A trip down memory lane

31 years ago, in April of 1992, I officiated at a wedding in the church we were serving in Boise, Idaho. The groom had been active in our youth group and we had shared a number of experiences, traveling together to Conference and Regional youth events. That particular group of youth had grown very close to one another and had been very good at supporting each other as they journeyed through the ups and downs of high school life. Our church was a bit of a neighborhood congregation, but we had youth from around the city, who attended both of the high schools in town. They probably would not have ended up being friends if it were not for the church. The groom happened to live about half way between where our home was located and the church, and I occasionally visited his family on my way to or from various gatherings at the church.

31 years ago, I wasn’t that old myself, but I had a couple of decades on the high school youth and I was a few years older than the adult volunteers who shared leadership of the youth group. 31 years ago, Susan and I had not yet celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We were the parents of two active elementary school children and job shared our call as pastors of the church. Our lives were busy and I had real passion for youth ministry. I was directing summer camps and attending lots of youth events. I used to joke that youth ministry was a process of achieving the right balance of caffeine and chocolate. I thought nothing of driving a van load of youth on a 400+ mile road trip, sleeping in my sleeping bag on the floor of a church building, chaperoning youth dances, leading songs with my guitar, delivering those youth to their homes and repeating the process again and again.

From my perspective, those kids who were marrying were young. Then again, I had been young when I married. I knew that they were genuine in their love for one another and their intention to make lifelong commitments.

In some ways, that particular wedding ceremony didn’t stand out from many others at which I officiated. There were lots of weddings at our church and although Susan and I enjoyed co-officiating at weddings, there were occasions when events in our family life meant that we had to use a “divide and conquer” strategy to balance family and church responsibilities. It happened that I officiated at this particular wedding by myself.

Yesterday, using the Internet to set up a Zoom call, I appeared on the screen at a party in the back yard of a home in Boise, Idaho. I didn’t have time to travel there, though I would have liked to be present in person. Our congregation here was hosting the annual meeting of our Conference and I snuck into our office at the church and used our church computer to make the connection. Over in Boise there was an anniversary party for the couple I had married 31 years ago. The party was a surprise for the bride, planned and hosted by the groom. In attendance were their children and grandchildren. Another member of that church youth group from those years ago was also among the guests.

I opened the ceremony with the same greeting and invocation that I used at their wedding. Over the years, I have officiated at so many other weddings and used that same greeting and invocation, that I can say them from memory. But I had my notes in front of me because I understood how important this occasion was for the couple and I didn’t want to risk making a mistake. The marriage vow renewal ceremony was brief and informal. I told a couple of stories, and the couple told a few stories on one another. The guests were happy and showed their support, clapping when the couple shared a kiss, something that had occurred at their wedding. Enough of us had been around 31 years ago that there were plenty of stories to tell. Enough time had passed since that day that there were plenty of stories of things that I had not witnessed. Three years after that wedding, we moved our family from Boise, Idaho to Rapid City, South Dakota and began serving a different congregation.

Each of the congregations we have served in our careers have been special to us and each have resulted not only in stories to tell, but in lifelong friendships. I don’t talk to the folks from that Boise congregation very often, but I’ve got the phone numbers of several in my phone and the couple whose marriage we celebrated yesterday have kept in touch with me over the years. The groom had to be careful to advise me about which phone number and email address to use to prevent me from informing the bride of the surprise party. We were lucky and the technology worked without a problem.

Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like had I lived in a different era. Most of the time I feel incredibly grateful to have lived when I did. We went to seminary in the days when all graduate theological education was residential. The college and seminary we attended had requirements about residency and limits on the number of hours we were allowed to work outside of class. Education was a serious communal venture and we benefitted greatly from our colleagues as we prepared for our careers. We completed that process before the existence of personal computers and the Internet, but my career spanned a period of incredible expansion in the use of technology in the church. Cell phones, video conversations, and social media all were introduced during the decades of my active career. I went from never having used a computer to being fairly proficient at setting up and administering local area networks. Our church has the ability to support a statewide meeting with hundreds of in person participants and dozens of online participants streamed over a large screen in our sanctuary. At the same time, one office in the church can support a private wedding celebration with participants in different states.

More delightful than the technology, even when it works well, however, are the relationships that come from a lifetime in the church. I hope that my participation in their anniversary celebration was meaningful for the couple and their guests. I know that it was meaningful for me. It is a treasure to see their children and grandchildren and to witness the joy of a family that grew out of sacred promises made before me decades ago.

Church meetings

Meetings of the wider church, such as Association, Conference and General Synod meetings are, in part family reunion. The United Church of Christ is a relatively small denomination and those of us who have been active members can expect to meet up with others whenever we have gatherings. Susan and I are new to the Pacific Northwest Conference. We moved here in 2020 following our retirement from the congregation we were serving in South Dakota. We had never previously lived or served in this Conference. We didn’t attend the annual meeting of any Conference in 2020 or 2021. Last year we participated in the Pacific Northwest Conference annual meeting online. This is our first time of meeting with this conference in person. Still, we ran into several friends at yesterday’s opening of our Conference annual meeting. A retired pastor who served in the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference when we were camp directors there was present at the meeting, as well as his son and daughter-in-law, whom we have known for 50 years. A colleague who served a congregation in the Black Hills Association while we were serving in Rapid City has since moved to this conference and retired. He was at the meeting. People we met at camp last summer are active in the Conference and were present at the meeting. I suspect that during today’s sessions we will run into others - including several whose presence will surprise us. We are part of an extended family related through our service in the church.

Early in our careers, when we were serving congregations in North Dakota, I would occasionally visit with other church leaders at regional and national meetings. Often someone would ask me, “Do you know so and so?” Chances were pretty good that if the person they were naming was from North Dakota it would be someone I knew. The Northern Plains Conference is very small with just a handful of churches. I was very active in the conference and served on several different committees and had led workshops on a variety of different topics. I had traveled all over the state for church meetings. When I was out of the state for church meetings or events, chances are the people that I met who knew folks from North Dakota had met those folks at church meetings, so the odds that I would know that person were relatively high. When another person showed surprise that I knew the person from North Dakota they knew, I would laugh and say, “It’s a small state, I know everyone who lives there.” That wasn’t literally true, of course. I didn’t know all of the people who lived in North Dakota. I did, however, know most of the ones who were active in church affairs.

