All Hallows Eve

All Hallow’s Eve. It is a time when some people believe that the distance between those who are alive and those who have died is somehow a bit closer - a bit thinner. The tradition of Halloween has some of its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints. It was a time of re-thinking the calendar of the church. Modern observations had detected problems with the traditional Julian calendar, but it would be centuries before another Pope Gregory would come up with the Gregorian calendar that we use. The difference in the calendars has to do with leap years. Th Julian calendar had a leap year every four years, assuming that the average year was 365.25 days long. That resulted in the drift of the year around the calendar over periods of multiple centuries. The church had been using the Julian calendar since the First Council fo Nicaea in 325. In the time of Pope Gregory III, people were aware of the drift of the calendar, but they did not know exactly how much or have a plan to deal with it other than occasional and irregular adjustments made by order of the Pope. Gregory III, however, was more concerned with the day to day life of Christians and another calendar problem.

The problem had to do with the number of saints that had been canonized over the centuries of the church. Hundreds of years had resulted in thousands of saints. Since saints are traditionally honored and remembered on the anniversary of their death, the church had to develop a catalogue of saints and their days. Some days there were lots and lots of saints to be officially remembered. Other days had fewer saints. Pope Gregory III decided that there should be one day each year for the veneration of all of the saints who had gone before. He designated November 1 as the day. The celebration of All Saints Day soon became blended with other autumn and harvest festivals that were recognized in various parts of the world. Soon All Saints Day was incorporating some of the traditions of those other festivals, including the traditions of Samhain.

The evening before All Saints Day, October 31, became known as All Hallows Eve, a name which later became Halloween. Activities including festive gatherings, donning costumes and carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns became a part of the annual recognition.

The holiday is mostly observed as a secular occasion in contemporary America. Roughly one quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween. These days there is a big business in the sale of outdoor decorations and special lighting for the occasion. Special seasonal costume and accessory shops open up each year, allowing for additional sales and profits. A current trend in the holiday that is hard for me to understand is the increase in the purchase of costumes for pets. In 2019, Americans spent $490 million on costumes for their pets. That’s a lot of money.

This year the festival of Halloween lands on a Sunday, presenting a challenge for worship planners. Because the traditions of the day are a mixture of religious and secular traditions there are all kinds of ways in which confusion can occur. Some traditions become associated with the church even though their origins are elsewhere. There is no religious demand that you dress up your pets in costumes or that you purchase special lighting for your home. Dressing up in costumes doesn’t seem to bring us closer to those who have died or help us give thanks for their lives. Ghosts and monsters aren’t part of the Gospel message.

On the other hand, there is a tradition of Halloween as a children’s holiday. Giving treats to children is a joyful activity. Children love dress up and donning costumes. And there is a long tradition - going back to Jesus - of honoring and welcoming children in the church. For all of my career as a pastor we have welcomed children in costumes to church in the time around Halloween. We have prepared treats for them and celebrated their imaginations with joy.

Add to all of those blended elements and ideas the reality of a worldwide pandemic and a special concern for children who are just now becoming eligible for vaccination and there is a real mixture of emotions around Halloween this year.

Our grandchildren, who live on a farm and who didn’t do any trick-or-treat adventures last year out of Covid precautions, are pretty excited about Halloween this year. They’ve already scoped out the neighborhood of our new house and figure that our street will be a good location for some knocking on doors and ringing doorbells this evening. We’ll gather for a family dinner at our house, but we know the kids will be too excited to eat very well and not long after dinner they will have bags of candy and the temptation to over consume sweets will be real.

We enjoy them. We’ve stocked up on treats to hand out since we don’t know how many children to expect coming by our house. This neighborhood has more children than the places we have lived in recent years, so we’re trying to be ready.

Still, I don’t believe in ghosts. And though I’ve experienced the presence of loved ones who have died, their memories and presence isn’t confined to a single day. I’m more likely to have a memory stirred by a place than a day when it comes to departed loved ones. And Halloween for me is more of a celebration of children than it is of departed family members.

Even though I’m responsible for the time with children during the worship service at our church this morning, I won’t be wearing a costume. I don’t plan to mention Halloween in my comments with the children. I’ll tell them a bit of the opening of the Book of Ruth, the reading from the lectionary for today. Perhaps some of them will recognize Ruth as one of the saints of our life together and even remember her name.

As for drawing close to those who have gone before, I find that my memories are my constant companions and that I have collected a lot of them over the years. I’ve been blessed to know a lot of saints over the years. I’ll try to honor them by telling their stories.

Enjoying the sunset

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I have a friend of more than 50 years whose life has been similar to mine, yet very different. We are the same age, born only one day apart. He, too, has lived his career as a Christian minister. We retired at the same time, both of us celebrating our last day in the pulpit on the same day. There are, however, differences. Although we both grew up in Montana, his life has led him to retirement in Maine and mine to Washington. We both live fairly near the ocean, but his is a different ocean. I live a bit closer to Canada than he, but we both have spent our careers in northern states.

I have another friend who is a different age than I, who has a home on the beach in Florida. And I have a fourth friend who has lived in San Diego for many years. Thinking of those particular friends, we sort of have the four corners of the continental United States covered. I also have a friend who has purchased property on Oahu in Hawaii, which is almost, but not quite as far west as you can go in this country.

I’ve been thinking about how place affects our perspective on the world. My friends in Maine and Florida, for example experience sunrise three hours before it peeks above the horizon here. And when we are watching the sunset here they are crawling into bed in the dark. That isn’t as big a difference as my friends in Australia where it is spring as we experience late fall. Where you are on the globe affects how you view the world.

I’ve been a morning person all of my life. I like to rise early and when evening comes, I head to bed before others. One of the treasures of my memories are countless images of the sunrise. I love rising in the dark and going to a body of water to launch a canoe and watch the sunrise from the surface of the water. My friend who lives in Maine, on the other hand, is an evening person. When we were college students he often worked late into the night while I was sleeping and then slept late into the morning while I was working. You’d think from those personality traits that he might have ended up on the west coast and I on the east, but that’s not the way it turned out.

Last night we took a walk on the beach. It was near high tide and the bay, which sometimes is very calm, had a little surf, so that the rhythm of the waves provided a beautiful soundtrack for our walk. The rains left us yesterday and we had a clear evening with no clouds in the sky. The seagulls were settling for the night and their usual raucous chorus had ebbed for the day. A few lone birds were walking along the shore, but many had found roosts for the night. There was a row of them, all facing away from the sea, on the roof of a park building near the shore. The pacific northwest is home to some very large trees and the logs and tree roots that have washed up on the beach are huge and make interesting shapes in the fading sunlight. It was a time to enjoy the beauty of the evening and reflect on the activities of the day.

Somehow it seems right that as I reach this stage of my life I have ended up on the sunset coast. The sun rises slowly here, leaving us in the shadow of the Cascade mountains for a while each morning. We can have beautiful and dramatic sunrises here. the mountains provide a unique backdrop. But this is a place of sunsets. We are far enough north that the days are short at this time of the year, so we get to experience both. We rise in the dark and go to bed in the dark during the winter. In the summer, our days are so long that you learn to sleep when it is light out.

People often compare the seasons of life to the seasons of the year. If you follow that analogy, I guess I’m in about the same season in both right now. It is late fall. Winter is just around the corner. If spring is the season of birth, then I’m much closer to winter these days. That analogy doesn’t really work for me, in part because I have always enjoyed winter and I don’t associate winter with death at all. It is a time of experiencing the intensity of life. If you dip in a hot springs, climb out and roll in the snow then return to the warm water you’ll feel very alive indeed.

Sunrise and sunset, however, do seem to give some perspective on the different phases of life. Again, I don’t completely associate darkness with death, so the analogy is not complete. All analogies fail at some point. Still, it seems to be appropriate to pay a bit more attention to sunsets as I figure out how to live into retirement. I know I have a bit more time to walk on the beach than our son who is at a very busy phase of an active career. By the time he is done with work and the family has had dinner and the chickens are in their coop and the kids are in the pajamas and settled into bed it is well past dark each night. Time to take a walk on the beach, let alone time to enjoy a sunset, is a rare opportunity for him.

I still have a very busy life. There are lots of things to do. I have a schedule of my days and get to the end of my days tired and ready for rest. Still, there are a few more opportunities for walking and reflecting and observing life than was the case at some other phases of my life.

It seems good to be collecting images and memories of sunsets.

Shaped by waters

All of life is shaped by water. Understanding the waters of the place where one lives is part of understanding life itself. My childhood was formed, in part, by the Boulder River. The Boulder starts as the slow drip, drip, drip of snow melt in the Absaroka Mountains. In the high country there used to be a glacier that sat on the divide between Slew Creek and the Boulder drainage. Little rivulets of snow melt combine to form brooks that become creeks and combine to form rivers. Slew Creek eventually makes its way into the Yellowstone River and flows around the mountains and down by the town of Livingston before turning east and flowing by Big Timber. The Boulder flows down the valley and joins the Yellowstone two miles downstream from where our place is located. The Boulder has been designated as a “Wild and Scenic” River which gives it some protection from development and affects decisions about the amount of water that is taken from the river for irrigation. The Yellowstone flows from Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park to its confluence with the Missouri River near the Montana-North Dakota Border without any dams.

My college town, Billings, is also on the Yellowstone River and the river continued to grow with the addition of additional creeks and streams as it headed across eastern Montana.

For four years we lived in Chicago, where the Chicago River is so highly managed and manipulated that it can literally flow in both directions, depending on the diversions and dams that are opened and closed. Our Chicago experience was marked by regular visits to Lake Michigan. Chicago is a huge city and I had no urban experience prior to living there, so finding a bit of natural wildness was essential to my health. Lake Michigan is huge compared to any body of water with which I had prior experience. We’d walk alongside the shore and watch the sunrise.

Much of my adult life has taken place in areas where the lack of water is remarkable. In North Dakota the drainage was into Cedar Creek, a tiny stream that joined the Cannonball River before flowing into the Missouri. Even seeing the creek involved a trip in the car.

Boise, Idaho, is even drier than Southwest North Dakota, but the Boise River is a major tributary of the Snake River. Boise’s climate and livelihood is shaped by irrigation. Halfway across southern Idaho from Boise is Twin Falls, on the Snake River. In Twin Falls there is a federal court house that is dedicated to resolving irrigation disputes and claims. The battle over control of water is deemed to be perpetual in that region. Generations of attorneys will spend their entire careers arguing about water rights and who is allowed to use water for what purposes. It is part of life in the high desert.

From Boise, we moved to Rapid City and you can’t tell the story of Rapid City without telling the story of how Rapid Creek became a raging wall of water that destroyed homes and property and claimed the lives of 238 people in 1972. Flash flooding is a natural feature of the Black Hills. In our time of living there, on of the joys of my life was paddling my canoe on various lakes in the Black Hills. I knew, however, that there are no natural lakes in the hills. All of the places I loved to paddle are reservoirs, the creations of engineers who devised methods of storing water for extended use by creating lakes with dams.

And now I find myself not far from where Terrell Creek meets Birch Bay. The places where rivers run down to the sea have been places of human habitation for millennia. Terrell Creek flows out of coastal marshes and makes its way into the Bay. It runs parallel to the marine shoreline before it enters the Bay itself. The creek is tidal. Twice each day high water from the rising ocean flows back up the creek bringing salt water and the associated plants and animals into the creek. Then, at low tide, the flow of the creek is reversed and water from upstream marshes empties into the bay.

Terrell Creek is tiny compared to the Skagit River, near where we lived for our first year in Washington.

Yesterday we were back in the town of Mount Vernon to meet with our landlord for our year of living there and do a walk through of their house after we moved out. After the meeting, we took a walk along the Skagit River in the rain. In the year that we lived there we saw the river depth on the Division Street Bridge as low as 8 feet and as high as 21 feet. That is a lot of variation in the flow. The Skagit River is a big river. Unlike the mountain streams where I grew up that reach peak flow in the late spring as the snow melts from the mountains, the Skagit reaches it peak flows in the winter when water that falls as rain is deposited on the Cascade Mountains. Some of it falls as snow in the high country and is stored until spring melt and runoff, but a larger amount of water falls as rain and causes the river to fill with muddy water.

As we walked yesterday, the river was very muddy and the level of the river was 9 feet above where it was flowing the last time we had walked along its shore just a little over a week earlier. The gravel bars where salmon fishers stood are under water. The river banks can take a lot more before reaching full flood stage, but the weather forecast contains a flood advisory warning of high waters and minor flooding of the creeks and rivers that run to the sea in Sakgit and Whatcom Counties. The coming of winter is the coming of flood season here.

We are safe from flooding. There are extensive flood maps that have guided the development of housing areas and are used by potential property owners to guide their decisions. We intentionally stayed away from flood-prone areas when shopping for home. As such, we have the luxury of watching the waters in our new home and learning about how those waters have supported life throughout history.

And, as an added bonus, we have learned not to stay inside, but to take our walks in the rain.

Searching and not finding

I'm just saying . . .

I don’t know any details, and, as is the case in many mass shooting events, we may never know the motivation, but the shooting, the day before yesterday, at the Boise Town Square Mall certainly got my attention. Two people were killed and five injured in the gunfire. The suspect, whom police believe was the loon shooter later died from injuries received. A mall security officer was among those killed and a Boise Police officer was among the injured. Mass shootings are so common that they rarely make headlines outside of the local region after the first day. It is just one more event. I know the Boise Town Square Mall. I lived in Boise for ten years, including the years during which the Mall was built. I’ve shopped there. I know people who go there on a regular basis. Fortunately, I do not know any of those involved, but the shooting certainly got my attention. I don’t have a solution to these situations of terrible violence. I’m just saying that there ought to be a way to reduce the number of firearms in the hands of people who are known by police to be at risk of violence to themselves and others.

Regular readers of my journal know that I am a bit obsessed with ginger snaps. You’d think with such an obsession that it would have occurred to me to try putting crystallized ginger in my cookies. You don’t have to leave anything out of your favorite recipe. If you love ginger, as I do, just add crystalized ginger in addition to the ground ginger in the recipe. I’m no great baker. I’m just saying, I’m sorry I didn’t think of this years ago.

I know I have my quirks and collections. I have a collection of John Deere miniature tractors that have very little value to anyone except me. Such a collection is a real hassle to display. The tiny metal toys collect dust and are difficult to keep clean. However, I don’t have much money invested in that collection. On the other hand, collector Nick Fiorella just paid $1.47 million for a pair of Nike Air Ships shoes that Michael Jordan wore during his first season withe the Chicago Bulls. I’m no investment expert. I’m just saying that in a world with a million problems and thousands of nonprofit agencies working hard to solve problems, there might have been another way to invest that kind of money.

I’ll leave the investigation to others. I know that movie companies employ firearms specialists, called “armorers” to assist with realistic weapons for making movies. I know that prop guns have wounded and killed actors before. I know that audiences want realistic-looking weapons and that the muzzle flash of a real firearm is difficult to produce and that people will react to the sound of the blast in ways that are difficult to pretend. I’m not much of a fan of the movies. I don’t follow the lives of the actors. I’m just saying that with all of the technology and special effects in the making of movies, it seems that there might be a better way of entertaining ourselves than to have people point real weapons at other human beings and discharge them.

