Yellow and white blossoms appeared on plants whose names we don’t know. The apple and cherry trees put forth both fragrance and beautiful blossoms.

We have plants in our yard that are new to us: Japanese maple and rhododendron. Some of the rhododendrons have bloomed, but we can tell that there are a lot more blossoms yet to come. One rhododendron is just starting to open red flowers and we can tell it will turn into a riot of color in coming days. We have canna lilies growing by our front door. We’ve never lived in a place where lilies thrive.

In the midst of all of this we noticed, in a small bed at the corner of the sidewalk and the driveway, the gentle tiny flowers of purple. There is a columbine plant in our front yard. It is not what we expected. Columbine is a mountain flower. Although we have a dramatic view of Mount Baker and delight in the beauty of the Cascade Mountains rising to the east of our home, Mount Vernon is only 180 feet above sea level. With the exception of Chicago, where we attended graduate school and lived for four years, Mount Vernon is the lowest elevation we’ve ever lived. We didn’t expect to see an alpine flower in the beds of our house here.

In the scheme of things, the little plant is a tiny piece of the landscaping here. The beds are fairly lightly planted, the product of the house being a rental with residents who come and go and have varying skills and interests in caring for the outdoor plants. Perennials are the things that do best in this environment.

When we become more settled in this place, after we have found a home to purchase and have gotten ourselves moved yet another time, we’ll get serious about what kind of plants we want to have around our home. We’ve already discovered that being retired gives us more time and energy for caring for our yard. Having a smaller yard with less to mow also gives more time and energy for the care of outside plants. We don’t have a vegetable garden this year, so we’ll be dependent on the stores and the abundant gardens at our son’s farm, but we’ll want to grow some of our own vegetables plus herbs and a bit of peppermint for tea once we get settled.

Perhaps as part of the landscape plan when we get our new place, I’ll find a spot for columbine. We wouldn’t need many plants, just a few to show up in April each year as a memorial to the lives lost and a reminder of the grief of families and the trauma experienced by classmates and students of that generation. We don’t want to forget.

Ancient stories

Among the many instructions, commandments and laws that are presented in the first five books of the bible, is the commandment that was quoted to Jesus as the most important: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5). The text goes on to instruct believers to “Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on you hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:7-8). The next paragraphs of the text are reminders that these commandments are to be observed without disobedience because they have come as a result of the grace of God who brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.

The story of the slavery of our people and of their miraculous escape from slavery is one of the key stories of Hebrew theology. The telling of that story is ritualized in the observance of the Seder, the sacred meal of Passover. The commandments to tell that story are deeply imbedded in the teachings of our people. The Gospels report that Jesus shared the passover with his disciples with all of its rituals and stories. The Christian sacrament of Holy Communion contains the story of Jesus celebrating the passover with his followers.

In the story of the Passover, as reported in Exodus, part of the process of the people obtaining their liberation is a series of ten plagues that are visited upon the Egyptians: water turning to blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the killing of firstborn children.

The ancient stories of the plagues is one of many Biblical stories that have stirred the imaginations of researchers and scholars who are examining the oldest traditions and stories of humanity in search of what actually happened. David Montgomery, professor at the University of Washington and author of “The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood,” has tried to bring the tools of modern science to the examination of the stories that ancient people told.

Several contemporary scientists are beginning to look once again at something that religious people have long held - the stories of our ancestors tell the truth. Our most ancient forebears were keen observers who brought their best skills as rational thinkers to their time and place as they tried to explain what they had witnessed. Over the centuries, their stories were repeated with remarkable accuracy and careful study of those stories can reveal deep truths about the world in which we live.

Scientists who examine ancient stories in search of explanations of phenomena they observe in geology, archeology and other sciences have been dubbed geomythologists by their colleagues. The study has inspired several books and theses in recent times. Scholars are fascinated with the question of whether or not and how Bible stories connect with archeological and geological discoveries. Many Biblical stories, including the report of the ten plagues visited upon Egypt, show up in other ancient texts, including some ancient Egyptian medical texts.

One theory of modern scientists is that an ancient volcanic eruption is reported the ancient stories, but that the people did not fully understand what was happening. Volcanic ash, carried by the winds to Egypt contained toxic acids including the mineral cinnabar, which turned the river into a blood-like red color. The ash also raised the acidity of the water causing frogs to abandon the river and seek clean water. The ash also caused the death of animals and humans. Insects swarmed to the decaying bodies, leaving behind larvae and then adult insect. Acid rain fell on the people and caused burns and boils. Plants were contaminated and poisoned the animals that ate them. Increased humidity caused dramatic storms, including hail, leaving behind optimal conditions for locusts to thrive. The volcanic eruptions caused days of darkness as ash clouded the skies.

That doesn’t explain the death of the firstborn - the tenth plague. Some scientists believe that in the midst of all of the destruction of the other plagues, firstborn children were sacrificed out of desperation. Ancient people often sacrificed that which they loved hoping that sacrifice would please the gods and their punishment would be ended.

I’ve also read a theory that blames a red algae bloom for the color of the water, killing fish and forcing the frogs out of the water. Without frogs to eat the insects, the insects proliferated out of control. Like the theory of the volcano, each of the plagues is explained with a connection to a possible event.

I’m no expert in ancient Egyptian medical texts. I’m not a geologist or an archeologist. I only know that there was a reason that our people told the stories and taught each successive generation the importance of teaching it to the next. I don’t think I need a complete scientific explanation of the events. Without meaning to demean the genuine work of scientists, it doesn’t really matter to me whether or not scientists find a historical basis for the scriptures. The truth in the text is not dependent upon geological or archeological evidence of the events of 3,500 years ago. The truth is that our people discovered the presence and deeds of God in the events of their lives. We have inherited the faith and confidence of people who are convinced that God is on the side of human freedom and that we are called to continue that legacy of freedom for all people in all generations. Our stories teach us that God is a liberator of humans.