Although Susan and I only served in three Conferences of the United Church of Christ prior to moving to the Pacific northwest, we grew up in a fourth. Two of those four share common borders with the Pacific Northwest Conference. We live in a mobile society. People often move across state lines. We’ve done that five times in our married lives. It doesn’t surprise me that there are people we know at this meeting. It would be true of many other Conference meetings across the country.

I have never served anywhere in the East, but I have at least a half dozen friends who will be at the annual meeting of the Southern New England Conference this year. Susan and I moved from Chicago in 1978 and we were not active in the Conference when we lived there, but I would be able to find friends present were I to attend their Conference Annual Meeting.

I think it has always been true of me, but as I grow older, the “family reunion” aspect of Conference Annual Meetings is one of the things I enjoy about attending them. It is, however, only part of the process. I have already met some people at this meeting whom I did not previously know. Making new friends is part of these gatherings as well. Each time I return in years to come there will be more people with whom I have met and served. Of course there will also be others whom I miss. Family reunions are like that. People come to the ends of their lives, they go through major life changes, they move to new places and those who we have known and loved move out of our everyday lives. One of the old friends with whom we were catching up yesterday was widowed earlier this year after more than six decades of marriage. Since we have known his entire family, we share a bit of his sense of loss and grief. We miss her along with him. That is the nature of our human relationships. Our web of friends is constantly changing. As we meet in this Conference we are aware that there are others who will meet in other conferences whom we will miss. We served in South Dakota for 25 years. There are a lot of people back there who are our friends and who we miss seeing on a regular basis. Our church family is constantly changing.

Yesterday’s meeting included a reception for a person who had served as our Interim Conference Minister who is now moving on to another place of service. Even though we did not know this person and yesterday was our first time of meeting with her face to face, the farewell reception was a familiar experience. Saying farewell has been a part of a lot of meetings over the span of our careers.

Of course there are also times of saying hello, of reconnecting with old friends, and of meeting new friends. Sadly, this phase of the church’s story usually involves more times of saying farewell than of meeting new folks. Our church family is shrinking. It is smaller than it was earlier in our lives. That is true of other families as well. I used to have six brothers and sisters. Only three are still living. Growing older is a time of saying goodbye to many loved ones.

So we treasure these times of gathering in part because we know that it will be our last meeting with some of these precious people. May we be truly present for them and truly grateful for the gift of their presence in our lives.

Shopping for clothes

In the town where I grew up there were two stores that sold clothing. Both were independent stores, owned and run by members of our community. I don’t remember our folks as having a preference of one store over the other. We tended to favor one store if we were shopping for jeans because they had a large selection of different sizes. Our family had four boys and we wore jeans most of the time. We would get a new pair of jeans for rodeo weekend and another new pair for back to school. Sometimes there would be a new shirt to go with the jeans, but about half of our shirts were made by our mother. Less exciting clothing like underwear and socks tended to end up in Christmas presents, and I don’t remember shopping for those items during the years I lived at home.

Buying clothing is very different these days. I know of several stores that sell clothing and I have purchased clothing at local businesses, but more and more I am learning to shop online for clothes. That process started for me with jeans, which used to be such an important part of my wardrobe. For much of my life I have been able to purchase jeans by waist and inseam measurements. A few years ago, I noticed that stores stopped stocking jeans in my size. I learned to purchase jeans with legs that were too long and Susan would hem them to fit. Then, for whatever reason, one of the major brands of jeans stopped making jeans in my size at all - at least I thought they did until I learned that my size was not in the men’s section, but in the boy’s section. I learned to shop for boys size 16 husky. Then that size was no longer available at local stores.

Meanwhile several online retailers offered jeans that fit, at least most of the time. The problem with purchasing jeans, whether in a store or online is that sizes are no longer consistent. After years of not having to try on pants in the store because I knew my waist and inseam sizes, I discovered that those numbers were no longer consistent. The measurement of an inseam or waist could vary by as much as 3 or 4 inches. What the label said was not the same as a tape measure reported. That is a minor inconvenience in a store that has a dressing room where you can try on clothing before purchasing, but it is a bigger inconvenience when purchasing online as you have to package up and return clothing that comes in the wrong size. Add to that my tendency to prefer to purchase sales items, which can have restrictions on returning, and I’ve made a few clothing purchase mistakes.

A dozen years ago, purchasing clothing became a kind of family joke for us. Susan was shopping for a new dress for our daughter’s wedding. One evening we were with our son and we started to do internet searches for mother of the bride dresses. Our son and I tried to think of obscure search terms that yielded some very unusual clothes. We would giggle as we came up with new ways of searching, claiming, “I bet no one has ever Googled “neo-goth mother of the bride dress,” or “discreet middle aged ball gown.” Susan found our joking and the funny pictures that we turned up to be no help at all in finding the dress for which she was searching. She finally found a lovely dress, purchased at a small boutique that we discovered when traveling.

Recently she has been shopping for a dress once again. This time the occasion is our upcoming 50th wedding anniversary. We plan to have a friend who is a professional photographer take family pictures and we want to have nice clothes for the pictures. Our son and I have been trying to come up with unique search terms to “assist” with her shopping. As far as I know she never did try “post apocalyptic cat herder gown,” thought I thought it as a unique suggestion. She has, however, tried her best to find something that fits her style in reasonable colors.

I might add that if I am a bit reluctant to spend much money on clothes, Susan is even more frugal. She has never been one to get carried away with spending and she gets no pleasure out of spending more money than is necessary. Whatever she does, she won’t be extravagant when it comes to cost. I suppose another factor is that neither of us get much joy out of shopping. We both tend to avoid the chore and we aren’t likely to spend much time trying to find new shops or browsing in places just to see what they’ve got.

