June 2022

Guests

My parents loved to travel. They also loved to have guests in our home. When we were growing up, our father’s business was closed for an hour between 12 noon and 1 pm. Our family had the big meal of the day at noon. It was our father’s custom to invite whoever was in the shop at noon to come home with him for dinner. It is possible that this practice was a challenge for our mother, who was the primary cook. Some meals are easier to stretch than others. If you have a roast, you can make the slices a bit thinner. But if you have prepared pork chops, the number you have prepared is all you have. However, I don’t remember my parents ever arguing about guests. I think mother simply prepared extra food for noon meals. Leftovers were common at suppertime in our house.

Their love of travel and their love of hosting guests came together in their membership in Servas International, a network of hosts and travelers. The organization matches travelers with hosts for brief visits. Through the organization, we met friends from around the world. People who were traveling to see the United States often came to our town in part because of its proximity to Yellowstone National Park. We often took our guests on tours of the Park. Growing up in a home where guests frequented our table was a wonderful. It was exciting to see who might come next and what stories they would have to tell of the places from which they came.

My wife’s family also belonged to Servas International. I think that they might have learned about the organization from my parents. When we married, we quickly began to enjoy having guests in our home. Our first apartment when we married was in a building that had formerly been a dormitory on our college campus. At the time we lived there, the building housed church offices on the first floor and the dorm rooms upstairs were used as hospitality for people coming to church meetings. We traded janitorial services for the building for our rent, so cleaned the rooms, including the guest rooms upstairs. When the church organizations did not have guests, we could arrange for our friends to stay in the guest rooms.

Unlike our parents, we never joined Servas, We hosted friends from around the world whom we had met in school or other places. We hosted an exchange student before we had children of our own and later hosted students for short term sister city exchanges and had an exchange daughter for a full year when our children were teens.

One of the important features we both agreed was important when we were shopping for a home is that it have room for guests. Even though there are just two of us, we have a three-bedroom home with room for people to come and visit.

One of the aspects I enjoy about having guests is cooking. After we had been married for a year, we became managers at our church’s summer camp. We had that job for just two summers, but we learned a lot about preparing meals for large numbers of people in those summers. There are some recipes that simply work better when preparing for a group of people. I am an early riser, and I like the role of breakfast cook. Some days when we have guests I cook to order, offering eggs, sausage, pancakes, omelettes, breakfast biscuits and burritos made individually. Sometimes, I whip up a big batch of scrambled eggs and a stack of toast. I like making things that our guests enjoy. I also enjoy cooking dinners and have quite a number of “go to” meals when entertaining.

This morning, however, we have no guests. I’ll probably have a pancake with my breakfast because i have pancake batter left over from the last week of having all of the bedrooms in our house full of guests.

As we went for a walk last evening, we spoke of our guests and how much fun it was to have our house full. The visits went well and we enjoyed them a lot. Our grandson is a delightful child and our daughter is a very good mother. Our Australian guests are lifelong friends with whom we have shared so many experiences over the years that we will never run out of subjects for our conversation. We now have the added dynamic of so many years of memories. When we get together we usually end up looking at pictures from years ago and telling stories of shared experiences.

I know people who are less eager to have guests. Their homes are sanctuaries where they withdraw from the busy nature of the outside world. They like their routines. They find others to be disruptive. I’m sure that there are some couples where one enjoys guests and the other is more reluctant to host. I can see where that kind of disagreement could cause tension. I feel very fortunate that my wife has always enjoyed the adventure of having guests in our home. She has developed a well honed set of skills as a hostess. She loves to look at others’ pictures and hear stories of their families. She has a real gift of remembering names and will inquire about the families of our guests, stirring lots of good conversation.

We had the good fortune of living in the Black Hills of South Dakota for 25 years. The Black Hills are a destination for travelers with so much to see. Fortunately for us, Birch Bay is also a destination for tourists. The close proximity of the mountains and the ocean offer a lot of activities and opportunities for sight seeing. Like the Black Hills, this is an easy place to host guests. There is a lot that we can show our guests from sunsets over the bay to alpine vistas and wildlife.

Our house seems quiet this morning. We’ve got a bit of extra work to wash all of the bedding and towels. But within a short time we’ll be ready for guests once again. Y’all come back now!

Saying goodbye

And now come the farewells. Yesterday, we took our Australian friends to the airport where they boarded a plane for a short visit in California before they fly back to Australia. Today our daughter and our grandson board their plane to go back home to South Carolina. Of course we are not left alone. Our son and his family live just down the road from us.

The process of saying good bye, even with dear friends with whom we’ve said it many, many times before, is a challenge. There is an uncertainty in a good bye. We intend to get together again. We hope to get together again. But in this life there are no guarantees. The joy of being face-to-face, of being able to hug and watch eyes when we converse, of experiencing the presence of those we love - these are sublime and wonderful experiences. As much as we can write letters and make phone calls, as good as the technology of video conferencing is, none of these are a substitute for the joy of being together.

So the mood today is of being tired. It was fun to have our house alive with so many people. It was a joy to have the dining room table full for meals. It was a delight to have our grandson remind every one to “say thanks” before we begin to eat. Entertaining takes energy. It is a good kind of energy, however, and today’s feeling tired is a good kind of tired. Saying goodbye takes a lot of energy as well. So we’ll probably take it easy after we get back from delivering our grandson and daughter to the airport.

Tomorrow it is back to work. One of the things about our profession is that when we take time off from our work, the work continues. Some of the things for which we are responsible are done by our colleagues. Some things can be done before we take time off. Other things need to be done when we return to work. It is a rhythm to which we became accustomed over years of living our call to the ministry.

One of the conversations I had with our friends from Australia, who are both ministers, is about how I find some of the new language and new ways of thinking in the church to be challenging. Younger pastors, who are leading the church in new ways and new directions often use the phrase “self-care.” It isn’t quite the way i thought of things during my career. I feel that it is very important for ministers to be faithful to the observance of sabbath and getting sufficient rest. It is important to exercise for endurance. It is critical to support a life of active ministry with a careful discipline of prayer. But I don’t think of ministry as something that requires self care. During my career, I received a lot of care from being immersed in a loving community. I received a lot of care from a loving marriage and a supportive family. I did not, however, think of myself as needing a “break” from being a minister. Even when we took sabbatical, I saw it as an opportunity to improve my skills and energy as a minister. It was bout strengthening the church - and becoming better at the tasks of being a minister.

I don’t think that there is a very big difference of substance. Today’s ministers, like us, have been ordained. They understand that ministry is a matter of identity, not a role that can be put on and taken off. It is who we are and it is who we are all the time. Mostly it is a shift in language, and I have been through other shifts in language. I know that I can learn new phrases and new words. I can also learn new ways of thinking when I am careful to listen and understand. I trust that my younger colleagues will display grace when I forget and use the old words. I trust that they will be patient with me as I struggle to be patient with them.

The prophet Isaiah declared, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and dreams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19) I am convinced that part of my call at this phase of my ministry is to look for the new things that God is doing. I’ve hd plenty of conversations with tired elders who have plenty of energy for complaining that things are not the way they used to be. I don’t have any interest in becoming one of them. I know that things are not the way they used to be. God is doing a new thing. I have been given health and longevity in part so that I can witness to the newness that is emerging.

And part of that process is saying good bye. Since we are all mortal, we all will come to a point of saying goodbye in this life many times. Gaining proficiency at saying goodbye requires practice. And yesterday and today are days to practice saying good bye. It is hard. It is a challenge even after all of these years - or maybe because of the passage of all of these years.

In our little church in Reeder North Dakota we used to close every service by singing the same song:

God be with you till we meet again.
May his counsel guide, uphold you.
May his loving arms enfold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Till we meet, till we meet,
tile meet at Jesus’ feet.
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.

Those are the words we sang. The language has been updated several times since then to express a more complete vision of God and to make the language more accessible to modern listeners. But when we sing this hymn, the words we sang many years ago still ring in my head and my heart. Some of those with whom I sang the song have died. Some live far away from my home. Some I will not meet again in this life.

I’ll keep practicing the art of saying goodbye, knowing that I’ll never perfect the skill. It will never become easy. It is a discipline of trusting God - a discipline that is worth the energy to nurture.

G'day, mate

Recently our Australian guests encountered another family from Australia in the parking lot while we were touring a local attraction. They exchanged the greeting “G’day.” As Americans, that phrase is iconic Australian speak. It was interesting, however, to witness Australians use it as an identifier. It is hard for an outsider such as myself to distinguish between genuine Australian slang and the commercialized images of movies and other media. Not long after we became good friends with Australians and learned a few slang phrases and differences between Australian English and American English, the actor Paul Hogan appeared in a series of advertisements inviting people to visit Australia. After the passage of years, I am never quite sure what is genuine Australian speak and what is an image projected by the television and movie industry.

The School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics of the Australian National University College of Arts & Social Sciences, maintains an online dictionary of Australian words and idioms. It reports that the use of g’day originated in the 1880s, but that it rose to international prominence through the Paul Hogan advertisement of the 1980s.

There is one Australian phase that I have picked up and use routinely that I believe is genuine. I’ll say “no worries,” when someone apologizes or in other situations where I need to let someone know that I’m not upset. I remember clearly our family conversations while traveling in Australia in 2006 about that phrase. We witnessed a small fender bender car accident and the drivers were conversing following the accident, perhaps waiting for the police to come to investigate. One driver said to the other, “No worries, mate.” If the phrase could be used to diffuse emotions in what was obviously a tense situation, it might have real value. Sometimes when I am in situations where i’m experiencing stress, I remember that phrase and using it helps to diffuse the stress.

Australians also use the phrase in place of “you’re welcome.” When one thanks another, the response is often, “no worries.”

Australians, who seem to love to blend sounds and shorten words, sometimes shorten “no worries” to “nurries.” Then again, there are Australians who say, “no wuckers.” I have no idea how they got that from the original phrase. Then again, I’m not Australian. I just got the leather hat from a shop when I was visiting as a tourist.

The phrase, of course, is more than just words. It is an expression of a generally laid back lifestyle where people choose not to get upset. Maybe my use of “no worries,” is a gentle reminder to myself that there are lots of situations where I don’t need to be upset. I’m not declaring that my life is free of worries, rather that the situation in question isn’t one of my worries.

It has been a delight for us to have a couple of Australians staying in our home once again. Part of the joy is sharing memories, looking at old photographs, and telling stories. Part of the joy is catching up with how things are going in our lives. We’ve been friends for nearly half a century and we have a lot of stories to tell. Another part of the joy is having a bit of that laid-back Australian attitude: no worries.

There are experiences and relationships that go beneath the surface. More than just stories to tell, they shape our personalities. I think that our Australian friends have touched us more deeply than just the way we occasional use words. Our relationship with them has shaped our personalities. At least I hope it has. I admire many of the qualities and personality traits of our Australian friends. I would be pleased if another person recognized some of my words or actions as being influenced by my Australian friendships.

I haven’t yet felt a reason to pursue one of the popular DNA tests that report on one’s ethnic and geographic heritage. I think that I have a pretty good idea what such a test might report about me, but it just hasn’t been something that has captured my interest. Although I understand how our genetic heritage shapes who we are, I don’t believe that it can tell the whole story. As important to my personality as genetics are the experiences of a lifetime of making friends, learning about other cultures, and being influenced by the ideas and actions of others. I believe that who I am is shaped by the friendships I have nurtured. It is shaped by the travels I have made. It is shaped by the people I have loved. I am who I am in part because of who my parents were, but also because of who I have known. How I have been shaped by other people is more interesting to me than the specifics of my genetic heritage.

Having grown up in a family with adopted children and being a father of an adopted daughter has taught me that family reaches beyond genetics. I treasure the presence of our children in my life regardless of how they became part of our family. I don’t think I am any less of a father to our adopted daughter than I am to our son who was born to us.

We can’t chose our genetics. They are given to us. But we can exercise choice in the friends with whom we associate and the care with which we nurture those relationships. So I am intentional about using the phrase “no worries.” It represents something about me that I want to nurture and express to others. It helps me to release small irritations and focus on the important things in life. It is a symbol of deep and lasting friendships. It is a part of who I am because of the people I have known.

Who knows, I may start greeting others by saying g’day. I could do worse with my choice of words. And it it helps me strike up a conversation with a stranger in a parking lot, it will be worth having been influenced by dear friends.

Life's little adventures

I think that most people have many small adventures every day. I know I do. When we plan our days, we think of the way we will spend our time, but there are all kinds of interruptions to our schedules that change our plans. Yesterday was a good example. We had our usual early Sunday morning start, eating our breakfast and arriving at church in time for a class before worship, participating in worship and a congregational meeting following the service. As a bit of a treat to ourselves and our guests, we went out to lunch at a restaurant near the church. It was a warm summer day and in the afternoon I joined our grandchildren for a swim in our son’s pool. After swimming, one of my adventures began.

I had switched into my swimming trunks at home before heading over to our son’s place. I drove our pickup because I wanted to leave the car for Susan who was staying home with our Australian guests. When we got to the farm, I slipped the key to the pickup into my pocket and forgot about it when I dove into the pool. I only remembered the location of the key after we finished swimming and prepared to head back to our house to change. It is a key that has a three-button wireless device built into it. Sure enough the buttons that lock and unlock the doors failed to work. Electronics don’t like water.

It wasn’t a problem because the truck was not locked. However, the key has an electronic security chip built into it so when I attempted to start the truck nothing happened. I removed the key, shook it and blew out some of the water. They key worked and we drove home. At home, I took the battery out of the key and used canned air to dry the circuit board. I replaced the battery and tested it. The doors unlocked and locked with the buttons on the key. Success!

My success was short-lived. A few minutes later the horn on the truck started honking in its alarm mode. I could stop the honking by placing the key in the ignition and turning it to the on position, but after a few minutes it would start up again. After three times of rushing to the truck to stop the noise, I took the key apart and removed the battery. More blasts of canned air seemed to help dry out the circuits, but I decided to leave the battery out of the key overnight so I wouldn’t have to rush out to attend to the truck in the middle of the night.

Until cars had remotes for locking and unlocking doors it was just fine to get car keys wet. The key for the truck might have survived a dunking when it was new, before the battery had been replaced several times and the seal on the battery cover became worn with use.

In the way of automobile repairs these days, going to the dealer and having a new key with remote buttons built into it will cost more than $200. On the other hand, I can continue to use the key without the battery installed and purchase a remote fob to attach to a key ring. The remote fobs can be obtained for around $5 each. I’m pretty sure I can live without the buttons on the key. On the other hand, a few hours of drying out might result in the key working normally without setting off the panic alarm.

The situation resulted in a distraction yesterday and consumed a few minutes of my time, but it wasn’t the main business of my day, which was wonderfully filled with conversations and activities with our guests. The adventure with the wet key will soon fade from my memory as one solution or another will work out. When I remember the day, memories of the conversation at the morning class, images of our worship service, swimming with our grandchildren, a family meal and a lovely evening walk to the beach with old friends and our daughter and grandson will take their rightful place.

The side adventures of my life continue to provide a certain level of entertainment and diversion, however. For example, our daughter knows that a long, steamy shower without turning on the exhaust fan will eventually result in the loud sound of our smoke detectors. She didn’t know that a couple of days ago. Learning it was an adventure. I know how to replace the circuit board for the remotes and reprogram the remotes for our garage door opener. It is a new skill that I never thought I would need. Based on how often it has occurred in my life, chances are pretty good that I’ll never have to do that chore again. But I know how, just in case.

For many years, I had a little card over my desk that said, “The interruption is my job.” I developed routines for many of the chores of my job, but the most important parts of ministry for me often came in unplanned ways. Someone would stop into my office for a brief conversation, the phone would ring, or some other interruption of my work would result in the discovery of needs to which I responded. I often found myself doing some of the routine chores at odd hours. I never regretted this style of work. I knew that each work day would have surprises and that there would be no time for boredom. Even when I thought a day would be simple with just a few tasks, it would fill with challenges and opportunities for ministry.