From time to time, I pay attention when people approach our stories from another perspective. I am genuinely interested in learning more about the reasons our people have been so careful to preserve those stories, but my faith is not dependent upon some scientific discovery or another theory that might explain those stories. My respect for the ancients who told those stories and preserved them for our time is not dependent upon scientific corroboration.

I intend to take seriously the commandment to teach these stories to our children and grandchildren and to examine them for the truth they carry.

Mother's Day 2021

Mother’s Day is a holiday I understand, or at least I think I do. I grew up with an amazing mother. She raised seven children, four adopted and three born to her. She showed each of us her love, support and devotion. She made each of us feel special. Along with her work as a homemaker, she was a full partner in our family’s business, rising early in the morning to do bookwork for the business, sharing in important decisions, working to make the company grow. She not only married a pilot, she became one herself in a time when there weren’t many women who were licensed pilots. I had the special good fortune of having our mother live in our home at the end of her life. I watched her face serious illness and disability with humor and grace. Mother’s Day for me is filled with wonderful memories of an amazing woman.

She isn’t the only amazing mother in my life. I know men who joke about their mother-in-law, but I married into a family who accepted me fully as a son. My mother-in-law was always wonderful to me. I joke with my wife and her sisters that I think I was their mother’s favorite child. That isn’t true, because she was very careful not to choose favorites and to be fair to all of her children. What is true is that she treated me as one of her children and for that I’m grateful. She could pick out a shirt that I loved to wear. She cared for me with deep love and devotion when I was injured on summer. Mother’s Day makes me feel deep gratitude for her presence in my life.

I am married to an amazing mother. Like my mother, she is mother to a child who came to our family by birth and a child who came to our family by adoption. She has shown deep love and care for both children. She has been an amazing partner in parenting at every stage of our children’s lives. I love to listen in when she speaks with our daughter or our son. She is an amazing listener and an inspiring partner in life. She balanced home life with a successful professional career and was always there to support my adventures and endeavors. Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate the good fortune of sharing life with her.

I have a daughter-in-law who is a wonderful mother to three of our grandchildren. She juggles a professional career with her love of the farm’s plants and animals and her dedication to her children. When the pandemic closed the schools, she opened up a home school and dove in with an extra layer of hard work. She is continually seeking and researching new ways to help her children grow and learn and develop. She shares home and farm with our son and supports his career as well. Mother’s Day is a time for our family to focus our attention on her children’s gifts and greetings, but I share their enthusiasm and love for her.

I knew long before she became a mother that our daughter would be a wonderful mother and I was right. Her absolute and complete delight in raising her son is so contagious that I look forward to every conversation and every picture that she sends in text and email messages. She achieves a delightful balance of love and support with clear and consistent limits and boundaries for our grandson. If they had lined up all of the children seeking adoption in the world and allowed us to choose, we couldn’t have made a better choice for a daughter. And in the mix we got an amazing mother who fills Mother’s Day with joy for me.

I know, however, that not everyone has had the experiences I have known. There are mothers who have strained and broken relationships with their children. There are children who have experienced abuse at the hands of mothers. There are people for whom this day is a day of deep pain.

On Mother’s Day, I can’t avoid thinking of a young woman I know whose young son died suddenly of an undetected heart malfunction. Every day is a day of grief for her, even a couple of years after her loss. She will never again be the same. Mother’s Day is a day of deep grief for her. She is not alone. Many mothers have gone through the deep gut-wrenching loss of a child.

And I think of women who want to become mothers but are unable. They live with a sense of loss of their vision of what their lives might have been.

There are mothers who became mothers at a time when they weren’t ready and those who became pregnant through relationships that were forced or painful or broken.

There are single mothers who feel alone in the world struggling to survive in a world where the odds seem to be stacked against them.

There are many people for whom Mother’s Day is not a day of celebration, but a reminder of pain and sorrow and sadness. Just as our mothers received our every emotion, this day brings every emotion imaginable to people. And in just month it will be Father’s Day - a day filled with emotions as complex as today.

So when I wish you a happy Mother’s Day, I embrace the many different emotions that you might bring to this day. I know that tears of joy and tears of sadness often mingle on the same cheek. I know that grief and joy often inhabit the same moment in the same person. I know that we are far more complex than one might imagine from reading a display of Mother’s Day cards in the store. May this day be a time of recognizing the power of the relationships we have with mothers and of celebrating the mothers of our lives in ways that nurture and sustain our spirits.

Happy Mother’s Day!

On time

I have long defined myself as a morning person. The story I tell is that when I was a young boy, my father used to occasionally take me with him to work at the airport. In the summer, he left for work between 4 and 4:30 am. He would come up the stairs and ask me if I wanted to go along. In my memory, I always did. The thing was, that when he came up to invite me, he was already dressed. I had the amount of time it took him to put on his boots and head out the door to get up, get to the bathroom and get dressed. Most of the time I could make it.

Whether or not that is the reason, I find it early to rouse myself from slumber and get out of bed. When I was working, I almost always the first to arrive at the church. I liked having the building to myself for a while before people started to arrive. I would run through my sermon to an empty sanctuary, catch up on correspondence, have time for prayers and get in a bit of reading in the quiet building. My style of ministry involved frequent calls in the middle of the night with an accompanying need to get up and respond to some crisis or another. For many years I was on call for suicide response in our community at night, because it was difficult for me to take call during the day when I had responsibilities for work.