Part of the problem is that there are too many choices. As a kid we had jeans or dress slacks. There were, to my knowledge, only two choices for kids pants. And dress slacks came in black, navy blue, brown, or grey. Other colors weren’t considered to be necessary. It was fairly easy to find a new pair of slacks. Today there are so many different kinds of men’s slacks that I couldn’t begin to name all of them. Being of a certain age, I’m drawn to cargo pants, though I never put things in all of the pockets. It seems to be convenient to have a few extra pockets. You never know what you might want to carry. I still like to have a good pair of jeans, though a good pair of jeans is hard to find. Just because they are jeans doesn’t mean that they are well made or will last. I’ve had a few pairs of pants that looked like jeans and were sold as jeans that were not well made and did not last with the kind of work that I do. And I am a minister. It isn’t like I’m a construction worker or farmer. Then again I do like to work in the shop and do chores at the farm. I’m competent with a chainsaw and I’ve dug my share of post holes.

I don’t think I’m going to get better at shopping for clothes as I grow older. At least I don’t plan to give more time or effort to the chore than is necessary. Still I may just do a quick internet search for “floor length zombi anniversary pantsuit” just to see what images pop up.


We had one of those conversations that I love last evening. One of the small groups at our church has just finished reading and discussing the book, “Speak with the Earth and it Will Teach You” by Daniel Cooperrider. The book is our congregation’s “All Church Read” for 2023. Each year the Faith Formation Board chooses a book that is recommended for reading by as many church members and friends as possible. Choosing the book is a formidable task. This year, eighteen different titles were nominated by church members. The books represented a wide variety of genres and authors. In the end, the Board chose to recommend the Cooperrider book with a book of poetry by Ada Limón and a children’s book added as “also recommended.”

The small group that met last night was even more prolific in their recommendations. Last week we compiled a list of possible books to read. I compiled the list and sent it out to the group by email. When the email was received, additional titles began to appear in my in box. I think that three titles were added during the day yesterday. At the meeting at least one more was suggested and I’ve been promised an additional title from another member of the group who was not able to attend last night’s meeting. It is a real joy to have more books than people. At least it is a joy to me.

The group was successful in lining out three books for the coming months’ discussion. On my “to do” list for today is getting out an email with the suggested schedule of discussions. I will also include the extended list of suggested books. I know that members of the group will continue to read beyond the titles that we are discussing.

The experience reminded me of many conversations about books that I have had over the years. My office in Rapid City had two walls of bookshelves that I filled with part of my personal collection. I would often have a visitor in my office who would look at the bookshelves and ask, “Have you read all of these books?” I would point out that some of the books were references. Books like dictionaries and concordances are not the kind of books that you start at the beginning and are finished when you have come to the last word. Rather they are used to find specific information. I often said, however, that I had read most of those books, which was true. What I didn’t say was that at home I had an even larger collection of books and I had definitely not read all of the titles in that collection.

Despite the fact that we downsized significantly, donation dozens of boxes of books before we moved, I still have a lot of books. In addition, I have taken to reading more books in electronic format. I have a tablet computer and I read books that are purchased and downloaded as well as volumes that are borrowed from the public library’s collection of electronic resources. I also continue to be an avid user of libraries. I have library cards to two different public libraries and know how to make online reservations for books in both libraries. It is common for me to have volumes checked out from both at the same time.

And, despite pledges to avoid purchasing new books, I continue to add to my collection. I don’t mean to collect more volumes, and I keep trying to find volumes that can be given away among the books on my shelves, but there are some books that I continue to collect. As I grow older, I am expanding my collection of poetry. I find that poetry collections are volumes to which I want to return over and over. I like to read them slowly and return to re-read poems. Thus there is an advantage to owning a volume so that I can keep it close at hand next to my favorite chair. In fact, at this moment, there are poetry books by Rena Priest, Billy Collins, Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe, and Ada Limón on my desk with markers in each showing where I am in my journeys through them. And I have a short shelf of poetry books right next to my favorite chair as well.

I remember a friend with whom I used to love to discuss books. He was an ophthalmologist and a recognized expert optical surgeon, but his recreational reading was wide-ranging. He loved biographies, but also read a significant amount of fiction. He had a marvelous study in his home with floor to ceiling bookshelves, there was a ladder on a rail that ran alongside the wall providing access to shelves that were too high to reach from the floor. Once, when I visited him in the hospital where he was a patient I noticed that he had a half dozen books on his bedside table. I commented on the books and he said that he had not begun to read at least half of them. “I always keep a supply of books that I have not read on hand,” he commented. “I have a fear of running out of things to read.”

I share his sentiment. I’m sure that when I come to the end of my life there will be a list of books that I am intending to read some day. I’ll never get to the end of my reading lists. And that is a comfort. There will always be something new to challenge my imagination. And It is a comfort to belong to a group at church that is eager to keep reading. I’m pleased with the list we generated. Knowing that we could add additional volumes to the list keeps the group interesting and engaging.

A somewhat new discovery for me in recent years, however, is the pleasure of re-reading a book that I’ve previously read. Some of the volumes on my shelves have become old friends. I enjoy revisiting them. There is always something new to learn. Like my friend, I am assured that I will never run out of things to read.

Changing times

I am not sure, but I think I may be witnessing a shift in our culture. My observations may be influenced by differences in region. They also might be the result of a lot of other factors, so there is doubt in my mind about how universal these changes are, but it certainly seems, from my perspective, that some things have changed in dramatic ways.

To understand this, I need to remind myself that I retired at a moment of intense change in the life of the church and in people’s participation in religious institutions. I announced my retirement, set a date, and then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. During my last Holy Week as a pastor, our congregation cancelled all in-person worship. By the time of my official retirement in June, we still weren’t worshiping indoors in person. My retirement service was held outside, with folks spread out across the parking lot. Since that time, most congregations have been able to go back to in-person worship in their sanctuaries, but virtually all now offer online worship services with the option for worshipers to participate over Zoom, Facebook, or other media streaming platform. Churches are equipped with cameras and sophisticated audio-visual systems to make remote participation work for members and friends.

That shift, however, is not primarily the focus of my thoughts today. The shift I think I am witnessing is in the way funerals are observed in our culture. Over the span of my career, when a death occurred in a congregation I served, the first thing I did upon hearing about that death was to contact the family. Most of the time, this involved a visit to the family home within minutes or hours of the moment I learned of the death. Most of the time, I arrived before any funeral plans had been made. I often guided the family through the process of setting a date and time, planning a service and a fellowship time following the service, and journeyed with them through the initial stages of grief. I gave them information about the process of grieving and I supported them in a variety of different ways. During those initial visits, I learned as much as I could about their loved one and encouraged the family to tell stories and remember, keeping notes on the things they shared and choosing some of those memories for inclusion in the service.

