Rain's a coming

We’ve enjoyed a few very pleasant days lately. The sun is warm and the sky has been nearly cloudless. That is a new term for me because I have lived much of my life in places where cloudless skies are common. People around here don’t look for the skies to be completely free from clouds. If it is sunny where they are, they consider it to be clear skies. We have, however, been experiencing dryer weather than typical. Daytime highs have been in the mid-sixties. It was spitting a few raindrops when we were walking one day earlier this week, but yesterday’s walk was delightful.

What we have noticed is that the days are getting shorter. With the equinox coming tomorrow, this is normal. We are, however, adjusting to the simple fact that the change in the length of days is more dramatic in our new home. The difference in the length of days in winter and summer is greater and change occurs at a more rapid pace than other places where we have lived. Within a month we will have lived in this house for two years which is a significant milestone. The years seem to go by quickly, however, and in many years it feels like we just arrived.

Our weather, however, is about to change. According to the forecasts a strong weather system is heading our way. Rain is expected to settle in by Sunday evening and continue through next week. Forecasters are calling for 100% chance of rain next Tuesday with the possibility of more than half an inch. Several days of moderate to heavy rain with higher amounts in the mountains is not an unusual forecast for this time of year around here. We are, however, newcomers and we still aren’t used to the weather patterns in this place.

When we decided to move here, we were a bit concerned about the short days and rainy weather. We have had the luxury of living in places with plenty of sunshine even in winter and know that the gray skies can become oppressive. I have not experienced the weather around here as a problem, however. I thought that I would miss the snow more than I do. Once we got good rain gear to wear on rainy days and good waterproof shoes, I haven’t found that the weather disrupts my lifestyle that much.

Like the other places we have lived, the weather is a common topic of conversation. Long-term residents of this area report wonderful summers filled with lots of opportunities for outdoor activities and long winters that inspire multiple trips to the library. I haven’t ever been someone who is kept indoors by the weather. I rather enjoyed getting out in the snow when we lived in the Dakotas. I tend to go outdoors even when it is raining around here.

One difference that I have noticed is that lawn mowing season is quite different around here. Our lawn is just emerging from dormancy right now. I mowed it this week, but hadn’t mowed it for a month previously. When the rains come, I’ll be back to needing to mow my grass every week and even more often. We’re planning a trip starting next week and I expect that when we return, my lawn will really need to be mowed. Then lawn mowing will continue through much of the winter. That isn’t the way is is in the other places where we have lived. In South Dakota, mid-September was usually the last time to mow the lawn for the year, though there were years when I mowed a bit into October. Then I could put away the mower for the winter. Of course I had to get out the snowblower, so I kept in practice with various kinds of outdoor work. There is no need for a snowblower here, but I have had to learn to mow the lawn in the winter. So far, however, I haven’t succumbed to the fate of the professional lawn care experts and some of my neighbors of mowing in the rain.

Even in this northern location, with short days in the winter, solar panels on the roof of a typical home can produce enough electricity to supply that home. A solar system works well with the net metering that is available. In the summer, when the panels are producing more than is being consumed, a homeowner gains credit with the power company that is used to purchase electricity during winter months when consumption is higher than production. We have several friends whose solar systems result in power bills that are only the minimum charge for having an active electric meter. This has got me to thinking about how it works to tap solar energy in places that are even farther north than our home. Theoretically, a lot of energy could be produced in places where the sun stays up most of the day. Storing that energy for use in the winter would, of course, be a challenge and wouldn’t work as the only energy source for an off-grid home with today’s technology. There is still much to learn about energy as we turn away from energy sources that increase carbon pollution and contribute to climate change.

What is obvious, however, is that our choices about energy do affect the weather we experience. Global climate change is not some future threat, but rather a present reality. The increase in severe storms around the world is directly related to human activities. As our planet warms we will continue to experience conditions that have not previously been experienced by humans.

I guess the weather will remain a topic of conversation for the rest of my life. I’ll continue to consult the forecasts and try to make adjustments to be prepared for whatever weather comes. Next week it means we’ll be needing our rain jackets. The parka, however, is likely to stay in the closet for some time. And I’ll keep looking at the sky enjoying patches of blue whenever they come.


In the book The River Why by David James Duncan there is a line that I’ve quoted in several different wedding celebrations: “People often don’t know what they’re talking about but when they talk about love, they really don’t know what they’re talking about.” I would then go on to talk about love and specifically about the love of the couple marrying that day. I suspect, however, that Duncan is right and that I don’t really know what I’m talking about. However, I did build a career in part by talking about love. It is what preachers do.