Retirement, or semi-retirement, or whatever it is I do, has been a challenge for me, but it has not left me a life without adventures and challenges. I’m grateful for that. Even though the sound of the horn honking as an alarm is annoying, the challenge of solving the problem is a fun little mental exercise that entertains me. I enjoy surprises.

Led by children

The Glastonbury Festival is a music festival featuring artists from around the world performing on multiple stages. Those who are fortunate enough to have tickets are treated to a long weekend of music and specialty acts. This year Bruce Springsteen joined Paul McCartney on stage. Yesterday, festival-goers heard 19-year-old Greta Thunberg deliver a powerful warning about the dangers of climate change. The earth’s biosphere is “not just changing, it is destabilizing, it is breaking down,” she warned. She criticized world leaders for creating loopholes to protect firms whose emissions cause climate change. “That is a moral decision . . . that will put the entire living planet at risk,” she added.

Greta Thunberg has delivered quite a few powerful speeches in recent years and world leaders have taken notice. Many people like myself have been inspired by the wisdom, courage, and leadership of the teenager. In her Glastonbury speech she spoke of hope, saying, “We are capable of the most incredible things. Once we are given the full story . . . we will know what to do. There is still time to choose a new path, to step back from the cliff. Instead of looking for hope, start creating that hope yourself.”

There are many arenas in which I am deeply grateful for the leadership of young people. Climate justice and action to prevent further global warming is an area in which I feel the leadership of young people is especially crucial. We have already participated in activities and decisions that are wasteful and that put future generations at risk. We need to change and the time for change is right now, but people my age are not providing all of the leadership that is needed. In this cry for justice is is often true that youth are the leaders to which he world needs to listen.

In the 11th chapter of the book of Isaiah, there is a powerful description of a vision of a world at peace. The prophet comments that “A little child shall lead them.” It has always been true that faithful people listen carefully to the leadership of young people.

Today is one of two meetings held each year in our congregation. The annual meeting takes place in January and the congregation adopts its annual budget during that meeting. In our June meeting we elect leaders to serve on boards and committees and in the offices of the church. Both meetings are opportunities for the congregation to exercise vision and hope.

Included in today’s meeting will be the presentation of a letter that grew out of a faith formation group called “adult forum.” It is a small group who work together to study and learn about their faith. This year they invested several months reading and discussing the book “Climate Church, Climate World” by Jim Antal. They had the opportunity to visit with the author during a Zoom meeting in May. One of the challenges in the book is one of imagination. Readers are challenged to imagine what children and young people might say to the congregation in the future about the decisions that we are making right now. The Adult Forum group took up that challenge and imagined such a letter. Today that letter will be led by a young man who is among the newest members of our congregation, having just completed his confirmation preparation class and joined the church.

The reading of the letter is one more example of the leadership of youth in our church and society. Like the people who first heard Isaiah’s prophetic words, we are once again being given the opportunity to listen to the leadership of a young person on a topic of critical importance. It is a call to hope, but that hope must be built on decisions and actions that we take in our personal and communal lives.

Church meetings often do not hold surprises for me. I have been to so many that i have a sense of what to expect. This meeting is no exception. I am pretty sure about what will happen and how the congregation will decide. The reaction of the congregation to the letter, however, is something that I am unable to predict. I hope that the meeting will be the beginning of a renewed and re-energized commitment to responsible and moral choices by the congregation. This church already has a legacy of making important decisions in regards to climate justice. The time is right to build upon those decisions and becoming a congregation that is constantly aware of and responding to a call to creation care.

I am fairly confident that the congregation will give the young man presenting the letter careful attention. They have already heard him speak of his faith and his passion when he addressed us a few weeks ago. Now they have the opportunity to be moved by the leadership of young people in our congregation as they call us to make new and challenging decisions about our consumption of energy and other resources.

The BBC has reported that Greta Thunberg’s speech was warmly received by festival-goers, who joined her in a chant of “climate justice” at the end of her speech. I suspect that the response in our church’s meeting today will be not quite as loud or raucous as that of the audience at a music festival. I do, however, expect that a similar passion and energy can be stirred in our church. Amazing things can occur when we listen to the leadership of our youth.

I have wonderful opportunities to live in hope because I am able to spend time with my grandchildren. They inspire me and challenge me to think about my impact on their future and what kind of a world we will leave to them. Imagining how they will grow up and the world that we will leave to them when our time on this earth has ended is a regular challenge for me. May they and other children continue to inspire us to action to change our ways and contribute to a brighter future for all.

At the peace arch

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Yesterday we had another reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the way things once were. Peace Arch Historical State Park in Blaine is adjacent to Peace Arch Provincial Park in Surrey, British Columbia. At the point where the international border passes between the two parks, there are some short obelisks marking the boundary and, in the middle of the park a white arch marks the boundary. At the top of the arch is inscribed, “Children of a Common Mother.” Inside the arch there are gates permanently attached to the walls so that they cannot be closed. Above the gates are the words, “May these gates never be closed.” However, just beyond the arch are signs that say, “Park closed. Do not enter.” The State of Washington, with the assistance of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol have kept Peach Arch Historical State Park open throughout the pandemic. However, The Province of British Columbia has kept Peace Arch Provincial Park closed since the beginning of the pandemic. At this point we don’t know when it will be reopened to the public.

While the Canadian park remains closed, it is evident that the landscaping is still being maintained. The lawns are mowed consistently with this on the US side of the border. The large flower bed with the Canadian Flag, just opposite the one on the US side with the US flag displays carefully maintained plantings, with flowers in bloom. Despite the park being officially closed, we did see a few pedestrians strolling on the Canadian side. There were no border officers evident in the park. Although the signs marked the closure of the Canadian side of the park, visitors were allowed to cross into Canada on the lawn and return to the US side. It is my understanding that the entrances to the park on the Canadian side are not open and the parking lots are not accessible.

The gates are not closed, but the park marking the boundary is not currently a meeting place for family and friends from across the border. Still we had a lovely day for our visit to show our guests the area and, with our grandson along, we stopped at each playground for a bit of climbing, sliding and swinging.

The cities of Blaine, Washington and Surrey, British Columbia are adjacent. 0 Avenue in Surrey runs right next to the border with houses simply across the street from the park. There is no fence at the edge of the park, just the street. There are no connecting streets, except for those that go through border checks, so driving a car from one city to the next involves going through a formal border crossing. There is nothing, however, to prevent someone playing in the park from walking into the street to chase an errant frisbee or ball.

Families have lived along the border for generations. Children from one side of the border meet children from the other side. Some grow up, fall in love and marry. Cousins emerge on both sides of the border. For many years Peace Arch Park has been a place of meeting for family and friends from both sides of the border without the need of formal exit and entry procedures.

We have not crossed into Canada since the pandemic, but the border is once again open to casual traffic. Travelers entering Canada must meet Covid-19 requirements. All travelers must use the ArriveCAN computer or phone app within 72 hours of arrival. Travel from Canada to the US no longer requires a recent Covid test nor proof of vaccination, but proof of vaccination is required to enter Canada.

It is very different from our childhood days when crossing into Canada didn’t require anything special. A border guard might ask to see a driver’s license, but passports were not required and there were border crossings in rural areas that were not staffed at night and where people crossed without any inspection whatsoever. It is no longer that way. Travel documents such as passports are required. The NEXUS program allows pre-screened travels expedited processing at the border, and NEXUS cards are accepted in lieu of passports, but travelers still need to pass through staffed border crossings.

I imagine that things are similar along the border between the US and Mexico. Despite the construction of various fences and walls along the border, there are many places where simply walking through open country or wading or swimming a river can be accomplished. Those who enter that way won’t have the required documents to remain in the country, but access is relatively easy. Like the US-Canada boarder, I am sure that there are many families with kin on both sides of the border.

We encounter Canadians who have entered the US legally nearly every day. They shop in the stores and purchase gas in stations in the US. They cross the border for family events. British Columbia license plates are probably more common than license plates from other states of the US on the streets of our town. There are plenty of Canadians who have summer cottages along the bay and who come to visit them regularly.

The lasting peace between the two countries is a blessing and the concept of an open border is as appealing today as it was when the Peace Arch was first constructed. Gates that never close are a symbol of the lasting friendship between the people of the two countries. As we show our guests, this is a very peaceful place to live. The birds and animals cross the border without recognizing any barrier. People have learned to go through a series of questions and proof of citizenship status to cross the border but also freely go back and forth. Our neighbors to the north are good neighbors and we welcome them to our side of the border.

It will take time for the pandemic to run its course. And after this pandemic there will likely be other infections and illnesses that require vigilance. We will continue to need to learn how to be safe as we go about our daily lives. But the gates at the Peace Arch remain open and hopefully the Provincial Park will be able to reopen soon.

A mountain day

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Hosting guests from Australia is a perfect opportunity for us to explore our new home. Yesterday we drove up the Mt. Baker Scenic Byway to Artist’s Point. In the span of a little more than 50 miles we went from near sea level to over 5,000 feet. At the end of the highway, Artist Point, we were treated to spectacular views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan. And, to the delight of our grandson, the area still has lots and lots of snow. The day was beautiful and warm and a perfect day for a summer picnic in the mountains.

The North Cascades are incredible mountains. Mt. Baker is considered to be one of the most active volcanoes in the range, second only to Mount St. Helens. The highway to the Mt. Baker Ski Area at Heather Meadows winds along the North Fork of the Nooksack River. From our viewpoint at the end of the highway, Mt. Baker’s 10,781 foot snow-covered peak, neighboring Mt. Shuksan and the surrounding slopes of the Cascade mountains make for 360 degrees of alpine views.

As a bonus to our trip up and down the mountain road, we were able to show our guests and our grandson a black bear walking alongside the highway. It was a perfect adventure for our small group.

The road up Mt. Baker goes through Deming, the location of the tribal headquarters of the Nooksack people. This Coast Salish tribe has inhabited the region since time immemorial, living mostly off of the salmon, steelhead, rainbow, and cutthroat trout. The lush forest of cedar, hemlock, Douglas fir and other trees provide abundant resources for constructing homes. The forest is home to bald eagles, black bears, mountain goats, elk, and spotted owls. The old growth forests are the nesting grounds of the marbled Murrelet, a small Pacific seabird.

The Nooksack River is named for a famous chief of the tribe and means “noisy water.” The name is clear as we looked at the numerous cascades and the 88-foot waterfall into the deep rocky canyon below. The river system is the northernmost drainage of the Cascade Mountains in the United States.

In the late 18th century when explorer George Vancouver gave the name of Joseph Baker to the mountain. Europeans first summited the mountain in 1868. Not long after that, miners who were passing through the area heading for the Fraser River gold rush in Canada and Alaska, discovered gold in the North Cascades and the region’s uncomfortable history of extraction began. Although it never produced enormous amounts of precious metals compared to other areas, active mining has been a part of the region’s history. Not long after the miners came the loggers, who harvested the giant old growth trees to supply the timber needs of the growing city of Seattle and other areas along the west coast.

From a geological standpoint Mt. Baker is relatively young, perhaps less than 100,000 years old. The cone of the volcano sits on top of an older volcanic cone called Black Buttes, which was active between 300,000 and 500,000 years ago. The hard volcanic rock has resisted erosion even the action of glaciers during the most recent ice age. The top of the mountain continues to be covered with snow and ice year round, with areas where the volcanic rocks show through the snow in the summer.

One of the wonderful things about spending time with our almost-three-year-old grandson is that it doesn’t take much to entertain him. The huge snow banks near the parking lot at the end of the highway were an amazing delight for him. He laughed and giggled as he made snowballs and snow angels in the melting piles of snow. He borrowed his grandmother’s gloves, which provided some protection from the cold before they became soaked with melting snow. His laughter echoed in the high country and delighted all of us.

I have always thought of myself as a child of the mountains, being born on the east slope of the Rocky Mountains in Montana. The truth is, however, that I have lived much of my life in the rolling hills of southwestern North Dakota and western South Dakota. I’ve spend many hours driving across the prairie landscape of the Dakotas. The place I now call home is simply amazing to me. To go from the seashore to high alpine meadows in less than 60 miles is a dramatic transition. To be able to throw snowballs in the mountains and rocks into the sea on the same day is something I couldn’t imagine in the other places that we have lived. The combination of high mountains so near to the ocean makes a beautiful place to live and a fun place to show to guests.

I imagine that the people who have called this region home have long expressed their gratitude for such a beautiful place. On clear sunny days we can see the mountain peaks , but the mountains “hide” in the foggy mists on cloudy days. Mt. Baker appears to be very close on some days and farther way on others. It is easy to imagine people creating stories about the mountains and the creatures that call them home.

One of the joys of having friends from far away who are able to travel from time to time is that we have been able to show our Australian guests the places we have lived in Montana, North Dakota, Idaho, South Dakota and now Washington. Each visit has brought fresh opportunities to show them something different about this large and varied country. Showing them this corner of the country yesterday reminded me of how fortunate we have been to have been able to live in such different and beautiful places with such diverse wildlife and birds. This particular visit doesn’t afford us enough time to show them the great cities of Seattle and Vancouver, but there are many other things we could share with them in future visits. For now, we feel fortunate to be discovering more about our new home as we share it with our guests.

St. John's Eve

Across the globe, there is a wide variety of celebrations around the solstice. The longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, which corresponds to the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere, is the result of the tilt in the axis of the earth, bringing the northern half of the globe closest to the sun on June 21 and the southern half of the globe closest to the sun on December 21. There have been festivals and activities celebrating the phenomenon throughout all of human history. In some places, such as Stonehenge in England, there is evidence that ancient people were very accurate in the measurement and designation of the exact time when the sun reached the highest point in the sky as observed from the earth. There are other places, however, when the longest (or shortest) day of the year is observed in a general season. Celebrations of the solstice range from June 21 through June 24, which is designated as St. John’s Day in many places.

In Canada, especially in Quebec, French Canadians celebration June 24 as St. John’s Day with a holiday. The day is also known as Midsummer day in some places. Celebrations include bonfires, picnics, special alcoholic drinks and general revelry.

The Christian feast day of St. John has a fairly confusing history. It is likely that the Christian celebration of St. John’s Day has some origins in the practice of the early church of locating festivals and feasts at times when pre-Christian celebrations were already occurring. Thus Christmas is celebrated near the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere and St. John’s Day lands near the summer solstice. The variation in dates from the actual solstice days can be explained in part in the switching of official calendars of the church from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. For many years now, tradition has celebrated the birth day of St. John the Baptist on June 24.

It gets fairly confusing, however. The tradition of roughly six months difference in the age of John the Baptist and Jesus is based in part on the story reported in the Gospel of Luke of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth after discovering that she would be the mother of Jesus while Elizabeth was pregnant with John. The early pregnancy of one woman corresponded with the later pregnancy of the other. Part of the confusion around St. John’s Day is that there is more than one St. John in Christian tradition. The feast day of St. John the Evangelist, not to be confused with St. John the Baptist, is observed on December 27. The confusion is also due to the fact that for most saints, the day observed as their fest is the date of their death, not the date of their birth. Tradition names August 29 as the date of the death of St. John the baptist by beheading. I do not know how that date was set, but it is observed as a regular feast in the Eastern Orthodox church. John the Baptist, however, gets other holidays in addition to the feasts for the beginning and the ending of his life. Both Eastern and Western Christianity observe September 23 as the date of the conception of St. John the Baptist.

We don’t have absolute records of the exact dates of any of the events in John the Baptist’s life. The official recognition and celebration of those events has been assigned by tradition more than by historical accuracy.

The effect of the fluidity of dates has been that there are a variety of celebrations surrounding the winter and summer solstices and those celebrations are spread out across several days at both times. This year the simple fact that the solstice occurred on a Tuesday and St. John’s Day occurs on a Friday will have an effect on the celebrations across the northern hemisphere.