During the pandemic, families were forced to extend the time between their loss and the funeral or memorial service. Often they arranged for a private committal service with a memorial to follow weeks or months later. The process of grieving was extended in many ways. The role of the pastor shifted, too. Because of fears of spreading illness, pastors began to meet remotely with grieving families, using the telephone or online video chats in place of home visits. I was retired by this time. I didn’t have to navigate this change in how pastors responded to loss and grief.

Now we are emerging from the pandemic. Congregations are meeting face to face. Funerals are being held in the church once again. But it seems to me that a lot has changed. When a death occurs in our congregation, I’ve noticed that the pastor almost always responds with a series of telephone conversations. When a meeting is set up to plan a funeral, it often occurs in the church building, with family members coming to the pastor instead of the other way around. Funerals are hybrid, with some people attending in person and others participating online. Immediate families gather, but extended family members often participate through the online service.

Maybe it is just me - a somewhat cranky old retired pastor who is often critical of younger colleagues - but it seems like pastors are officiating at funerals without really knowing the families they are serving. Funeral services seem to be much less personal and more generic. To be clear, I was critical of funeral services offered by other pastors long before I retired. Because of my work with suicide response, I attended more funerals at which I was not the officiant. I have witnessed a lot of reading services from the book with a name inserted here and there. I have heard a lot of pastors trying to offer comfort without sharing the pain and loss of the family. I’ve done my share of criticizing what seems to me to be pastors who are unwilling to do the hard work of serving those in their congregation at times of loss and grief. I bent over backwards to make things work for the families I served. There were times when it was a lot of work. There were days when I scheduled more than one funeral in the same day. There were times when I lost a lot of sleep and cancelled other plans to make things work for families. This may still be the case, but it doesn’t seem like it to me.

The culture may not really be shifting. I may be observing too small of a sample to make conclusions, but I am disappointed in the services provided by some of my colleagues. It seems to me like they are simply unwilling to do the hard work and make the sacrifices that our vocation demands. And that makes me sad because grieving families deserve more from the church. They shouldn’t have to consider the convenience of the pastor in their journeys of grief. They shouldn’t have to schedule around the pastor’s day off or other events that make for busy times for those who serve.

I hope that the culture is not shifting away from churches serving in the role of primary caregivers to those who grieve. I hope that congregations will continue to find ways to provide love and support to those who have experienced loss. I hope that people will continue to turn to the church at times of loss even if they have not previously been active in church life.

I know that things are changing. I know that the future is not the same as the past. I am not hoping to go back to the way it used to be. And I try to keep my criticisms to myself for the most part. But I am sad when I see the church fail to live up to its potential. I am sad when I see pastors who seem more concerned with self-care than service. I am grateful that my active career occurred when it did. I hope that the dynamics of church life will shift back once again to a focus on serving those in our care.

Conference Annual Meeting

I have lost track of how many annual meetings of Conferences of the United Church of Christ I have attended. I started attending the annual meeting of the Conference before I went to seminary and before I was married. Annual meetings have involved a significant amount of travel at times. When we began to serve congregations, back in the 1970’s, it was assumed that attending the annual meeting of the Conference was part of the job of being a pastor. I didn’t think of missing attending the meeting in person. For most of my career, I was attracted to the meeting because of the opportunities to meet with colleagues, share our love of the church, participate in worship and listen to keynote speakers, often leaders of the church who served in national and international positions. I went to the meetings to be inspired and to renew my energy and commitment to serving in the church.

Over the years, I have served on a lot of Conference committees. I have been on the planning teams for Conference annual meetings many times. I served as pastor of a congregation that was hosting the annual meeting twice during our time of serving in Rapid City.

A lot has changed over the years. I can remember meetings that involved a significant amount of tension. Before we went to seminary, we attended an annual meeting where there was controversy about who should be called as the next Conference Minister. I remember having conversations with people I knew and respected who were on both sides of the issue. There have been many times when I have disagreed with a resolution or a decision made by the Conference. Part of being a responsible member of a democratic institution is understanding and accepting the will of the majority even when one disagrees.

Things changed dramatically for me the year that I served as moderator of our Conference and was in a position leadership. I had moderated plenty of meetings by that time in my career. I had felt the tension of disagreement and understood the process of allowing for voices to be heard. I knew some strategies for addressing disagreement and tension. But I was not prepared for the circumstances of that meeting. There was a lot going on. Our conference was in the midst of a transition in leadership that involved a lot of tension and disagreement. I did not experience the level of support from the wider church that I expected.

We are human. Our institutions are flawed. When we come face to face with the limitations and flaws of our human institutions it can be disappointing.

I have said repeatedly that one of the things to which I was looking forward as I approached retirement was the freedom to attend fewer meetings. That is partially true, but not so in the case of Conference annual meetings. In our Conference, the one to which we moved upon retirement, attendance at Conference annual meetings is a clearly stated expectation of all clergy with standing. I am obligated to attend.

Last year’s meeting was online. I attended, but had the luxury of doing so mostly from home and with a sense of separation. I wasn’t invested in the debates and disagreements. I was a casual observer.

It will be different this year. The meeting has returned to an in-person, face-to-face meeting, although the meeting is technically hybrid, with online participation available. Our congregation is the host for the meeting. It is happening at our church this coming weekend. That means that much of my work time this week will be focused on that meeting. I’ll spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday attending meetings at the church and participating in the behind the scenes work that is part of hosting such meetings. We have already been preparing with a bit of intense housekeeping, sorting out supplies and preparing rooms so that they will be available for break out meetings and events. I’ll need to be available to assist with many details as one who has access to offices and workrooms and knows the layout of the building and how to operate the machines. In a way that is an advantage for me. I have no desire to be up front at such meetings. At least I have an office where I can “hide” when things get too crazy.

I am not invested in the politics of this conference. I don’t have any points that I feel I need to make. I’m not interested in participating in the debate. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about the issues before the Conference. I do care. I just don’t need to be in charge and I don’t need to have my opinion hold sway. Maybe that level of detachment is one of the luxuries of being retired.