Love isn’t the only thing that I’ve been known to talk about when I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I’ve written in my journal on many occasions about topics where I lack much expertise. Today, I venture with a bit of caution and perhaps a caveat for readers. I am no expert on the topic of fashion. I don’t think other people should choose what to wear based on my comments or my opinions. I do, however, take responsibility for my own fashion choices good or bad.

I got to thinking about fashion recently while reading an article about the change in the dress code of the United States Senate. For many years, the Senate has strictly enforced its informal dress code for members, with men required to wear suits, ties and business attire on the Senate floor. Under the new rules, more relaxed gear will be allowed. Relaxed gear includes hoodies, sneakers and gym clothes. The article pointed out that some senators have pointed to John Fetterman of Pennsylvania as one who often pushes the limits on the dress code, wearing hoodies, shorts and baggy shirts. I’ve never been much for dress codes, and I can’t afford to dress up to Senate standards, so I don’t really have much of an opinion on the change in rules. I guess I don’t care.

What caught my attention, however, was a comment by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who told reporters “I can’t imagine that we’re going to be wearing jeans on the Senate floor anytime soon.” Senator Jacky Rosen of Nevada, referring to criticism of Senator Fetterman said, “Let’s look at all the men who wear cowboy boots and gym shoes on the floor, so let’s not blame one person for this. There’s a lot of offenders.” Both of those remarks caught my attention. I’ve lived my life in the west where it is not uncommon to see men wearing blue jeans and boots with a tie and jacket. Although I didn’t wear jeans in the early years of my career, there were times later in my work life when I would wear a sport coat with a pair of clean jeans. I didn’t intend any disrespect. Furthermore, for most of my career I wore cowboy boots when I was dressed up, including Sundays when I was leading worship wearing a clerical robe. I’m not a tall guy and I’m a bit shorter than my wife. I wore cowboy boots in part to make myself appear a bit taller. And when I traveled East for meetings I didn’t want people to think that I was from the East. A good pair of boots can be polished and look pretty sharp with formal attire. I once officiated at a very formal wedding where the groom and his attendants were all wearing rented tuxedoes. They were also all wearing shiny black cowboy boots. And I have officiated at many funerals for cowboys where western clothing including cowboy boots and hats were the norm. I own a white Stetson that I’ve worn to the funerals of ranchers and farmers. There is no disrespect intended in wearing western wear.

Also, I have to point out that Senator Rosen needs to work on her grammar. “a lot of offenders” is plural. The correct way to express what she meant to say is “There are a lot of offenders,” not “There’s a lot of offenders.” I’m just saying that if you want to enforce your sense of fashion, be prepared for me to try to enforce my sense of good grammar. Furthermore, and I realize this is being petty and that I am no fashion expert, I don’t see a “Barbie power pink suit” as being particularly respectful of decorum. It is, in my opinion, a poor choice of dress for a formal meeting.

I’m pretty sure that Rosen was also intending to include Senator Jon Tester of Montana in her comments. Tester is a farmer who wears cowboy boots most of the time, whether working on his farm or walking the halls of the Senate. He doesn’t wear the same pair of boots for both jobs, however. Like I did when I was dressing to lead worship, he has a nice pair of boots that are kept polished for more formal occasions.

Here in my newly adopted home in northwestern Washington I notice a lot of people who dress casually. When I wear a tie to church, I am almost always the only one wearing a tie. I have never seen one of the pastors of the church wearing a tie and that pastor frequently wears jeans when leading worship. There is no dress code at our church, but it seems that casual dress is preferred.

Then again I wouldn’t wear a track suit to go grocery shopping. I often see people wearing very casual clothes at the grocery store and frequently am struck that folks go out in public wearing clothes that I would never wear in public. I probably wouldn’t wear many of those clothes in private, either.

For my part, I don’t see a need for any set of hard rules about fashion. Fashion is, after all, specific to culture. A suit and tie is a poor choice if one wants to blend in at a ceremony on the Cheyenne River reservation or in the heart of sub-Saharan Africa, or a Tibetan village. There are a lot of places in the world where people dress formally without looking like they are going to a gathering of the United States Senate. As our nation becomes more multi-cultural it makes sense to widen our sense of acceptable fashion.