I feel like I am most productive in the morning. When I have a big job to tackle, it works best for me to get an early start. I usually get more work done in the morning than in the afternoon.

I am, what Daniel Kahneman calls “pathologically punctual.” I don’t like being late. I dislike the feeling so much that I arrive at most appointments way too early. My somewhat more sensible wife has gotten used to arriving in the parking lot and having time to sit and talk as we wait for the next event because I planned to arrive 15 minutes early. Just a couple of weeks ago, I got hung up in traffic and called the dentist to report that I might be a few minutes late for an appointment. The receptionist reminded me of the phone call when I actually arrived 5 minutes early.

Despite my penchant for mornings, I’m in a profession that isn’t exactly known for being the domain of early risers. Most of my professional colleagues consider a 9 am meeting to be early in the morning. Many of them are still at the church at 9 pm, cleaning up after an evening meeting. I remember my days in seminary, when I had some ability to stretch my day both directions. I would rise early to catch up on my reading or to work on writing papers and I would stay up late to discuss theology and enjoy the company of my colleagues. Theological education was different in those days. It was considered to be important that students be full-time and that they reside on campus. This put us into social relationships with other students and colleagues. One of our professors once commented, “No one should read Karl Barth alone.” The understanding was that we needed to discuss our classwork and assigned reading with other students to develop common understandings.

What I remember about those frequent late night conversations is that we were allowed to change our minds. We might begin the evening debating and end the evening agreeing. I might argue one point of view not because I was passionately committed to it, but rather to explore what direction that kind of thinking would lead me. When I found the logic to be falling apart, I could admit the errors in my thinking and start over with a new position. We expected each other to be growing and changing and we allowed ourselves and our colleagues to change our minds.

Life is quite different now. Much of graduate theological education is completed online. Students earn degrees without changing their residence. People prepare for the pastoral ministry by studying alone, in their homes. Discussion of reading materials is limited to Zoom meetings that start and end on time. I think this results in students who are much less practiced in debate and argument and less likely to listen carefully to what others are saying. There is a lot of research these days that is simply reinforcing existing ideas and notions rather than seeking something new.

While it does no good to bemoan the change that comes with the passing of time, I do miss many of the elements of the ways we engaged in teaching and learning as graduate students. I miss the late night conversations. I miss the interplay of mind upon mind that was designed into residential graduate theological education.

I admit, however, that I have grown much older. I no longer have the stamina for late night conversations. I fear I might nod off if I tried to pursue a rational argument after 9 pm or so. I also have lived long enough to know that human beings aren’t consistently rational. We develop our quirks and ways of thinking that defy logic. Despite our perception that we are behaving in response to a well thought out system of beliefs, most of the time we are actually acting out of habit and can’t explain our behavior. I know that arriving early for every appointment wastes time and is not necessary. I know that professional offices such as dentists plan for tardy patients. They have waiting rooms designed into their practices for a reason. They know that the office flows more smoothly when patients are required to wait for dentists rather than the other way around.

Retirement is an invitation to re-think my sense of time. I am no longer on call in the middle of the night. I don’t wake to an alarm clock these days. I rise in the middle of the night and read or write for a while and then go back to bed. And, on those days when I do rise at 4 am, there isn’t much going on.

I still tell people that I am a morning person and if you make a plan to meet me at 7 am, I’m likely to arrive early. But at least I am now able to confess that my behavior isn’t exactly rational and others, who are different, may be as logical and sensible as I.

Discerning my call

In a conversation earlier this week one of the pastors at the church we attend asked me a very pastoral question - the kind of question I wish I had been more likely to ask in my years as a pastor: “Where do you think the Spirit is leading you next?” I’m usually pretty quick to answer questions in conversation, but this one gave me pause. I came up with an answer for the purposes of the conversation, but the question remains and I have been mulling it since it was asked.

Even though I am a pastor, even though I pray every day, even though I have had a long career as a Christian minister, I have to admit that I’m not very good at discerning the call of the Spirit.

I think that I went to seminary thinking that if I became a pastor, it would be just one step in a career that led elsewhere. I could imagine myself as a professor. I could imagine myself in an innovative health care ministry. I could imagine myself as a member of a Conference or the national staff of the church. I couldn’t imagine that I would invest my entire working career being a local church pastor. When I went to seminary, I was sure that it was a short departure from Montana. I was a Montanan, and I was positive that I would return to my home state and live my life there.

I wasn’t capable of seeing the Spirit calling me to local church ministry all by myself. It took other people to help me see where I was being called. That pesky Montana notion kept getting in my way. I’ve lost track of how many times I tried to receive a call to serve a congregation in Montana. It never happened. There were at least two times when I reached interview stage with church positions in Montana when I was convinced that it was were the Spirit was calling me. Neither of those times did the people on the search committees feel that it was where the Spirit was calling them. Both times it was a blessing that led me into a deeper relationship with the congregation I was serving and more productive ministries shared.

An important lesson that I had to learn over and over again is that the calling of the Holy Spirit is much different that what I want.

While I invested considerable energy and consulted with many colleagues and listened to the lay people of the church when we made our moves to serve congregations, the process of retirement was quite a bit more personal. Of course, we have each other and Susan and I have grown even closer through the process, but I have been focused on the practical issues of the process. I’ve asked questions about where we will live, about what we will take and what we will leave behind, about how we will manage our finances, and about a lot of other things, but I haven’t been attentive to the basic, and most important question, “What is it that God is asking of this phase of my life?”