Still, the meeting of the Conference involves about the same number of hours that I work in a typical week and I’m still responsible for all of my other duties, which means that this week will involve about double the hours I usually work. I’ll put in some long days and more of them than is typical for me. It isn’t more work than when I was a full-time minister, but it is an increase from my semi-retired lifestyle.

I confess that I haven’t been looking forward to this week. It isn’t fair to say that I’ve been dreading it, but I haven’t discovered much enthusiasm for the meeting. It is, simply, one of those events where I will do what is required and look forward to the time when it is over.

Part of me is disappointed at my attitude. I used to live for meetings like this one. I used to be excited about them and plan with great anticipation. Those feelings just aren’t present for me this year. I need to give myself a good pep talk and adjust my attitude. There are some dedicated church leaders who will be present. There are some conversations that are meaningful and worthy of my time an attention.

I guess I’ll have to see how things play out. The week has arrived. I’ve got work to do. At least those who check on such things won’t have to worry about whether or not I’m going to show up. I’ll be there.

Passionate voters

There was a special meeting of the congregation after worship yesterday. It was one of those difficult meetings, where some of the participants in the meeting were very passionate about their positions, but no one wanted to create division or dissension in the congregation. The choice before the congregation had to do with staffing. A previous budget decision had resulted ini the need to decrease the number of full time employees of the congregation. While that choice had already been made, the congregation is happy with the leadership of the church. People did not want to criticize or attack any of the leaders of the congregation. Still, there was a sense that the recommendation of the personnel committee wasn’t quite what people wanted. They struggled to come up with a solution that would address their concerns without rejecting the leadership. It is a complex situation and there were no easy solutions. I was proud of those who spoke. They were careful not to attack or to criticize. They expressed their opinions without rancor or anger. After a lot of conversation, the final vote was very nearly unanimous. They came up with a way forward that addressed concerns, respected differences, and did not disrupt.

Finally a motion was made, seconded, slightly amended and voted upon. The members of the congregation voted with a show of hands. Almost all of the hands went up in support of the motion. I think there were two or three abstentions, but the clear will of the majority was evident. There were no “no” votes. I noticed two young children, who had not been confirmed, raising their hands proudly. One of them was the son of the moderator of the meeting, the other a neighbor and friend of the young boy. Interestingly, they voted for the motion and also to abstain. I could hear the tellers commenting that they were not eligible to vote and I know that their votes weren’t included in the official count, but I was delighted with their passion and sense of participation in what they knew was an important decision.

After the meeting conversation between the moderator and his son was overheard and reported to me. The father said, “I saw you vote. What were you voting for?” The son replied, “I was voting for you.” “For me? What were you voting for me about?” “I was voting for you to be the pastor of our congregation.” “Oh. You know your aunt is a pastor. Maybe one pastor in the family is enough for us.”

I keep smiling when I remember those two young boys voting with enthusiasm, even though they weren’t quite sure what the vote was about. They were showing that they felt that they were a part of the conversation. They understood that the choice was important. They wanted to be a part of what was emerging.

I have to add that the father did a superb job of leading the congregation and guiding the conversation. He was careful to make sure that people had an opportunity to speak and to express their feelings. He was respectful of those who spoke and attentive to the process of decision-making. He understood the rules of order and followed them without being authoritarian or shutting down those who needed to speak. He deserves the pride and admiration not only of his son, but of all of us who love and care about the congregation.

Mostly, I am delighted to be a part of a congregation where a couple of children can feel so included that they are sure that the act of raising their hands when others do is important. They believe that their participation makes a difference for the good of the community. They understand that they belong.

I think that there are many more difficult decisions ahead for this congregation. Churches are struggling with a lot of different issues. The pandemic shifted participation patterns and has already left a mark on church budgets. Change was in the air before the pandemic hit. Leadership is difficult to find. I know of several congregations who are unable to find the leaders they desire. I know of the issues of decreased attendance at in person worship services, shifting patterns of donation and support, and budget struggles. Those big changes in the church are not over. They will continue and there are more difficult decisions ahead for many congregations. Ours is no exception. We are being forced to learn to live graciously and abundantly with fewer resources than before. Certainly we are fortunate. We have long-term leadership from settled pastors. We have a generous congregation that supports important mission and ministry. We are capable of making big decisions and raising significant contributions to support important projects. This congregation is going to be around for many more years of service. But we will have to make more difficult decisions. We will have to adapt and change as we journey together. We will have to listen carefully, respect differences, and there will be compromises ahead. We don’t yet have a completely clear picture of what the future will hold, and we may not have that vision for some time as we continue to adjust to major shifts in our community and the world.

Despite all of the pressures and difficult decisions, I am filled with hope and joy when I think of those two young voters, proudly raising their hands and feeling included in the process of making important decisions. I am looking forward to watching them as they grow. I hope I am around for their confirmations and full membership in the congregation. I want to be in the congregation and listening carefully when they are able to step into leadership and speak their faith and vision.

As a semi-retired pastor, I am very comfortable with sitting and observing the congregation. I didn’t feel a need to speak at the meeting and that was a relief for me. There have been plenty of difficult congregational meetings where I felt I had a deep personal responsibility. I took the words that were said personally and I had trouble keeping my passion to myself. Yesterday, I was comfortable and felt no need to speak. I was at the meeting to listen and observe. I am a fortunate person to have reached this stage in my life’s journey. And I am excited with the new leaders who are just emerging.

I am positive about our future as a congregation and about the future of the church. We may not yet be able to have a clear vision of the future, but we know how important our community is and how important it is for us to pay attention to one another as we journey together.


A colleague who is much younger than I once told me that a pastor should have no friends within the congregation. The job of a pastor is to serve and you can’t serve if you play favorite, and you’ll have favorites if you make friends. Friends should always be people outside of the congregation served. I couldn’t make any sense out of the advice. I have formed life-long friendships within each congregation that I have served. I don’t know how to serve people without becoming attached to them. Yes, I admit, I have drawn closer to some members of the congregation than others. But ministry is relational. Keeping one’s distance and hiding one’s vulnerability gets in the way of genuinely serving. I have allowed members of the congregations I have served to get to know me and I have gotten to know them. We have shared meals and conversation.