Solstice celebrations seem to become more emphasized the farther one gets away from the equator. The variation in the length of days between the two solstices is greatest closer to the poles of the planet than at its equator. If I remember accurately, there is a mere 7 minutes of variation in the length of the day in San Jose, Costa Rica, while the difference in the length of the day in Fairbanks, Alaska is 19 hours with dawn and dusk making nearly 24 hours of sunlight at the summer solstice and nearly 24 hours of darkness at the winter solstice. If you live farther north, you are likely to be more aware in the change in the length of days as you go through the year.

Our move to Northwestern Washington a couple of years ago took us far enough north that we notice the difference in the swings of daylight from our old home in South Dakota. Up her in the corner of the lower 48 states, the days are particularly long here. I find that I am rising earlier in the mornings and staying up later at night simply because of how light it is. The Sun is rising around 5 am and setting around 9:30 pm. That means that there is discernible light in the sky at 4:30 am and it remains light until after 10 pm. That is a big contrast with the winter solstice, when the sun rose after 8 am and set around 4:15 pm. Around here we drive in the dark a lot in the winter, but only rarely drive in the dark in the summer.

Our house is aligned very closely to the compass, with our front porch facing south and our back deck facing north. This means that we have excellent outdoor spaces to sit in both the morning and evening sun. We’ve had the additional blessing of sunny days this week which have drawn us out doors as much as possible. It is a wonderful time for picnics, barbecues, and other outdoor activities. We can remember, however, the short days of winter which lie one the opposite side of the calendar.

So happy St. John’s Eve. Even if your traditions don’t include a formal celebration, it is a good time to note the sunrise and sunset and enjoy the length of the day up north and observe its shortness if you live in the southern hemisphere.

Friendship

I think the first time I met Tony was the first day of my first class of theological seminary in the fall of 1974. I may have been introduced or had a brief conversation with him prior to that classroom meeting, but it was the beginning of my having an opportunity to actively listen to what he had to say and to share my ideal with him. We soon had more conversation than the class sessions afforded and found ourselves engaged in deep conversation over a cup of coffee or tea and a snack. The next year we shared a study, kitchen, dining room and living room in a house we rented from the school while still attending classes together. During Christmas break that year his family traveled with us on the train back to Montana and met our families. We found plenty of Montana winter adventures during that vacation. The following summer we camped our way across the midwest headed back to Montana. We were returning for another summer of managing our church camp in the mountains. His family was heading to the west coast and from there flying back to their home in Australia.

In the following couple of years, we finished seminary, were ordained, and began our careers as ministers. Tony has visited us in each place we have lived since graduating from seminary, Between visits we have exchanged letters, emails, occasional phone calls, and conversations over Skype. Children have been born, family members have died, we have moved from place to place. Life has gone on with its celebrations and its grief and each experience has been made more meaningful because we have been able to share those experiences with Tony. We visited his family in Australia and helped them celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. When his wife suddenly died, we spoke on the phone as he traveled through the early days of the journey of grief. When Susan became seriously ill, Tony was on the phone with words of encouragement and support. When Tony was married once again, we attended the wedding virtually on the Internet.

Yesterday when Tony and his new wife came up the escalator from the transit train art SeaTac International Airport, I recognized them immediately. After exchanging greetings and hugs we once again picked up the easy banter and conversation about all kinds of different subjects that has marked our friendship for nearly a half century.

Our friendship with Tony has become a fixture of our lives. Whenever I hear the phrase “lifelong friendship,” I think of Tony. We didn’t meet as children, but we have maintained a steady friendship since we first met. He has been a good friend to our children and our children and his son are close even though they have never lived on the same continent.

The letters BFF, meaning best friends forever, are thrown about freely these days on social media. Often they don’t really designated best friends and they aren’t testimonies of long-term friendships. Social media is especially fickle when it comes to long term commitments. Friendships, connections, conversations, and entire social medial platforms come and go. But, as our friendship with Tony illustrates, there are friendships that endure. The passage of time strengthens the connections between us.

Today, with our Australian friends staying with us, with our daughter and grandson also here for a visit, we will note our 49th wedding anniversary. Significant times like this are best celebrated in the presence of friends and family. Our anniversary is another demonstration of the deep value of lasting friendships. We were friends before we were married and we continue to be the best of friends after all of these years. When we say best friends forever we know what we are saying.

The companionship of a friend who travels this life’s journey alongside you is one of the great sources of pleasure and meaning in this life. When it comes to friends, I have been richly blessed with people who have stuck with me through all kinds of changes. There are a few people in this world who knew me when I had red hair and now know me when my hair is white and there isn’t much of it on my head at all. They knew me when my convictions were new and being tested and I was trying out to figure out what I believed. They know me now that I am more set in my thoughts and beliefs. They have been a sounding board for my doubts as well as my beliefs.

Somewhere I heard that avoiding talk of religion and politics was a good way to maintain civil relationships. With my friends, however, we have no such fears. We talk about politics whenever we are together. We have talked of religion into the wee hours of the next day so often that it is almost a habit with us. We are confident in our relationship and know that the discovery of a difference is a way to add to the richness of our friendship and not a thread to our enjoyment of one another.

The process of retiring during a pandemic has meant that more of our relationships with friends need to take place over distances. We are fortunate to life in a time when telephone calls are inexpensive and video chat is available on every computer and even the cell phones we carry with us wherever we go. Still, it is a real blessing to be together as friends. There is something about sitting at the same table and catching up with what has been going on in our lives that makes the process way easier than doing the same thing while staring into a computer screen.

The summer solstice has arrived. Last night was the shortest of the year. The days are at their longest. And we have no shortage of things to say from dawn to dusk and well beyond dusk to the quiet of the night. To be surrounded by such dear friends is a blessing beyond description. Joy, joy, joy!

Life with a two-year-old

Life is different in a household with a two-almost-three-year-old than it was in an empty nest household. Our grandson is marvelous, smart, curious, cheerful, and energetic. He is an excellent climber. That combination means that his safety demands constant supervision. We have a small step stool that we keep in the kitchen to I can reach the highest cupboards. It is also used by our grandchildren when they help with food preparation so they can reach things at the kitchen counter. Our older grandchildren ask us to get them a glass from the cupboard when they want a drink. Our two-year-old pushed the step stool over to the counter, climbed up onto the counter, opened the cupboard and got out his own glass. He would have gone to the refrigerator and filled the glass with water, no doubt, had not his mother and grandmother intervened. As I have already written, he needs constant supervision, so one of us is watching each time he attempts something new.

He knows how to unlock and open doors. Yesterday when we were preparing to go on a short adventure he got ahead of me while I was tying my shoes and went out into the garage. He is too short to make the motion-detecting light work, so when the door closed behind him he was in the dark. When, seconds later, I got to the door, he was standing there in the garage in the dark unconcerned.

Having him visit puts us at a distinct advantage because he came with his mother, so we have three sets of eyes and three pairs of arms to keep track of his adventures and make sure that he is safe. It gives me a great deal of respect for his mother, who is a full-time caregiver.

Last evening, I had sole responsibility for him for about an hour while his mother and my wife made a quick trip to the store. I didn’t have any illusion that I would be able to get anything done. I simply played and kept track of him without trying to do any cleaning, check my email, or accomplishing any other task. He is, after all, a two-year-old. His attention span is short. In one hour we took a dip in the hot tub, got his pajamas on, played with his spider man figurines, played with dominoes, played with balloons, played catch in the back yard, drew with sidewalk chalk, assembled and disassembled Duplo blocks, read several stories, and played hide and seek. It seemed to me like I was just figuring out what game we were playing when he switched to a new activity. I lost count of how many times we went up and down the stairs.

This was in the evening, after we had been to the park where he ran and climbed and went down slides, after we went on a walk where he ran ahead and I had to jog to keep up with him, after a long day filled with lots of activities. No wonder his mother falls asleep each time he takes a short nap.

I wouldn’t want it any other way. It is absolutely fascinating to me to watch him explore and make his way in the world. He is learning so much so fast that there is a new skill each time I look.

Our children came into our lives a bit later than was the case for some of our peers. As parents of young children in our thirties, we were sometimes the oldest ones in a parents’ group. I made jokes about it, saying, “Since children require 20 years of care from parents, why rush to have them. You could have your children at 60 after you’ve established your career, earned a bit of a nest egg and are retired.” It was a joke. I didn’t really mean it. I don’t think I’d even make the joke these days. the energy level of a 69-year-old is no match for a two-year-old. One hour of being his solo caregiver and I was definitely relieved to see his mother and grandmother return. The three-to-one ratio seems just about right. It gave me new respect for his mother, who used to work in a preschool and manage a classroom with a dozen two-year-olds with a single assistant.

She definitely has the skills and energy required to keep up with a two-year-old. She kept him safe and entertained through two major airports and a nearly five-hour-flight all by herself.

One of the advantages of being a grandfather is that I get to just watch most of the time. I can play with our grandson knowing that if he needs a change of clothes or some special time with his mother she is readily at had to help out. I don’t have to do the laundry, clean the house, care for the dog, and prepare meals while being the sole caretaker of a two-year-old who can open doors, climb on kitchen counters, turn on and off the lights, and reach a bookshelf that requires him to stand on his tiptoes and extend his arm as far as it will go. This is a child who can open the pantry door and who uses the shelves to climb towards that snacks that have been intentionally placed out of his reach.

I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to watch our own children grow and develop and now to be given another chance as I watch our grandchildren. I am delighted with each visit and eager for as many visits as their parents can tolerate. I can appreciate what a gift I can offer by watching a child while a parent gets a few moments to do another task. I may not have the energy to be a full-time caregiver any more, but I can appear fairly competent for short amounts of time.

And, after just an hour with the two-year-old, I’m grateful to have a recliner in my study where I can retreat for a few minutes while I catch my breath.

Love transcends distance

In November, 2019, my wife faced a health crisis. Both of our children took time from their busy lives and came to our home to provide support to us. Our son came first, managing to get to the hospital on the same day that the crisis occurred. Our daughter was living in Japan at the time, caring for a new baby, but she and our grandson came when Susan got home from the hospital. Being able to hold our four-month-old grandson was part of the healing process for both of us. On their way back to their home in Japan, they had a few days’ layover in Seattle and they stayed with our son and his family in their home at Clear Lake. Our daughter’s patience and vision for photographs led her to arrange her nephew and nieces on the floor, lying on their backs and looking up. She placed her baby next to them and took a photograph that instantly became one of my all-time favorites. I had an 8 x 10 print made of the photo, put it into a frame and enjoyed it for years. I put the picture into the slide show of images on my computer that show as a desktop background. I even had it put onto my bank card when our bank offered custom bank cards as a free bonus.

Time passed. We moved. Our grandchildren grew. When our daughter and grandson came to stay with us as part of their move from Japan to South Carolina in February 2021, she posed the grandchildren for another photo. It also became an instant favorite of mine, often displayed alongside the first photo of our grandchildren lying on their backs looking up at the camera.

Now we have five grandchildren and when our daughter and grandson arrived for a visit last week in what has become a family ritual the children were posed on the carpet at our son’s home, with the new baby added to the four growing grandchildren. With a quick eye for just the right moment, our daughter snapped another photograph that is a family treasure.

Yesterday as we were celebrating Father’s Day, there was a flat package with my name on it. I unwrapped it and it contained an 8 x 10 print of the photograph of the five children looking up at the camera. It is, in my opinion, a perfect Father’s Day gift. The photograph is on a shelf in my study where I can see it as I work at my desk. The previous photographs are part of the slide show on my computer desktop. As soon as I finish unpacking all of the boxes from our most recent move all three prints will be displayed together.

I commented to my family that a repeat of the photo each year would be just the right Father’s Day gift. Of course, in order for me to have the photo this year, our daughter and grandson had to be away from their husband and father on Father’s Day, which would not be fair every year. They visit every day on FaceTime, but it isn’t the same as being together so he can feel his son’s hug on his special day.

We raised our children with a sense of adventure, a love of travel, and the courage to pursue their lives and follow their hearts. It should not surprise us that they have grown into loving adults who are building their families in two different places. Right now, we have one on the west coast and the other on the east coast. At least, we are quick to say, we have both on the same continent.

It is a continuing lesson in a basic truth for me. Love transcends physical distance. We can love those who are not physically close to us. Relationships can remain strong and meaningful even when we are not able to be with each other on a day-to-day basis. It is an important part of our faith. Love never dies. We continue to live in love with dear ones beyond the span of their human lives. I keep thinking how much my parents would enjoy our grandchildren. My father died before our son was born and my mother died just before our grandson was born. But their love and care are a part of our family life and stories of them are part of every gathering of our family. Pictures of them appear on my computer screen along with the pictures of our grandchildren. When our grandson asks, “Who is that, Poppa?” he gets a story about my parents.

While we treasure the moments when we can be together face-to-face we know that love is bigger than the spaces that separate us. The lesson will be taught once again tomorrow when we go down to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to pick up a seminary classmate of ours. We first met Tony in 1974 as we participated in our first intensive class in theological seminary. We quickly became friends with his entire family. When he completed his doctorate, Tony and his family went back to Australia, but not before we had formed a life-long friendship. Over the years we have lived a long ways apart, but we have had a few rare occasions to be together face-to-face. We have been able to meet Tony’s grandchildren. In 2006, we were able to spend a month together in Australia. Both of our children were able to join us for that trip. The timing of our daughter’s visit is due, in part, to the fact that Tony is visiting the United States and she wants to see him and introduce him to her son.

It has been nearly 50 years of friendship and we have not lived on the same continent. Distance does not diminish the power of loving relationships. We can be close to those who live in different places. We can be family together.

There will be new photographs as we are together this week, celebrating the power of love to transcend distance and the joy of being together. They, too, will become treasures more valuable than the trinkets advertised in the father’s day flyers we receive in the mail. Even more precious than the pictures are the memories we share and the stories we tell.

Still talking about COVID

More than two years on the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a major factor in our lives. The Omicron variant spreads more easily than the original virus and the Delta variant. The current case rate in our county is 267 cases per 100,000 population, which is slightly higher than the state rate of 239. That translates into 609 cases reported last week. Accurate numbers are very difficult to obtain. Cases are underreported because not everyone who gets sick from the virus is tested and some of those who test positive on home rapid tests do not report. It is also the case that some duplicates are a part of the official statistics. While official reports help to get a sense of trends, they don’t tell the entire story.

Another way to gauge the impact of the pandemic is the percentage of hospital beds currently occupied by COVID-19 patients. Our county reported 9% of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients last week. That rate has been hovering around 10% in recent weeks, which is considered to be moderate compared to earlier phases of the pandemic. More people are testing positive for the virus, but fewer are ending up in the hospital. This trend is approximately what researchers predicted for the ongoing pandemic. Subsequent variants become more easily spread, but cause less serious illness.

Vaccination rates are rising. While vaccination helps to slow the spread of the illness and those who are vaccinated may experience milder symptoms if the disease is caught, vaccination is not a guarantee that a person won’t become infected. Increasingly we hear anecdotal evidence of vaccinated people who have contacted the disease.

This week we decided to change a major faith formation event that we have planned for November from an in-person gathering to a virtual event. With case rates running high, we decided that bringing in a speaker from Massachusetts and gathering neighboring churches was not a good idea given the risk to people’s health. We are working hard to make our virtual event as strong as possible. We are getting better at virtual events. But we are disappointed to have to change our planning. In the scheme of things it is a small change. Still, it is frustrating to still have to change our plans due to a pandemic that we expected to be over by now.

The statistics of this pandemic are so overwhelming that they are hard to process. Virtually everyone knows someone who has become ill from the virus. Most of us have multiple friends who have died. COVID-19 has killed 6.32 million people worldwide. 1.01 million have died in the United States. That is a lot of grief. In addition to the grief over deaths, there is grief from jobs lost, careers changed, and loneliness from isolation. Our people are sad and grieving, and we are not able to minister in the ways we once did because of the precautions that the disease demands.