I am grateful that researchers have been careful and that they have taken the time to make sure that Covid-19 vaccinations for children are safe and effective. I understand that children are less likely than older persons to have serious illness from the virus. I also know that the necessary quarantines can disrupt an entire family for weeks and threaten income because of the caution required when someone experiences even mild symptoms. I’m not an expert in pediatric medicine. I’m just saying that I have missed having children at church and I am hopeful that now that children between the ages of five and 11 may soon be eligible for Covid vaccination.

When I was a college student, Beirut, Lebanon, had a university that maintained a relationship with our college. It was one of the places where students from our college experienced a junior year abroad. I had a classmate who returned from Beirut with inviting descriptions of a beautiful city, rich with history and culture and a thriving university community where students could learn and experience life together. That all ended when a 15-year civil war broke out and the city descended into perpetual violence in 1975. Ever since there have been additional outbreaks of sectarian violence that have destroyed many of the features and any sense of security that those living there might have known. I do not know how to end entrenched combat. I’m no expert in interrupting the cycle of vengeance. I’m just saying that nearly a half of a century of uninterrupted violence is too much for any city. There has to be a way to say “enough is enough” and to return peace, safety, and security to those who live in Beirut.

Like other cities in the United States, Bellingham, Washington has a significant number of homeless people. The area is experiencing an on-going housing shortage and there is a dramatic lack of affordable housing. A shortage of services for those experiencing mental illness and addiction is also a problem. There are a number of dedicated and thoughtful nonprofit agencies seeking to find solutions and to provide services to those who are homeless. There is a drop in day shelter for homeless youth in our church building. I’ve participated in food drives and in clothing drives to provide resources for those who cannot afford to purchase essential items. I’m no expert, but my own experience of the weather around here is that you have to have effective rain gear. It is more important than heavy winter parkas or other insulated clothing. The temperatures aren’t that severe. I’m not an expert. I’m just saying that maybe we ought to have drive for raincoats, pants and waterproof boots.

Most days I have a single topic for my journal. I collect other possible topics, but many don’t warrant a 1,000-word essay. After all these years of writing an essay every day there are still days when I wonder what to write about. I’m still no expert, but I’m just saying that sometimes I collect a bunch of short topics instead of having a central focus.

Becoming a borderite

Over the years I have joked a lot about having come from a place of sheepherders. The town of Big Timber, Montana got its name from the Corps and Discovery. Lewis and Clark didn’t both visit the area, having gone north of Big Timber following the Missouri River on the west bound leg of their journey. However the expedition split on the return with Lewis leading a group north to follow the Missouri and explore the Marias while Clark led a group over Homestake Pass and Bozeman Pass to the Yellowstone River, which they followed to the confluence with the Missouri and the reunion with Lewis. It was the Clark portion of the expedition that felled cottonwood trees not far from where I grew up to make dugout canoes withe which they were finally able to travel by river after a long slog overland from the Columbia basin.

After the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad, settlers arrived with sheep and pastured their stock in the mountains during the summer, trailing them to the river bottoms in the winter. The town soon became a major shipping center for wool. The original Woolhouse was built by C.T. Busha and Joseph Hooper in 1884 to store wool until it could be shipped. Both men got a city street named in their honor, though Busha’s was later shortened to Bush. The Woolhouse burned in the fire of 1908, but was replaced by a stone building that stood at the end of Main Street when I was a child. That building, however, no longer served as a storage place for wool, which was by then stored in ranches until shipping.

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Big Timber is the home of Sweet Grass County High School, the source of many of my sheepherder jokes. The high school mascot was then, and remains to this day, the Sheepherders. It is depicted by a line drawing of an old man with a scraggly beard in a floppy hat with a kerchief around his neck, smoking a pipe. I attended high school in the 1960’s, when all of our rival teams said about what was smoked in the pipe. The fact that the mascot hasn’t changed with the times still surprises me. Neighboring High Schools with Indian names have changed their mascots. You’d think with the huge rise in awareness of the dangers of smoking the time would have come to at least remove the pipe, but it hasn’t happened. I’m not sure how teachers deal with that pipe. It must get a bit old to say, “If you want to be healthy, don’t be like the sheepherder.”

It is sad that the high school didn’t pay attention to the name shared with the county. Sweetgrass is a medicinal plant, burned as incense and inhaled to cleanse the spirit in traditional Indigenous communities. It is wonderful plant with medicinal values that is carefully harvested and braided. I knew nothing of this as a child or youth and learned it only after I moved away from Sweet Grass County, Montana.

The sheepherder was a kind of negative mascot when I was growing up. Adults would literally point at an old sheepherder and say, “If you don’t study in school and get good grades and go to college, you’ll end up like him.” Sheep ranchers in our town were respected and successful. Sheepherders were seasonal employees who worked only in the summer and often fell into alcohol abuse. We had a joke that we were such a small town that we couldn’t afford a town drunk, everyone had to take their turn. However, in reality, alcohol abuse was a problem for many of our residents, who lived poorly most of the year, barely earning a living and dwelling in substandard housing. They’d live in a sheep wagon and watch the sheep when they were grazing in the high country in the summer, but the rest of the year survived on day labor and lived a pretty grim lifestyle.

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After I became an adult, I discovered a few high schools where the mascot was equally strange to the Sweet Grass County Sheepherders. Orofino Junior-Senior High School on the New Perce Indian Reservation in Idaho is the home of the maniacs. Their mascot is portrayed by a cartoon character with wild hair wearing a night shirt and a mouth open so wide it obscures the other features of its face. The mascot is said to have come from the 1920’s when the school didn’t have funds to provide uniforms for their sports teams. The teams were ridiculed by their opposition. As the story goes, the boys played a very hard game, so hard, that their opponents said they played like “a bunch of maniacs.” That story may be a bit embellished. The fact that Orofino was also home to the the state hospital for the mentally ill meant that there were other meanings, more closely aligned with the stigma attached to those suffering from mental illness and the legacy of poor care offered by state institutions for those whose illnesses were not understood. It is another mascot that I continue to be amazed hasn’t been changed.

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Now my life’s journey has taken me to the territory of Blaine High School, where the mascot is the “Borderite.” It is a name applied to those who live on the border between the United States and Canada. The school logo doesn’t depict a person at all, but rather the peace arch that spans the border in the town, a monument to peaceful coexistence between two nations and the strong bonds of family and friendship that span the border. The name “Borderite,” however, doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. As I write this morning, my spell checker tries to change it to “borderline,” convinced that borderite isn’t a real word.

I wasn’t really a sheepherder in my youth. My family’s business was airplanes and the airport and John Deere machinery and the Farm Supply store. I don’t know if I’m really a borderite yet. I guess time will tell. At any rate the journey from Sheepherder to Borderite has been an adventure.

A simple song

I never know in advance what part of a worship service will make a deep connection. When I was an active worship leader, I used to marvel at the comments people made about what was most touching in a service. I might have spent hours and hours on my sermon and chosen the hymns in a rush without much thought and someone would comment on how much a particular hymn had meant to them. I might have composed a prayer at the last minute and a worshiper would tell me how the prayer had been just what was needed. Different parts of a service speak to different people at different points in their lives. As a worshiper, I find that I am often surprised by the intensity of my emotions as I worship.

Yesterday, it was a solo, sung by a young tenor. Accompanied by the piano he sang “Simple Song” from Leonard Bernstein’s Requiem Mass. I have been listening to that song for 50 years. I know it well. It is an amazing piece. Despite its lyrics and its name the song is far from simple. The intervals are not common.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis commissioned the Mass for the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Its first performance was on September 8, 1971. The interplay of Christianity and popular culture was different then. That same month Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” with lyrics by Tim Rice made its debut. I didn’t have much of a stereo in those days, but I had a turntable and I had 33 rpm albums of both Superstar and Mass. I played them both over and over again. The intersection of rock music, Christianity, and popular entertainment was exciting to me. I was a college student, majoring in philosophy, intending to go to theological seminary. I also was enjoying taking a few serious music classes and learning about some of the more technical aspects of music and composition.

The opening scene of Bernstein’s mass is a sort of cocktail party, with guests milling about and talking over one another. The Celebrant cuts through all of that chatter with a resounding chord on his electric guitar. When I was a young student, I thought that it was more than coincidence that the opening chords were G and D. Add one letter between those and you have a major religious character. As an amateur guitar player, I knew the chords for that song and could play them by memory. They are very simple, like the name of the song. The lyrics are also very simple: “Sing God a simple song. Lau da lau de. Make it up, as you go along. Lau da lau de. Sing, like you like to sing. God loves all simple things. For God, is the simplest of all.”

It is the pitch of that third “God” that marks the song as something very different. From the key of G, Bernstein suddenly has the singer come in with a C sharp - a very challenging interval for a singer. Then he has the soloist repeat that same line, almost as an echo. Then, with the audience’s full attention, the next line contains the same interval for a third time, “I will sing the Lord a new song.”

It is brilliant composition.

It is also incredibly hard to sing. The song is challenging for other reasons. It has a long range from the highest notes to the low notes. The song ends with the words “All of my days,” at the bottom of the tenor register, again with a half-step interval that must be sung precisely for the effect.

Yesterday’s song moved me and transported me back to decades of memories. Over the half century since the Mass was first sung, I have carried it in my heart and my head. I cannot read the 121st Psalm without hearing the tones of that song, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help,” and “For the lord, is my shade, is the shade upon my right hand. And the sun shall not smite me by day.” I remember once, at a funeral, reading the Psalm and inadvertently repeating the words “is my shade.” They repeat in Bernstein’s song lyrics, but the aren’t repeated in the Psalm. I don’t think any of the worshipers noticed my little departure from the actual text, but it broke the rhythm of my reading and I had to concentrate to refocus on the task at hand. I often hear pitches and think of tonal variation when reading scripture out loud and the Psalms inspire such lyricism, but a funeral is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the grieving family. It is important not to get carried away or drift off of topic when leading that sacred ceremony.

Yesterday, however, sitting in the pew in a nearly empty church as the soloist faced the camera that was broadcasting the service on the Internet, I could let my mind drift. I could see the picture on the cover of my record album. The celebrant is dressed in light blue robes and rises above a blurred mass of people flooded in pink light, holding a chalice and a cross. The first hump of the letter M in Mass has a cross at the top of it, like a cathedral steeple. I haven’t seen or played that album for many years. I stream music from the Internet these days. But the memory of playing that album over an over is strong. Many times I would carefully lift the needle from the record and move it back to the outside so I could hear that first song. I played it over and over again, amazed by its simplicity, imagining that I might be able to sing it well. I sing it better in my imagination than in reality, however.

Yesterday was stewardship dedication Sunday. The sermon was well done and challenging. The prayers were deep and meaningful. This morning, however, it is the song that is in my head and my heart. If not in a performance, in my heart, I’ll be singing it all of my days.

Strong winds ahead

A memo from our lead pastor outlined plans for how worship will proceed this morning if high winds result in power outages. That’s the thing about online worship. We are dependent upon electricity and the Internet to get our services out. Because it is possible that some members of the congregation will lack electric power, getting the service recorded for later viewing is very important. Our new home is closer to the church than where we were living before, so it is unlikely that the weather will prevent us from making the short trip to the church. Other worship leaders should be able to come in and we’ll probably get the service out online and recorded without a problem.

Still, in the seasons of covid, with increasing effects of global climate change, we have grown a bit reluctant to make predictions. We know that we can be surprised. The forecasters are calling the weather a bomb cyclone. What that means is that we are experiencing a sudden drop in atmospheric pressure. The low pressure, still off of the coast, could be one of the lowest pressure storms to ever develop across the northeastern Pacific Ocean, with a forecast pressure comparable to major hurricanes in the Atlantic.

What I have noticed about the weather forecast is that rain is predicted for every day of the ten day forecast, with particularly rainy days today and tomorrow. We could see as much as 5 inches or more over the next week.

I’ve been paying attention to the forecast because we still have a few items at our rental house in Mount Vernon and it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to put cardboard boxes in the back of our pickup and have them arrive at our home dry. If we could, we’d have everything moved in a single trip. As it is, we may decide to make a couple of trips. We’ll see. The weather isn’t going to be a big inconvenience for us.

It was around this time a year ago that we spent three days snowed in at my sister’s place in Montana. We know that sometimes you have to be a bit flexible in your plans when the weather gets wild and that there are things in this world that are more powerful than we and our machines. We are fortunate that our new home is in a protected area on high ground. I’m just learning the routines of small craft advisories and wave predictions that are a part of living near the ocean. Fortunately the beach that is near our house is part of a very large protected bay. Still the waves could be much higher than usual and conditions could be pretty rough for boats that are at anchor in the bay. It is a good weekend to have my various boats all safely in the barn at our son’s farm. I don’t think it will be difficult for us to avoid going to the beach to look at the waves. And we’re not tempted to head out into the water, where sneaker waves could be a threat.

The storm is not going to be anything like the hurricanes that have threatened other parts of the world. The Storm Prediction Center has issued a level 1 out of 5 risk for severe storms. It looks like the most intense weather will occur later this afternoon and evening. And we will not be in the area of the most intense rain, which is forecast to hit northern California.

The weather is just another reminder that we have moved to a new place and a different climate. I moved the one remaining snow shovel that we own to our new home, but I’m confident that I won’t be needing it this weekend. Temperatures are supposed to be in the mid fifties all week. I’ll keep the shovel. Snow isn’t unheard-of up here, but amounts are light and the shovel only got used once last winter and I noticed that I was the only one on the block who actually got out and shoveled the light snowfall off of my driveway. The prevailing attitude around here is that the snow will melt within a day or so and so people just ignore it. We’ve lived most of our lives in places where people don’t ignore the snow.

Meanwhile, we had our son’s family over to our new house for dinner last night. It was a proper initiation for our new home. That round oak dining table has made yet another move and is ready for many more family meals. Being semi-retired and mostly empty-nest, it feels so good to us to have the gang gathered around the table. Of course we’ll get back to our usual routines during the week, but we had dinner at their place the night before last, at our house last night and tonight the kids will be at our place for a somewhat early dinner as their parents go out to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Then it will be back home for the kids for an early night to get their sleep before beginning a new week of school.

And, speaking of school, I was delighted to see our ten-year-old grandson practicing cursive writing. We had a fun discussion of the rather unique ways that upper case letters are formed in cursive. We noted that not everyone makes their cursive letters exactly the same way, but the school is teaching a particular style of writing. It was fun for me, because I can remember struggling with cursive writing. I was just at the point where I had discovered that some of my favorite adults had really messy handwriting. Our grandson, however, was fairly patient with the process of writing pages of letters in script. I had heard that schools weren’t putting much emphasis on cursive writing these days, but the homework our grandson has been doing this weekend looks very much like the exercises we had to do in school. I guess not everything is changing at a pace that is too rapid for me to keep up.

Everyday life is starting to settle in. We’ve still got some new routines to develop and some new things to learn, but part of this process of retiring is like our grandson doing his homework. You just have to practice, over and over, until it becomes natural.