I come from a time when pastors made calls to the homes of church members. Perhaps I am old school and my style of ministry is a relic of the past, but I am grateful that I was able to serve when I did and in the way that I was able. Every congregation has difficult relationships. I have met personalities who were a challenge for me to serve. I often thought of a very important piece of advice that a mentor once told me: “When you find someone in your congregation that you don’t like, you should pray for that person every day, if for no other reason that you want them to be healthy and have a long life so that you don’t have to be the one to officiate at their funeral.” The statement was made tongue-in-cheek, but there is a distinct advantage to the discipline of praying daily for those with whom relationships are challenging. Simply making time to think of that person each day will help to increase understanding and appreciation.

One of the deep friendships I developed in my ministry was with a member who had retired as a university teacher and administrator. He was and intellectual genius. In his active career he had earned multiple patents for discoveries and inventions. He was a sought-after consultant for all of his life, often traveling internationally to help other engineers solve difficult problems and challenges. He was a brilliant mathematician who could also explain things to me in terms that I could understand. My knowledge of many of his areas of expertise was minimal and I often had to ask a lot of questions and he was always patient with my questions and clear in his answers. We could talk about a thousand different subjects and my time with him was always too short to cover all of the things in which he was interested. He was an engineer by formal training, but he was also an amateur scholar of philosophy. He was especially taken by Erasmus and one of the treasures of my library is a short volume of letters by Erasmus, originally written in Greek, translated into English, in which he made copious margin notes. The book was given to me by his widow after his death.

One of the thousand interests he had was bee keeping. He kept his bees at a remote location and I never visited his hives, but I enjoyed their honey. He would donate cases of pint and quart jars of honey to the church rummage sale, and I would try to be among the first customers so I could purchase up a couple of quarts at each sale. I really enjoyed it when the talked about bee keeping. “When you first look at bees,” he said, “You are struck with individuals. The one flying around your face distracts you. The ones on the ground that can travel up your pants leg definitely get your attention. But to care for bees, you have to learn to think of the colony. Bees don’t reproduce as individuals, though individuals eggs are continually being laid in an active colony. Bees reproduce as colonies. They expand their numbers by making new colonies.”

The way in which he talked about his bees made me want to become a bee keeper. Limits of my time and space didn’t allow me to get into the hobby during my active career, but I was moved by his love of keeping bees. He wasn’t the only bee keeping friend I made during my time as a pastor. I had bee stories from the first parish I served and also became friends with another bee keeper in that same congregation.

After I retired, it took me a while to get settled. Much of the first two years after our retirement was invested in finding a new home, sorting possessions, and making a move. We moved a second time just over a year after our initial move, this time from a house we had leased to one we are purchasing. Now that we are settled just down the road from our son’s farm, the timing is right for bees. A year ago I completed a basic beekeeping course offered by a local bee keepers association and I became certified by the state agricultural commission as a bee keeper. Although the next step is to establish colonies and keep bees for a year before taking the advance courses, I delayed for a year to study, observe, and continue learning. Early this spring, however, the timing was right and I purchased my first bee hives and ordered bees for delivery.

Yesterday was the day I got my bees. Two nuclear colonies, each with 5 frames of bees, were transported in plastic containers. I picked up the containers and brought the bees to the farm where I allowed them to acclimate for a while before transferring the frames from the transfer boxes to the new hives. The hives are bigger than the boxes and have additional frames for the bees to spread out and create more brood space. After they settle in, I will add a second layer of brood space and eventually honey supers to collect honey.

It is an exciting adventure and the adventure is just beginning. I am grateful for the friendship that aimed me in this direction. Knowing people who have been successful at retirement has become as important as other friendships in guiding my life. I’ll continue to form friendships within the church.

A big bag of flour

When I was growing up, our mother baked bread nearly every week. Her usual recipe yielded six loaves, which was the maximum that could be baked at one time in the oven that she had. For years, she hauled freshly ground flour from her sister’s farm located about 100 miles north of where we lived. Our uncle had a small flour mill and ground the hard red winter wheat that they grew for their family’s use and for a few relatives. Later, our mother obtained her own flour mill and started grinding her flour freshly each week. She kept her flour, and later the unground wheat, in a 30-gallon galvanized steel garbage can. The can could be washed out, did not rust, was water tight, and mouse proof. Our house had an enclosed front porch that was not heated and the porch provided a safe place for the can. At times there were two cans that were used as canisters, one for flour and the other for more coarsely ground wheat which was used for hot cereal.

When I was newly married and we had moved off to Chicago, I baked the bread that we ate. I would pick up buckets of flour, reusing two gallon ice cream containers when we visited home. The rest of the time we would purchase 25-pound sacks of flour at our local grocery store. At times, during our seminary years, I would bake for our family and two others, making up to 9 loaves some weeks. It really isn’t much harder to make large batches of bread and I learned to control the speed with which the bread rose by using the oven to proof the first batch of loaves while the others rose slowly away from a heat source, giving myself timing to bake in two batches from one large dough.

Over the years, I have baked more or less depending on how busy my life has been. There have been many years that I was doing very little baking. One of my goals in retirement was to return to baking. I like the flavor of home made bread and enjoy the process of mixing, kneading, proofing, and baking. I like to rise early in the morning and often can have the process well underway before Susan wakes. With our son and his family right down the road, I usually bake three loaves, sending one to their family and keeping two for our use. When I have a little time, I will bake ahead and like to have a few loaves in the freezer for weeks when we are traveling or when life gets busy. I don’t produce quite enough to keep us from purchasing bread from the store, but I am currently baking most of the bread we use and a weekly loaf for our grandchildren to have for after school snacks and an occasional lunch.

One of the challenges for me has been to find sources of flour. I’m used to the high quality fresh organic flour that came from our uncle’s farm. I can purchase comparable quality flour from our local food cooperative, but it is a pricy. Last fall we helped my sister move from Montana to Oregon. In the process she was downsizing in a similar manner to the downsizing that we had done when we moved from South Dakota to Washington. Like us, the lure of living close to her children and her granddaughter made the move attractive. As part of her downsizing, she decided to get rid of four food grade six gallon buckets with screw in lids that she was using to store flour, sugar, rice, and coffee. I volunteered to take the buckets. They have been in our garage since we got them. Last week when we were in Montana, I stopped by an organic bakery that was supported by local farmers including my cousin and picked up a 50 pound sack of flour. I finally had a safe place to store the flour.