Yesterday thousands of people gathered in Washington, DC, for the Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington. Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign addressed the rally on a wide variety of issues and topics related to poverty. Among them was the disproportionate impact of the COVID pandemic on low-income people. In April the Poor People’s Campaign released a study that showed that Americans in poor counties died at nearly twice the rate of those in richer counties. “Poor people have been 2 to 5 times more likely to die from COVID during this pandemic so far, and we know this can’t simply be explained by way of vaccination results; it’s related to the discrimination in our policy toward poor and low-wealth people,” he said.

COVID-19 protocols will be a part of our common life for some time to come and we don’t know how long that time will last. We have also been told by researchers that COVID-19 could become one of multiple pandemics that will appear in years to come. Despite the rapid decline in their use following the lifting of mandates, masks still are effective in limiting the spread of illness including COVID-19. We are learning to carry masks with us wherever we go and to use them whenever we are in crowded places. Our church continues to require masks for in-person gatherings, which means that we are unable to serve food indoors. That is a huge change for an institution that was used to serving refreshments after weekly worship and regular potluck meals.

Now, this far into the pandemic, we are noticing a kind of COVID fatigue. People are tired of isolation, tired of special protocols, and tired of Zoom meetings. One of the things we hear regularly from the people we serve is the desire to get together in person. Engaging in ministry is a balancing act of responding to the needs of our people while doing what we are able to prevent further spread of disease.

As I write this morning, I am aware that I have already written most of what I know about the pandemic. There is nothing new in today’s journal post. Like other themes to which I return from time to time in my journal, COVID is a topic that keeps showing up. It continues to occupy my conscious thinking when there are so many other topics I want to address. I suspect that regular readers of my journal are tired of the topic as well. COVID, however, is still with us. It is still shaping our decisions and our actions. It is still a threat to the lives of vulnerable people. We are still learning how to deal with its effects.

For now we’ll keep KN-95 masks and rapid test kits among our health care supplies. While we don’t expect to become used to the procedure of swabbing our noses, we have resigned ourselves to the necessity of doing so from time to time. We will do what we can to help prevent the spread of disease. And we will keep revising our plans for church programs and activities as we learn the art of ministry during a pandemic. We will continue to use the tools that our ours including social media and video conferencing despite our desire to be together face-to-face. And we will pay attention to the statistics and respond to the grief of those who lose loved ones and advocate for equal access to care for those who are infected.

As usual, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Tools

I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but before I went to school my father made a workbench for me. I still have that work bench. It is in the shop at our son’s farm and is used by the children when working on projects or making things. With that work bench, I received a claw hammer, a handsaw, and a couple of screwdrivers. One of the first projects with my father was making an open-topped toolbox. Before too long, i had added a chisel, a small block plane, and a crescent wrench to my tool collection. Most of those tools have been lost over the years, but I have the block plane and I use it from time to time. It is just the right size for some projects. The iron still takes a good edge and it produces satisfying curls of wood.

Ever since that first tool box, I’ve been collecting tools. When I was 14, my father gave me a mechanic’s tool box and I collected a set of box wrenches, a ratchet and sockets, and other tools. My first sets of wrenches and sockets were mis-matched, gathered from careful farm auction purchases. I learned that if a bucket had even on Craftsman tool in it, a $1 bid might get a very good tool. That brand carried a lifetime, no questions asked warranty, so I could get a replacement if the tool was bent or otherwise damaged.

These days I own a lot of tools. I have tool boxes in my pickup and in the camper, at home and at the shop on the farm. I have a couple of buckets with plumbing tools and a couple of rolling cabinets with mechanic’s tools. At the shop, we have a cart with every kind of sander and sand paper a person would ever need.

Not everyone is a tool collector. We used to have a joke at my father’s shop that a basic farm tool kit consisted of a claw hammer, a crescent wrench, and a roll of baling wire. If a machine couldn’t be repaired with those tools, it ended up in our shop. These days, not very many people have baling wire (I do have a partial spool at the farm). In its place, duct tape has become the common replacement for on the spot repairs.

My current go to tool joke is that a basic homeowner’s tool kit contains two items: a can of WD-40 and a roll of duct tape. If it moves and it shouldn’t, use the tape. If it doesn’t move and it should, use the WD-40.

One of the projects at our house yesterday was removing the over the stove microwave oven that had failed and replacing it with a new one. After the installation was completed, I looked at the tools spread across the kitchen counter. There were two screwdrivers, a drill motor, a box of drill bits and another of screwdriver bits. There was a small level, a sharpie marker, and a roll of gorilla tape (even better than duct tape). I had brought into the kitchen a tape measure, a putty knife, and a utility knife. I had the vacuum cleaner out as well as a broom and a dustpan. Putting away the tools took almost as long as the job had taken. You might think that two microwave ovens that are the same size could be mounted on the same bracket and empty the same holes through the cabinet above. It doesn’t work that way. A new bracket in a slightly different location and two new holes were located. I had to cut a cardboard template to mark the location of the holes for mounting the new oven. Drilling new holes resulted in sawdust on the floor behind the stove, which had been moved during the installation.

I know that there are people who don’t have many tools. I’ve met a fair number of them because I do have tools. When we were students I often made repairs for classmates in their rooms or on their vehicles. I will loan tools, but I don’t like to do that. I’d much prefer to make the repair myself, and often do.

One of my father-in-law’s projects inspired me. He bought a small tool box and filled it with basic tools for each of his daughters as a high school graduation gift. I did the same for both of our children and for several nieces and nephews. Both of our children told me that they made college friends because it was known in their dormitories that they had tools. They became the go to source for tools when Ikea furniture needed to be assembled or when a small repair was needed.

I have definitely handed down my love of tools to our son. Between the two of us we have a very well-equipped shop at the farm. He is left-handed and I am right-handed, so we make an effective team for home and farm repairs. Like me, he has an impressive collection of tools at the house to avoid having to make a trip to the shop each time a simple tool is needed. We both have the same brand of cordless electric tools and batteries go back and forth. I don’t know how many of those batteries we have, but a lot.

Our daughter’s husband is the head of a large shop that overhauls jet engines and he definitely shares our love of tools. His home garage is well-equipped with plenty of tools and he knows how to use them properly. Our daughter is competent with basic tools and can complete many home repair jobs. Our grandchildren are growing up with knowledge of tools and their uses. Even the young ones know the difference between a claw hammer, a ball-peen hammer, a rubber mallet and a wooden mallet. They all like to hand tools to grandpa, even when they are too young to understand the difference between a 10mm wrench and a 13mm wrench.

I have multiple rolls of duct tape and several cans of WD-40. I have crescent wrenches and claw hammers and several gauges of wire. I have super glue and screwdrivers of all sizes. And if I look around, I probably can find one or two tools that I’ve never used just in case I might need them. I’m trying to be good and not add to the collection, but the other day when I was helping a friend and needed a sink wrench, it was quicker and simpler to make a quick trip to the hardware store than running out to the farm. Now I have one at the house and another at the farm. If you aren’t careful the number of tools will multiply.

Shopping games

Yesterday, we wanted to make a purchase. Because we are aware of supply chain issues, we checked the web sites of several stores to determine where the item might be in stock. Susan and I discussed the purchase and I headed off to the nearest store with the item in stock. It showed “limited supply,” but the item was available for in store pickup. The store was a big box store a short drive from our house. I had enough time to run into town and make the pickup. When I arrived at the store, I could find no employees in the section of the store where I wanted to make my purchase. After wandering up and down the aisles, I went to the service desk in the store, where I was told there were two employees assigned to that section of the store. I informed the service desk that all I needed was to make the purchase and suggested that they could ring up the sale and have one of the employees bring the item to the service desk. Instead, someone from the service desk accompanied me back into that section of the store, where we eventually found an employee.

I told the employee what it was I wanted to purchase and the employee went to a computer and began looking for the item. Since the employee was having trouble finding the item, I used my phone to find it online and gave the employee the store’s item number. The employee said, “I have to check to see if we have one,” and began to search the shelves. I spotted the item high on a shelf, where it would take a ladder or a lifting device to get up to it. The employee said, “I have to find a second one, because that one is already sold,” and proceeded to go into a back room where there was more inventory. After nearly 15 minutes the employee returned and told me that they did not have the item available. I pointed out the one on the shelf, and was told that it could not be sold as it was being held for another customer. I said, “OK,” and left the shop.

Later in the evening, I checked the store’s web site again and it showed the item available. I decided to see if the online ordering for in store pickup worked and placed an order. It went through. Later I received an email message saying the item was ready for me to pick up in the store. Since it was fairly late, I decided to wait until this morning to pick up the item. I will make a second trip to the store and pick it up.

I’m fairly certain what happened. The store reserves some items for online ordering. When a customer is in the store and wants to purchase the item, an employee needs to remove it from online inventory so that it becomes available for in store sale. In the case of the item I wanted, after the computer work was done to remove it from the online store, it would have been additional work to get the item from the high shelf. By leaving the item in the online order section of the web site, the employee could claim that it was not available for sale. Perhaps the moment I arrived at the store was the end of the shift for the employee. Or perhaps the employee knew that there would be no personal consequences from providing poor customer service.

I know that there is nothing to be gained from making complaints. The big box store is likely struggling with low inventory and a shortage of workers. In a free market capitalistic economy a shortage of workers should result in higher wages, but the labor market in the United States is far from a true free market. Big box stores are not going to be the leaders in paying more to increase customer service. They know that the appearance of low inventory helps their sales. People are more likely to make quick decisions when it appears that inventory is low and they fear they might not be able to get the item when they want it.

In other words, there is no financial incentive for the big box store to provide customer service. In a way, I proved that point yesterday by going ahead and making the purchase at that store. They didn’t lose a customer and they didn’t lose a sale because of poor customer service. I simply worked around a difficult employee to get the item I wanted. The sale was made and the profit earned by the store without having to deal with labor or supply shortages.

I have had enough experiences with poor customer service to have developed some skill at “playing the game” to get the results I want. I complain about having to work around difficult employees, but my behavior does nothing to make a change. If I complain about yesterday’s experience when I pick up the item this morning, the employee to whom I complain will have no authority to do anything about my complaint. There is no incentive for the employee to even report my complaint. The employee may not have received training in customer service, but probably has learned that one way to deal with irate customers is to simply listen, defend themselves when voices are raised by deflecting the anger, do nothing and wait for the customer to leave the store. There is no incentive for the employee to make an effort to retain the customer. Customer loyalty is not a matter for the employees in the store. They are receiving the same hourly wage whether or not the customer is happy.

My defense against all of this is to generally avoid the big box stores when I am able. I prefer to shop with smaller locally controlled stores, even if I pay slightly higher prices for the service. I like clerks who enjoy serving the public. Sometimes, however, I will play the game and do business with big box stores in order to find the item I want at the price I want. But each time I do, I am reminded why I prefer the local business.

Home

Our two-year-old grandson has done a lot of traveling in his short life. He was born in Japan. When he was 4 months old, he and his mother traveled from Japan to South Dakota with a stop in Washington to visit family. When he was 19 months old his family moved to South Carolina. He and his mother stayed with us in Washington for a month while their new home was being prepared. He has visited his other grandparents in Virginia a couple of times. He has been to visit friends in Florida. And this week he is visiting us after a 3,000-mile airplane journey.

He is very much at home in his world. He is happy, well-adjusted, secure, and adventurous. As interesting to me as his ability to travel is his sense of security. I watch as our daughter practices routines with him. Certain elements are always a part of preparing for bed in the evening. Certain familiar foods are offered. With his father still at work in South Carolina, the phone is used to video chat with him a couple of times each day. There are rules about behavior that are the same at grandma and grandpa’s home as they are when he is at home.

His mother grew up with a similar style of family travel, though the distances of our trips were much smaller. She made her first visit to Canada when she was about six weeks old. When our children were preschool age, we took them with us when we traveled. They learned to ride in their car seats as we went about our life and work. We were careful to maintain routines. There were familiar toys and books that traveled with us. Bedtime rituals were observed. Meals came at predictable times. There was time for cuddles and storytelling every day.

While it is true that both of our children love to travel, it is also true that they both really enjoy staying at home. Both have worked hard to build stable home lives for their children.

Since I, too, feel a balance between a love of travel and a strong desire to have a home place, I am interested in families that choose different lifestyles. A short tour of YouTube will find no shortage of stories of families who travel full time. One preferred venue is travel in a converted school bus. In general these full-time traveling families put a higher priority on experience over possession. They live a minimalist lifestyle in tiny homes, but have expansive experiences.

One of the things that interests me about the digital nomads who chose to document their lives on YouTube is that while they enjoy travel and have wonderful adventures, the lifestyle is filled with a lot of hard work. YouTube doesn’t often show the hours of sitting over a computer editing video in order to have the appeal necessary to get the “likes” and “subscribes” required to earn money from the platform. Viewers see the highlights of travel, but not the daily grind. Most of the digital nomads I have watched don’t keep up that lifestyle for long periods of time. A common occurrence in the YouTube world is to discover someone who has been making videos for a year or more, follow them for a few months, and then their videos just stop appearing. One nomadic family whose videos I watched, posted two or three videos each week for a year. They chronicled travel through 47 of the lower 48 states. Then one day the videos simply stopped being published. Months passed with no new videos. I don’t know the rest of their story. Maybe someone was injured. Maybe they stopped traveling for health reasons. Maybe they just got tired of the hard work of producing videos and came up with another way to earn their living.

I don’t have any research information, but I suspect that many families who embrace full time travel do so as a season of their lives. They travel for a while and then they have a time when they are more settled. The school bus or camper gets parked and building a home place is pursued with the passion that once was devoted to travel. I believe that some find the constant travel to lack the support of community and the lasting friendships that are critical to children’s growth and development.

Having invested my career in building strong, stable, intergenerational communities, I believe that such community is essential for raising children. I have a strong bias towards religious communities. But I watch our son’s passion for libraries as centers of community and recognize some of the same goals and some of the same work.

Like many things in life, I believe that there is value in balance. Travel and community are not “either or” choices. Giving children experience with both is important as they develop their own skills of discernment and decision making. Increased options of work that is not tied to a specific location gives more choices to families than was the case in our parents’ generation. The pandemic yielded more jobs that could be done from any location than was the case previously. Opportunities for remote learning and homeschooling expanded in the face of rapidly spreading disease. At this point in the pandemic, however, we are encountering more and more families who have discovered some of the limits of isolation. I know children and teens who have no interest in more opportunities for Zoom or FaceTime. Virtual community has its limits, especially when children are involved.

We won’t be going back to the way things were before the pandemic, but in-person experiences are still critical to the development of community. Careful planning is required for safe gathering. Children need a sense of familiarity. They require reliable and consistent social contacts in order to develop basic trust. Care needs to be given to planning for their education and developing networks of support. Lasting friendships need to be pursued and supported.

Human cultures are always shifting. Exciting changes are occurring in work and family life. It is fascinating to watch and study those changes. But it is also interesting to see what remains. I believe that home will continue to be important to the development of children long into the future. Even the nomads are traveling towards home.

Numbers

Quite a few years ago, I was talking with our children and for some reason I said, “I think 5 is good number for grandchildren. I’d like to have 5 grandchildren.” It was just a kind of a joke at the time. I think I even said, “I don’t care which one of you has how many, but a total of five would be just right.” Our children have been wonderfully amazing for all of their lives, and I would never attempt to tell them how to live. I enjoy them the way that they are and one of the great joys of my life has been watching them grow. As it turned out, I guess that 2 children was exactly the right number for us. I grew up in a family with 7 children and Susan a family with 3, but 2 was just the right number for us.