Starting to settle

One of the first trucks I drove was a 1959 GMC tilt bed. In the days before roll back trucks, there were flat bed trucks with hoists that would tip the bed all the way to the ground. The angle was too steep for modern automobiles, but clearances were higher at that time.The angel was too steep to drive an implement up, so we used the winch to load every machine that we hauled. I worked pretty well for small tractors and other farm machinery. The cab of the truck was a bit noisy and there was quite a bit of wind that got in around the imperfect door seals. The old 232 cubic inch inline six cylinder engine didn’t produce much horsepower, but the combination of the 4-speed transmission with a 2-speed rear end meant that we could make it up the steep mountain passes, even if we were going pretty slow. Granny gear was really, really slow. I doubt if I ever got the truck going more than 60 or 65 mph.

When I worked on the farm there was an even older GMC truck that was half of our harvest haul fleet. That an an old International truck, both with grain boxes and hoists, shuttled between the combines and the bins. I drove both of those trucks, but I gravitated towards the old GMC because it was familiar to me.

Those days were a long time ago and I hadn’t thought about those old trucks much until yesterday when our U-Haul truck, from the short-term rental fleet, was an older GMC. It was perfectly serviceable for our move and worked for us very well, but as I was driving north on Interstate 5, with much of the traffic passing me, I remembered those days of driving the old trucks that were a part of getting the jobs of farming and farm machinery delivery done. When it comes to doing work, you don’t need all of the brand new flash and show. You need reliability and strength. The U-Haul did exactly what we rented it to do: it moved our furniture from one town to another. With less than 100 miles round trip, the fact that it doesn’t get very good gas mileage isn’t really a factor. The ability to rent a truck with a rain-proof box for 24-hours is just what our job required. It took our crew about 2 hours to load and about the same to unload. Most of the furniture ended up in the right room in our new home, though we are aware that we still have a few too many possessions for this house. The job of sorting will continue.

We did, however, sleep on our own bed in our new house for the first time. It was way more comfortable and we are way more set up than when we arrived at our rental a year ago. The first night after unloading that truck we slept on our mattress on the floor. Our bed wasn’t set up. And we didn’t have the gas turned on in our rental yet, so with no furnace we huddled with an electric space heater to keep us warm. At this house, we’re much more set up, with our living room furniture in roughly the right places, our dining room table ready to use, and a study, with a place for my desk and computer. Our bookshelves are set up, but we haven’t started to unpack books yet.

It is already feeling like home and we haven’t yet spent 24 hours in this house. Part of feeling at home is the simple fact that we drove down the road to our son’s place for dinner last evening and had a normal family meal around their big dining room table. I may have some hang-ups about chicken butchering day, but I certainly enjoyed the baked chicken and fresh garden vegetables last night. We even had slices of fresh pears from the orchard to top off the meal.

Last night as we were sharing the things for which we are grateful, I gave thanks for a year and a bit more of moving toward retirement. We had a plan. We would move closer to family. We would take our time. We’d rent for a year and evaluate both the market and where we wanted to live and they buy a house. Last night I was feeling especially grateful that our plan had worked. It was an imperfect plan. We hadn’t anticipated how wild the housing market would be and how high the prices would go, but we were able to navigate the wild market with a little help from a very good real estate agent, and here we are in a new-to-us home in a place where even a year ago we couldn’t imagine.

When I started writing this journal nearly 15 years ago, I called it simply, “A Pastor’s Journal.” If I were to re-name it today, perhaps I would call it “The View from Almost Canada.” The title isn’t one I created. It was the name of a column that used to appear in an obscure boat building journal written by a man who lived in Eastern Washington, near the borders with Idaho and Canada. That column is no longer being written and its title is remembered by just a small number of followers of homemade low-budget boats. And we are almost in Canada, preparing to face our first winter on the 48th parallel. Because the 48th parallel as a division between Canada and the US goes only to the Pacific Ocean, we are not only just south of Canada, but also just east of Vancouver Island. Our home is even a bit north of Victoria, the capitol of British Columbia. It isn’t a place where we thought we’d live. And even a year ago, I couldn’t have imagined living just a short 15-minute walk from the beach. To top it off, we’re in the fastest-growing community in our county and one of the fastest growing communities in the country, which means that there are plenty of changes coming.

We may be facing a lot of changes and challenges in the years to come, but for now we are at home and it feels good. A new chapter is beginning and it seems to be one as interesting and as enjoyable as those which preceded it.

A failure of trust

There is good news on the pandemic. The number of new cases is down and declining. There is some evidence that we may have turned a corner. However, it is too early to begin to talk about easing protocols that help to prevent the spread. Like many others, I have been struggling to understand the dynamics of the crisis, in which people continue to choose not to be vaccinated and to engage in behavior that clearly contributes to the spread of the disease. Having received our vaccinations and being in line for our booster shots, we are not feeling personally vulnerable, but we are deeply missing opportunities for our church to gather and struggling with the fear that continues to dominate many conversations in the congregation. Part of the situation is that there are a lot of people in my age group who, like me, are having a hard time understanding the behavior of others.

I grew up trusting doctors and nurses and other medical professionals. My mother was a nurse and our town’s doctor was a close friend and business partner of my father. I can clearly remember being 9 or 10 years old and deciding that I would no longer work on my penmanship. The decision was based on having seen our doctor’s signature on a prescription. He was clearly a brilliant man who was a community leader and yet I couldn’t make out more than a couple of letters of his name in his signature. I knew his full name. His sons were my friends. If he had a sloppy signature, I reasoned, perhaps so should I. i practiced writing my name so that the letters were scribbled together and nearly illegible. I thought that such a signature was the mark of an educated person.

There are a lot of people my age who have lived our entire lives with a deep trust in scientific medicine and the way that health care is pursued in the United States. We tend to think of those who are skeptical as uneducated or misinformed, their behavior the result of being misled and correctable by teaching.

The pandemic, however, has revealed a dark truth about health care in the United States that we had failed to see. Trust in the health care system has eroded to the point where there is a significant portion of the population who no longer put their faith in the system. This erosion of trust has been pretty steady over the course of my adult life. People who are younger than me, including the majority of millennials, are not likely to put their full trust in the medical establishment. There are several factors and some key events in our shared history that have contributed to this loss of trust.

The year that we were married, 1973, was the first year when health insurance companies were allowed to operate on a for profit basis. The Nixon Administration believed that opening up health insurance to profits would increase access and decrease costs due to competition. It didn’t work out that way. Costs soared and insurance rates dropped. The rapidly rising costs resulted in raising the costs of other goods and services due to the cost of providing health coverage for employees. Over the span of my career health care costs made it impossible for many congregations to afford a pastor. At the end of my career, the cost of health care was double the total salary and benefits package with which I began as a minister.

This also opened up an additional revenue stream for many physicians. Because of their concern for health care, many physicians invested in creating health insurance programs. The change in the law meant that they began to earn money from the insurance as well as from the practice of medicine. With that new revenue stream, and a few other sources of income, salaries and lifestyles for doctors began to separate physicians from the community. For profit health care corporations began to grow, often through purchases of other corporations. I have a friend who was a cardiovascular surgeon with a thriving practice. At his retirement he told me that he made more money from the sale of his practice to a large hospital corporation than he had earned through a lifetime of surgical practice. And he was a rich man with three homes, three airplanes and a fleet of automobiles before he realized that profit.

This consolidation of wealth was exaggerated by the tight control of admissions at medical colleges. Well qualified students were turned away simply to keep the competition between doctors low. By keeping the supply of doctors low, the prices continued to rise and physician salaries continued to rise at rates well beyond that of other professions. There is so much excess wealth in the system that non physicians have found ways to profit from managing practices and other means.

People who were born after the rise of for profit health care frequently find themselves in a position where they simply cannot afford it. They have tried to access health care and ended up with costs that bear no relationship to the services provided. No one in the health care industry can explain the costs. While they are simply accepted by many, those who are in their thirties and forties have enjoyed relatively healthy lifestyles with minimum access to health care. They believe that the system and those who work within it are operating an extractive industry, designed to extract maximum profit with little actual care. They have read the statistics on the imperfect application of medicines and know that there are many failures of the system and that medicines are at best imperfect and at times harmful.

This erosion of trust has begun to affect the health care system. Hospital capacities were based not on the need of the community, but on the flow of consumers. Until the pandemic hit there were people who had never consumed hospital care and who had no intention of doing so. As a result hospitals lacked the capacity to deal with the crisis. Despite the shortage, trust in health care continues to be very low.

Trust does not automatically return. It has to be earned. And that takes time. It appears that anything less than a total re-thinking of how health care is delivered in our country will work to restore trust.

While I do not understand those who are intentionally choosing not to be vaccinated, I acknowledge that there is more than politics involved. The broken trust in a broken health care system has to take responsibility for its failure to deliver the promise of the vaccine. Blaming those who are not vaccinated will not work. Earning their trust is a much more difficult task and it won’t be accomplished soon.

Preparing to move again

Tomorrow is moving day for us. We have a truck reserved and a crew to help with loading and unloading. Our goal is to move all of the furniture and heavy items. Some household goods and clothing we’ll move ourselves after we have returned the truck. That means that today is a day of preparation. Fortunately, we aren’t moving many appliances: just a washing machine, clothes dryer and a small chest freezer. But there are beds which need to be broken down and have the mattresses and box springs placed in protective bags. The dining room table needs to have the pedestal removed and the leaves carefully packed. The sideboard needs to be emptied of fragile items. We’ve already emptied the bookcases and packed up the books. Still there is a lot of work to accomplish in the next three days.

For regular readers of my journal the move may mean a slight disruption in publication. The company that provides our Internet service says that we’ll have service in the new place tomorrow, so the move may not involve an interruption of service, but it is based on my moving the equipment and getting everything hooked up correctly, which shouldn’t be a big deal.

Back when we were students, we packed up everything we had and moved a couple of times each year. We’d live in a student apartment for 9 months and work at summer jobs in other locations, with much of our household in storage. Of course back in those days we didn’t own any furniture and we were used to setting up an efficiency apartment in a couple of hours. When friends asked for help moving we’d ask, “Are you moving in the morning or afternoon?” That was a long time ago. For 25 years, from 1995 to 2020, we lived in the same house and filled it with all kinds of things we thought we wanted to have. Some of those things, like an antique bedroom set that has been in the family for many generations, have deep sentimental value to us. Some items, like our living room couch, are the product of years of planning and saving.

We know that we need to downsize, and we have tried hard to do so. We didn’t quite meet the goal of reducing our possessions to a home half of the size of the one we had in Rapid City, but our new home is smaller than the rental where we have lived for the last year and the rental is smaller than the house we had in Rapid City. We seem to be moving in the right direction.

In another sense, however, our move has some elements that surprise us. When we first moved to Rapid City, our home was outside of the city limits. During the time we lived there, our subdivision was annexed and we became residents of the city. We moved from Rapid City to an urban area slightly more populated than our South Dakota home. Now we are moving back out of city limits to what is called a “census-designated place.” The official census counts the number of people in our general area distinctly from other communities, but it doesn’t have an incorporated city. Our mailing address is Blaine, a city just north of where we will live. Blaine’s northern boundary is the US-Canada border. The peace arch international monument has one side in Blaine and the other in Canada. When we left South Dakota, we joked about moving to a place where we could walk to Canada. It turns out that we are moving to a place where we can.

Birch Bay is a protected bay on the east shore of the Salish Sea. The shallow bay experiences the warmest water temperatures of the Washington coast. Our new home is approximately 100 miles north of Seattle and about 35 miles south of Vancouver, BC. It takes less than 15 minutes to walk from our house to the beach. That is a remarkable address for people who have lived most of our lives more than a thousand miles from an ocean. On Monday, we walked down to the beach and continued to marvel at how our life’s journey has brought us to this place.

The biggest attraction of the new home for us is that it is 2 1/2 miles from our son’s farm and th home of three of our grandchildren. To be close enough to their place to pick up the kids from school and have them come over to our house is a real treat and a luxury that many of our friends cannot have. The kids have already been over to our new home and explored it from top to bottom. Our son has already been a huge help in preparing for our move. He will take time off from work tomorrow to be a part of our moving crew.

The truth is that we haven’t downsized as much as we need to. My tools have found their home in our son’s barn where we have a shared shop. We have items stored in another of their outbuildings. We still have a big challenge to sort and get rid of items.

There is, however, a sense of accomplishment to be moving out of our rental home. We’re back in the housing market, which is a challenging and important place to invest. And we are looking at this move as one where we will stay put for a decade or more. We’ll be able to hang our pictures on the walls and settle in. We’ve already painted one room in the color that suits us. The journey from our Rapid City home to a new permanent home was simply too big of a venture to do in one step. Had we purchased a home a year ago, we might have bought one in the wrong location. Our son was moving to the farm at this time last year.

Our grandchildren are excited that we have a house on a street with other houses with lots of children. They found their farm to be a rather challenging neighborhood for trick or treat last Halloween. They’ve already planned to be at our house on Halloween and going up and down our street to check out the treats. We’ve checked with the neighbors, who have told us it isn’t unusual to host a couple of hundred children for trick or treat. That’s a big difference from our Rapid City home. We’ve got just a bit over a week to get ready.

Relying on technology

Years ago a relative had a new GPS receiver in his car. This was before we owned such a device. They were new to the market. The relative had grown up in an urban setting and was unfamiliar with rural roads and ways. He was visiting a remote ranch property where my cousin lived. I had worked on that ranch as a teen and was familiar with the roads and routes in and out of the river bottom place. Our relative showed us how he could mark the location on his device and it would lead him back wherever he went. Later he was in town and started back to the ranch. For some reason, the machine led him to cross the Missouri River on a bridge and wander through the back roads along the far side of the river from the ranch. Finally, in frustration, he found his way to the Ferry and rode across so he was at least on the right side of the river. He made it back to the ranch after such a delay that we had begun to worry about him.

I was mystified by what had happened. I wondered how he could have crossed something as big and prominent as the Missouri River without realizing that he was on the wrong side of it. He hadn’t crossed the river to get to town, why would he cross it to return to the ranch? The answer, in part, was that he trusted the machine to guide him. It was a long time before I placed such trust in a machine.

However, we have a GPS unit that we move back and forth between our car and our truck. And when I am driving a vehicle without that unit, I frequently have my phone give me directions. We’ve been living in this part of the country for nearly a year and neither of our vehicles have paper maps of the region in them. I drive around the city without a city map, visiting the homes of the members of our church, delivering resources to families, guided by GPS. I happen to think that I’m intelligent enough to avoid getting on the wrong side of a major obstacle such as a river or Interstate highway, but I’ve grown pretty reliant on the machine for guidance.

The machine isn’t perfect. It doesn’t always give the best instructions. In the neighborhood of our rental home, for example, it always directs us to go to a particular exit to get on the Interstate, even when a different exit is clearly closer and more convenient. The machine is programmed for the length, width, and height of our pickup when it is pulling our camping trailer, and sometimes it favors truck routes when a more direct route works better.

We used to tell a joke about a tourist from back east stopping at a remote ranch in Montana and asking for directions. The rancher asks the tourist where they are headed. After pondering for a long time the rancher finally says, “You can’t get there from here.” I’ve never encountered such a situation, but I have received directions from people who aren’t very good at giving directions. Having been misguided by both humans and machines, I now am aware that I frequently discount the instructions given by humans.