I know from scripture and from personal experience that God doesn’t give up on us when we take a wrong turn or when we aren’t paying attention. Jonah didn’t get out of going to Nineveh by getting on a boat to Tarshish. Jeremiah didn’t avoid his role as a prophet by claiming to be too young for the job. Elijah didn’t escape his calling by hiding in a cave. The Spirit will not allow me to ignore my call and the Spirit will find a way to convey the message in a language that I cannot refuse.

Once I have started pondering the question, however, I can be quite impatient. I want an answer right away. I know, however, that these things take time. I know that there is much about my future that is yet to be revealed. I know that I have to take it on step at a time.

Moreover, I know that I need a supporting community to discern the call of the Holy Spirit. I won’t figure out my calling all by myself. I need to listen to what others have to say. I need to seek out what others see in me. I need to pay attention to the places where need exists. I need to make sure that I have, in my circle of conversation and community, people who are different ages and at different stages of their life than I. When I was a young pastor, I sought out elders and mentors who could help guide me. Now that I have become one of the old folks, I am well aware that I need to listen to children, youth and young adults. I need to cultivate friendships with them. When I was actively serving a congregation, this was much simpler. Those friendships came to me through the church. I had a ready-made community of faith that surrounded me. It is a bit different, but as we become more connected to this congregation, even in the season of Covid, we are developing more diverse relationships. I’m in a faith formation group that includes young adults and actively working people. I can see opportunities to volunteer in the church and may soon be able to dive in a bit more deeply now that we are vaccinated and things are beginning to open up to other ways of connecting.

And, fortunately, God has placed a pastor in my path who is willing to ask the question that I need to be pondering: “Where do you think the Spirit is leading you next?”

I’m going to have to work on that one.

Life is a journey, not a destination. I know I will never arrive at a place where I have everything figured out and have worked through all of the challenges. I’d be pretty bored in such a place anyway. The journey continues. God has yet more light to break forth. Prayer and study and patience seem in order.

The class of '71

It is that season. I’ve been receiving the letters about the events planned this summer for the 50th reunion of the Class of ’71 of Sweet Grass County High School. I remember that my mother didn’t attend any of her high school class reunions until her 50th. After attending her 50th, she got together with other class members until there were so few left and they had become so aged that it was no longer possible. I don’t think I’ll be following in her footsteps. I’ve read the letters and I joined the Facebook page, but I’m not finding any attraction in paying $50 for an afternoon gathering with former classmates followed by riding on a trailer in the annual rodeo parade wearing a $20 t-shirt. I know that the gathering is meaningful to some people, but I don’t share their enthusiasm.

I’ve never been much for reunions. There are a lot of reasons. The first is that I never developed much of a sense of belonging in high school. I didn’t graduate. I was admitted to college under an early admissions program and went from my junior year in high school to my freshman year in college. When the 10-year reunion rolled around, I wasn’t invited. I didn’t appear on the roster of the graduates of the class of ’71. With all of the social media and with the simple fact that my sister lives in our old home town, it was easy for classmates to find me. I don’t mind that they know my address.

I think that another reason I have never gotten into reunions is that I’ve been blessed with a life that is meaningful and engaging in the present. I’ve always had meaningful work and a community of people around me that offer support. Whenever I hear someone refer to high school as “the best years of your life,” I can’t fathom what they mean. I don’t look back on those years in that way at all.

I formed closer ties and more lasting friendships with classmates in college and graduate school, but I’ve not been attracted to those reunions, either. I know it won’t be long before I start hearing of plans for a 2024 reunion of my college class. I did graduate from college. And there may be more attraction for that gathering because while we didn’t attend the same high school, Susan and I went to college together and graduated in the same class.

After receiving the latest offering from the reunion committee, I was thinking about why attending isn’t a priority for me. I know that some classmates will travel farther and will make the trip a priority for their time this summer. There are some who are excited about the gathering. I decided that part of it is that I much prefer being a newcomer to being an old timer. Despite my age, I still enjoy beginnings and tackling new adventures. I’m happy being a newcomer to the Pacific Northwest. I don’t quite fit in and I don’t mind that at all.

I’ve been participating in a small faith formation group of members of our church and have gotten to know the others in the group from seasons of weekly meetings. There is one other member of the group who is not native to this part of the country. The rest of the members are locals - they grew up in the area and they feel anchored in the culture of the place. Their personal identity is caught up with the place where they have lived. I don’t have quite the same connection with any place. I left the town where I grew up 51 years ago. I left the state of my birth four years later. I guess there are some ways in which I consider myself to be a Montanan, but I lived in South Dakota for more years than I lived anywhere else and if you add in the years we lived in North Dakota, but within the service area of Rapid City, you might think that I’m pretty much a Dakotan. Somehow, however, I’ve chosen to disconnect myself from that place.

I’ve noticed that the members of the reunion committee all live within 60 miles of our old home town. I don’t know whether or not some have lived farther away and moved back. I think most of them stayed in the region for all of their lives.

I loved growing up in Montana. I loved living in South Dakota, but I also loved living in Idaho, North Dakota and even Chicago. I think I’m going to love living in Washington.

One of my teachers pointed out that much of the theology of the Hebrew Scriptures is disconnected from place. In the time of Abraham and Sarah, it was common for religion to be a local phenomenon. When one moved from one place to another, one adopted the religion of the new place. Abraham and Sarah, however, developed and passed on a faith in God who is in every place. My teacher said, ours is a theology of history, not of place. We are not defined by where we live, but by the stories we carry. Maybe that theology has caught on with me. My stories are stronger than the places where I have lived.