And now we have 5 grandchildren. It isn’t exactly by design. It is just how things turned out. And last night we went down to Seattle and picked up our daughter and grandson who had flown from their home in South Carolina for a visit. Now all 5 are here in Northwest Washington and as soon as school is out this afternoon we’ll have all 5 of our grandchildren together for the first time. Number 5 is just 4 months old and he will be meeting his South Carolina cousin for the first time.

It’s about the best birthday present I can imagine. Today I am 69. In a week we will celebrate our 49th anniversary.

The years have gone by in ways that I was unable to imagine when I was younger. When we married, I knew that I wanted to have children some day, but I didn’t know that we’d be married 8 years before our first was born. The timing was right for us. We had gotten through graduate school and been called to serve our first parish. We had a couple of years of practical experience under our belts and had acquired enough furniture to have a home. 2 1/2 years later his sister came home and our nuclear family was complete. At least that is what we thought at the time.

Although our families of origin were close, I didn’t realize until our son married how much the spouse of your child become another child of your family. I was more prepared when our daughter married. Now it seems natural that our 2 have become 4, although we never really had just that number. Our first grandchild was born just before our daughter was married, so our family was in a growing mode at the time. So, in a way you could say we now have 4 children and 5 grandchildren. The little family of 4 has become an expanded family of 11, which is a pretty good number.

I don’t really think that one number is better than any other number, but I certainly like the numbers with which we’ve been blessed. And today 69 seems like a good age. For years I said that I wanted to work until I was 70 before I retired, but things didn’t quite work out that way. I was 67 when I retired from full time ministry. Fortunately for me, I got to go back to work as a minister at 68 and it looks like I’ll be serving in this position for a while, perhaps even until I turn 70. From my current perspective, that won’t be a problem. In fact, I might even look for another part-time position when this one comes to its conclusion. After all, 70 is just a number.

I remember attending a 50th wedding anniversary celebration not long after we were married. At the time, as a newlywed, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be married for half a century. 50 years seemed like an eternity - 2 1/2 times as long as I had been alive at the time. Now we’re closing in on that number and in some ways I still feel like a newly-wed. I got really lucky in the marriage department and I get reminded how lucky I am every day just by getting to share life’s adventures with just the 1 I want to be with.

We live in a crazy world with a lot of problems - too many to count. There are challenges and issues at every turn. Earlier this week we watched as a House Select Committee reported to the nation the lengths that a former president went to to subvert democracy and attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power in our nation. This weekend we will see a continuation of the poor people’s march on Washington - a process that has been in motion since 1968. That’s 54 years of advancing poverty and stagnated wages for low income workers. Maybe it is a weekend when we will begin to make important changes. When I am in some moods, I can worry extensively about climate change and the world we are leaving to our grandchildren. Floods, fires, more intense storms, increasing numbers of refugees, global migration, pandemic and a host of other realities of this world have connections to our over consumption and our inability to share not just with those with whom we currently share this world, but with those who will come after us. Our country has failed to take reasonable steps to limit gun violence and the slaughter of innocents continues.

In the middle of all of these things, however, I have been blessed beyond my wildest imagination. All 5 together for my 69th. Our 2 under the same roof for a visit. A celebration of 49. And next week we’ll renew our connections with a friend, colleague, and former classmate with whom we’ve shared 48 years of friendship, family and ministry. Our conversations will be as rich and powerful as always.

It all adds up to a million reasons to give thanks. I may not be very advanced in my understanding of math, but I sure do like the numbers.

High water

When I was growing up, our family spent our summers right next to the Boulder River. Just a couple of miles from our house in town a place that at one time had been a city park and later a small tourist cabin court had fallen into disrepair. Our parents bought it on the Sheriff’s auction for back taxes and over the years fixed up the cabins and eventually built a new cabin and a shop building on the property. I remember looking forward to the end of the school year so we could “move” to the cabins. Life there was a bit more primitive, with meals over the campfire at first and, until we built new bathrooms less than perfect shower facilities. But the river was so wonderful! In the spring when high water came, you could hear the rocks crashing against each other as the water rearranged them. The music of high water in a mountain stream is one of the theme songs of my life.

The exact timing of high water varied quite a bit. It depended upon how much snow fell over the winter, how warm it got in the high country, and whether or not spring rains augmented the river flow. Several years the combination was enough that the river exceeded its banks and we’d have mud puddles in the yard. The buildings were mostly high enough to avoid any flood problems, but occasionally a little water would seep into a couple of out buildings that were close to the river.

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This year, however, the high water has come to Montana rivers and streams in a way that none of us can remember ever happening before. To start things off, the spring had been cooler than normal and on Memorial Day weekend storms dumped feet of fresh snow in the high country while it rained down below. This was on top of a more fixed base of snow that had been accumulating all winter. The fresh snow on top resulted in more avalanches than normal, taking down trees and clearing steep pathways for future runoff. In the last couple of weeks temperatures began rising. It was not only warm down in the valleys, but it got hot in the high country as well. The rate of snow melt accelerated. To top it all off, there was a lot of rain last weekend, with records in some places.

Rivers and creeks all across south central Montana are overflowing. The river than runs by our family place has flooded many low lying areas and higher up the valley has blocked roads and threatened bridges. The road to the high country, where our Church Camp is located, has been closed. The river is running brown with dirt and rough with debris. Huge trees are washed down, become lodged along the banks and create eddies and white water currents. Our family place has a bit of water in the yard, but nothing threatening. It is on the inside of a bend of the river. Across the river, the banks are being washed away and trees are falling into the water.

Because of the closed road news is slow to travel from higher up the river. There are a few cabins that could be threatened by the high water.

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It isn’t just our drainage. Rock Creek has flooded the town of Red Lodge. It filled up its normal river bed and washed out at least two bridges. The water was diverted right onto Broadway street and from there flowed down other streets. Susan’s sister’s home became riverfront property, with water rising over the front steps of the house and flooding the basement. The city water system was overwhelmed and had to be shut down. Electricity to the town was taken out. Evacuations were begun.

The Stillwater is also in high flood stage. The Gallatin and Yellowstone, flowing out of Yellowstone National Park are raging. And the Yellowstone is short of cresting downstream as the other rivers I’ve been mentioning all flow into it. All entrances to Yellowstone National Park have been closed. Mudslides are taking out roads and bridges. Evacuation of the entire park is underway. Gardiner, the town at the northwest corner of the park, is completely cut off will all roads going in and out of the town washed out by flooding. Repairing the road south of town into the Park will take months as entire sections are washed away. North of town the river is over the road and travel is impossible. The extend of the damage is not yet known because sections of highway are still under water.

The Montana National Guard has sent in helicopters to help. Evacuation centers have been established.

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Paradise Valley south of Livingston is flooded with many farm homes and buildings filling with muddy water. Park and Sweetgrass County officials have not yet completed the official survey of roads and bridges.

A year ago, those of us who came from the region and who have family and friends in that part of Montana, were all on edge because of the fires that were raging in the area. The flames of wildfire could easily be seen from the town of Red Lodge as the tinder-dry forest was ignited. Those fires have contributed to the severity of the flooding this year as steep areas without trees are prone to mudslides and washing down into the rivers creating blockages and additional debris that is washed downstream.

We’ve hear from our family and most of our friends in the area. Everyone is safe. Our Red Lodge family has a lot of mess to clean up. The water in the basement has likely destroyed their furnace, a refrigerator is floating with the door side down, making it impossible to get at the food inside. Some school papers and art supplies that were stored there are now ruined. But a mess is preferable to a tragedy. They have water and the main floors of the house are dry. They may need to stay with friends for a while until services can be restored and repairs are made to their home.

We now live a long ways from Montana, but a bit of Montana goes with us wherever we travel and wherever we live. We watch with bated breath and we wonder at the power of nature. And even though the stories aren’t ours, we have collected a few more to tell. The folks who live there will speak of the floods of 2022 for the rest of their lives.

Driving aroud town

We were walking along the bay yesterday and we saw a golf cart going down the street with golf clubs in the back. I know, there are a lot of places where such a sight would not be remarkable. And it isn’t really remarkable here, except we live in a community where it is legal to drive golf carts on the streets and we often see the vehicles used as simple transportation. There are quite a few of the carts that have been lengthened to accommodate four and six passengers that are used for general transportation around here. When we walk along the beach, it seems like we are in a tourist town. We see lots of cars with out of state license plates. We see people strolling up and down the pathway taking pictures with their cell phones. There are a few neighbors we recognize, but there are a lot of people whose names we do not know. We’ve only lived her since October, but we recognize the change in seasons in terms of the number of people.

This place, however, is off of the beaten path. We are ten miles from the Interstate highway. When we turn off of the freeway, we drive on two-lane country roads for a while before we reach our neighborhood. Our neighborhood, however, is densely packed, with the houses close together. It is a working-class neighborhood. Many of the folks who live here work at the oil refinery just south of us. Those folks don’t drive golf carts to work. In fact, there are too many cars in our neighborhood for the amount of parking that is available. Most of the houses have two-car garages, but few of the garages have cars parked in them. When we see open garage doors, we see them filled with shelves and lots of possessions. There is no room for a car in many of the garages. We keep our car in the garage, but that a doesn’t seem to be the norm around here. There are a lot of places where the cars don’t fit in the driveway. Our streets are narrow, so if there are cars parked on both sides of the street, only one land remains for driving. We drive slowly in the neighborhood anyway, so it isn’t a problem, but we do need to wait for other folks from time to time.

Tomorrow we are going to drive down to Seattle to pick up our daughter and grandson at the airport. SeaTac International Airport is about 100 miles from our home. There are commercial flights that come into Bellingham Airport, just 20 miles from us, but there are no direct flights from where our daughter lives in South Carolina to Bellingham. Changing planes with a two year old is a challenge, so it works best for our family for them to fly into SeaTac. I don’t mind the drive. When we lived in North Dakota, the nearest airport that had airline service was 150 miles away. Living in rural areas and driving seem to go hand in hand.

It surprises, me, however, how many people I’ve spoken with recently who think that it is a terrible thing that we have to drive to the airport. There are a lot of people who think that driving in Seattle traffic is a terrible burden and they avoid it as much as possible. Seattle does have heavy traffic. There is only so much space between the mountains and the ocean and it is really filled with people. Interstate 5 goes right through the middle of downtown. The 405 bypass can be just as busy as the highway through town. At certain times of the day commuters have to be prepared for heavy traffic. The drive to the airport from our home can be extended by as much as an hour when the traffic is heavy.

I’m not a city person. Except for the 4 years we lived in Chicago when we attended graduate school, we’ve always lived in small cities or rural areas. We used to joke that Rapid City is too small to be able to afford a rush hour so it makes do with a rush 15-minutes. There are very few places in the city that are more than 15 minutes from any other place in the city. Bellingham is a bit bigger, but we don’t live in Bellingham, so we go there to go to church, which in our case is also where we go to work. And we do a little shopping there. A half hour is sufficient time to allow to get from our home to any place in Bellingham. We don’t drive a golf cart and traffic on the Interstate flows at around 70 mph.

Even though we have lived in rural places, I don’t really mind driving in urban traffic. It is an acquired skill, but it isn’t all that difficult. You have to be alert and pay attention whenever driving a vehicle. Driving in a place with a lot of other cars means you have to pay attention to the vehicles around you and be prepared to respond to changes in speed and stay in your lane, but those skills are pretty basic to driving. The navigation program in my cell phone is sophisticated enough to monitor traffic problems and predict commute times. I allow a bit of extra time so that I’m not too rushed. Relaxing and realizing that there is nothing you can do about traffic slow downs is part of the skill of urban driving.

SeaTac Airport has the world’s largest parking garage, so finding a place to park won’t be a problem. Besides the reward of getting to see our daughter and grandson is a pretty big incentive for us to hop in the car and head to the city.

I realize that the day will come when I will need to hand over my keys and quit driving, but I’m not there yet. After the sticker shock of filling up the gas tank, I’m ready to make the trip and I don’t intend to complain about it.

Teaching our Children

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When our first child learned to talk, I used to comment occasionally that he seemed to listen to everything that was said in our house. He would report things that I had thought were private conversations between my wife and myself. I guess we had been used to being a household of two, where we could talk about everything we wanted without thinking about who was listening. Now, we were a family and we had to learn to be a bit more careful about what we said and when we said it. This never caused any real problems for us as a family. It was just one of the adjustments we made as we embraced parenthood and life in a family with children.

There are some topics that are important to us that we choose not to discuss in front of our children. Our grandchildren know that we are upset about school violence and that we were very concerned when their school was locked down recently. But we don’t want to frighten them unnecessarily with overly long discussions of specific weapons, statistics about gun ownership, and we certainly don’t want to make their experience of school worse by sending our worries off to school with them.

Still, it is important that we discuss difficult subjects with our children. They need to know that they can come to us with their questions and concerns. They need a home where the things that are important to them can be discussed. And they need to be included in our conversations in ways that are appropriate to their developmental stages.

Today we will be talking with the children of our church about the Poor Peoples’ Campaign and the March on Washington which will take place next Saturday, June 18. It has been an important topic of discussion in our church for some time. The coordinator for the event for our area made an impassioned presentation to the congregation a few months ago and members of the church have been working to support those who are traveling to Washington DC as well as encouraging our congregation to watch the livestream of the event and become involved in the campaign wherever possible. Poverty is a moral issue in our country at this time. It is critical that congregations speak out on moral issues and provide community leadership.

The realities of life for poor and low income workers in the United States affect millions of children in our country. There were 140 million people who were poor or one emergency away from economic ruin before the pandemic. Since March 2020, while hundreds of thousands of people have died, millions are on the edge of hunger and eviction, and still without health care or living wages. At the same time billionaire wealth in our country has grown by over $2 trillion.

It isn’t just that staggering prices at the grocery store and the fuel pump are placing these resources beyond the reach of millions of people. It is also that others are making record profits off of those prices. The greed of a few is creating a crushing blow driving individuals and families from decent housing and denying them basic health care and nutrition.

It isn’t easy, however, to discuss these matters with children. We don’t want to create unnecessary fear, nor do we want to be unrealistic about the situation of the children in our congregation, most of whom come from families that have stable finances. Children, however, do have compassion for others and can understand that we need to engage in direct action to help those in need.

One of the areas of focus for our presentation with children has been one of the logos of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign. The logo, shown above, recalls the 1967-68 Poor People’s Campaign. That campaign was created by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to address issues of unemployment, housing shortages for the poor, and the impact of poverty on the lives of millions of people. People went to Washington, DC, as will be happening again this week, to talk to the people who make laws. Back in the 60s, some of the people who traveled to Washington DC did so in mule wagons. 15 covered wagons traveled for four weeks to reach the nation’s capitol.

We have made a large coloring poster of the artwork show above so that a group of children can work together coloring and adding their artwork to the poster. Perhaps they will draw some food to put in the wagon, or other things to show that they care. We will be asking the children of our church to work together to show God’s love and care for other people. It is what it means to be a church, and teaching children how to be members of a congregation is part of what we do in our faith formation programs at the church. As important as is the creation of a colorful poster, the conversations we are able to have with the children as they work together are important.

We can help children remember that Jesus helped other people and taught his disciples to help others as well. Talking about those who were ill or blind or poor or hungry and thirsty and how Jesus responded with healing and food and water are important lessons that we want to hand down to future generations. Knowing about welcoming strangers, visiting those in prison, and giving clothes to those in need are important parts of belonging to a church community that we want to share.

Some are called to march in the streets. Others are called to listen, write letters, offer support in the form of donations of money, food, time and talent. Some are called to interpret the story to our children. We know that teaching these lessons in our church involves more than a single time with children in worship. It is more than a coloring poster and coloring sheets to take home. It is more than the decorations in our building this summer. It is a lifetime commitment to sharing the gospel of Jesus. Today is one more step in that process. Perhaps a child will be inspired to learn more. Perhaps a parent will be challenged by a conversation with their child.