On the other hands, I can’t help myself from snickering at some of the choices people make about what to wear to the grocery store.

Appliance woes

In the early 1950’s, Susan’s father was briefly in the home appliance business in a small town in North Dakota. At that time, which was fairly early in their marriage. He and his wife purchased a refrigerator for their home. The subsequently made a move from North Dakota to Libby in Northwestern Montana and later from Libby to Billings. In Billings they lived for a while in one home and then moved to another home that they kept until after Susan’s mother died. With each move the refrigerator went with them. When we emptied that home in preparation for its sale at the end of her father’s life, that refrigerator was still going strong, keeping its temperatures cool and its freezer cold. I don’t know how long it kept going, but it worked faithfully for more than 50 years.

In 1995, we sold our home appliances except our washing machine and dryer with our home in Boise, Idaho. We purchased a house in Rapid City, South Dakota that didn’t have appliances and proceeded to shop for a new refrigerator and stove. When we sold that house 25 years later, the stove and refrigerator were still working well. I suspect that they are still going strong, but don’t know for sure.

A little less than 2 years ago we purchased the house where we now live. It came with a full set of appliances, including a washing machine and dryer. All of the appliances were touted in the advertisement for the home as “upgraded.” They all looked modern with stainless steel finishes. They weren’t, however, brand new. We later learned that the kitchen appliances might not all have been the same age, but the stove and refrigerator were probably around 15 years old. Last spring we replaced the stove. We did so in part because we wanted to make the change from a gas range to an electric one. The broiler in the stove was not working at the time we replaced it, but the part was fairly inexpensive and readily available.

Yesterday we went shopping for a new refrigerator. The one we purchased with this house is displaying an error code. There are two possible causes of the code that it is displaying. One of those possible causes can be remedied with a part that costs nearly $500 just for the part. The repair estimate is more than $700 if that is the cause. The other possible cause is something for which parts are no longer available. In shopping for repairs, I did discover where the refrigerator had been purchased and was informed by the dealership service department that the refrigerator had outlived its expected life by a couple of years. They did not recommend spending hundreds of dollars on repairs and suggested that repairing the current fault would not significantly extend the life of the machine, which was likely to have additional problems in the near future.

Since we are now going to purchase a new refrigerator, I have been doing as much research as I can. I discovered, for example, that the brand with the highest customer satisfaction is not on the list of brands with the lowest repair records as evaluated by appliance service professionals. Most popular brands of refrigerators have a rated life of 12 to 14 years. A couple of brands are rated to last a bit longer, up to 19 years. The only refrigerators with longer life expectancy are significantly more expensive, costing more than $10,000. We are not in the market for such a refrigerator.

The result is a lot of appliances that end up in landfills. And more and more are ending up that way each year because they simply do not last as long as appliances built years ago. While some of the components in old appliances can be recycled, there are lots of plastics in modern appliances that are not being recycled at this time. On the other hand, that refrigerator that Susan’s parents bought that lasted 50 years, used an ozone-depleting chemical that slowly leaked over the life of the machine and had to be recharged with more of that chemical at least once during its lifespan. It wasn’t what we would call “environmentally friendly.”

When we bought the refrigerator that lasted more than 25 years, it was of the first generation of household refrigerators that was not charged with dichlorodiflouromethane (Freon). It was, however, produced before the existence of Energy Star ratings. Over the span of its life it consumed a lot more electricity than modern appliances.

In our shopping we are trying to strike a balance of cost over the lifespan of the appliance, which does include the energy consumed, maintenance, and eventual replacement. While we have been able to do some research and shopping, we ended the day yesterday a bit overwhelmed with all of the options. Since our refrigerator is unlikely to fail catastrophically in the short run, we’re taking our time to make a decision about its replacement. However, the risk goes up with each passing day and it takes a while for the dealership to arrange delivery, so we won’t delay the decision very long. We have a freezer in our garage and a couple of ice chests available in case it fails completely. And because the machine is not controlling humidity properly, we are trying to eat up as much of the food stored in it to reduce the amount of food that needs to be cooled.

The technology exists to produce appliances that last, but the combination of price and the continuing demand for new features, lowers the incentive for that production. I don’t think we need a refrigerator that is connected to the Internet and communicates with our phones. I’m not sure that we need an ice maker and a cold water dispenser, though we’re probably going to end up with those features because that is the way refrigerators come these days.

I’m hoping that the dishwasher is good for a few more years. Trying to make a responsible decision is exhausting.