One of the things about traveling around and living in different places is that you develop a sense of humor about yourself and where you live. When I tell a North Dakota joke, I’m quick to point out that I’ve earned the right to tell those jokes by enduring 7 winters in North Dakota. I make jokes about all of the places I have lived. I make jokes about living in Washington. I find some of the attitudes of people around here to be very funny. Just a few days ago I wrote about marijuana culture with tongue in cheek. There is a kind of self-righteous smugness to some of the folk in this part of the country that can benefit from a few good-natured jokes.

I’m paying attention to the reunion events and even though I may not attend, I do enjoy reading the stories of the people with whom I shared high school. Despite whatever jokes I make, they are good people. I don’t mind counting myself as a member of the class of ’71.

Spring

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From time to time, we travel on Highway 20, also known as the North Cascades highway. It is the road that connects Anacortes to the west on Fidalgo Island with the high country to the east. The highway is he northernmost route across the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington. It is closed in the winter because of the danger of avalanches. The day we arrived in Mount Vernon last November after experiencing a foot of snow in Leavenworth on the other side of Stevens Pass, the pass to the south of the North Cascade Highway, was the day that the North Cascade Highway was closed for the winter. That means that we haven’t lived here when Highway 20 has had the pressure of the traffic traveling the Cascade Loop. A couple of days ago, however, as we waited to get onto Highway 20 on our way to a walk on the campus of the former Northern State Hospital, we noticed an increase in motorhomes and vehicles with campers. It made me wonder if the pass was open, so I took a look at the Washington Department of Transportation website. The pass is not currently open, but it is set to open today at 1 pm. Crews plowing snow from the east and west sides met last Thursday. After the snow plowing crews meet, the work begins to repair the damage caused by snow and debris traveling the avalanche pathways. Signs, guardrails and pavement are all damaged every winter.

It isn’t just the high snowfall that causes the highway to be closed. The technology exists to keep the road plowed. Both Stevens and Snoqualmie Passes are kept open year round. However, the North Cascades Highway has 27 avalanche chutes. In order to keep the highway safely open during the winter, structures would have to be built allowing the avalanches to pass over the top of the highway in 27 different locations. Those structures, furthermore, would have to be engineered for conditions that don’t exist on the other passes. Some of the avalanche chutes stretch over 2,000 feet, more than double the longest avalanche chutes on the other highway passes over the North Cascades. The May 5 opening is considered to be early. Some springs it takes a couple more weeks before the highway is ready for travel.

So we are about to experience a new boost in traffic when the pass opens today. It won’t affect us much here in town, but it may affect our journeys to nearby areas where we like to hike. I’m not sure where the motorhomes we saw were headed, but perhaps they were planning to camp in North Cascades National Park.

The North Cascades Highway is incredibly beautiful, with high alpine peaks that are snow-covered year round. North Cascades National Park, accessible from our side of the mountains even in the winter, is a true gem of the National Park system and worthy of a visit by those who enjoy the outdoors and scenic beauty. It is the only National Park of which we are aware where you can still occasionally find a campsite without a prior reservation. A few years ago we camped there on our way west and had a delightful time just an hour away from our destination at our son’s home. North Cascades National Park will definitely be a destination for camping with our grandchildren.

The opening of the pass means the start of a new season in our new life. The first year in a new place is always filled with discovery as we learn the rhythms of the place. Of course there are still plenty of pandemic restrictions in place, so what we are experiencing isn’t quite the same as a “normal” year, but each year is different even when there isn’t a pandemic. So we watch and we notice things that the locals take for granted. Of course the pass opens up every spring, usually in May. Of course the number of tourists increases. The motorhome and RV traffic may be a bit higher this year. At least that has been reported in other locations. People feel that traveling by RV is safer than staying in motels and so RV travel has increased during the pandemic. After an initial phase of closed campgrounds and people staying home, travel has gradually increased over the time of the pandemic.

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Because the weather here is quite different from what we experienced in South Dakota, we don’t know exactly how to read the seasons. In many ways it still feels like spring to us. There are plenty of tulips in bloom even though the tulip festival officially ended last week. The weather is highly variable, with highs in the 70’s some days and in the 50’s on other days. We still are experiencing a few rainy days, but fewer than was the case a month ago. I have to remember my floppy hat and sunscreen when I work at the farm. We expect that not only are the winters milder here than in South Dakota, so too the summers will be a bit more moderate, with fewer really hot days. Although we have visited in the summer a lot in recent years, we still have much to learn about this new place where we plan to make our home. We’ve been here full time for almost six months, though it doesn’t seem like it. We’ve experienced the passage of half of a year. It also means that we have six more months before we will have experienced the full cycle, so there is plenty for us to learn and discover. Just as we have taken a few trips to the coast to see how it looks, we’ll soon take a drive to the high country just to check out the snow and see the vistas from the other side of our new territory.

It is a good time for us to have a new place to explore. We have time and energy to look around and leisure to not feel guilty about taking a day for a drive. We are learning how to be retired and so far it is a joyful discovery.

In the news

A few headlines from news sites captured my attention. These days, I read a few more headlines, because I’m not big on paying more money to get past paywalls. I’m already paying for the Internet service to my home. In addition, I endure all of the pop-up ads that are prevalent on web sites. And I also get news from international sites that aren’t quite as aggressive in getting you to subscribe in order to read a few stories. As a result, there are headlines that capture my attention, but don’t deliver the article when I click on them.