On Thursday, I had the first opportunity to bake from the new flour. What a joy to have such wonderful flour. The buckets make measuring the flour simple. I can use a one-cup measuring cup as a scoop and level the excess right back into the bucket. It is a lot easier than having to pour flour into smaller canisters or 1-gallon glass jars and a lot cleaner than trying to scoop from a paper bag. My bread recipe is simple. All I need is flour, water, yeast, honey, and a bit of butter. I can purchase yeast in a reasonable quantity from a local source, and I have friends who are bee keepers from whom I can purchase honey. Next fall I hope that the bees we will keep on the farm will produce enough honey that we will no longer have to purchase additional honey. As far as I know, there is no plan to keep a dairy cow on the farm, so we’ll continue to purchase butter from the store.

Having the ability to safely store 50 pounds of flour seems like a great luxury. If I needed to, I could easily increase my batch and bake all of the bread for our family and for our son’s family each week. With my new stock of flour, I am tempted to occasionally bake six instead of three loaves just to have a bit of reserve.

We are not “preppers,” and we certainly don’t have a huge pantry, but we do live 10 miles from a supermarket and the local market in our community is little more than a convenience store. It makes sense for us to have staples on hand so that we can make meals without having to run to the store each day. We have a deep freeze in the garage and the farm keeps us supplied with beef and chicken, so keeping a well-stocked pantry, including baking supplies, just makes sense.

I am surprised and pleased at how good it feels to me to be able to have a supply of flour on hand, safely stored. I feel like I can bake whenever we want fresh bread. It really makes our house feel like a home to me.


When I tell people familiar with Montana that I grew up in Big Timber, the conversation almost always includes comments on how windy it can be in that place. The winds blow through the gates of the mountains which act like a funnel forcing them to accelerate as they follow the Yellowstone River. Downstream a bit, the valley opens up and the winds die down as they spread out across the prairie. I can tell a lot of stories about windy days and nights, about how bitterly cold the wind can be in the winter, about vehicles being blown off of the road, about wind so strong that the paint of new vehicles was ruined by blowing sand, dirt and debris. One of the standing jokes in our town when I was growing up was that we all knew that when the wind gauge on the community access television channel read “calm” it meant that the wind gauge had once again broken. It seems that many anemometers cannot take extended periods of winds in excess of 100 mph. In those conditions the tiny bearings in the small units fail and they no longer can make accurate wind measurements.

After a short stint in a slightly less windy place for undergraduate school, we moved to Chicago, another place known for its wind. From Chicago we moved to southwestern North Dakota. I used to joke that I was on my home soil in North Dakota because it had all blown in from Montana.

After North Dakota we moved to Boise, Idaho, a place where the wind rarely blows very much. The trees in Boise are so unused to strong winds that a fairly mild thunderstorm will litter the streets with branches. The air grows stale from lack of movement and pollution hangs over the city during some weather conditions. It was in Boise that I learned that a person can miss the wind. After a lifetime of complaining about the wind, I arrived at a place where there was too little wind for my liking.

A decade later we moved to South Dakota, where we had a house on a hill where we could feel the wind. Our house was well sheltered by trees, and the sound of the wind in the trees was part of the joy of living in the hills.

I don’t know why, but somehow I expected that moving to the Pacific Northwest would be a place where there would be less wind. I guess I imagined foggy mornings along the coast. I was wrong. The wind blows a lot around here. There are frequently high wind warnings and small craft advisories in the weather forecasts. Yesterday the news was filled with cancelled ferry sailings caused by high winds. People who had reservations for particular crossing times saw delays. Those who had no reservations may have to wait a couple of days before the weather permits them to get on or off of an island.

We have learned to zip our jackets before stepping out of the house.

Maybe it is because I have gathered a lifetime of experience with the wind that I am so drawn to the stories of the prophet Elijah, especially the story in the 19th chapter of the first book of Kings where Elijah meets God at Horeb. Elijah was on the flee, after having defeated the prophets of Baal. Jezebel was furious and promised to kill Elijah, so he made a quick retreat into the wilderness, where he became depressed and despondent. The Bible reports that he was entertaining suicidal thoughts when an angel appeared offering food and drink that sustained him for 40 days in the wilderness while he traveled to Horeb.

It was while holing up in a cave on Horeb that Elijah met God. The story reports that first there was a wind so strong that it was breaking rocks. Yes, the wind can actually blow that hard. I’ve witnessed wind so strong that they trigger rock slides on steep slopes. The story of Elijah reports such a wind, but God was not in the wind. After the wind was an earthquake and God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, fire, and God was not in the fire. It was only after wind, earthquake, and fire that the mountain settled down to quiet.

It was in the quiet that Elijah finally heard the voice of God.

The story goes on to tell of Elijah meeting Elisha who became his disciple and successor. The work to which Elijah was called was a task far too big for a single person. It was work that would take generations. Elisha becomes the promise Elijah needed to know that his work would continue beyond the span of his life and that leadership for that work would continue to emerge.

The stories of Elijah have entertained our people for generations. They remind me that my first impression should not always guide my decisions. Sometimes you have to listen to the wind, earthquake, and fire before you can discern what it is that you are called to do. Those who are blown about by every strong wind and who change direction every time the wind changes might miss a sense of direction to guide their lives.

One of the things about living on the coast that is different from other places where we have lived is that the wind direction can change dramatically. When a low pressure system is out over the water, the wind blows offshore. As that low pressure system blows over the land, the direction of the wind can change 180 degrees in a matter of a few minutes. We’ve learned to take note of the wind direction when we go for a walk. Having the wind to our backs as we face the ocean can mean that there is a storm coming from the direction we are facing. It takes time to learn about the wind.

Fortunately we haven’t experienced any earthquakes or major fires in our time of living here. We aren’t eager to experience either. Whatever happens, I hope that I’ve learned a bit from experiencing the wind and learning the stories of our people to help me discover what it is I am being called to do with my life.