Recently, we were going to visit a church member at her home just outside of the city. She had given directions over the phone. Susan had accurately recorded the directions. I entered the address into the GPS also. I headed off fully intending to follow the GPS regardless of what Susan had heard. I know that I was thinking that the machine would be more reliable than directions given by someone who had lived in that home for a long time. Looking back, it seems as if I was placing my trust in the wrong source.

The tendency to trust machines has had some dramatic and tragic results. One famous incident was the crash of Air France Flight 447, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris, France. On June 1, 2009, the Airbus A330 stalled over the ocean and crashed killing all 228 passengers and crew. When the black box was finally found, the voice recorder revealed the pilot’s last words, “We’re going to crash - this can’t be true. But what’s happening?” Investigators discovered that the crash could have been avoided by switching off the plane’s malfunctioning autopilot. It is not the only tragic accident that stemmed from over-reliance on technology. The more recent crashes of Boeing 737 Max aircraft were linked to problems with the plane’s angle of attack and auto throttle technologies.

Our vehicles are a decade old and are not equipped with some of the advanced technologies available. We don’t have adaptive cruise control. We don’t have auto steer. But those technologies exist. Not long ago I had a conversation with a farmer in which I commented that i could remember when we ran combines that didn’t have cabs. He jokingly replied that he could remember the old days when combines had steering wheels. Contemporary combines, costing upwards of a half a million dollars, are equipped with joysticks and GPS guided auto steering. That may lead to more crop harvested and less waste, but it also makes farmers dependent upon the technology. A computer failure means harvest is shut down. That is one thing when it is a combine in an open field. It is completely different with a car on a busy freeway.

They say that self-driving cars are in our future. I’m not sure I’m ready for that future. On the one hand it would be nice to have a self-driving car when I reach the point where I am no longer capable of driving safely. On the other hand, will we be able to trust the safety of such systems? How many computers will it take to supervise the primary computer and turn it off when it makes a mistake?

I’ve adapted to a lot of different technologies over the span of my life, but I remain a skeptic about self-driving cars. I don’t think I’ll be an early adopter.

Shortages and supplies

Shortages of all kinds of consumer goods have been in the news lately. There are shortages of all kinds of items from paper, food, textiles, toys and computer chips. Recently I had our ten-year-old car at a dealership for some routine maintenance and while I waited, I attempted my usual practice of taking a look around the showroom and sales lot. The showroom was empty. There are no cars there. The sales lot was nearly as empty. They had a single row of used vehicles. There were no new vehicles on the lot. I checked another nearby dealer of the same brand and they had a total of six new vehicles. There is a chain reaction that affects the number of new cars delivered to consumers. Because cars are made up of many different components, a break in the supply chain of a single component can slow production. The shortage of computer chips has affected the production of all kinds of components from air bags to cruise controls. Add to those shortages problems with shipping and distribution and manufacturers are not able to met demand.

It isn’t just the cars in the dealer showrooms that are affected. Sellers are already warning of a shortage of toys for Christmas this year. Toy shortages are just part of the crimp in supplies that Americans import from China. China’s production crisis stems mostly from an electricity crisis. More than half of China’s electricity comes from coal. Coal production is down because of new safety rules, stricter environmental regulations and flooding. There is a surge in demand for Chinese goods, but factories have been closing on some days because they cannot get enough electricity to continue production. That means fewer toys on the shelves in the US. It probably also means possible shortages of staples such as toilet paper, bottled water, clothing and pet food.

Pandemic working from home created a huge increase in the demand for laptop computers and an increase in sales of cell phones and other mobile devices. Production has lagged behind demand. The shortage of computer chips experienced by other industries hits the production of computers especially hard.

The shortages of goods from China is exacerbated by a bottleneck at US ports. About 40% of all shipping containers entering the US come through Los Angeles and Long Beach California. Those two ports are backed up. Before Covid, it was unusual for more than one ship waiting to be unloaded. Last month there was a record 73 ships waiting at just one of those ports. The ports have moved to 24/7 operation, but backlogs are difficult to clear. The backlog is due in part to a surge in spending by US consumers. People who are working from home and staying away from entrainment such as theaters and restaurants are doing a lot of online shopping. More people want more goods. It isn’t just the ports, who are struggling to keep up. Part of the reason the ports are backlogged is that rail networks are overloaded. There is a shortage of trucks to deliver all of the items to consumers. Crumbling roads and bridges are slowing deliveries.

Meanwhile a severe drought in Brazil has resulted in a disappointing coffee harvest. The big fall in coffee production, added to higher shipping costs, means that supply can’t keep up with usual levels, let alone the increased demand.

The list of consumer goods in short supply is long and it is affecting the quality of life in many places around the globe. In Lebanon, there is a shortage of medicines and frequent electricity outages have resulted in increased use of diesel generators increasing costs beyond the means of many people. In Nigeria, there are widespread shortages of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) which is mainly used for cooking. The cost of LNG went up 60% between April and July. Charcoal and firewood are the only options remaining for many families. Shortages of imports combine with disruptions in energy disruption have led to a general slow down of many industries from cement to steel to construction to automobiles in India. The result has been high inflation, raising the prices of essentials such as food and oil, hitting families especially hard.

The entire global supply chain is disrupted and there are no simple solutions to the complex problem.

Meanwhile, in our own little corner of the world, our problem continues to be oversupply. Yesterday I boxed and moved our books to our new home. Despite having culled more than 3/4 of the books we had in our home and office libraries in South Dakota, we still have a lot of books - too many for a household with easy access to libraries. The Whatcom Library System that serves our new home has a dozen libraries, a bookmobile and additional drop-off locations to return books. The library that is within walking distance of our new home is slated for a new building pending a vote in November. And it isn’t just books with which we are oversupplied. Our new home has one fewer bedrooms than our rental, which is down one from our home in Rapid City. We have too much furniture. While I was moving books, Susan was packing up our kitchen. Our new home has a dedicated drawer for cooking spices. We have more than fit in that drawer. The linen closet is adequate for the home, but smaller than the one we are leaving behind. The list goes on and on.

However, I have decided to draw the line at reduction of our supply of cook books. We’re keeping them for now even if we have a shortage of storage space. We’ll need them to face another shortage in the supply chain. Last night after dinner, tired from a day of moving heavy boxes, I ran to the store to pick up a few groceries. Because we are busy with moving and work, I wanted to pick up a box of ginger snaps. There were no ginger snaps on the shelves in the grocery store near our home. I went to two additional stores. No ginger snaps! The shortages are really hitting home now. Fortunately we have some very good recipes for ginger snaps. As soon as I can find the time and the bowls and pans in the chaos of moving, I’ll be getting to baking.

There are some shortages that must be addressed.

Navigating semi-retirement

One of the treasures of my semi-retired status is a subtle change in my relationship with the congregation I serve. From the time we graduated from seminary until our formal retirement at the end of June, 2020, Susan and I always shared responsibility for the administration and institutional health of the congregations we served. That meant that we needed to attend all of the meetings of the Church Board and listen attentively to the conversations there. We had to work hard to discern the directions that the church should take. We had to pay attention to the budget and the financial health of the church. I loved the work we did, and I love the church deeply and care about its long-term future, but there were some meetings that I didn’t love. There were times when I grew frustrated with the resistance to change that we often met.

In our position at First Congregational Church of Bellingham, our responsibilities lie in the area of programming. We work with only one Board of the church for the most part. We are not responsible for all of the administrative meetings. I almost never missed meetings of the administrative board of the church for over 40 years and now I haven’t attended such a meeting for 17 months. Yesterday, however, I sat in on a meeting of our Church Board. I listened to the conversations. I could see the tension and disagreement. Although the meeting was taking place over Zoom, it had much of the character of many meetings that I had attended over the course of a career in the church. There was, however, a big difference. I didn’t feel that I had to be in charge. I didn’t have the same kind of personal investment in the decisions being made that I used to have. I could watch and listen to our lead pastor as she skillfully negotiated the process of gently leading a group of people to discover what is most important to them and to keep in mind the wider community of the church. I could maintain a sense of detachment that was, for me, refreshing.

Pastors don’t go into the ministry for the love of meetings. We endure meetings for the love of people and for the love of the church. Now I have a job where my responsibilities are to plan and teach classes, offer a bit of creativity to worship planning, and engage with families as they navigate the delicate balances of life and career and raising children.

Furthermore, our position is that of interim. We are doing the work of the church for a little while only. Our call states 18 to 24 months. After that the congregation will move on to other leaders and we will move on with our retirement - or perhaps to another place of service. Knowing that allows me to maintain a certain level of detachment. I know that I can’t replace the person who came before me in this job. I know that there is grief over her retirement and leaving the position. I also know that the church needs to prepare for meeting and supporting new leadership in the future.This “in between” time is largely about learning to say “Goodbye” and “Hello.” It is about listening carefully to the grief and hope of a congregation.

I know that part of the job is being responsible to the details. I understand that I can’t go crazy with spending the church’s resources. I know that the people of the church need the careful ear of a pastor as they go through this time of transition. My job has never been about me. It has always been about the church. But somehow this particular call is one that requires just a little bit less personal investment that some of the other positions I have held. I can try a program without fear of failure. I one thing doesn’t work, we can refocus and try another.

Among other things I did yesterday, was lead a bible study class. Attendance at this particular class has been very light. If I were the senior pastor of the church, I would be questioning whether or not this is a wise investment of time to put so much energy and preparation into a class with so few participants. I might be evaluating whether or not to end the class. However, I don’t have to worry about those things. I’ve committed to teaching the class up until the beginning of advent and I’ll do so as long as at last one participant is present. Working with the small numbers, just adding one new person, which we did yesterday, feels like progress. And teaching a small class is very rewarding for the teacher. There is time for sideline conversations and paying attention to what each member of the class is wanting to learn and discuss.

On the morning after attending the meeting of the Church Board, however, I am aware that I care deeply about the big picture issues of the church. I have an opinion on which choices lead to a more sustainable future for the community. Once again I am reminded of the strength of our Congregational polity that requires a minister to also be a member of the congregation that is served. We belong to this group of people. We are a part of the community.

During my working years, I didn’t think very much about retirement or how it would feel. Towards the end of my career, I did think about where I might live in retirement. I did feel the pull of family and the desire to be closer to our grandchildren as they grow. And when we were going through the move, I felt a need to settle on a single congregation rather than spending a lot of time church shopping and trying out all of the different congregations. I’m still figuring out what it means to be retired and where I fit in the life of the church. Having an interim position seems to be just right. I can serve and know that my role will continue to shift.

I guess that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

Alaska dreams

Note to Readers of My Journal: On Friday, the company hosting my web site migrated the site to a new server. This usually does not cause any issues. However, the move required that I change the address and route for the contents of my site when I uploaded new content. I made a couple of mistakes in the process in the middle of the night between Friday and Saturday and the update to my journal didn’t make it to the site until Saturday evening. There are some other problems with the site, which I know how to fix, but it takes time. In the meantime, we are scrambling to prepare our new house. The furniture and household goods will be moved on Friday of this week and we had general cleaning and painting to do. Add to that the rain that is making it more difficult to move items in our open pickup and I got a bit overwhelmed. I’m sorry for the inconvenience this caused. With your patience, the entire site should be up and running and also be being published from a new address to a new, faster web server within a week or so. In the meantime, I’ll keep the journal up to date for those who read it daily.

I invest a bit of time and emotional energy dreaming about new projects and opportunities and adventures that might lie in my future. Plans are frequently changed, and not everything I can imagine is practical, but exercising my imagination has led to some wonderful experiences in my life and I expect that there are many more adventures in my future. One of the adventures about which I have thought quite a bit over the years is a trip to Alaska. The massive size of the state and its incredible natural beauty are attractive to me. I dream of seeing glaciers and mountains and wildlife. I also am attracted by the trip. We love to travel and a place that is so far away that it takes weeks of driving and exploring is an adventure we think we will one day undertake.

However, so far that trip has not become a reality. Our adventure for our first year of retirement was a trip to South Carolina to see our daughter and to take her some items that had been in storage with us when they lived overseas. It was a grand trip and we had a wonderful time. But it meant we didn’t have time for Alaska this year, which was a good thing because restrictions on travel to and from Canada due to the pandemic meant that it would not have been a good year to undertake the drive.

Still I watch and read and learn.

Part of what we would like to see in Alaska is Denali National Park and Preserve. The focal point of the park is America’s tallest mountain and the park is home to brown bears and wolves and caribou and dall sheep and other creatures. Visiting the park is an adventure itself. The park has a 92-mile gravel road that winds up and over several mountain passes before dead-ending at an old mining community at its western end. Most visitors to the park camp at or near the park entrance and reserve a ride on one of the park buses to make the trip into the center of the park. Because of the need for advance reservations, it is entirely possible that the weather could be bad on your chosen day to visit. It could be raining, or even snowing, and the mountain might be obscured in clouds. It is a risk that one has to take. Some visitors spend extra money to book a flight over the mountain on a different day in hopes that one of the two days will afford a photo opportunity.

The best time to visit Denali is generally late June through the end of September. The road is closed most of the year because of heavy snowfall. However, this year the road closed early, in August, and park managers have announced that it will not be open at all in 2022. The closest you can get to the park by driving is the park entrance.

There is little doubt that the closure is the result of human-caused global warming. About half way up the road, near Polyhchrome Pass, an underground glacier has moved 300 feet of road bed down the hill. The slide is called by the acceleration of an underground rock and ice glacier. In previous years, the glacier moved slowly and park officials could have tons of gravel poured on the road bed and compact it as the side of the mountain slowly slid. However global warming has accelerated the pace of movement and truckloads of gravel are no longer the solution. Park officials have proposed a $53 million bridge to span the moving section of the mountain. Funding for the road is part of the infrastructure bill proposed in the US Congress. At times it seems as if progress on the funding proposal is as slow as travel on the Denali road - halted.

Alaskans have mixed feelings about global warming. At the same time as most residents of the state are aware of the impact of climate change on their key industries of fishing and tourism, they are also heavily dependent upon revenue from petroleum drilling. One of their sources of income is threatening another source of income. It is understandable that Alaskans would like to keep both streams of revenue flowing, but such is not sustainable. Choices will have to be made. And some of those choices will not be popular for politicians, who are more dependent upon donations from the petroleum industry than dollars from tourism and fishing.

The argument is enough to get me to think about the amount of petroleum that I would have to consume in order to drive to Alaska. It will be some time before driving an electric vehicle will be possible for the remote areas with long distances between services. It is entirely possible that our dreamed-of trip to Alaska will need more dreaming to consider alternate ways of travel. I guess it is a good thing that we are delaying our trip while park officials and Congresspeople and Alaskans ponder the choices that lie before them.

Taking time to consider options can yield new possibilities and new ideas about how to solve problems. Perhaps slowing down and considering new options is just what is needed at this point in our history. One of the dilemmas of wild and scenic places is that the scenery means that people want to visit, but too many visitors threatens to make the place less wild. A balance needs to be struck between access and remoteness. In the case of Alaska it is clear that what we will see and experience when we visit in the future will be different than what was seen and experienced by those who visited a few years or a few decades ago.

For now, I’ll keep dreaming a a big trip. There is considerable pleasure and joy in exercising my imagination and making plans that may or may not come to pass.