I learned a long time ago that one has to be careful with headlines. Headlines are designed to get you to read the article and they don’t always convey the understanding that reading the article yields. I used to joke that our local newspaper could improve itself by simply requiring the headline writers to read the article about which they were writing the headlines. That was several years ago. These days, I wonder if newspaper sites have any headline writers - or any editors for that matter. They seem to have only graphic designers who arrange the articles and pictures on a web site to attract attention and get people to click on the links. It is a different business than when newspapers had newsboys shouting the headlines on street corners to get people to purchase the paper.

So, without any real knowledge of the substance of the articles, here are some of my reactions to today’s headlines.

Bill and Melinda Gates have announced their divorce after 27 years of marriage. I think that Bill Gates is listed as the fourth wealthiest person in the world. Dividing their assets should keep teams of accountants and lawyers busy for the rest of their lives. If I remember correctly theirs was a workplace romance. Melinda was an employee of Microsoft when she met Bill. The couple has often asked for privacy. There was a rumor that circulated that in order to prevent news photographers from spying on their wedding, they hired every helicopter in the area. While I think they deserve to work out their relationship, the process of continuing to be parents to their three children, and the details of their business without undue advice from others, they pretty much are stuck in the public light.

I’ve never had to hire helicopters or make public statements to maintain my privacy. The news reporters aren’t interested in a story about a person in my wealth bracket. On the other hand, I wouldn’t trade my life’s partner for all of the wealth in the world. We are coming up on our 48th wedding anniversary and so far neither of us has any plans for divorce. We were able to work as professional colleagues for 42 years and it worked out well for us. We haven’t formed a foundation and we haven’t given away billions of dollars, but our ability to give, mostly through the church, has given us joy.

I’m sad for the Gates family because the divorce means that they will have a different experience with grandchildren that we have had. The oldest of their children is 24 and they do not yet have any grandchildren, but one of the deep joys of our lives is being grandparents together. I don’t think couples who divorce get to have the same closeness in sharing the grandparent role. It seems a bit sad that their grandchildren will primarily experience grandparents as separate instead of together.

After years, perhaps even decades, of people speculating about who will run Berkshire Hathaway after Warren Buffett retires, it has been announced that the company’s vice chairman, Greg Abel, will be his successor. Who knows when Buffett will retire. At 90, he seems to not have much interest in retirement. Abel, on the other hand, at age 59 with a base salary in the $16 million per year range, might have had the thought of retirement cross his mind from time to time. I wish them both the best, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Buffett hangs around Berkshire Hathaway long enough for him to need to select another successor after Abel retires.

On the technology front, several computer manufacturers are continuing to experiment with smart fabrics and the possibility of developing even more sophisticated forms of wearable technology. The Washington Post headline suggested that one day people will be able to consult a smart shirt to find out whether or not they have completed their 10,000 steps each day. I don’t think I’ll need one of those smart shirts. I’ve written in my journal several times about my smart watch that understands a workout, but doesn’t understand work. One day it record only three minutes of exercise after I had dug seven post holes. Now, I have discovered that I can get three minutes of exercise from raising my left arm from my waist to shoulder height 100 times. I don’t even have to move my right arm. I discovered the exercise because the device records how many minutes I stand up in each hour. Except that it doesn’t. When I’m in a meeting, I used to stand up to try to gain stand minutes each hour. But just standing doesn’t convince the device that I am standing. I need to walk around, which isn’t always practical in the middle of a meeting. However, I discovered that I can shake my hand or do a few hand lifts, which is pretty easy to do during a Zoom meeting by waving my hand outside of the camera frame. The result is that the watch thinks I’m standing and exercising. Trust me, it takes more calories to dig post holes than wave my hand in the air, but the watch doesn’t know it.

Maybe if I had a smart shirt I could get my exercise by shrugging my shoulders, or by puffing out my chest. For the moment, I don’t seem to need the technology.

And I don’t need to be rich. I had a meaningful career and I got to retire in time to enjoy my grandchildren with my wife. I’ll leave the divorces and worries about successors to others.

The sounds we hear

Some of the best places to take a walk are near dog parks. We know of a couple of places where people can allow their dogs to run off leash that are great places to walk. In addition, we often meet people walking their dogs on leash as we walk on public trails around the area. In general, dogs have never bought into social distancing. The come up to us with their tails wagging, often straining at their leashes as their owners try to keep a respectful distance. The dogs we encounter on our walks are well behaved. I find it very easy to tell when a dog is angry or frightened and so have little fear of the friendly dogs we encounter on our walks. And, so far, we have found the owners to be close at hand when a dog comes up to offer a greeting.

It is interesting how the dogs have different personalities. We see a lot more small dogs around here than other places we have lived. There are a lot of people who are out for a walk with a dog that isn’t as big as some of the cats we’ve known. I think that the little dogs don’t really know that they are little. They tend to approach other dogs, even those who are much larger than themselves, with confidence. They approach us expecting a pat or pet, even though we’d have to bend way down to do so.

The dogs in back yards are a bit different. Often they will bark at us as we walk by. There is a young lab a couple of blocks from our home who greets us with a deep bark if he is out when we walk by his home. Despite the sound of his bark, he isn’ very scary. We can see his tail wagging and can tell he just wants to play. Another dog in our neighborhood lives at a house on the corner and knows that if he sees us go around the corner, he can run around the house and give us a second greeting from the back yard. Sometimes we are surprised at the sound of a dog's bark. The biggest dogs don’t always have the loudest bark. We’ve found ourselves giggling on a couple of occasions when a tiny dog has a big bark or a big dog has a tiny bark.