A moral crisis calls for a moral revolution. And we are in the business of morality. We will keep teaching.

Lost shoe looking for its mate

The village of Birch Bay has a lovely walking path that extends for more than a mile along the bay. the path is just up from the beach, so there is a good view of the water as we walk, but the path is an easier walk than along the gravel and sand beach. We often walk the full length of the path. We enjoy counting the great blue herons, watching the gulls and keeping our eye on the eagles’ nest at the north end of the walk. For about a week now, there has been a single child’s shoe on a rock near the south end of the path. Someone has placed it on the large walk and weighted it with a smaller rock so that it can be easily seen from the street as one drives by and it won’t blow off of the rock when the winds pick up. It is covered in glitter, so it shines when the sun is on it. As a grandfather, I can easily imagine a child losing a shoe as they played along the path. Perhaps the shoe was dropped from a carriage or kicked out of a door when a child was loaded into a car. I don’t know the story of the shoe, but I keep hoping that the owner will rediscover it and it can be reunited with its mate. Each day that passes makes it more likely that the mate will be discarded. After all a single shoe just isn’t enough for most people. Seeing it makes me just a little sad, but there remains a spark of hope. Today it is the weekend. Perhaps the shoe was lost on the weekend and the family will return and discover the lost.

Some of my friends who do not live in Washington ask me about how I am adjusting to all of the rain. It does rain more here than any other place where we have lived, but days when it rains all day long are relatively rare. More common is a day when there are rain showers and also times when it isn’t raining. I think that I may have redefined the term “partly cloudy” in my mind. If I can see any blue sky at all, even if the majority of the sky is filled with clouds, I’m likely to call the day partly cloudy. I think that in the other places I have lived, I might have called a day cloudy when at least half of the sky was filled with clouds. We have learned that the forecasts are not always accurate. it was supposed to be rainy all day long yesterday, but it didn’t start raining until after dinner in the evening. Most of the day was dry and lovely.

Still, there is something about the weather here that is consistent with other places we have lived. According to the natives, the weather we are having is not “normal.” “It isn’t usually like this,” we’ve been told. We were told the same thing about South Dakota, Idaho, North Dakota and Chicago.

I remember the Chicago blizzard of ’78. It was one of the largest snowstorms in Chicago history at the time with 21 inches of snowfall in a two-day period. The wind blew, so there were lots of drifts. Only 2 inches of snow was forecast, so we didn’t change our plans. My sister was in the city, interviewing for a job. I had tire chains and was able to get around, but there were a lot of cars that had just been abandoned on the streets and freeways. The locals told us that such a storm was something they had never before seen. “Our winters aren’t usually like this.”

We heard it about record summer heat and extended winter cold in North Dakota. In fact, the weather was a major topic in many of our conversations in North Dakota where our congregations were filled with farmers who always had an eye for the sky and the clouds on the horizon.

Our realtor in Idaho informed us that the heat of the summer we moved was unusual, and a cloudy autumn was “strange” for Boise, where, according to the realtor, “it is sunny 360 days a year.” Of course had we been astute, we would have recognized that such a claim is one made by cities in the desert, and the climate of Boise was close to a desert.

We lived in South Dakota for 25 years, but according to long-term residents, none of those years was “typical.” The spring was too short, or the summer was too late. The cold lasted too long or the snows came too soon. No matter what the weather, we could almost always find someone who would say, “When I was going up here, the weather wasn’t like this.”

So it shouldn’t surprise us that we are having a rainy June here in northwest Washington. Barely more than a week into June, and the town of Ferndale has already surpassed its average rainfall for the entire month. Rainfall to date as of yesterday was 1.72 inches. Normal average for the month of June is 1.45 inches. June 9th was the most rainy June 9th ever recorded. The locals tell us “Sure it rains her in the winter, but in a normal year we have beautiful weather from April through October. People are used to going outside to ride bikes, paddle, and go for walks whenever they want. This is a mecca of outdoor activity.”

They might be right. But it is also a good place to own a quality rain coat.

Fortunately, it is also a good place to have waterproof shoes. The sparkly shoe on the rock at the end of the walking path is one of those waterproof shoes. If it hasn’t been discovered by its owner, it is getting wet right now, because it is raining once again. But it won’t be ruined. I sure hope it gets found by its owner soon. Maybe the rain will stop and the sun will come out and the sparkle of the glitter on the shoe will catch their attention today.

Uncle Ted

I was named for my mother’s Uncle Ted. Soon after my parents purchased a farm machinery dealership, Uncle Ted and Aunt Florence moved to our town. I have a clear memory of the green, yellow and red Mayflower truck that brought their household goods from California. Uncle Ted became the parts manager at Big Timber Farm Supply. When I remember him, I remember the green John Deere jacket that he wore at work, the tall stool on which he sat, and the way he taught me to sharpen knives, scissors, and other blades. I still have that stool. It is in our shop beside the bench where I keep my stones for sharpening knives. When I sit on that stool and sharpen my pocket knife, a lot of memories return.

I don’t remember very much about Aunt Florence. She died of a heart attack, but I can’t remember whether or not she had been sick prior to her death. I think it was sudden and unexpected, but I can’t recall the details. What I do remember is Uncle Teds years of being widowed. He adapted to living alone successfully and developed his own routines and methods of doing everyday household chores. His life had been shaped by the shortages of the Great Depression and he was a frugal man who didn’t throw out anything that he thought might later be useful. His tiny workspace at the end of the garage and a pair of outside garden sheds were crammed with all kinds of bits and pieces. He had worked as a machinist and was a skilled sheet metal worker. He made all kinds of useful objects out of bits of metal that had been discarded by others.

Uncle Ted had his own version of “instant” coffee. He would take a 1 pound can of coffee and dump the entire contents into a sauce pan, saving the metal can so that he could reuse it as a can or cut it up for sheet metal. Then he’d fill up the pan with water and boil the contents until it was a thick sludge which he would pour into a quart jar and store in the refrigerator. When he wanted a cup of coffee, he would take a teaspoon of that sludge, put it and the teaspoon into a mug and fill the mug with boiling water. Then he’d stir it up and drink it. I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker when I lived at home, but he offered me coffee after I became a teenager. It tasted awful. I learned to drink it anyway.

As I approach the age that he was in the years that I remember him the most, I discover that I share a lot of his personality traits. He loved to tinker. He always had something that he was making. I’ve got a host of projects. I love to make things from bits and pieces that I can find in my garage or shop. I have a tendency to keep things that others consider to be junk.

Uncle Ted was rather stoic about his feelings. He didn’t express them too much. I think I am a bit better at that than he, but I’m not one who likes to make a public display of emotions. When I am moved to cry in public I feel a bit embarrassed. Uncle Ted was a bit awkward around women, even members of our family. When I find myself in a situation where there are lots of hugs going around, I can understand how he felt. I’ve learned to accept hugs from people I know, and I enjoy a hug from family members, but I’ve no desire to hug strangers. I used to make suicide calls with a woman who gave everyone hugs. She was good at offering a reassuring hug to a grieving person. I never developed an ability to do so with ease. One of the few things I enjoy about covid is that I’m at home with my circle of close family and keeping physical distance from others. I’m perfectly happy passing the peace in church with waves and elbow bumps.

I’ve wondered how much of my personality has been shaped by the name I was given. I certainly identify with Uncle Ted, but I don’t know how much of that is because we shared a name. Maybe I would feel the same way about him had I been given a different name. My brother Vernon doesn’t seem much like my mother’s father with whom he shares a name. Then again, grandpa died before my brother had a chance to know him. My brother Randy isn’t very much like our Uncle Randy. I don’t know whether my siblings think I’m like Uncle Ted.

If a name shapes a personality, I’m a very luck person to have inherited a name and had such a great relationship with my uncle. It has been a good name and a good identification for me for all of my life.

There are many qualities that Uncle Ted displayed that I admire and which guide me as I move into my aging years. He didn’t seem to need to be the center of attention. He was happy to simply get to work in the background. He could always find some job that needed doing and he’d just pitch in. He was always present for family. He showed up for Sunday dinner and for every birthday and holiday gathering. He was happy to sit in the corner and observe what was happening. He retained useful skills, such as sharpening all of the knives for everyone in the family, and making useful objects out of scraps. He didn’t need to go shopping or to have new things in order to be happy. He faced grief in his own way and embraced life even in his sadness.

I also want to have a few quirks that set me apart from others and give my family stories to tell. I don’t mind being the guy who has collected too many canoes or who always has a story about something that happened years ago.

I have a great nephew whose middle name is Theodore. No one in the family except me calls him Ted, but I’ll be watching him to see what personality traits he displays as he grows up. I’m pretty sure he will give his family plenty of stories to tell as well.

What goes around comes around

Many of the ideas that form the basis of Christianity took generations to develop. I suppose it is true of many of the big ideas that humans embrace as well. It isn’t that an individual somehow wakes up with a new worldview, but rather an idea grows and is transformed as it is passed from generation to generation. There are many times, however, when people will seize an idea without knowing its origin. In Hebrew wisdom literature an argument developed over the nature of time. From one perspective, reflected in many parts of the Bible, time is linear. There is a beginning and there is anticipation that there will be an ending in the future. History progresses from the ancients to today and continues to future generations. But there appears, in biblical literature a kind of minority opinion about that. In the first chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes time is pictured as a circle that returns to where it had previously been. “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down and hurries to the place where it rises.” (Ecclesiastes 1:4-5)

The reality is that the construct of time is very complex and there are truths in both worldviews. Neither completely captures the essence of time. One of the important contributions of biblical literature is its ability to preserve the story of how ideas develop. By reporting multiple points of view, we can see that some of the topics and arguments of our time fit into a larger pattern of evolving ideas.

The chain of thought that is passed from generation to generation, however, is occasionally interrupted. People convince themselves that they have a new idea. They forget that ideas have been circulating for a long time.

Recently, I have been in several different settings of the church where a presenter is talking about some new idea, except I recognize that the idea is not, in fact new. It is something that we discussed and learned decades ago. It can be frustrating to hear a presenter claim that they have a great new idea and then go on and on with concepts that we discussed many years ago. It is even more frustrating that the presenter appears to be unaware that we have previous experience.

I believe that this phenomenon arises in part because the church has, for some time now, been so eager to embrace new generations as a key to its future that we have viewed youth and enthusiasm as more valuable than experience and wisdom. A couple of decades ago I noticed that certain jobs in the conference and national settings of the church were filled by young and energetic persons. They often brought a spark of newness to work that had been going on for a long time. At first it was refreshing. But in the process we lost a bit of institutional memory.

While this was going on, theological education was being revised within the church. We recognized that there could be multiple paths to ordained ministry with the traditional long academic journey being only one way to prepare for service as a minister. Distance education began to replace residential schooling. Individuals were allowed to pursue their education and preparation for ministry distinct from their cohort groups.

And, frankly, as all of this was happening, I was growing older. Somewhere along the line, I found myself shifting from the traditional perspective of linear history into more of the mode of the author of Ecclesiastes. I haven’t quite gotten to “what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) But I have begun to expect less innovation from attending conferences and listening to presenters.

One of the workshops I attended yesterday was especially that way for me. It was billed as a new way of thinking about church programming, but I failed to see any new ideas in the presentation at all. The leader did have some contemporary research and some new statistics, but the trends he was observing have been present in the church for many decades. At one point in the presentation, I asked myself why the presentation seemed so much like things we were doing 20 years ago, and decided that it was in part because that is what our teachers were teaching 40 years ago. Our presenter yesterday, however, seemed to be unaware of the history of the ideas he was touting. He acted like he had just discovered something new. And no doubt those ideas were new for some of the other participants in the event.

“Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See this is new’? It has already been in the ages before us. The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.” (Ecclesiastes 1:10-11)

The history of philosophy and theology, however, teach that there is a flaw in my thinking. What I perceive as old ideas being rehashed over and over again is really a process of the evolution of those ideas. Whether or not members of the current generation are aware that their ideas are a part of a process that is bigger than they, those ideas continue to grow and change in each generation. The way we think about the nature of God, the way we talk about the mission of the church, and the way we envision leadership all are ideas that are far too big for a single generation. We wrestle with concepts with which our forebears struggled and in the process we add a small amount of new insight.

My lack of patience with the process may be the result of a kind of urgency that comes with aging. I know that for me the timing is short. I don’t have another 40 years to watch change come slowly within the institutional church. The changes we envisioned will take more time than the span of our lives. The process, however, is moving forward.

So I will read Ecclesiastes from time to time. I will see myself in the words of the book. But I won’t dwell there too long, for there are many other perspectives which must be considered.

Meeting in virtual space

Today and tomorrow I will be participating in the Association of United Church Educators’ National Event. This year’s event is titled, “A New Turn: Hybrid Faith Formation.” Over the years, I have participated in several AUCE national events, but this is the first one that does not involve travel for me. Hybrid Faith Formation isn’t just the title of the event, it is also the style of the event. The two-day virtual conference is taking place over the Zoom platform. However, the AUCE Board has taken the platform a step farther than the typical user, by hiring a professional event company to manage the details of Internet Connection. I have already been through a tech check with a professional from the company and I have the secure web site to enter the “green room” in preparation for presenting during the first workshop. I have a different web connection for the parts of the event where I am not presenting, but participating as a member of the organization.

There will be six workshops, a virtual worship service, opportunities for connecting informally with colleagues, and opportunities for self care during the event. Like other AUCE events, I am looking forward to seeing old friends and making new friends who are engaged in faith formation ministries of the church.

I am not, however, looking forward to spending two days in front of the computer. I enter the green room for the first workshop at 8 am this morning local time. The last workshop of the day concludes at 6:30 p.m. After that, I have a 30 minute break before going back online to facilitate a virtual Adult Forum within our local church. We are already offering faith formation for members of our congregation in a virtual format. That’s 13 hours of screen time for me, somewhere in the neighborhood of a week’s worth of time in front of the computer in one day. Then I will get up tomorrow and do it again.

In the days of in-person gatherings, my schedule was disrupted far more deeply by these events. A national event would involve at least two days of travel time for me. I probably would have piggy backed at least one day’s worth of additional meetings to take advantage of the gathering, so a two day event would consume an entire week of my time. With luck, I would be able to do it without missing a Sunday worship service in my local congregation, but there were plenty of times when I would be traveling on Sundays in order to make the schedule work and to take advantage of the lowest airfare rates possible.

Virtual events and distance learning are a permanent part of faith formation ministries. When I first served on the national board of the Association of United Church Educators, I was brought to the board because I had some web development and management skills. I helped the organization produce its first web site and managed that site for several years before passing that task on to another person. These days, the technology is more sophisticated. The web site manager no longer has to know how to write code, and the web site has beautiful graphics and offers a great deal more content. In preparation for today’s sessions, my home office has been transformed into a mini television studio with a special microphone for enhanced sound quality and special lighting. Green screen technology will enable me to appear before a virtual background keyed to the theme of the event. All of that technology is more reliable and, for the most part, less expensive than it was back in the early days of web development for the organization.

The meetings of the AUCE Board now take place over the Internet. I have participated in meetings from my office at the church and from my home. I would be able to participate in a meeting while traveling as long as I had access to the Internet, which I do most of the time by using cellular technology and other Internet hot spots such as libraries. In the fall and next winter I will be teaching classes for the Faith Formation Leadership Training Program, a certificate program for faith formation leaders. I will have students from the east coast to California in my class, and I’ll lead it from my home. Like the AUCE National event, it primarily involves participants in four time zones, with the possibility of participants in any time zone on the planet. When I sign on at 8 am here, it will be 11 am on the East Coast. And when I finish the AUCE sessions at 6:30 pm, it will be 9:30 back east. Just fitting the schedule into the hours of the day is a challenge. The classes I will be teaching later will require me to sign on at 5:30 am. On the other hand they will conclude by 9 am, so I have the rest of the day free for other activities.