Late Posting

Friends, I'm sorry that I was late in posting my journal entry for Saturday, October 16. Our site has migrated to a new server. Usually this can happen without you knowing what is going on, but I had some issues and had to republish the entire site. Long story short, the website is working, but I need to do a lot more maintenance. The archives are mostly missing. I'll try to get things restored as soon as possible, BUT we are moving this week, so we've got a lot going on.

Thanks for your patience!

Thinking about bees

I have been reading books about bee keeping lately. I have long had a fascination with bees, honey, and the process of keeping a hive. I have had two dear friends who kept hives and produced honey. Neither of them is still living, but during their lives, both were a source of many conversations and deep support of my ministry. I miss them both.

Bill was an engineer, teacher, and academic administrator. He also had a huge number of projects on the side. He was an inventor with an incredible shop in his basement where he made all kinds of gadgets and things. He held several patents, including one that was a part of the production of color television. He was a consultant on all kinds of engineering and teaching projects around the world. Bill and I had very similar political opinions, but we rarely talked about politics. There was just too much else that held our common interest and passion. One of my favorite things about Bill was that he was always working on a project. I would ask, “What are you working on these days?” and receive a long explanation of a particular problem that others had brought to him for his advice and creative thinking. Near the end of his life he paid to have high speed Internet brought into the rooms at our regional hospital because he was spending a lot of time in the hospital and he needed Internet to do his work. About two hours before he died, he sent me an email that began, “There is some disagreement among the doctors as to the seriousness of my condition.” Bill was also a scholar of the Catholic theologian Erasmus. One of the treasures of my library is a copy of a book by Erasmus with Bill’s margin notes.

Al was a neurologist and a sleep researcher. His practice included decades of specialized work with children as well as many years of providing assistance for stroke recovery. Like Bill, Al always had multiple projects on the side. He loved singing and we sat next to each other in the church choir. He had a strong tenor voice and had trained his head voice so that he could sing in upper registers. He had a passion for barbershop singing and was always trying to recruit me into a local barbershop chorus. When he retired, he spent several years working as a traveling doctor and helped treat children with neurological disorders from Alaska to Montana to the Dakotas. Al and I had very different political opinions, so we rarely talked about politics. During our friendship, Al went through a divorce that never made any sense to me. He knew that I didn’t understand, and he tried for years to explain his decisions to me. Like politics, that topic of conversation faded over the years. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he approached his illness like a scientist, wanting to know the most minute details of the progress of the disease and the treatments. Unlike other physician friends, he defied the odds and lived with a high quality of life much longer than average for those with his diagnosis.

Both Bill and Al had been pilots in other phases of their lives as was I, so we talked about airplanes and flying quite a bit. I know several stories about their flight training and flying experiences and what kinds of airplanes they owned. Both Bill and Al kept bees and harvested honey. They shared a high degree of respect and fascination with bees and the organization of a hive. I would say that they both loved the insects, but I’m not sure that either would be comfortable with that language.

My personal fascination with bees goes back decades before I met Bill or Al, however. When we were children, my father was friends with a local bee keeper. This bee keeper sold honey for income for his family and developed a line of honey blended with butter and honey blended with peanut butter that they sold through local stores. My father worked with him on building hives and developing tools for bee keeping. He supplied our family with honey still in the comb. We loved to break off a bit of the comb and put it into our mouths, chewing the wax as it warmed and tasting the sweet honey. My Uncle Ted had us save him beeswax that he used to smooth the drawers in his toolboxes and for other functions.

When I was a young adult I suffered from seasonal allergies. I underwent a series of desensitization injections. In the beginning I received daily doses, changing to two shots a week and later to weekly shots administered over a year or more. As I was ending what was a very successful course of treatment, my allergist recommended that I eat a bit of honey every day from local bees. The minute bits of pollen in the honey would continue the desensitization. I have followed his advice and put honey in my tea each morning. I also seek out local bee keepers for a source of local honey.

During the age of enlightenment, throughout the 18th century, much of the science of bee keeping was developed. The practice of bee keeping is as old as recorded history, but systematized observation of bees and their behavior became well documented during that time. There was a special relationship between bees and clergy. Perhaps clergy had both the education and the time to keep bees and to record their observations. Perhaps there is something about the love of bees that has religious overtones.

In Hebrew, the word for bee is Deborah. Hebrew is a compact language with many words that have multiple meanings in English. Deborah is derived from the root “debar” which means “word.” One who proclaims debar is a preacher. In at least that particular corner of religious history there is a connection between speaking and bees. The word shares its root with midbar, and bar mitzvah, the coming of age ceremony that includes a public reading of sacred scripture.

Honey also has an ancient history as a source of healing. It has been prescribed as a treatment for a wide variety of human illnesses over millennia.

Bees, religion, and healing are all connected. Studying about bees also makes me feel connected with Bill and Al. Who knows, perhaps there is a hive in my future. Before that, however, I have much to learn.

La Niña

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has officially declared that this will be a La Niña season. La Niña has the opposite effect of El Niño. In La Niña years, the trade winds are stronger than usual, pushing more warm water towards Asia. Off the west coast of the Americas, upwelling increases, bringing cold water to the surface. For the northern states La Niña means a colder winter. In southern states, the prediction is that the weather will be drier than normal, with some areas of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina experiencing warmer temperatures than average.

The term La Niña means Little Girl. This little girl isn’t timid. In the areas where I have lived most of my life, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, La Niña means a cold winter. Its time for folks in those areas to make sure that their car is ready for cold morning starts and their furnace is working properly.

But I have moved. My insulated coveralls have been hanging in the closet since we arrived with our last load from South Dakota. And, if I am reading the forecasts correctly, I won’t be needing them this winter either unless I travel back to Montana. I am not planning to do so at this point.

Last weekend there was an inter church drive for warm clothing for those who are living on the streets. Church members donated clean, slightly used coats, hats, scarves and gloves that will be distributed to those who have need. Our congregation was one of the collection sites for warm clothing. Many members of the congregation had been working hard to produce hand-made scarves and hats for distribution. One church member commented that the handmade items gave a more personal relationship and connection between congregational members and those in need. It made sense to me.

What I have observed, however, is that what those who have no homes in our community really need is rain gear. Waterproof jackets, and pants seem to be in order. The item of outerwear from my closet that is getting the most use lately is my raincoat. We decided that if we were going to live in the northwest, we should invest in good rain gear. It has not been a mistake. There aren’t too many days when we can’t find a period when it isn’t raining to take a walk, but there are also days when the time we have available to go walking is when it is raining. I haven’t solved the problem of water spots on my glasses yet, but for the most part the rest of me is comfortable and dry inside of a good rain jacket with a hood.

One other thing I really appreciate is my wool navy watch cap. I grew up with a mother who was a knitter and I’ve had a lot of handmade knitted hats, but the plain black machine-knitted stocking cap, similar to those issued to those serving on Navy ships, is terrific. It is just the right weight to keep my head warm in cold weather. Being wool, it retains heat even when it is wet.

While others are doing a wonderful job of hand knitting warm hats for those in need, I’ve been trying to find an inexpensive source for a quantity of those hats. I really think that they would be treasured by those who have no home.

The reality is that we really don’t know much about how to help others. The simple fact that we have so many homeless people is a demonstration of our inability to find effective means of sharing. The price of housing continues to accelerate at a dramatic rate in this region. There is a shortage of housing and competition for what remains is intense. The house we have rented for the past year is back on the rental market with a 10% increase in the rent. That’s a pretty rapid rate of inflation if all you are measuring is rent.

For many families, rent and groceries are the only items in their budget and when rent increases more than wages, which has been the case for decades in this country, it outpaces people’s ability to pay. Our housing costs are going down considerably as we move back into home ownership. But for those who cannot raise the money for a down payment, which is accelerating as quickly as rent prices, home ownership is not an option. It is a problem that we as a nation need to address and it is a complex and perplexing problem. I wish I had something a bit more helpful to offer than a few warm hats.

After the unusually warm summer, there are plenty of folks who are welcoming the wetter weather which should affect all of Washington and Oregon as well as parts of Idaho and California. For those of us who can keep dry, the rains are welcome. All of the plants that were dormant have turned a lush green. I’m still adjusting to living in a place where I didn’t mow my lawn at all in July and August and now that October has arrived I have to mow it weekly. It seems strange to me, but it is a way of life around here. The locals mow their grass in the rain, but I haven’t figured out how to do that. I keep checking the forecast for an opportunity to mow when the sun is shining, or at least the grass is a little bit less wet. There is much to learn about living in a new place.

And that fancy, multi-speed delay setting on my windshield wipers is used a lot. I use every setting on the car from the fastest to the longest delay, often in the same trip between our rental house and our new home. Yesterday I drove in every condition from no rain at all to a downpour that obscured visibility enough to slow traffic in one trip. Auto parts stores do a banner business in windshield wiper blades around here.

So welcome to La Niña. I’m still trying to figure out what that means.

Another reflection on work

For some reason I recently got to thinking and remembering a shift that took place in my life over the summer of 1976. I turned 23 that summer and was in Montana serving as manager of our Conference’s Camp. Manager was a pretty exaggerated title for a job that involved doing a lot of maintenance work, a bit of janitorial work, a bit of helping in the kitchen, a lot of running errands, shopping for groceries, and a touch of public relations. I was one of four paid employees of the camp. There was an assistant manager, a cook, an assistant cook and a nurse. The cook was my wife. The assistant cook was my sister-in-law. It was my second summer in the job and I had learned a lot from the mistakes of my first summer.

That summer, however, was a transition in my working life. Up to that point, I had served in a variety of different student jobs, from opening the library in the morning to cleaning bathrooms. I had worked in a bakery, assembled machinery, driven truck, and done a host of other jobs. I knew how to sweat copper pipe to make plumbing repairs and refinish furniture. Most of my jobs up to that point in my life required practiced skills and a fair amount of muscle memory.

After the summer of working at camp, I came back to Chicago and began two years of working as a student intern at a church-based health care clinic. On the side, I was also serving as a part-time youth ministry worker. My job the year before had been as a janitor in a different church. I was moving up. I had a small office. I began to dress up to go to work instead of donning jeans and t shirts. From that point on, my income has come from what used to be called white collar work, though my career was long enough to see the end of ministers wearing white shirts to work.

When I was in high school, there were two tracks for students. Some students were slotted into the vocational career track, which assumed that their formal education would end with high school graduation. Others were prepared for college and careers that were assumed to involve more working with their brains than their hands.

Looking at my life and the people who work around me, I know that that vision of the world was inadequate for our careers. The distinction was artificial. Humans aren’t either strong or smart. They need both qualities and practical skills are as necessary and valuable as is creative thinking. As a minister, I did my share of repairing things, cleaning buildings, and moving furniture. That work never hurt me. It gave meaning and purpose. I also administered sacraments, performed ceremonies, read books and did a lot of planning and thinking. Those skills were also valuable.

Yesterday, my work as a minister involved something that I never imagined would be a part of my job. I was crunching a deadline editing a short three-minute video that will take the place of the reading of the scripture for our worship service this Sunday. It contained clips from six interviews that I had conducted with children and youth in the church about the scripture, and paraphrases of the scripture in their words. The task of editing video and sound tracks is tedious. I had to set up marks on the graphic timeline of the clips and when they were placed correctly, insert breaks. Then I had to reassemble the clips into the final presentation. It involves a lot of work with a computer trackpad and a few memorized keyboard functions.

At the same time, the church custodian was performing the annual testing of the smoke alarms in the building. His job involved knowing how to operate a touchscreen that controls the computer that manages the church’s security system as well as using compressed air to remove dust from the sensors that monitor heat and smoke throughout the building.

We both were doing repetitious work. We both were doing work that required significant knowledge of the operation of computers. We both were doing work that is important in the life of the congregation. The distinction between our job titles of minister and janitor was not a meaningful one in terms of the work we were performing.

It occurs to me that the transition in my early twenties from blue collar to white collar wasn’t all that dramatic. It also occurs to me that the changes in fashion over the span of my career has matched my perception that such a distinction doesn’t mean much at all. Nearly a half century later the world has changed and the most important skills for working are flexibility and adaptability. I occasionally use some of the things I learned in school, but it has been a long time since anyone cared about what grades I got in high school and which track I had followed. The degrees and titles I worked so hard to achieve are less important to me than the people I have met and the ways we have learned to work together on tasks that are too large for any individual.

Some days I am happy to have a lead pastor who does much of the big picture thinking while I focus on my three minutes of a worship service. Last Sunday I got to ring the church bell, which in this congregation is still done by pulling a rope attached to the bell itself. Most of the members of the congregation heard the sound of the bell coming from the speakers on their computers and home entertainment systems, but the initial sound was produced with simple mechanical means involving a wheel and a rope. The bell weighs 600 pounds, so there was a sense of having done a bit of work as I returned to my place in the pew.

One of the things I used to say jokingly is that ministry is about 75% moving furniture. That is, of course, an exaggeration. Still, I am deeply grateful for the wide variety of jobs I have discovered on my career path. And I am grateful to still have the ability to move a bit of furniture after all of these years.

Caring for mental health

The church we serve has a Covid Advisory Committee. The Committee, formed by the Church Council, serves to advise church leaders on the safest way to conduct the programs and activities of the congregation. Among the members of the Committee are health care professionals and others who are trying to keep up on the latest scientific information. They have, understandably, been conservative in their recommendations. No one wants our congregation to contribute to the spread of disease.

We have developed protocols as a congregation in an attempt to keep people safe. Those who work within the building are vaccinated. We maintain careful contact tracing for others who enter the building. Masks are required for all church activities. Physical distance is maintained.

What the Covid Advisory Committee is not able to assess, and perhaps none of us know, is what other health effects might stem from church policies and practices. While we seek to care for the physical health and well being of all who participate in our congregation, we don’t know if there are unintended emotional effects of the loss of community. Are our seniors more isolated and more vulnerable because they are not able to attend worship in person? Are our children more fearful because of the inability to have in person contact with church friends? Are our parents and grandparents feeling crushed by the strain and pressure of constant Zoom meetings and additional childcare responsibilities?

The mental health consequences of the pandemic are far from fully understood, but other institutions have begun to be aware that these are not only frightening times because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also because of an increase in mental health issues. The health care system that is struggling to keep up with the pandemic was not well-equipped to provide mental health care before the pandemic, and has even fewer resources for those who suffer today.

Last Sunday was World Mental Health Day. It is an annual campaign by the World Health Organization to raise awareness of mental health issues and to mobilize support for those who are suffering and seeking treatment. Around the world there are severe shortages of resources for the treatment of mental health. In the crush of other pressing matters, we didn’t do anything in the services at our church to mention World Mental Health Day in our worship. It wasn’t that we don’t care, but rather that we are trying to manage so many causes and projects that somehow it slipped between the cracks of our planning.

Mental illness and health, however, remains a critical health crisis in our country and around the world. Yesterday the entire campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a day off from classes and usual activities as a mental health day. Campus authorities are investigating two deaths of students within the past month that appear to be suicides. University chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said, “We are in the middle of a mental health crisis, both on our campus and across our nation, and we are aware that college-aged students carry an increased risk of suicide.” The campus newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, reported that two students had attempted suicide.