Not a sports fan

Our son completed his Masters of Library Science (MLS) degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. When he was a student there, the Tar Heels won one of their six NCAA championships. For a short time, I was a bit of a fan of Tar Heel basketball. However, I have never been a huge sports fan. While I did have a UNC bumper sticker on my pickup when he was a student, that was three pickups ago and I don’t pay much attention to college sports.

A few years ago, I installed a receiver hitch under the front bumper of my pickup. The barn where we store our camper requires a tight turn to get the camper into the space and when the ground is saturated with water, the approach is a bit sketchy. Having a receiver in the front of the pickup improves my visibility and changes the turning radius when backing my trailer into the barn. (Or do you call it fronting, when it is hooked to the front of the pickup?)

In rummaging through my trailer hitch supplies I found a hitch receiver cover that has the UNC logo on it. I used to use that cover on the rear receiver of another pickup years ago. It seemed like a good idea to keep a cover on the front receiver since it otherwise would collect a lot of road debris in normal driving. As a result, I have the UNC logo on the front of my truck. At this house, the truck doesn’t fit into our garage so I leave it parked outside in the driveway. It is my habit to back it into the driveway so the UNC logo is facing the sidewalk.

The result is that I occasionally find myself in a conversation about UNC sports with neighbors and acquaintances. I seems like a ready topic of conversation because that logo is easily identifiable and it is right on the front of my truck. Interestingly, there is a much larger Ford oval in the middle of the grill of my truck and I can’t remember having any conversations with my neighbors about the brand of my truck, which is too bad because I arguably know more about Ford trucks than I do about UNC sports.

My next door neighbor, who is a public school gym teacher and coach, has already discovered that I am not a sports fan and has given up trying to discuss sports with me. We quickly get onto other topics. However, new conversations occasionally spring up with others. Not long ago a stranger asked me how the Tar Heels did the previous weekend. I had to admit that I had no idea and that I don’t follow Tar Heel football. He was surprised and said that I broke his heart when I didn’t even know who won the game. I suspect that his heart has since healed and he probably doesn’t even remember the conversation, but it made me think enough that I have been looking through some of the junk I have at the farm for another hitch cover that I used to own. The other hitch cover has a John Deere logo on it. My father was a John Deere dealer for 25 years and I have a collection of John Deere miniatures. I know a fair amount about the history of the company and even a bit about the current lineup of machines. Our son has a John Deere lawn and garden tractor and I frequently operate it. I’m pretty sure I know a heck of a lot more about John Deere than I do about UNC sports.

However, I’ve reached the point in my life where I am uninterested in collecting more junk, so I have no intention of purchasing another receiver cover. If I don’t find the John Deere one, I’ll stick with the UNC cover. And I don’t think it is likely that I will find that John Deere cover. I’m pretty sure that it didn’t make the move from South Dakota. If it had, it would have been in one of my tool boxes and I would have found it by now.

So I’m stuck with appearing to be uninformed each time someone strikes up a conversation about UNC sports. And I drive a pickup with an advertisement for UNC sports right on the front.

I suppose that I could simply take a bit of time to surf the web and follow UNC sports. The football team is looking strong this season. They have won all three of their games so far this season and beat Minnesota 31 - 13 last Saturday. They play Pittsburgh this coming weekend and the next week they take on Syracuse. The October 7 game holds a tiny bit of interest for me because when our son was considering graduate schools he was also accepted at Syracuse.

However, I am unlikely to become a sports fan at this late stage of my life. I think that instead I might try to come up with some lines to say in response to overtures about UNC sports. It might not encourage conversation, however, if I responded to an inquiry about sports by saying, “Oh, I don’t follow UNC sports, but they have an amazing library school. Did you know that it has one of the nation’s top medical library programs?”

The truth is that no one really cares about whether or not I am a sports fan. When I get to know others we discover lots of other common interests that provide topics for conversation. And the pickup is probably destined to make the move to the farm and become a full-time farm truck after a few more years as both it an I get older. When the time comes for us to downsize our camping equipment and sell the trailer, we’ll probably find that it doesn’t make sense to keep the big pickup.

However, for the next few weeks, I’ll try to remember that this year’s basketball opener for UNC is Friday, October 27 for an exhibition game. I hope no one expects me to remember who they are playing.