All of this would be very unfamiliar for the mentors and teachers who influenced my seminary training in Christian Education. The tools and techniques I learned were all based on in-person face-to-face models of education. Adapting to the world of virtual events is a big challenge for me. But it won’t be for our grandchildren. They have grown up in an Internet-connected world. They have participated in Zoom public school classes during the pandemic. They are at home with the world of log-ins and passwords and virtual backgrounds.

The core of faith formation, however, will always be about human relationships. Part of what motivates and enables me to participate in the virtual conference today is that I look forward to connecting with colleagues with whom I have decades of shared ministry. Today I’ll be introducing a teacher who I met while working on a curriculum development project a couple of decades ago. Another person I will introduce was a colleague in educational consulting for congregations among other professional connections. These are real people about whom I really care. We will meet in a virtual space, but the meeting will be very real.

This may be a taste of the future. That is yet to be seen. It will certainly be an adventure. And I have long been up for adventures.

A proper English tea

Ross Snyder wrote a small book of poems about marriage and family life called “Inscape.” The poems have been an inspiration for us for all of our marriage and they have been quoted by us in many marriage ceremonies at which we have officiated. There is one line that we have used over and over again: “Love is to be a home where friends from all over the world meet together for good fellowship and new creation, for the play of mind upon mind; living toward world humanity.” That line came to us when we were shopping for a new home last year. As we made up the things we were looking for in a new home, one of our priorities was to have room for guests.

Having room for family is important to us. We want to have space for our grandchildren to play and space for the family to gather for meals. We want to have places where we can gather outdoors as well as indoors. Although our son’s farm is close and they have quite a bit of space, it is important to use to have room for them to come to our home as well. And living so far from our daughter, having room for her family to stay at our home was a high priority. Although we have downsized a lot from the home we had in Rapid City, having guest bedrooms was very important to us.

In the eight months that we have lived here, we have had the joy of entertaining guests several times. My sister and to of Susan’s sisters have come for visits. Three of our grandchildren stayed over night on the evening when their baby brother was born. We hosted our daughter-in-law’s father and stepmother for a weekend. For all of our married life, having space for guests has been a high priority and now that we have reached a stage of semi-retirement, we want to continue hosting for as long as we are able.

So we are very excited that in a week our daughter and grandson will arrive for a visit and the next week, friends from Australia arrive. Tony, our Australian friend, has visited us in each place we have lived since we graduated from Seminary, with the exception of the rental where we lived for the first year after retiring. We’ve hosted his family in Montana, North Dakota, Idaho, and South Dakota. We are eager to show him around Northwest Washington.

As we were anticipating the visit, we were talking about what groceries we want to have on hand. We don’t have to be fully stocked, as there will be time to pick up a few groceries when they are here and even going grocery shopping is an adventure when you are traveling in another country. When we visited in Australia, we enjoyed seeing where they purchase their groceries. Somehow our conversation got around to tea. When we were seminary students, having a cuppa was an important ritual of our lives. At the end of the evening, when studying was suspended for another day, out would come a teapot and we’d have a cup of tea together before heading to bed. Most of the time there would be a cookie to go with the tea - a small snack at the end of a long day.

These days we are avoiding caffeine and our tea of choice is peppermint. That is one of the staples in our pantry that we make sure is always in supply. There are a couple of other teas there, including decaffeinated spiced chai, another favorite, but we don’t have the larger range of teas that we once kept on hand. At present, there is no Earl Gray or English Breakfast tea in our cupboard. We know, from years of friendship, that our Australian guests will not be picky about tea. They are delighted to simply share our life for the duration of their visit. Still, as hosts, we want to make sure that we have tea that they like. And we intend to have a small supply of caffeinated tea available if they choose to drink it. So we added tea to the small list of things we want to pick up at the store.

That conversation led me to comment on the fun video from the celebration of the Queen of England’s platinum jubilee celebration where the Queen hosts Paddington Bear for tea and they discuss marmalade sandwiches. Australia is a part of the British Commonwealth, so Her Majesty is Queen of Australia. And Tony was born in England, and holds dual citizenship in Australia and England. When we think of British tea, we always remember stopping at a small tea house in Tasmania where we enjoyed tea and scones with jam and clotted cream when we visited Australia in 2006. So a bit of Anglophilia is in order for their visit. I did a quick google to see if I could find out what kind of tea the queen served to Paddington Bear. After all, not knowing all of the proper protocol for a visit with the Queen, Paddington Bear made the slip of drinking directly from the tea pot.

I didn’t find out what kind of tea they enjoyed, but I did discover that a decade ago, when the Diamond Jubilee was celebrated a special 60th Anniversary blend of tea was created just for the occasion. Murchie’s Diamond Jubilee Tea, a flavored black tea blend, is still available. At the official tea part of the celebration on Sunday, I discovered that several types of tea were available including Earl Gray Tea, English Breakfast Tea, Decaffeinated Earl Gray, and a variety of fruit teas. The tea was served with cream, something we rarely do, though I don’t mind adding a bit of milk to my tea. New English Teas offered a special tin with 40 bags of English Breakfast Tea for the occasion. However the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee 2022 Tea Tin with 40 English ‘Breakfast Teabags is sold out, so we won’t have that to offer our guests. I’ve been told that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Tin is still available, but I’m not planning on ordering that one, either. I’ll stop by the grocery store and pick up a box of black tea and another of decaffeinated black tea and we’ll be all set.

After all, it isn’t about the type of tea, nor is it even about the house. It is about friends gathered. And that is the love we enjoy.

Pentecost fire

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The church where I grew up didn’t have a high church liturgical tradition. Our ministers were as likely to wear an academic hood as they were to wear stoles. But the church was in the process of moving towards a recovery of some of its liturgical traditions. This was due in part to a rising sense of ecumenism. The conversations that produced the United Church of Christ included a strong sense of Christian unity. After all, our church comes from four distinct denominational backgrounds and the union included the adoption of the new motto of the United Church of Christ: That they all may be one.” Black robes in the pulpit were the norm. Our congregation and our sister churches were proud of our tradition of educated clergy. Our ministers had completed undergraduate degrees and a three-year postgraduate seminary program. Academic hoods were seen as a mark of clergy. On the other hand, all of the pastors I knew growing up had a basic set of stoles. The most common stoles were reversible, with green backed with purple on one stole and red backed with white on the other. We were ordained a bit before the appearance of the beautiful and varied liturgical stoles that began to show up a few years later. At our ordinations we were presented with that basic set of stoles. In our first parish, it wasn’t the tradition for ministers to wear liturgical regalia in the pulpit, so we wore street clothes when we led worship. However, when we officiated at communion or a baptism we wore our stoles.

When we moved to a larger congregation, we began to wear robes and stoles to lead most worship services. At the tenth anniversary of our ordination we received gifts of new pulpit robes from the congregation we served. By then we had acquired a few more stoles, including some decorated with bright colors. We had a pair of matching white stoles with several other colors woven into them. For the next three decades I wore a robe and stole when leading worship nearly every week. Our collection of stoles began to grow. Because I followed the Revised Common Lectionary and the congregations I served were comfortable with liturgical traditions, we spoke often of the colors of the seasons. Advent and Lent were times to speak of purple and we often mentioned the colors in our time with children. Christmas, Epiphany and Eastertide were seasons of wearing white and we wore our green stoles for the season following Pentecost, which was the longest season of the liturgical year. Our red stoles were reserved for a few special occasions. We wore them when we attended ordinations. We often wore them on Reformation Sunday, but we didn’t always observe Reformation Sunday in our congregations. And the one Sunday of the year when we always got to get out our red stoles was Pentecost.

After years of service, the red stoles saw much less use than the other colors. Our red stoles remained vibrant when our other stoles became dulled with frequent use.

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday and the Worship and Arts Board of our church really did a beautiful job decorating our sanctuary. A Pentecost banner was hung and a special hanging with dozens of long ribbons of red and yellow with descending doves of white provided a strong visual image at the front of the sanctuary. In this congregation the Ministers of Faith Formation do not wear liturgical regalia for our role in worship, so after years of service our robes and stoles remain in our closet on Sunday mornings. The Lead Pastor and Associate Pastor, however, do wear robes and stoles for worship. They have many different and beautiful stoles. Some of them are in matching sets. They have a fifth liturgical color, blue, which has always been an optional color for Advent and is becoming more common in Protestant congregations. But they also have stoles in other colors, some of which are not part of the formal liturgical tradition. We enjoy seeing their beautiful stoles and are very much at home in our roles as Ministers of Faith Formation. Not wearing liturgical robes makes it a bit easier for us to get down on the floor and minister with young children.

I have several red shirts, so deciding what to wear to worship yesterday wasn’t much of a challenge. I put on a red shirt and adorned it with a black bow tie with the symbol of the United Church of Christ printed on the tie in white. I had a larger than usual role in worship as it was Confirmation Sunday as well as Pentecost. Our bell choir also rang two numbers, so I was up front for that as well.

However, as worship began, I noticed right away that neither of the pastors of the congregation were wearing red stoles. One had a white stole with purple accents and the other wore a brown stole. It seemed that both had chosen their stoles from a sense of fashion and favorite colors more than from the traditions of liturgical color. It struck me in part because wearing our red stoles always seemed to be a festive and anticipated time for us. I don’t think I ever wore any color except red on Pentecost for my entire career as a leader of liturgy.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Another member of the bell choir commented to me that nothing had been said this year about wearing red for Pentecost and that it surprised that person that the ministers weren’t wearing read stoles. The times are changing. I am well aware of the simple fact that I am growing old. I have passed the common age of retirement. The future of the church is in the hands of younger people, as it should be. They have new ideas and they will invest in new traditions. I can be a bit nostalgic about the way things used to be and I know that I should not let that nostalgia get in the way of the new things that God is doing in the church.

I believe, however, that the fire has not gone out of Pentecost. The season remains important in the life of the church and the story of the first Pentecost remains the focus of worship on Pentecost Sunday. I’ll be paying attention and I’ll celebrate when pastors wear red stoles. Yesterday was an anomaly. Brighter days are coming.

Pentecost 2022

We have an especially full worship service this morning. It is Pentecost and the Art and Worship Board has the sanctuary decorated with red. White doves, representing the Holy Spirit are evident on banners and a beautiful Pentecost hanging. There will be plenty of special music. One member of our confirmation preparation class will be playing the violin during the prelude time, another will be playing the piano for the postlude. The bell choir will be ringing two pieces. The congregation will sing one of my favorite Pentecost hymns, “Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness,” by Jim Manley.

We will be commissioning our Stephen Ministers, members of the congregation who have received special training in providing one-on-one Christian care to people who are hurting. Our Stephen Ministers provide special outreach to those who are experiencing grief and loss as well as those who are experiencing health challenges and disease. They are available for conversation and support in the chapel after worship. Their ministries are especially evident during that difficult first year after congregational members have lost loved ones.

We will be receiving new members to our congregation. We will celebrate the sacrament of communion. There will be special prayers for the students who have participated in the confirmation preparation classes.

Yes, the service will probably run a little bit long. We have planned carefully, but there is a lot going on and there are some things that simply have to be allowed time.

This service remembers the event that many Christians view as the beginning of the church. On Pentecost Sunday we read the story from the 2nd chapter of the Book of Acts that reports the coming of the Holy Spirit to a gathering of disciples. There is much in the story that makes it clear that words do not adequately describe the day’s events. The story is rich in simile. “A sound like a mighty wind,” “Divided tongues as of fire” — you can tell by the choice of words, even in translation, that the impact of the experience was beyond the power of words to communicate.

We don’t attempt to replicate the experience. We simply remember it.

Today is unique in my experience of ministry because of the individuals who have been participating in the confirmation preparation class that we have been leading this year. This class is unique in many different ways. The class is small, just three students and their mentors. Small classes are not unusual in the church these days. Not all youth are ready to make the commitment to participate in what can be a long and challenging process of learning. One of the things that makes this class unique is that all three students have had perfect attendance. No one missed any of the class sessions, even though we met during the seasons of Covid. In fact one of the students will be missing this morning’s service because he caught Covid, but only after he had completed every class session.

What I will always remember about this group, however, is something different. None of the three will be confirmed today. We always make sure that we communicate that confirmation is a free choice and that there is no pressure to choose confirmation, but we also are clear that we are preparing them for the rite of the church, explain its meaning, and invite them to do so. I won’t be able to fully communicate all of their thinking in a journal entry, but part of the decision for all three is a deep question about whether or not they are ready to make a commitment to the wider church. All three are serious about their faith and have developed statements of belief that reflect many elements of Christian theology. Two of the three are very ready to become members of our local congregation. They appreciate its ministries and find it to be a good place to engage their faith. All three, however, have serious questions about some of the things that have happened and continue to happen in the name of Christianity. They see examples of congregations that engage in discrimination, perpetuate injustices, preach a prosperity gospel, deny science, and expert psychological and financial pressures on members. All three have experienced people who call themselves Christian who practice open discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning youth. They don’t want to be associated with some of the things that Christians do.

We have agreed to continue our conversation. Even though Pentecost Sunday was set as the end of the confirmation preparation classes, we have not yet reached a place where the youth are ready and comfortable with the commitments of the rite of confirmation. They are taking this decision very seriously and they are ready to continue the conversations, learning, and preparation. We are very fortunate to have in our midst youth who are so honest and caring.

Today we will celebrate the journey that we have shared so far and make a fresh commitment to journeying together in faith in the time to come. Mentors will continue their relationships with the youth. We will provide other opportunities to talk about faith, the church, and membership. We will provide other opportunities for confirmation for these youth and for other youth who chose not to participate in the class. These three youth, with the support of their families and mentors, will form the core of a very important conversation in our congregation.

Every generation of Christians needs to take seriously questions about what it means to be Christian. There have been people in every generation who have claimed the title “Christian” but whose behavior, both pubic and private has not been an expression of the faith of Jesus. Saying you are Christian doesn’t make you Christian. We have the good fortune to have in our midst youth who are unwilling to compromise their integrity and who represent a challenge to the entire church to become more faithful.

Like that first Pentecost, I see today as the beginning of something very important. Our youth are calling us to live our faith so that they can see it in our behavior. They are willing to join us and walk beside us, but they intend to call out hypocrisy when they experience it, alert us to the inconsistencies of our faith and practice, and help us evaluate our relationships with others who call themselves Christian.

May we show as much integrity and commitment to the ongoing conversation as have our youth. May this Pentecost mark the beginning of a bigger and bolder journey of faith.

A political dilemma

We met our son at his office for lunch and a walk yesterday. One of the real treats of having moved close to where he lives and works is the opportunity to see him at work and have an occasional opportunity to talk, just parents and son, in the midst of a busy time in his life. It will come as no surprise to anyone who is an observer of American culture that we were talking about school safety and what might be done to ease the reign of terror that has descended in the wake of nearly 30 school shootings in the US this year. Specifically, we were trying to imagine what is politically feasible in the current climate of the politics of division.

One of the realities in the United States is simply the number of guns that are manufactured and owned by individuals. Domestic gun manufacturers produced 11.3 million firearms in 2020 (the latest year for which the data is available). That is roughly triple the 3.9 million that were made in 2000. For a comparison, the U.S. population increased by about 18% in those 20 years. The number of firearms manufactured in the U.S. jumped 250%. Those official statistics from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives do not reflect the dramatic increase in the number of so-called ghost guns - firearms that are privately manufactured and often hard to trace. The sheer number of guns in our country means that the politics of gun ownership and what is practical in terms of addressing gun control is vastly different from what it was just two decades ago. Add to that the trend identified by the Pew Research Center of a lower percentage of gun owners in the general population and a picture of fewer homes with guns, but those with guns having far more than ever before emerges.

It is also important to note that the types of weapons available and the uses of those weapons is evolving with time. Terms such as “assault style” or even “AR-15 style” guns are not specific enough to provide common definitions for the creation of laws. Often in the debate over gun laws in the U.S., those debating are not even using the same definitions.