I loved college and had a very good experience with that phase of my life. But I also remember being very lonely and homesick. Although my experience is not a measure of the experiences of others, being away from home and on one’s own for the first time can be stressful. Having to take responsibility for schedule in an environment with an increased work load and adding in daily living pressures such as laundry, housekeeping, and often a part-time job, students are feeling squeezed. Throw in the increased isolation of the pandemic, uncertainty about whether or not in-person classes will continue, fear of becoming sick and the pressures of juggling additional technology and colleges can become places where mental health issues occur. And campus health care services, like many other health care services in our country, are short of resources when it comes to treating mental health. USA today reported about one UNC student who reported that when she sought treatment at a campus health care facility she was referred to an off-campus provider whom she could not afford.

We know from research that suicides can cluster, especially among persons in their teens and twenties. Exposure to the trauma of losing a friend to suicide can increase the risk of someone dying of suicide. Studies reported by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that those who have lost a loved one to suicide are themselves nearly twice as likely to die from suicide as the general population.

While I salute the leaders of the University of North Carolina for recognizing and naming the problems of mental health and suicide, one day off from classes will not solve the crisis. Significant investments in mental health care, including increasing access to treatment for those in crisis, will be required.

There is solid evidence that effective treatment can reduce suicide deaths. Depression can often be effectively treated with medication and behavioral therapy. Among teens and those in their twenties, a suicide delayed is often a suicide prevented. Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) is a proven protocol for successful intervention. It is also a set of skills that can be trained, just like CPR can be trained. Research conducted in the United States, Canada and Australia has shown that ASIST is effective in preventing suicide in nearly 80% of the cases in which it is applied.

While we are doing what we can to prevent the spread of Covid-19, we must not lose sight of our call to provide for the mental health of the members of our community. When I ask others if it is well with their spirit, I am concerned for their physical and mental health. People are struggling and we need to make caring for them a priority.

Today, take a few minutes to call someone close to you and tell them you love them. Ask them if they are OK and be prepared to really listen to their answer. In these stressful times we need to care for one another. And don’t be afraid to reach out when you are feeling down. You are a valued and important member of our community. We need you to do what it takes to be healthy.

Traveling food

A couple of days ago, I watched a YouTube video in which a 24-year-old farmer from Iowa attempted to explain the economy and how farmers can get caught between rising production costs and static or downturning commodity prices. I watch his videos because he is a creative videographer and because I enjoy watching farm machinery working in the field, not because I consider him to be an expert in the economy. His somewhat whiny complaints about the economy didn’t have much impact on me. After all, his videos portray a very large, multi-generational family farm corporation with millions of dollars of equipment that is capable of providing a very luxurious lifestyle for a 24-year-old. I realize that he could be living off of YouTube income and not farm income. Farmers have supplemented their passion for agriculture for generations through the use of off-farm jobs. I’m no economist, but I don’t have much patience for those who have access to a lot of wealth complaining that they aren’t getting enough.

I confess, however, that although his explanation of the farm economy didn’t give me new understanding, I have been around farms and farmers for all of my life and I don’t understand the farm economy.

Yesterday, I was grocery shopping. I often look through the displays in the meat department without looking for a specific cut, just to see what they offer, what seems to me to have a good price, and what might be good for the style of cooking I know. If I see a roast at a good price, I’ll pick it up. If there are some chops or steaks that would be good on the grill, I might consider them. Yesterday, I was drawn to a display of lamb. There were ribs and shoulders and legs of lamb that had been de-boned. I thought to myself, a leg of lamb, roast with mint jelly on the barbecue would make a great meal. I could serve it with tiny potatoes and fresh greens. The price, however, seemed pretty high and so I had decided to take a pass when I noticed the labeling on the lamb. All of the lamb in the local supermarket closest to our home was imported from New Zealand.

I’m sure New Zealand is a good place to raise sheep, but those legs of lamb had certainly traveled a long ways to make it to our store. I have good friends in Montana who raise excellent lamb and who have trouble finding a year-round market for their meat. They time the selling fo their lambs to the spring market and Easter. Then I thought about it some more. It is spring in New Zealand. Being on the other side of the equator means their seasons are opposite ours.

I certainly hope that the store sells lamb from North America in the spring. I might pay a premium price for fresh lamb from Sweet Grass County, Montana. I’ve even considered making a trip there just to bring home a cooler of lamb.

There is a lot of food that does a lot of traveling to make it to our supermarkets.

A year ago, before the chickens on our son’s farm were outpacing their family’s consumption, I bought a carton of eggs. On the top of the carton it said, “Happy Hens - Ethical Eggs. Tended by hand on small family farms.” On the end of the carton there were instructions for entering a code on a website to see pictures of the specific farm on which the eggs were produced. I looked up the code from the eggs we bought. They came from Arkansas.

There are over 200 properties in our county where chickens are raised. You can easily find a farm stand selling eggs at around $4 per dozen by driving down almost any country road around here. At the same time, the grocery store is presumably able to make money selling eggs that have been trucked in from Arkansas.

I guess I shouldn’t complain that my food gets to travel. I have been granted the luxury of a lot of travel in my life. When I travel, however, I make a big effort to eat local foods. It is part of the joy of traveling. Frankly, I’d prefer to do the traveling and eat local foods in whatever location I find myself. That, of course, is easier to do here on the west coast of Washington than it was in South Dakota in the middle of the winter. To eat local in South Dakota, you need to be an expert in food preservation. You also have to enjoy beef, buffalo, soybeans, corn and wheat. There is quite a bit of pork and chicken processed in eastern South Dakota, but much of it comes from Iowa and Nebraska.

In previous generations, people ate what was available locally. The Shoshone were called “sheep eaters” by some other tribes because they hunted and ate bighorn sheep. The Nez Pierce couldn’t understand how Pacific tribes with whom they occasionally traded could eat fish. They preferred buffalo, deer and elk. People who lived in the mountains dug camas root as a staple. Plains tribes made wozapi from chokecherries and prairie turnips. When indigenous people were forced onto reservations and guaranteed food by the treaty-makers, their diets shifted. Given the large supplies of lard, sugar and flour from government commodities, they started to make fry bread which now has become identified as a quintessential American Indian food. That lard, sugar, and flour traveled a lot of miles before reaching the reservations on the great plains, too.

I took a pass on the New Zealand Lamb. After all, I have access to eggs and chicken, fruit and berries, and vegetables from our son’s farm. Rather than consume far more than my fair share of fossil fuel by purchasing food from far-away places, I’ll see what is available locally. I know where I can buy fish right off the boat.

I read somewhere that you can save more fuel by the choice of what to eat than you can by the choice of what to drive. Then, again, I really don’t understand the economy.

Processing chickens

I’ve told this story so many times, that I’m pretty sure that it has appeared in my journal before. I don’t want to bore regular readers, so I’ll try to tell a very brief version of it today.

I was seventeen years old. I went away from home to college. Actually, I wasn’t very far away from home, only 80 miles. I had worked summers farther away from home than that. But there was something about going away to college that made me particularly homesick. I think that it was knowing that there was a good chance that I would never live at home again. As it turned out, that was the case. Other than a couple of summers during college, I didn’t ever live in my home town again. Another factor was that I was among the youngest of the members of my college freshman class, I had a roommate with whom I had very little in common, and I was working very hard to keep up academically.

It would have been easy to head home for a weekend. My sister and a high school friend who were at the same college had done that. But I persisted through the fall without going back home. There was one reason in my mind that took precedent over all of the others. I knew that back at home there were chickens that had not yet been butchered and I didn’t know which weekend would be the weekend for the chore. I wanted to make sure that the last chicken was in the freezer before heading home. I persisted. The chickens were butchered without me. By Thanksgiving, I was home for a long weekend.

I haven’t participated in a chicken butchering since. Not that I am without some skill. When we managed a church camp a few years later, we would purchase a large quantity of fresh chickens and cut them up for the freezer, and I’m pretty efficient with a knife and a case of fresh chicken.

I guess I am using a bit of antiquated terminology. These days they call it “processing” not “butchering.” I’m not sure why. I think of butchering as an honorable profession, requiring skill and hard work.

The story comes into play because yesterday was chicken processing day at our son’s farm. They got together with two other families a few months ago and ordered 100 chicks. Our son and his family already had layers and one rooster, so they knew how to care for chicks. Their 33 all survived the brooder and made it to the pullet pen. I built a large chicken tractor for them so after they got past pullet stage they could be outside day and night, safe from predators, but easily moved from location to location each day. 33 birds in a cage will reduce a field to bare dirt in 24 hours. Raising the chickens required dedication and work from our son and his family. The chickens had to have fresh water and feed every day. Before they got to the chicken tractor, the brooder and the pullet pen had to be cleaned and fresh bedding put down on a regular basis. Investments were made in feed and bedding supplies. Their care and hard work paid off. Of the 33 birds at our son’s place, only one perished. It had an injured leg and the other chickens had picked on it pretty bad before it was discovered and isolated. It survived almost to last week, but succumbed to its injuries. Another family in their group lost three chickens to a hawk the same day. The hawk never got into the pen and never got the chickens out, but it was able to reach through the chicken wire somehow to cause the death of three chickens. If you raise livestock you have to be prepared to deal with death. After all, you are raising stock that is intended to become food.

Yesterday was the day chosen by the three families to get together with all of the birds and get them ready for the freezer. They knew that grandpa wouldn’t be participating in the process. I had declined before the chicks arrived. I’m still not much on that part of farming. I did, however, volunteer to come and care for children after church. It is important for our son and his family that the children participate in the life of the farm and that they understand how their food is produced. They wanted the children to be a part of processing chickens, but it is a big job that takes most of the day and probably a bit much, especially for the youngest. As it turns out the four-year-old was the only one who came back to the farmhouse with us. The other two children wanted to stay through the whole process. They carried chickens from the plucker to the processing table and were eager to show me the whole process when I arrived.

I will say that an automatic plucker is an amazing invention. We never had one when I was growing up. That machine takes a scalded chicken and removes all of the feathers in less than a minute. I might have had more tolerance for the process had we had access to such a machine when I was younger. They also had a device that sealed the processed meat into bags. It is another invention that is really useful.

33 chickens is five family-sized picnic coolers of meat. We somehow got all of those birds into the refrigerator for cool down before they went to the freezer. My wife is a very competent refrigerator engineer. My contribution to the process was a bit of doing dishes as every other item in the refrigerator was put into the smallest and most stackable container possible. They will have a chest freezer full of chicken to last the winter. They already have one freezer nearly full of fruit. A third freezer, and a bit of ours as well are being saved for the quarter (or was that half?) of beef that will be arriving soon. It is that time of the year.

I’m delighted that my grandchildren are growing up with the knowledge of farm life and how food makes it to their table. Whatever direction their lives take, they will be grounded in knowledge and skills that will help them. On the other hand, I’m also glad I can provide a bit of a break for the children if they need it. I wouldn’t want one of them to feel that they couldn’t come home for a visit after they go away to college. I’ll make sure they know they can always come to grandma and grandpa’s house if they have a reason to avoid the farm for a weekend.

Plan of Giving

It is the custom in Jewish communities to read a weekly portion of the Torah. The Torah, which are the first five books of the Christian bible, are divided up into equal portions so that the entire text of those books is read each year. The cycle begins and ends each year on the Jewish Holiday of Simchat Torah. This tradition is ancient, at least dating back to the time of the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BCE. The Book of Nehemiah reports that Ezra the Scribe establishes a pattern so that the people of Israel will not go astray again.

This pattern of reading scripture was firmly established when Christianity began to emerge from Jewish communities following the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, it took some time before Christian scriptures were formed and finalized and even more time before any system of organized readings emerged. In Roman times, however, after Christianity was declared to be a legal religion by Constantine, there was an influx of people who wanted to become Christian. This rapid expansion of Christianity as a distinct religion from Judaism resulted in the development of a pattern of readings. The readings were distributed around the calendar so that the story of Christianity was explored each year, beginning with the events that led up to the birth of Jesus during Advent and the birth narrative at Christmas. The life of Jesus was explored through the seasons of Epiphany and Lent concluding with the narratives of the crucifixion during Holy Week and the resurrection at Easter. Stories of resurrection appearances continue for 50 days until Pentecost. At Pentecost the calendar enters what is sometimes called “ordinary time” when the readings continue through the development of the early church and general themes of Christian theology.

Whereas Judaism has a well-established and consistent pattern of readings, Christianity has has many different patterns, which are constantly evolving. The cycle of readings in the church is known as the lectionary. There have been many times when different parts of the church observed different lectionaries and since the Protestant Reformation, there have been Christian congregations that do not follow a lectionary at all. In the 1970’s the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) had a commission on common texts that produced a common lectionary. This cycle of readings was compared with the Roman Catholic lectionary and in 1983 the Revised Common Lectionary was adopted by many mainline denominations.

Because the COCU lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary correspond to the beginning of my career as a minister, I embraced them and used them as guides for my preaching for my career. Preaching from the lectionary most weeks over a span of decades affected my approach to worship and my way of life. As a young preacher, it was very helpful to be given the texts for worship as opposed to coming up with a sermon idea and then searching the scriptures for a text to support my point of view. As a lectionary preacher, I was led by the scripture and not the other way around. There were plenty of weeks when I would scratch my head and wonder how to make a connection between a particular text and the life of the community I was serving. This forced me to be diligent about Bible Study and to look to the scriptures in all of the tasks of leading a church.

Following the lectionary also gave me a pattern for my life. The flow of the seasons of the church gives definition to the flow of my life. As autumn sets in and we begin to think of winter, I am anticipating the end of Pentecost, Reign of Christ Sunday and the beginning of Advent. It is a bit more complex because the Revised Common Lectionary is a three-year cycle of readings. As opposed to the Jewish custom, where the entire Torah is read each year, the Christian lectionary takes three years to complete the cycle and the cycle does not include every portion of scripture. Christian readings are much shorter than those in Jewish Shabbat services, where multiple chapters are read. As a result, I have invested a lot of time and energy in reading and studying scriptures in depth, exploring the Bible in other ways than just the readings of the lectionary. The lectionary portions leave out significant biblical concepts and stories. If the cycle of worship is the only contact a believer has with the Bible, they miss many portions and also fail to gain a full, “big picture” view of our sacred texts.

Still, after the years of discipline in study and in worship leadership, I have become accustomed to following the readings and expect to think of particular texts in particular seasons. This week’s Gospel reading is the story of the rich man who ran up to Jesus and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This story from Mark’s Gospel is read in the autumn, a time when many congregations are holding their annual pledge drives. As we consider our giving plans for the year to come, we are encouraged to think of Jesus’ statement: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Jesus’ teaching was shocking to the man who asked Jesus the question and it was astounding to the disciples. The advice to sell everything that he owned and give the money to the poor left the man grieving, “for he had many possessions.” It left the disciples perplexed, wondering if it was possible for anyone at all to enter God’s realm. Jesus acknowledged the challenge, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

For me, it is an invitation to think seriously about my choices and my giving to support the work of the church. This is not an easy decision. And it is a decision in which I need to be guided by prayer. I know that there are many ways in which we give to those who are less fortunate than ourselves. I know that supporting the church is only one venue of giving, but for me it is a central and important part of my patterns of giving. It is not a decision to be made lightly. So, even though I have the letter from the church and know how to register my plan of giving, I am pausing. I won’t be rushing to that decision, even if it takes me several weeks to make it. After all, it is a difficult choice - for mortals impossible. Fortunately, the scriptures guide my deliberations.