We humans have evolved to connect sounds and emotions. In earlier hunter-gatherer communities, some sounds were cause for alarm. An attack by a wild animal required a quick defense. The roar of a flash flood warned of impending disaster. There are sounds that startle us and others to which we become accustomed. When we first moved into the house we are renting, I would awake with a start in the night when the ice maker in the refrigerator dumped a load of cubes into the bin. It is really quite loud and in a quiet house sounds like someone has dropped something. Now, after living here for several months, I don’t notice the sound. It reminds me of our home in Boise, Idaho, where we had train tracks right behind our backyard fence. The tracks were only used by Amtrak passenger trains and there was only one train each direction per day. The east-bound train came in the late evening. The west-bound train arrived in the early morning. We never seemed to notice the trains at all unless they were late. Then a late train would wake me from a deep sleep, even though I could easily sleep through an on-time train.

As I write, I can hear the whistle of a train that is passing through town a little more than a mile from our house. I’m sure that I wouldn’t even notice it if I weren’t thinking about the sounds we hear. We adjust to the sounds in our environment and learn which ones are cause for alarm and which can be ignored.

I know that my hearing isn’t as good as it was when I was younger. I still am able to have good conversations, but there are occasions when I ask others to repeat when I don’t fully understand. This is common for me in a crowded place, such as a retail store. Face masks have made it more difficult for me to hear and understand what is being said. I don’t think I’m much of a lip reader, but I do find myself asking for a repeat on occasion.

I wonder if we become less likely to be alarmed or frightened as we age. The combination of a decrease in the acuity of our hearing combines with the experience of safety and security to make us less likely to respond to various sounds in our environment. It seems possible, though I’m not aware of any specific examples.

When we worked in a church that had a preschool, I used to take a look at the names of the children on the artwork posted in the halls. Sometimes, when I was alone in the building, I would say all of the names out loud. It was common for there to be names that I had never before encountered. It was even more common for a familiar name to have an unusual spelling. Saying the name out loud would often give me a clue to the intended pronunciation. Being a reader, I often mis-pronounce words. I come up with my own pronunciation in my mind without consulting a guide to pronunciation. I base sounds on the appearance of the letters. Psycholinguists tell us that we make judgments about others based on the sound of their names. Personal names like Bob or Molly are perceived as soft and gentle. Names like Kirk or Kate are seen as more prickly and harsh. Those perceptions are not based on experience. There are plenty of Kirks and Kates who are soft and gentle and plenty of Bobs and Mollys who are more easily excited.

I guess names are like the sounds of dogs barking. You have to look for other clues and get to know individuals to know what they really mean.

Legal weed

I became an adult in the 1970’s, but unlike some politicians my age, I never smoked it and I didn’t inhale. I’ve never had a reason to try marijuana. As a result I don’t have any expertise about the substance. I’ve read articles comparing it to alcohol. I have had a bit of alcohol in my life and I enjoy a glass of wine from time to time, but I quickly learned that I’m not one for drinking too much. I don’t enjoy the feeling of foggy thinking and losing control. I’m speculating, but I’m fairly sure I don’t want the feeling of being high. On one occasion I received morpheme to treat the pain of burns. I became paranoid. I was aware that I was thinking irrationally, but I couldn’t stop myself. I didn’t like the feeling at all. Since that experience, I’ve told doctors that I am allergic to morpheme. I’m staying away from that medication as much as I can. One of my doctors commented to me, “You’re just not a good candidate for opioid addiction.” That’s fine with me.

So, as one who has no expertise, I’ve been fairly quiet in the debate over marijuana and its use. I’ve read articles about those who found relief from pain and other symptoms of illness through the use of marijuana, but it seems to me that the only evidence we have about it is anecdotal. With the federal ban on solid research into marijuana and its component chemicals, it is impossible to study the best use of the substance in the way that other drugs are studied. Still, compassion for others has motivated states to pass medical marijuana bills and allow the dispensing of the drug. In some of those states, the medical marijuana laws allowed for significant recreational use of the drug.

However, I’ve now moved to a state where both recreational and medical use of the drug is legal. I know the slightly sweet smell of burning marijuana wafting over the fence from the neighbors. I haven’t found the neighbors to be any kind of a problem. I wouldn’t be upset if they had a few beers in their own backyard, and smoking a few joints poses no threat to me that I can discern.

Being someone with no expertise, however, I do find some of the culture of marijuana use to be amusing. I’ve made up a story or two about some aspects of that culture. Every time we drive up to our son’s farm, we go by a dispensary. Or is it just a shop in a state where recreational use is legal? Anyway this place has a large lighted sign that proclaims that it is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Apparently those who use the substance need a place where they can get an “emergency” supply. Or perhaps continued use of it makes it impossible for one to plan ahead. I keep trying to imagine a scenario in which someone needs to drive out of town to a shop on frontage road alongside the highway to make a purchase. Even more difficult for me is imagining the type of entrepreneur who is willing to work the long hours and hire the kind of trusted employees required to keep a business open and operating 24/7 year round. Perhaps like the bartender who doesn’t drink, the marijuana shop hires employees who don’t use their product. I suspect, however, that such people would make poor salespersons. Like me, they might not know what they are talking about when a customer asks about different varieties.

So far, however, the most amusing piece of the marijuana culture for me is that there are drive through marijuana shops. Alongside the highway within 10 miles or so of the Canadian border, there is a nice plaza with shops, restaurants and a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol office. We’ve stopped there for a sandwich on occasion when driving in the area. Across the street from the plaza is a drive through marijuana dispensary, located in a building that at first appears to be a drive-through coffee shop. It isn’t a very big building, but it has drive through lanes on both sides. Unlike the coffee shops, which appear to be all around the state, however, I’ve never seen a car in the drive through. In fact, I don’t think it has ever been open when I’ve driven by. It makes me think of a stereotypical marijuana user, who has lost initiative: “Man, I suppose we should go to work some day. I’ll think about it after I finish this smoke. What was it we were talking about?”