These trends illustrate some of the changes in the culture of the U.S. in recent years. However, what we seem to hear from politicians on both sides of the debate over gun control are the same talking points that we heard in the 1990’s when public support for stricter gun control laws reached its high point. The talking points of entrenched political positions, held for decades, are unlikely to produce any meaningful change in laws. What is needed is a fresh debate with people who are open to seeking new solutions. Even after the tragedies of the past few weeks, our legislatures and media are failing to produce new solutions for our current problems. What we read and see are well-worn arguments that seem to be less aware of the current realities.

While we were having our conversation, which was covering a topic far too big for a single conversation, we received news that our son’s children were undergoing a lock down at their school. The short version of the events is that an unidentified and strange vehicle was sighted in the school parking lot. In light of recent tragedies and with an abundance of caution, school officials initiated a lock-down. Students were escorted into secure locations while law enforcement was called in to make sure that the school was safe. It turned out that the owner of the vehicle was identified and the situation was safe, but that took time. In the meantime, the school followed its procedures and learned that those procedures are in need of revision. One cause of confusion during the lock down was that some students were outside on the playground. They were quickly ushered into the building, but in the confusion, not all students were returned to their usual classrooms. That led to confusion for the students, and slowed the process of accounting for all students.

Another problem with the lock down was that the radios used by teachers to communicate were not equipped with headsets, so students could overhear the radio chatter, including the search for students who were not initially in expected locations.

In the case of our grandchildren, our granddaughter who had been out on the playground was ushered into an unfamiliar classroom with a teacher and other students who were not familiar to her. Meanwhile, her older brother could overhear the radio chatter sorting out the students, including the name of his sister. By the time it was all sorted out and the students were released to their parents, both had gone through considerable worry and trauma. There was a lot of talk about lock downs and fear and threats to schools at their home.

It is a tragedy that we have to talk to our children about school violence. We want to shield them from the news and the politics of our day, but we cannot do so. We have to be able to talk openly and honestly about the real events in their lives, including the tension and fear of teachers and administrators in this highly charged climate. Our children’s elementary school wasn’t the only one in our county where a lockdown was initiated in the past week. At the Blaine school, students were held without contact with their parents until after 7 pm one day last week due to a threat received by the school.

We need practical solutions. And we need to talk seriously about what is politically feasible. Small steps might be more realistic than dramatic, all-inclusive legislation that is proposed and not passed. There is little political will for genuine change at present, which is another tragedy of our current situation. It is clear that there is no single answer, but rather that we must find ways to make small changes. Increased background checks, a serious look at the minimum age for the purchase of firearms, red flag laws, and limits on ammunition capacities seem to be some places where we can start.

Even before we can do that, however, we must be honest about our failure to slow the dramatic increase in gun sales in recent years, and understand that we need practical solutions for a problem that is already so big that it is out of control.

Once again it is clear that our children and grandchildren are the victims of the political failures of our generation.

How to pronounce it

I have never been good at languages. I’ve studied a few languages, including Latin, French, Hebrew, Greek, Spanish, and Lakota, but I have failed to become fluent in any of them. I have great admiration for my friends who are multi-lingual. I had the good fortune of traveling in Central America with a woman who had been a professional translator for the FBI during her active working career. Her specialty was conversational translation. She did little translation of documents, rather provided a way for interviews to take place when agents did not speak the same language as the person being interviewed. She had mastered at least a half dozen languages. She grew up speaking multiple languages. Her parents emigrated from Japan to Brazil. Their family spoke Japanese at home, but the language of her school and of commerce in their town was Portuguese. She also learned English and Spanish in school, so was fluent in four languages while she was still a child. She added German and was able to take college classes in French as an adult. She knew a lot about other languages as well.

Traveling in Central America with her was a delight. She would translate during the natural pauses in conversation. With her help, I could sit and have long conversations with the pastor of our sister church in Costa Rica. Occasionally, she would touch my arm, if I was getting long-winded and not pausing for translation, but it was so unobtrusive that it became natural within minutes. I confess that I envy her gifts of language.

Part of learning a language is learning to listen and hear the subtitles of pronunciation. Some things are easy. For example, the letter V is pronounced W in some languages. Once you know that rule, it is pretty easy to apply it. But there are other language sounds that require an ear that is trained to hear distinctions.

Once, when we were visiting Europe, we got into a conversation with friends who spoke German about the pronunciation of the vowel O when it has an umlaut. An umlaut is a mark over a vowel that indicates a different vowel quality. The word that we were using as an example was the name of the city Köln. In English the name is written cologne, which is not logical in its pronunciation with the silent G. Our hosts, fluent in German would say the word, Köln for us and we would try to repeat the sound exactly as they said it. When I tried, they would laugh. I thought I was mimicking their sound exactly, but they could hear what was to them an obvious distinction. They would mimic my pronunciation and then say the word correctly and I could not hear the difference. Later, when we visited München, which is Munich in English, I pronounced the name “moonshine,” and got away with it.

I don’t think that I have a technical flaw in my hearing. I simply have not trained my listening to the particular subtle differences in sound that are required to speak without a heavy accent.

When we lived in South Dakota, people would comment to me that I pronounced the word Dakota differently when I was speaking of North Dakota than when I was speaking of South Dakota. It seems that I picked up a particular midwest dialect while living in North Dakota. I am aware of it enough that when I exaggerate those sounds I can hear the distinction. I can pronounce Minnesota and Dakota with an O sound that is common in those places.

Even speaking English in a way that I am understood is a bit of a challenge for me.

Once, when officiating at a Jewish/Christian wedding, I read from the Hebrew Scriptures. A guest at the wedding commented afterward, “You could make a good rabbi. For a minute there I thought you were speaking Hebrew.” I wasn’t sure how to take the compliment, because I definitely thought I was speaking Hebrew. Apparently I do so with a heavy accent. I was, on another occasion, able to learn the wedding vows in Spanish well enough to officiate at a wedding where the couple both spoke Spanish. I did have my translator friend present to assist, but it was important to me that they heard and repeated the vows directly from me. We got by. The wedding ceremony was lovely. Sadly the marriage ended in a divorce later, but that is an entirely different story.

I have a couple of language challenges that I’ve been wrestling with recently. One is part of our move to this new place we call home. I grew up in a place that was formerly part of the lands reserved for the Crow nation. They call themselves Apsáalooke. When I try to pronounce words in their language, I get a response similar to when I tried to say Köln in German. In my own defense, the word Baaxuwuaashe, doesn’t roll off of the tongue easily for an English Speaker. For 32 years of my life I lived in the land of the Lakota and tried to learn a few words in their language. But now we have moved to the land of the Coast Salish people. The Lhaq’temish, original inhabitants of the place we live, speak a language that is different in sound and spelling than the languages of the plains Indians like the Apsáalooke and Lakota. I’m trying to learn a few words, but even when I pronounce words after a native speaker, I fear that I am not saying things correctly.

My other challenge is the proper pronunciation of Türkiye. The country I have known as Turkey is now known as Türkiye after an official recognition of the name at the United Nations yesterday. The request for the change of name was made in a formal request from Ankara. We have friend who live in Türkiye. I’d love to go there and visit them. I don’t know if we will have that opportunity, but at least I’d like to learn enough to say the name of their country correctly.

After I’ve mastered that, my Japanese could certainly use some work as well.

Music and ethics

Last night, our visiting pastor, who is serving our congregation while our lead pastor is on sabbatical, led a small group in an active listening exercise. The exercise itself is not based in any new theological or educational theory. It was, in fact, very similar to exercises designed by Carl Rogers, the 20th century American psychologist, whose “Client Centered Therapy” was very popular during the time that I was preparing for the ministry. We learned a lot of active listening and practiced a variety of listening exercises similar to last night’s experience. the members of the group, with whom I’ve been working for more than a year, really appreciated the exercise and got right into the practice of listening carefully and repeating the meaning of what had been previously shared before sharing their own ideas. It was a good reminder for me of the power and importance of active listening. It was also a reminder of a discipline that I have practiced for my entire career.

I have an unpublished manuscript of a book designed for pastors about the process of grieving and the role of the pastor and the funeral service in facilitating healthy grief. Much of what I did during my career, which is reflected in the manuscript, is active listening. When I was called upon to make a death notice or to respond to a death in a family, I had a few simple statements and questions that I would voice and then, the process was mostly one of active listening. I learned that family members would quickly tell the story of the deceased person and begin processing the meaning of their life and if I listened they would tell me what were the most important things that should be lifted up in a funeral service.

It is not just grief work, however, where I practiced active listening during my active career. I also used active listening to facilitate committees and church leaders as they planned and directed the work of the church.

Last night’s experience was, for me, a reminder of the power of very good ideas. It was fun to see a new and freshly-trained minister, currently working on their doctoral thesis, using concepts that were a part of my education nearly a half century ago. Good ideas remain.

In the exercise last night people used small trinkets or symbols to talk about their relationship to the church. One of the major themes of the dozen or so members of the group who shared last night was how music was important in the relationship of many group members and their church. Among the symbols presented were hymnals, camp song books, the cloth of choir stoles, and bells.

At least since Paul and Silas found themselves in jail, and most likely much before, the power of music to express faith has been a part of the church. Knowing the importance of that connection, I am energized to discover that theological seminaries continue to take music seriously as a part of graduate education.

Among the degree candidates who walked across the stage and received their red academic hoods for completion of their masters degrees in theology at the graduation ceremonies of Harvard Divinity School was a 28-year-old who sang “Over the Rainbow” at the commencement service. I’m fairly certain that the thousands of fans who watched Maggie Rogers play the Coachella festival in April were unaware that her performance at that event was presented to Harvard Divinity School as the public presentation element of her masters research required by her course of study.

At Coachella, she opened her set with “Give a Little,” a song about the emotional transaction between audiences and performers. During the performance she threw off her sunglasses, symbolically breaking the barrier between the stage and the crowd. “I brought everything I was learning into the details of that performance,” she is quoted on the university website. “From the way I collaboratively worked to design the stage layout, the stage production, the set list, the clothing, the way we came off stage, the way we rehearsed. At the end of the day, creativity and spirituality - it’s about the process.”

“When you are on stage, there’s a lot of energy being sent directly towards you,” she continued. “Over the last year, I’ve really thought a lot about what that means. What is your ethical responsibility to the audience? How do I help people feel a connection to something bigger than themselves - me included? How do you bring people together at a time when we’ve never been more divided?”

Reading her words, similar to those she used in the defense of her masters thesis, warmed my heart. I am not a big fan of popular music. I often am unaware of the names of contemporary performers. But I’m bound to notice Maggie Rogers now that I understand how deeply she has been challenged to weigh questions of ethics. In a time when the humanities have been eliminated from so many universities, the role of theological education is even more critical if we are to pass down centuries of ethical reflection and learning. To know that divinity students are still wrestling with deep ethical issues that are directly relevant to the lives they live gives me hope.

“If I wanted to now, I could be a professor, or I could work in a bookshop - and knowing that this other life exists makes me choose music actively, every time. It’s not just something I got swept into like ‘I went viral and here I am.’”

Public people get a lot of attention and not all of it is desired. Not long ago a heckler shouted “take off your top” during one of her performances in Austin, Texas. She issued a statement calling out his degrading behavior. That statement was picked up by Fox News, who made it a talking point. She started to receive death threats. “I don't think that my experience, of being angry and frustrated, is singular. So I believe my job is to be brave enough to feel as much as I can, so I can translate that into something that can unite people. I have a lot of faith that music has an ability to heal.”

Harvard Divinity school has done itself proud in issuing a degree to an emerging theologian of our times. They also have reminded me how important it is to listen to the music.

Counting the years

My father loved a good tease. He would sometimes say things just to get a reaction. His most common teases were aimed at my mother. She had a way of enduring his teasing without becoming angry. They were born about six months apart. He was just a little bit older than she. He used to tease that he was even a bit older than their real age difference by referring to himself as a year older than he was. He would say, “I’m in my fiftieth year,” as soon as he reached his 49th birthday. She would correct him and say, “You’re only forty-nine.” Sometimes she’d phrase it a bit differently, “You may be in your fiftieth year, but I’m only 49.” It was a running joke and we heard them mention it almost every year, usually around our dad’s birthday.

I’m aware of the difference in how people count ages this June because of all of the celebrations that are taking place over the anniversary of the coronation of Elizabeth II, queen of England. There are plenty of articles about how the United Kingdom is celebrating her 70 years on the throne. It is what is being called her “Platinum Jubilee.” But here is the thing. Queen Elizabeth II was crowned queen on June 2, 1953. I was born on June 15, 1953. England is celebrating her 70 years on the throne just in advance of my 69th birthday. You do the math. The simple truth is that we are using two different systems of counting. The Queen’s 70th year on the throne begins on June 2. My 70th year of life begins on June 15. But I intend to list 69 as my age until June 15, 2023. That is the same system that is used to county my age on my driver’s license, passport, and other official documents.

My way of counting, however, is a reflection of my culture and heritage. If I understand the Korean age system, for example, I would have said that I was 70 years old for this entire calendar year, beginning with January 1. In Korea, people are considered to be a year old at birth, and they add a year to their age every January 1st. A baby born on December 31, would be considered to be 2 years old the next day. They still celebrate their birthdays on the day they were born. And the contemporary Koreans that I know will report two different ages, their birth age and their Korean age. It all seems a bit confusing to us, but it isn’t to people who have grown up in Korea.

It doesn’t bother me that there are different ways of counting the passage of time. I’m perfectly happy that the people in England are celebrating the platinum jubilee this year. I’m still going to tell people I am 69 years old when I am asked. And I get asked fairly often. That is one thing about working as a faith formation minister. Children are so used to being asked how old they are by adults that they frequently return the question. I don’t mind answering. I don’t mind that I’m turning 69 years old, either. I’m quite comfortable being a white-haired grandfather. An as to the difference in how the queen counts years, she was 27 when she was crowned, which makes her 27 years older than me. She can count however she likes as far as i’m concerned. When I reach her age, I don’t expect people will bother to question how I count the years of my life.

The reality is that when June rolls around each year, it is an opportunity for me to reflect on the passage of time. The month of my birth is a reminder that I am growing older. I sometimes joke that I’ve never been the right age for anything. I went straight from being too young to being too old and never was just the right age. But somehow it feels like I am just the right age now that I’ve come to a place of semi-retirement. I work a bit less than I did when I was younger. I can see the difference between the long days our son works and the somewhat shorter ones I work. I’m a bit less productive than I once was. On the other hand, I spend a bit less time doing things that don’t really matter. I’m a bit more able to focus and I’m a whole lot more able to simply be present to the task at hand. As Queen Elizabeth might put it, I am able to “filter out the ephemeral from the enduring.”

I’ve passed several significant landmarks in my years. The age of adulthood was a bit murky when I came of age. I went away to college when I was 17. Different states had different ages at which alcohol could be purchased in those days, ranging from 18 to 21. The age of maturity in Montana in those days was 21, but young men were drafted at age 18. I felt myself to be fully grown up when I married at age 20, but I still couldn’t rent a car until I got a year older. Furthermore, I remained a student until I was 25. I was 25 when I was ordained, so I guess that my platinum jubilee doesn’t come until 2047. At any rate I got to the place in my life where I was considered to be an adult.

As the decades passed, I didn’t mind the one I occupied. I have enjoyed my twenties, thirties, forties, fifties and sixties. I’m thinking that the decades to come will be fun as well.

The year I was the same age as my father was when he died, I was aware that it was a kind of landmark for me, but it passed and I’ve grown comfortable being older than he ever was. I reached 65 and went on medicare without any big problems.

I wish the Queen a joyous platinum jubilee. I wish her good health and much joy in her family and in looking back at the accomplishments of her lifetime of service. As for me. I’m still 68 years old for a couple of weeks.

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