Remember the Sabbath

Each small town has its own culture. Not far from where we live is a small community that was settled primarily by Dutch immigrants to our area. They brought with them a strong attachment to the Christian Reformed Church. There are a lot of churches in that community and most of them are Christian Reformed. I have a friend who was hired as a school principal in that community several years ago. Shortly after he arrived, on a crisp fall Sunday afternoon he went out to mow his lawn. He was told by a neighbor that in that community one does not mow the lawn on Sundays. That reminder was reinforced by a second conversation with the president of the school board. He learned his lesson. There are certain community values that are far easier to comply with than to resist.

I’m not sure how long ago that incident occurred, and I don’t know if that strict observance of sabbath rules still persists in that community. I do know, however, that despite the community’s strong identity as a Christian community and its adherence to that particular biblical rule, it is not a community that is free from problems. Another acquaintance told me a story of deep seated racism in that same community.

Christianity is not, at its core, a religion of rules. A reading of the Gospels reveals many stories of Jesus in conflict with authorities over their interpretation of laws and rules. There are even stories about Jesus running afoul of sabbath rules. In the second chapter of Mark, the earliest of the Gospels, Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) The comment came after Jesus was rebuked because his disciples were gathering grain on the Sabbath. It wasn’t all that different from my friend mowing his lawn on a Sunday afternoon.

Throughout the Gospels and the letters of the New Testament there are stories of people of faith wrestling with the distinction between trying to earn their salvation by following sets of rules and trying to be genuinely good people by paying attention to their motivation and making decisions in context. Context is important in making moral decisions and in interpreting scripture. It reminds me of a sign I once saw. At the top of the sign it said, “Life is short, lick the bowl.” At the bottom of the sign was smaller text saying, “Context is everything. It matters whether this sign is posted in the kitchen or the bathroom.”

A professor of Hebrew Scripture once said, in a conversation about the role of the ten commandments in Hebrew history and their application in modern society, “We haven’t got a chance with commandments like ‘Do not covet.’ People can’t even get ‘observe the Sabbath.’” He was referring to the commandments as instructions about how to be free people rather than a rigid set of moral behavior guidelines. He pointed out that the commandment in Exodus speaks not only to personal behavior, but also to how one treats servants and even immigrants.

As a pastor, I have struggled with the meaning of Sabbath and how to observe the Sabbath for most of my life. The bottom line is that I worked on Sundays. For the most part, I did take a day off each week, usually Mondays, but when there were needs in the community or other important things to do, I was never rigid about it. If there was a death in the community on a Monday, I responded. If there was something that needed my attention, I gave it. I have colleagues who are much better at taking time off than I was. One colleague doesn’t answer the phone on their day off. I could never have done that. I felt that I needed to be available to the people I served. The result was that I was not always faithful to the instruction about observing the Sabbath. I sometimes convinced myself that I was too important to take a day off - a form of idolatry as pointed out by the scripture.

Being retired has presented me with a new set of challenges around my behavior on Sundays. For a few more weeks, we are not worshiping with our primary congregation in order to make space for new leadership to emerge. Today is the annual “Gathering In” observance, in which the Sunday School kicks off a new program year, choirs resume their usual schedule, and other activities resume after a summer break. In previous years we would have been very busy on this day, organizing activities, preparing spaces for learning programs, recruiting volunteers, and making sure that everyone is welcomed. Today, however, we are intentionally worshiping with another congregation so that the children can make connections with the new Church School Coordinator. We know that if we were in our home congregation, some of the children would come to us for snacks and look to us for stories. We’ll return soon, but today is a good day to have them turn to others. It does, however, feel really strange to be going to church elsewhere on a Sunday that we would not normally miss.

It leaves me thinking about what it means to observe the Sabbath when I am retired. If Sabbath is about rest and restoration, I spent three days on a sailboat this week. That is a restful activity for me. If it is about making time for prayer and contemplation, I have learned to build that time into every day and not just do so on Sundays. If it is about unplugging from constant contact, I do that in different ways. On Sundays, I participate in a group text that wishes the Peace of Christ. I have no intention of skipping that important connection with other people of faith. If I need a day to unplug from my devices, I’ll choose a different day.

Once one is freed from a simplistic literal interpretation of the words and opens to the challenges of connecting with the meaning behind the words, interpreting scripture and living faith in context is a challenge. A lifetime is all too short to explore all of the meanings available in a few words.

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. (Exodus 20:8-11)

And I haven’t even begun to consider how I honor my father and my mother in the context of my life today.

Made in RapidWeaver