Saturday Sabbath

Moving to a new home has meant changing some of our patterns, traditions and practices. Our move coincided with our retirement, which also invited a change in routines. We don’t feel like we are settled into a whole new pattern, and some of our practices are evolving as we returned to work part time and now that we are preparing to move to a home in a different community. Another thing that disrupted many routines, including ours, is the pandemic. Our lives weren’t as altered as those who shifted from working in offices to working from home or as teachers who shifted from in-person classes to online teaching and back to in-person classes. But simple, everyday things like grocery shopping and occasionally going out to eat were changed by the pandemic and our attempts to be safe for ourselves and others.

One thing that is emerging from all of this is our new Saturday routine. Our daughter-in-law is a therapist who has a private practice. To juggle her responsibilities at work with her family and farm responsibilities, she sees clients only on Saturdays. She pretty much goes all day long, seeing a large number of clients in a single day. Then she takes another part of a day during the week for management tasks such as insurance, scheduling, continuing education and such. When we first moved, our grandchildren were being home schooled and we started to help with home school on Thursdays to free up time for her to pursue her practice. It turns out that offering therapy on Saturdays is very popular and she has a full schedule with all of the clients she can manage.

It also means that Saturdays are days with Daddy at their house. Mother wakes before the rest of the family and goes to her office. Dad is responsible for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as bathing the kids and getting them to bed on Saturdays. His work is Monday through Friday. Sundays are family day for their household, when everyone is at home. Now that the kids are back in school we are no longer needed for home schooling on Thursdays, but we have gotten into the pattern of spending a few hours on Saturdays with the family. It gives us meaningful time with our son and we get to see his interactions with his children as well. Usually we have lunch with their family on Saturdays, trying to contribute to the process as well as enjoy the family.

Days with Daddy have a different routine and sometimes a different menu than other days of the week. There is often a meal from a cafe or restaurant, mostly carry out, and there is usually some kind of adventure. Before the pandemic Saturdays were days for exploring museums, exhibits and libraries. When in-person visits were restricted, the adventures shifted to walks, parks, and other outdoor adventures. We’ve explored a lot of places that have outdoor playgrounds within a 25-mile radius of the farm, and we know most of the nature centers and places with walking trails in the area.

Saturdays are also usually days with at least one farm or household chore that we tackle together. There is always a home improvement chore that needs doing. Over the winter last year, we milled and fitted baseboards in the home to match the other trim work in the 100-year-old house. Our son got really good at matching stain colors and we both got experience at measuring and making miter cuts. Not every corner in the old house is square. Getting things to fit requires a bit of finesse.

We also have tackled plumbing repairs and other home improvements. There are also plenty of farm chores including mowing, tending the orchard, harvesting crops, caring for chickens, and making repairs to farm out buildings. I really enjoy working side by side with our son and often one or more of the children gets engaged in the process, learning about tools and techniques for repair. We have a shared shop at the farm, and have amassed a respectable collection of tools.

I find myself looking forward to Saturdays. It is a familiar feeling for me because when we were working full time in Rapid City, Saturdays were often a day when I could work at the wood pile with other volunteers who cut, split and delivered firewood to our partners for distribution to those who needed the wood for heating assistance. The physical work was a good contrast and balance to the desk work that was part of my job.

When our children were at home, Saturdays were also special days. It was the day of the week when our children were home from school and we parents did not have to work. We tried to have special family time.

Since we have always worked on Sundays, Saturdays have become a sabbath day for us. It is a special day that stands out from the rest of the week, set aside for rest and restoration. The activities of the day have been different at different phases of our lives, but it has long been a day to which I look forward each week.

In the next couple of weeks we will tackle the job of moving to our new home. Once we are settled in that place we will be more than 20 miles closer to our son’s farm. That means less time driving and more time for other activities. It also means that we will be able to stop by the farm more often and will be able to have grandchildren at our home on school days. Since they have returned to school this fall, we have been on the list of those who can pick them up from school, but so far we haven’t had the opportunity to do so because we aren’t the ones closest to the school at that time of the day. That is about to change.

We may change our routines with a new home, but one thing will remain. Saturdays will be special days for our family.

Caution pet owners

As we walk every day, we often see people out walking their dogs. There are, of course, all kinds and sizes of dogs in our community. And they are all different ages and have lots of different personalities, if a dog can be said to have a “person”ality. Many of the dogs we see are very friendly and excited to see other walkers. They try to greet us and, with the permission of their owners, we often pet them and speak to them. Once in a while we will encounter a dog who is threatened and barks or growls at us, and such an encounter seems to embarrass the owners, who struggle to control their animals. We see a lot of very large people with really small dogs in our neighborhood, but occasionally we see a small person with a very large dog as well.

Most of the places we walk require animals to be on leashes, but one of the places where we like to walk is a large park and preserve that has a field where dogs can play off leash. We walk on a path that goes alongside the off-leash area for 3/4 of a mile and have never had any problem with any of the dogs that are playing in the area. It is fun to watch them run after frisbees and balls and enjoying the outdoor space to run. When we walk in that area, however, we also frequently see dogs off leash in areas that require a leash. At one end of the off leash area there is a row of signs that identify the end of the area. They cite the county ordinance that requires animals to be on leash on the other side of the signs. I frequently say to Susan as we walk that the problem with those signs is that dogs can’t read, so they don’t know what they say. In the spring the county put up bright yellow marking tape to indicate the end of the off leash area, but it seemed to have no impact on the owners. The dogs continued to go beyond the signs without their leashes. It doesn’t seem to be a big problem in that park because there is so much open space. However, we also encounter on a fairly regular basis, people who have their dogs off leash in other areas that are clearly marked by signs reminding everyone that dogs should be on leash in that area.

In fairness, we’ve not had problems with dogs off of their leashes. They have been well-behaved. The one time, several years ago, when a dog rushed up and bit our grandson while he was riding his bike on a paved pathway, the dog was on a leash, but it was one that extended a long cable and gave the dog way too much distance for the owner to control it.

What seems to be the case is that some dog owners believe that their dogs are the exception to the rule. Their experience of their pet is that it is well controlled, that it answers to their call, and that there is no need for a leash. I understand that feeling. When I was a young adult my family had a dog that was a beloved pet. She was gentle and good with children. Our father had worked with her and she was good about obeying voice commands and coming when called. One winter day, however, we were on an outdoor adventure in Yellowstone National Park. While we ate our picnic lunch, the dog was let out of the car to explore and to relieve herself. She stayed close by as we stood around eating our sandwiches. Then, all of a sudden, she took off at a full run and didn’t come back when we called her name. She had spotted a group of coyotes in the distance and headed off after them. We knew the rules in Yellowstone Park. All domestic animals have to be restrained at all times. Having a dog off of a leash was against park rules and there were plenty of signs to remind us of the rules. Fortunately, the snow was deep and the coyotes ran off and the dog returned without any further incident.

I understand how a dog owner can get into trouble in Yellowstone National Park. It happened again last Sunday. A woman was visiting the park with her dog and allowed the animal to go off leash. The dog jumped into a hot springs with near-boiling water. The woman went into the spring, known as Maiden’s Grave, to get the dog. Fortunately for the woman, her father saw this happen and was able to pull her out of the hot water, but not before she suffered significant burns across much of her body from being in the 200 degree water for eight seconds. Unfortunately, the dog perished.

Yellowstone National Park is a wilderness area. There are some emergency services in the park and in the towns near the park borders, but it is a hundred miles from that hot springs to the nearest trauma center. And that is a long ride with burns on your body. I know because I once made an 80-mile ambulance ride that started outside of the park after being burned, not by hot water, but by fire. It is no fun. And the woman was not only suffering intense pain, she was grieving the loss of her pet.

Those of us who have spent time around the park know a lot of stories about people who have been badly burned from the hot water features. The Yellowstone National Park safety website says that more than 20 people have died from burns suffered in park hot springs. Last week’s incident was only a month since another young woman was burned by hot water at the park. Hot springs have killed or injured more visitors to the park than any other natural feature.

So be careful out there. Be a little overly cautious about your pet. It is for the safety of your pet as well as the safety of other people. Even if your pet is exceptionally well trained, an unusual even or place can be confusing to it and its behavior might be unpredictable. There are reasons for the rules. Respect them. It could save you from a lot of suffering.

The name of a street

After I was born, I came home from the hospital to a house on McLeod Street. It wasn’t a long journey. The emergency entrance of the hospital was across the alley from our garage. McLeod Street was sometimes called Main Street by local people and as a child, I remember trying to correct those who called it Main Street. “The name of the street is McLeod!” I would declare. When I was in elementary school our family acquired a property with a cabin by the river. That property is still in my family. Its address has changed over the years from East Highway 10 to Old Highway 10 and now the official address is Big Timber Loop Road. I guess it would be accurate to say that had lived on a street, a highway and a road by the time I went to college.

My college address and our first address after we married was Poly Drive, so I added a new name for the strip of pavement on which you drive to get to our home. After a year of marriage, we moved to Chicago to attend theological seminary. In Chicago, we had two different addresses, both on Woodlawn Avenue. Street, highway, road, drive, and now avenue - I was collecting names.

From seminary we moved into a parsonage. It was on south second avenue, so we retained the same designation for the roadway. After seven years we moved again. This move was to the first home that we were purchasing. It was on Kipling Road. We didn’t get a new descriptor for the pavement, but we had collected quite a stream of names: McLeod, Ten, Poly, Woodlawn, 2nd, Kipling - the collection was growing.

After a decade, we made the move to the address where we lived for the longest of our lives so far. For 25 years our address was Waxwing Lane. At the time we moved into that house it was not within the city limits. It was later annexed, but for quite a while, we enjoyed country living. Our subdivision was called “Countryside.” I don’t know if others would see it that way, but we felt like we were moving the right direction. We’d gone from a drive to an avenue, from an avenue to a street, from a street to a road, and finally arrived on a lane.

The streets in that subdivision were all named after birds. The namesake of our lane is a medium-sized bird that we often saw visit our yard. The birds aren’t the brightest, like the Tanagers, namesakes of the street that led to Waxwing Lane, but they are still showy, with brown, gray and yellow. Some of them have a bit of pink or red as well. Waxwings eat berries, so they didn’t often nest in our neighborhood, but preferred creek bottoms where the chokecherries grew. Nonetheless, they would flock to our feeders during part of the year when they were traveling around and looking for potential nesting sites. I always thought it would be poetic to have a waxwing nest in our yard on Waxwing Lane, but to my knowledge it never happened.

Upon retirement, we moved again. We decided to rent a home for a year to explore our new area. It would, we thought, give us time to explore the new territory and select an address that was just right for us. For the last year, we’ve been living on East Highland Avenue. Back to the days when we last were paying rent on Woodlawn Avenue. We hadn’t really done our homework and we didn’t understand the nature of the rapidly increasing price of homes in the area. As it turned out, the year of renting was pretty expensive for us. The rent was high and the price of homes continued to escalate. One home that we looked at while shopping had increased by over 20% in just one year. That is a lot of increase in equity that we passed up by renting. However, it did turn out that waiting was good for us. At about the same time as we made the move from South Dakota our son and his family made the move from their house on the edge of town to a farm farther away. Had we purchased a home a year ago, we might have ended up more than 20 miles from our grandchildren. We also found our new church home much closer to the farm than the house where we are currently living.

Yesterday, we signed the papers to purchase a new home for us, so we will be adding to the list of addresses. By the end of this month we will have moved to Clamdigger Drive. We’re back to a drive once again, the same as our first home when we married. Clamdigger, however, surprises us. Having spent all of our lives up until the last year living a long ways from the ocean, we’re moving into an oceanside community on a street with a distinctly oceanside name. I don’t think there are any Clamdigger drives in South Dakota. The address is very convenient for us, just a couple of miles from the house where our son and his family live. They have a barn where I have a shop, and they have land for gardening and other outdoor activities that are a bit limited on our small property. Besides we really enjoy our grandchildren and being with their family. We’ll be spending a fair amount of time at their place.

It’s been quite a journey from street to highway to drive to avenue to street to road to lane to avenue and now to drive once again. And that doesn’t count the fact that we lived in two different apartments in one building and three different apartments next door during our four years in Chicago. We’ve moved quite a bit, though 25 years in the same home in South Dakota got us out of the practice. We’re practicing once again, with the boxes starting to fill.

We are hoping to settle in at our new address, but we know that if we are like most people we have known, there are more moves in our future. We are at the age where the progression from house to townhouse to apartment to assisted living can begin. For now it seems to us that we are making the right move.

I guess, I should learn how to dig clams. After all we will be within walking distance of the warmest bay on the Washington coast where clam digging is a way of life for many. If you’re going to live on the street, perhaps you should learn the practice. Time will tell.

Fat Bear Week

Faith Formation

A mixed heritage

A couple of acquaintances of mine have posted somewhat self-righteous statements on social media lately referring to the boarding schools for native American children that were operated in the late 19th through the mid 20th centuries. There have been continuing revelations of horrible things that happened in the schools including recent discoveries of unmarked graves of many children. It is easy to see how the schools caused deep and unrepairable damage. Children were taken from their families against their will and against the will of the families. They were transported to schools, often in distant locations, where they were stripped of their culture. Their hair was cut, they were forced to wear clothing and eat foods that were strange to them. They were not allowed to use their native language. They were cut off, indoctrinated, and abused. There is strong evidence that physical abuse was common. It was part of an organized program of cultural genocide. Among the most well-known of the boarding schools was the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, founded by Richard Henry Pratt.

There is a lot of information about the boarding school movement, and I won’t go into details in today’s journal entry, but there is little doubt that the schools caused incredible pain and were part of an organized program of exploitation.

What has struck me about the social media posts, however, is not the information they contain about the boarding schools, which has been, for the most part, fairly accurate. What has struck me is the attitude of those posting as if this terrible thing that has happened was all caused by other people who were bad. I think the history is much different and more nuanced than a simple case of the bad people vs. the good people.

There is much to confess about the participation of the church in the boarding school movement. There were plenty of well-meaning Christian people who provided support to boarding schools. And the story is filled with nuance and mixed emotions.

In the late 1990’s, I was honored to be able to interview Emma Tibbets as she neared the end of her life. She had a wealth of personal memories of the days of the Indian boarding schools, especially the Santee Normal Training School, founded by Alfred L. Riggs of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions of the Congregational Church. That is one of the predecessors of the denomination I serve. Our people, through the American Missionary Association, provided financial support for the school. The story of the boarding schools is a part of the history of our church.

Santee School reached its highest enrollment in the 1890’s and there were, from its founding 20 years earlier, tensions between church leaders and the government. Riggs was a staunch defender of using the Dakota language for teaching. The government ordered that all teaching must be in the English language. The conflict persisted, with Riggs refusing to back down, until the American Missionary Association terminated the government contract in 1893. From that point on, which included the years that Emma Tibbets could remember, the school was operated by the church. It continued as such into the late 1930’s.