Pandemic isolation has, I suspect, meant that more users of marijuana are isolated from others. I suspect that like alcohol use, those who use socially had found themselves using alone because there are simply fewer parties and opportunities to gather with friends. If the aroma from the neighbors is any indication, however, it may be possible to share marijuana with those who are more than six feet apart.

Other than a bit of silliness on my part, I haven’t experienced a big difference in moving from a State where marijuana is banned despite the passage of an initiative and a constitutional amendment allowing medical and recreational use of the drug. The new laws are supposed to take effect on July 1, but the governor has been attempting to block their implementation. It is still a bit unclear what the result will be. At any rate, it was illegal in South Dakota and legal in Washington when we made the move. I suspect that the change in South Dakota will be less dramatic than people who fear the new law suspect. If our experience is any indicator, it probably isn’t going to have much impact on the lives of most of the folk in the state. It is unlikely that the streets and parks will fill up with people acting like a Cheech and Chong routine. After all, it is still too cold for that all winter long in South Dakota.

Happy May Day!

May Day wasn’t one of the big holidays when I was a kid, at least not in my home town. Some years we made “baskets,” which were more like cones constructed by rolling a bit of construction paper and fastening a handle with a couple of staples. Finding flowers to fill them was a bit of a challenge. Some years our mother had daffodils and allowed us each to cut a couple of them. Once or twice there were lilacs, but that was pretty iffy that early in our town. There might be a few crocus and even a few tulips, but those were forbidden for us to pick. I remember at least one year when we made artificial flowers out of construction paper and glue for our May Day baskets.

The routine was to place the basket on someone’s porch, ring the bell and run. The story was that if you got caught placing the flowers you would get kissed. At that stage of my life, I was not in a mood to get kissed if I could avoid it. Mom’s kiss on our foreheads was unavoidable, and I don’t remember anything bad about it, but we pretty much avoided any other kissing. There was a lady who lived a block or so down the street from our house that we knew to avoid. If you ended up on her porch she was going to kiss you, like some of our aunts to whose kisses we had to submit. That lady down the street was still kissing kids when I was old enough to deliver her papers. I used to dread collecting for her paper because of the obligatory kiss at her front door. It never occurred to me to place a May Day basket at her house.

Actually, I wasn’t all that into arts and crafts at the time and flowers weren’t a primary interest, either, so I never got much farther than a May Day basket for our mother. That was easy, because we didn’t use the front door very often. If we rang the front doorbell, she had to go through the living room, through another door onto the porch, across the porch, and open the door. That gave plenty of time to be out of sight.

For the first time in my life, I live in a place where there is an abundance of blooms that could fill a May Day basket. I don’t know if May Day baskets are still a thing or not. We didn’t do them with our kids when they were little. I’ll be paying attention to our grandchildren when we see them later today.

I guess May Day isn’t going to go down as one of the big holidays in our family. Still, it is nice to have some blossoms in our yard even if there is an awful lot of weeding that needs to be done in this place. Someone advised me that renewing the mulch with fresh shredded wood would keep the weeds down in the beds. I followed their instructions and am of the impression that it did nothing to slow the growth of weeds. Now I have to mess with the mulch with each weed I pull, but that seems to be the only difference. Also the fresh mulch provides a bit more contrast in color for the new weeds, so I see them as soon as they emerge. It is a good thing I’m retired and have a few minutes to pull weeds every day.

I don’t know, but I’m not sure that dandelions are the preferred flowers for May Day baskets.

Traditions, of course, are always in transition. Each generation adds its own layer of meaning to the things inherited from the past. I didn’t know my maternal grandmother. She died before I was born. My paternal grandmother was always called “grandma.” Our aunts and uncles were addressed with the title: “Aunt Phoebe,” “Aunt Teddy,” “Aunt Myrna,” and so on. We used first names with our aunts and uncles, but last names with our grandparents. Even though we didn’t have multiple grandparents, we knew them as “Grandma Huffman.” We knew that “Grandma Lewis” had died.

Our children used the titles, but called their grandmothers by their first names, “Grandma Meg,” and “Grandma Charlotte.” I don’t remember ever having any discussion about what our kids would call their grandmothers, it just emerged.

Our grandchildren mostly address us by our first names. They know that we are their grandparents and they occasionally use the title, but for the most part we are called Ted and Susan. It seems perfectly natural to me. I read, recently, however, about how it is the custom, at least in some parts of the country, for grandparents to choose the title by which their grandchildren address them. Some don’t want to be called “grandpa,” but prefer “papa” or “gramps” or “big daddy” or “Baba” or “Opa” or “Geepa.” It never occurred to me that one of the obligations of being a grandfather was to specify how I would be addressed by my grandchildren. I don’t think I specified how I was to be addressed by our children. As adults, our son often calls me “daddy-o” and our daughter calls me “papa.” Both are music to my ears. I wouldn’t trade having our three-year-old granddaughter running up and hugging my legs while yelling, “Ted!” for anything. She can call me what she likes.

Based on my thoughts about how our grandchildren address us, I’m pretty sure that a May Day basket filled with dandelions would be a special treat. The flowers would probably end up in a vase for a day or so. I will not, however, run down any children and force them to kiss me, and I can’t imagine my wife doing that, either. There are parts of the tradition that I’m perfectly happy having go by the wayside.

Actually, if someone really wanted to impress me, they could pick all of the weeds out of the bed by the front door and then ring the bell. That would be a May Day treat to remember.