We can be proud of the resistance that our church, through leaders like Alfred Riggs, provided to the government-backed plans for boarding schools. We can understand the desire to support quality education for all children. The efforts of teachers like Riggs played a large part in the preservation of the Dakota language. But we also must confess that there was harm done to innocent people in our history.

Emma was unrestrained in her praise for the Santee School. She was proud that the Santee Community School was finally founded in 1976 with a modern building that also honored the traditions and heritage of the Santee people. She described a mural that is in the school that tells the history of the Santee People and the forced migration from Minnesota to Nebraska.

We don’t live in a black and white world, with all people divided into only two categories: good and bad. We live in a world where good people do bad things. And we need to continue the practice of confession and repentance, for we have inherited a mixed history. I cannot honestly post condemnations of the boarding schools as if I were not somehow a part of that history. I cannot simply say, “those are terrible things done by terrible people.” I have to confess that there are some terrible things in our shared history.

I can understand how subtle cultural appropriation takes place. Our grandchildren are attending the public school in their community after a little more than a year of home schooling. They, and their parents, were glad to return to the school. Our family believes in and supports public education. But there are some parts of the process that make us a bit uncomfortable. Because of the pandemic, all of the children in the school are receiving free food assistance that includes lunches and snacks, even though the income of our family exceeds the rules for general participation in the free program. Our youngest granddaughter was excited to report that she received sugared cereal, Lucky Charms, for a snack. That isn’t a dietary choice her mother would have made. She wasn’t given such snacks during her time at home. They have plenty of fresh and preserved fruit and vegetables in their home. They have been very careful about the use of processed foods and refined sugar. The school system, through the positive motivation to feed hungry children, is affecting the eating and snacking habits of children whose parents have been conscious about making different choices.

It is a small thing, but it does bring to mind the boarding schools, where the choice of what to eat and what to wear was taken from parents. It is reminiscent of government commodity programs that gave Native Americans few choices about their diet. Frybread isn’t an historic recipe. It is the result of government issued lard and flour and sugar. The diet of entire communities was changed through a program intended to increase nutrition.

Often we do harm in our intent to do good. We need to be more careful. We need to change our ways. But we can do so only when we confess our part in the process. This isn’t about “us” and “them.” It is about what we have done and, in some cases, continue to do. We can make changes when we understand our participation in the process.

World Communion 2021

worldcommunion
We went out to the dahlia beds at our son’s farm and cut blossoms to take home. It is part of the bounty of the farm that continues to grace our lives. The farm produces all of the eggs we eat, more apples and pears than we can consume and process, tomatoes to eat and to preserve for winter, and a host of other food, including herbs. There is a luxury to having all of the tomatoes and fresh basil that you want. There is also a luxury to having freshly-cut flowers in the middle of our dining room table.

The bees are really enjoying the dahlias as well. Of course the plants need the pollinators to complete their life cycle. Sometime in the next six to eight weeks there will be a killing frost and the blossoms will be gone and the tops of the plants will die for this year. Our son will then cut back the plants, wait for about ten days or so and then dig up the tubers to store until next spring. The soil around here is a bit too moist for the tubers to overwinter in the ground. They’ll be allowed to dry out and then they’ll go into storage.

All of that, however, is in the future. It was fun yesterday to watch the bees in the plants. They crawl around inside the giant blossoms until they become lethargic. They gather so much pollen that they linger before slowly taking to flight. It is as if they become drunk on the dahlias. They aren’t the least bit aggressive after spending time in the blossoms. One day I will spend some time with my camera and a good macro lens to capture images of the bees, but yesterday we were just harvesting a few blossoms to grace our table.

This morning we’ll arrange a few blossoms to take to church. We are also taking a variety of breads for the communion table. We’ve collected different breads for communion tables for many years. The first Sunday of October is Worldwide Communion Day. The day, designed to promote Christian unity and ecumenical cooperation, is observed all around the world on every continent. Knowing that there are many different kinds of bread consumed around the world, we have symbolized the wider community by collecting different kinds of bread to share for communion. One year a retired kindergarten teacher in our congregation wrote a poem about cornbread for communion that expressed that sense of connection well.

Today we have the privilege of leading the time for children during our worship service. We will also assist our pastor with serving communion. Sharing with children is an opportunity to tell them about children we know who live in different places. Of course children grow up and become adults. The children we knew when we lived in Chicago, who had traveled with their parents when a parent attended the University, have become adults. Many of them returned to their homes in far away places such as South Africa and Australia and Indonesia. A few remained in the United States and have become citizens. We’ve kept track of some of them and have heard news of them becoming parents and the names of a new generation of children born to their families.

Worldwide Communion Sunday has always been a very special time for me. It has been a reminder to think of the friends from around the world whom we’ve had the privilege to know. Our colleague who is pastor of the Community Christian Church in Los Guido, Costa Rica always is in our thoughts and prayers on this day. Our seminary classmate who is retired from decades of service with the Uniting Church of Australia comes to mind as we share the bread and cup. Christian Educators and writers from Canada who were on teams with us when we were working on curricula projects are part of the rich network of relationships that are symbolized by the various breads on the table. I didn’t have time to make fry bread this year, but the lack of fry bread doesn’t mean we won’t be thinking of our partners who live on the reservations of South Dakota. The Japanese exchange students who have shared our home are named one by one in our memories as we celebrate this day. And there are more - many more.

One of the joys of being invited to share the time with children is that we have the opportunity to tell bits of the stories of these faithful people. We also get to say their names out loud, which is a treat.

The power of our faith to reach beyond the circle of those gathered in any one place has become crucial to our practice in these seasons of covid that seem to persist. As the pandemic continues to rage, our congregation is practicing very strict limits on in-person gathering. We will be speaking to the congregation over a live video feed going out over social media. It isn’t our preferred way of worshiping. We long for the time when once again we will be able to share in person worship with a wider circle. For now, however, we are reminded of all of the years that we have shared worldwide communion with friends who have gone to their homes in distant locations. We can’t be in person with our friends in South Africa or Japan or Australia or Costa Rica, but we know that we are united in faith. We don’t worship in the same time zones and so we don’t share communion at the same moment, but still the connection is real. We are still united in the Spirit of Christ when we share the sacrament. Knowing this and having practiced it for decades helps just a little bit in this season of maintaining physical distance and maintaining safe practice in our church. God’s love transcends the differences of time and space.

The flowers on our table are ours to enjoy for a brief time. Soon they will be just a memory while the tubers lay in storage for a new year. This time of separation will also end. Our lives are experienced in seasons that come and go. Maybe the flowers will remind us to treasure the time we have as we strengthen our hope for the future.

Finding the cookbooks

I think that it has happened every time we have moved. There will be something that we cannot find after the move that eventually shows up in an unexpected place. Susan once used one story of a missing item as part of a children’s story. In that case, her parents had helped us with some of our packing. When we arrived at our new home, she couldn’t find the wind chimes that we had enjoyed so much on the patio of our previous home. It is easy to live without wind chimes, so we just kept expecting them to show up, but we just couldn’t find them. I looked through a few remaining unpacked boxes with no success. Then one day, months later, we were getting out our food dryer to preserve some apples and there, inside the food dryer, were the wind chimes. We laughed about it at the time. Who looks inside a food dryer except when using it? We had looked at the outside of the food dryer many times. We just expected that it would be empty.

Yesterday, as I was loading boxes from our garage into our pickup to take them to our son’s farm, where they will be stored for a month or so as we make our move to a new home, I saw a box. It was a study cardboard box with a fitted lid. The box was not marked with any hint of its contents, but it was familiar to me. On the outside of the box was printed, “Enderes Tool Company, Albert Lea, Minnesota.” I know Enderes Tools. My father was an Enderes dealer for many years. The company manufactures forged steel tools such as punches and chisels. The box was very well built because the chisels and punches it contained were heavy. On the box was a label with the address of my father’s business - a business that has been closed for 40 years.

I thought that the box contained memorabilia from my mother and father. I have several such boxes. They contain treasures that I don’t want to get rid of, but for which I have no everyday use. This particular box, I think, contained some of my mother’s items when she moved to our home near the end of her life. It is also possible that I picked up the box and filled it with items from the shop at our family’s river property years ago when we were cleaning and I was taking some items to my home.

At any rate, I pulled off the top and the box contained cookbooks. We’ve been looking for those cookbooks for a year! I’d seen the box nearly every time I went to the garage to look for the cookbooks, but I never thought to look for cook books in that box. I thought for sure they would be in a box of kitchen items. It seemed possible that we might have also put them in a box with other books, but unpacking books and putting them on the shelves is one of the early tasks in a move for us.

These weren’t just any cook books. We had a few of our usual cookbooks. The Joy of Cooking has been on our shelf for all of our marriage and it has been used a lot. You can tell which recipes are our favorites by the stains on the pages. These, however, were the spiral bound and plastic bound cookbooks, often not professionally bound, cookbooks that were sold to raise funds for church women’s fellowships, Eastern Star groups, and other non profits. We’ve collected these over the years and have learned that they are filled with trusted recipes because we know the people who contributed their recipes to those books. There are recipes in those books, like Alta’s Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies, that you won’t find on the Internet.

Fortunately for us, Susan has two sisters, and she isn’t afraid to call one of them for a recipe when needed.

So now the missing cookbooks have been found - just as we are starting to pack for another move. I wrote “cookbooks” on the outside of the box with a black marker. I wrote it 5 times on five faces of the box. Only the bottom has escaped the label.

I think that the cookbook business may have taken an upturn during the pandemic. At least a lot of my friends have been doing more cooking at home. I don’t know, however, how much of an impact the Internet has had on cookbook sales. I am not tempted to buy cookbooks in book stores, because I know I’ll only use a couple of recipes from a cookbook and I can find similar recipes on the Internet.

One of the cookbook stories that I love was told to me by Millard Fuller, one of the founders of Habitat for Humanity. He often told the story of being a self-made millionaire and reading the story of the rich young man in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus advised the rich young man to “go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and come follow me.” Millard did just what the parable advised. He and Linda sold their possessions, gave away the proceeds and moved to Koinonia Farms to live in intentional Christian community. The part of the story that is less well-known is that Millard became a millionaire while still a college student by forming a business that published church cookbooks. He used mimeograph machines and hand-biding systems and employed other college students to collate and bind cookbooks filled with recipes collected by church members. The members then sold their books at bazaars and bake sales to raise funds for their churches. Millard made a profit off of each book produced and sold. Before long he had stepped up to an offset press and a metal comb binding machine. Low overhead, plus inexpensive part-time labor was a formula for success. Being comfortable around church people while being a good salesman was an added bonus.

So the cookbooks have been located, which leaves at least one question” “What will go missing in the year to come?”

Showers of blessings

Two years ago today I awoke in the wee hours of the morning with a start. I was breathing hard through my mouth. My heart was racing. Sweat was pouring down my forehead. It only took me a second to check my wife’s breathing. That was easy. She was in the hospital, with a ventilator assisting her every breath. I scanned the monitor for her heartbeat. All was in a steady rhythm. I sat up and placed my right hand on my neck to check my own pulse. My heartbeat never ran too high to count, but I couldn’t keep count. I decided to focus on my breathing. It took me a couple of minutes to get my breathing slowed down to the pace of the machine in the room. I don’t know for sure how long it took, but slowly I started to come down from my adrenaline high. It was, I decided, a full-blown panic attack. As it turned out it was the first of several that would occur over the next few weeks.

A nurse came into the room and checked the IVs and monitors. She asked me how I was doing. I said, “OK.” She asked me if she could bring me anything. “Would you like some coffee?” I didn’t want coffee. She said to me, “Why don’t you take off your jacket and tie? I’ll bring you a warm blanket.” I had forgotten that I was still dressed in my black suit. I didn’t think I needed a blanket, but I untied my tie and took off my jacket and placed it on top of my backpack. I had been on my way to work to officiate at a funeral when I came to the hospital 20 hours earlier. I never made it to the church. A colleague stepped in and served the grieving family and led the service.

The blanket felt good. My breathing and pulse were close to normal. The nurse brought me a cup of hot water.

The memory of that night is still quite unpleasant for me and I don’t want to go into too many details, but the previous morning, after being in the hospital for a week as they tried to get her fibrillating heart regulated, my wife reacted to one of the medicines they were giving her and her heart stopped. If you are going to have your heart stop, the coronary care unit of the hospital is a good place. She had a monitor in place. The crash team responded within seconds. They had her in the ICU within just a few minutes. The second time her heart stopped, her cardiologist and an electrophysiologist were in the room along with every lifesaving tool and medicine they needed.

I know what triggered the panic attack in the night. There had been a code blue in the hospital. I had been dozing in a chair by my wife’s bedside when I heard the code called over the hospital intercom. After the events of the previous day, it took a few seconds for me to be sure it wasn’t her. By then, my panic had gotten the best of me. My rational brain could figure out what was going on.

I don’t remember bargaining with God at other points in my life, but I was up for bargaining that night. I prayed that there would be no more code blues in the hospital. I went from “ever” to “this week” to “today” to “at least not in the next hour” as I made the mental plea to God. I ran out of words for my prayer. I often run out of words for my most urgent prayers. I went back to a breath prayer. I can slow my respiration rate a lot with that prayer. It has gotten me through a lot of hard times in my life. I’ve had both a doctor and a dentist comment on my “zen state” when they were treating me. I’m not a buddhist and don’t think of it as “zen,” but I do rely on breath prayers when times are hard.

What I do want to write about today is how much more I received than I could have asked for at the time. I would have given everything I had, including my life, for just a few more days, or even a few more hours with her by my side. I’ve been given two years and her health is excellent. She no longer needs any medication for her heart. A surgical procedure corrected her a-fib. She wears a monitor, so we know it has not recurred. We walk a couple of miles together every day - a gift in and of itself. I woke gently a little while ago and could hear her gentle breathing before I moved. I haven’t had a panic attack for a very long time. I’ve even had a dream that I was having a panic attack and when I woke, I was not. I checked my pulse and breathing and they were normal. It was only a dream. And even the dream is now a long time in my past.

Another gift I have been given that I wasn’t able to ask for is the sense of daily gratitude. Every day for the last two years has felt as if life has given me a bonus - has given us a bonus. Every day for two years has been something special that I thought might be taken away from us. I’ve moved beyond counting days to counting weeks to counting months and now counting years. Two years is a gift of infinite measure and worth and we have the promise of many more.

We are all mortal. We will not go on forever. Our time in this life is precious and limited. And some of us are given the gift of understanding how precious that time is. There are many people who worked hard to give us that gift. There are people who helped that day in the hospital whose names I never learned. They are all life savers - literally. Each is a gift of God. And the blessings of God are too numerous to count.

Family and friends provided incredible support at that time. Before I woke that night, our son had left his work and raced to be with us. My sister and Susan's sister were arriving at about the same time. For weeks, I always had one of the sisters at home helping with everything from laundry to cooking to just listening. Our daughter came all the way from Japan with her three-month-old baby as soon as she could. Family is such a blessing. And the blessings of God are too numerous to count.

My colleagues covered for me at work. The church was incredibly supportive. People offered meals and were incredibly gracious. They were blessings. And the blessings of God are too numerous to count.

For these, and all your blessings, we give you thanks, O God!