Looking up

One of the fun things about living up north near the border with Canada is how dramatic the shift is from winter to summer. Our summer days longer and our summer nights shorter than places farther south. Conversely, our winter days are shorter and our winter nights are longer than other places where we have lived. This means that in the springtime and fall, the change is rapid. Right now we gain 5 minutes of additional daylight each day. It is easy to detect the change simply by observing how early the sun rises and how late it sets each day.

I almost wrote that each day we get 5 additional minutes of sunshine, but that wouldn’t be accurate. Our days have been fairly cloudy recently. I’ve even adopted that practice, common among my friends around here, of commenting on the clear blue sky when the sky is mostly cloudy with just a few patches of blue sky. Our recent trip to Montana reminded me of the difference. While driving through Montana we observed the snow capped mountains against the clear blue skies. Having returned home we can still see snow capped mountains most days, but their background is rarely a clear blue sky. The difference in contrast is dramatic.

Each day reminds us that we live in a different part of the world than once was the case.

I am especially aware of the difference at this time of the year. The last half of the month of April is a good time to look for meteors. I enjoy seeing “shooting stars.” The Lyrid meteor shower has been observed for nearly 2,700 years, making them one of the oldest known events of the type. This shower appears every year. It is easiest to see the meteors after the moon sets. The moon is setting fairly early right now in our part of the world, a little after 9 pm, so one doesn’t have to stay up late or rise in the middle of the night to get a glimpse at a few meteors. All you have to do is to go outside and sit in the dark for a while to allow your eyes to adjust and look up. At the peak of the shower, there are between 10 and 20 meteors per hour.

However, there are plenty of nights when the sky is obscured by clouds and there are plenty of nights like last evening when the sky had some patches of clear sky and other areas that were obscured by clouds. Even viewing the most common constellations like the two dippers which are usually easy to spot from our back deck, can be a problem when there are clouds. We live just south of the big city of Vancouver, British Columbia. When it is cloudy, the clouds reflect the lights of the city and it just doesn’t get as dark around her as when there are no clouds in the sky.

Another difference for star gazing at our new home is that we have a much smaller yard. The houses are much closer together in this neighborhood than they were where we lived in South Dakota. This means more lights from the neighbors who don’t seem inclined to turn off all of their lights and go to bed as early as I do. That means that our back yard simply is not as dark as was the case in the place we used to live.

I’m adjusting. I’ve learned to celebrate when I see just one or two meteors. I’m learning to talk about hours of daylight instead of hours of sunlight, though I suppose technically the shift in semantics is not very meaningful. I also have learned that a few sprinkles of rain, or a light mist hardly warrant getting out my raincoat. If it isn’t soaking through my regular jacket, my hat, or my gloves, it isn’t worth wearing special clothing. I do, however, make sure that all shoes I buy are waterproof. And I have a good rain jacket and a pair of rain pants just in case. I’m not about to let the weather keep me indoors all day. Walking in the rain is not nearly as challenging as walking in a driving blizzard.

Religious leaders like to talk about mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness can be as challenging as developing a new prayer routine. It also can be as simple as just paying attention to what you are doing and what is going on in the world around you. I try to be mindful when I am making time for prayer. I give myself a few moments to breath deeply and intentionally and focus my thoughts before beginning my prayer routine. But I also try to be mindful about other things as well. During Lent this year, I tried to be especially mindful of my eating, paying attention to each bite and savoring taste, smell, appearance, sight, and sound. I tried to eat less and to spend more time on each bite. I hope it is a practice that I will be able to continue as a new habit and a permanent change in my lifestyle. There are a lot of other ways to practice mindfulness in daily living. I try to be aware of my surroundings and to pay attention to the natural world. We walk outdoors ever day. I try to be aware of the world and take it all in as we walk. This time of the year it is easy to pause at the doorway and listen to the birds, to take time to smell the blossoms on the cherry tree, to feel the mist in the air or the warmth of the sunshine. The natural world presents a rich tapestry of sensations when we take time to pay attention.

So I’ll be watching for Meteors when it is dark and for sunshine when it is light. And I’ll be grateful for the lengthening of days and the peace of the night sky. Along the way, I’ll take delight in each surprise and there are plenty of those.

Sorting and cleaning

Volunteers and professionals engaged in Faith Formation in the church have learned to be efficient about spending. Faith Formation is currently the most popular term in our church for what once was called Christian Education. The belief is that the new title is a bit more comprehensive. Instead of narrowly defining educational programs in terms of Sunday School, a wider program of support for families, intergenerational educational events, and lifelong learning is envisioned. In most congregations the new name is mostly cosmetic - a different way of talking about activities that have been a part of church life for generations.

Over the years, those programs have had to accomplish a lot with a small amount of resources. As far back as I can remember, professional educators in the church have been paid less than those hired to be preachers and pastors. In addition, the amount of money for programs has been very small. I have been at numerous church meetings where financial planners have spent hours trimming dollars from budgets, almost always cutting already underfunded programs while retaining more expensive items such as building maintenance and professional salaries for senior staff.

This has occurred at all levels of the church. When I was a child, the United Church of Christ produced curricula for church schools using a staff of professional writers and editors. By the time I was an adult, curricula was produced with free-lance writers and editors. Today the church does not produce any curricula resources and the few supplemental resources produced for faith formation are created by volunteers. The fact that resources are developed by volunteers does not necessarily mean that they are lower in quality, however. There are a lot of talented and creative people who are willing to give their time and talent to the church.

One result of a century of diminishing financial support for Christian Education and Faith Formation ministries in the church is that creative teachers and professional educators have learned to produce programs using materials that others might consider to be garbage. Crafts using items that are normally discarded are common. Puppets are crafted from popsicle sticks and the round discs that top frozen orange juice cans. The cardboard cores of toilet tissue and paper towels are repurposed for children’s crafts and art activities. Small bits of paper are kept to be used in collage making. Shoe boxes are labeled for use as supply storage bins.

Saving all of those items that are normally discarded, however, has meant that church buildings have a large amount of what appears to be garbage to some eyes collected in closets and cabinets and supply rooms. And people are a bit funny when it comes to recycled items and church faith formation spaces. In every congregation that I have served over the past 45 years people have brought items to the church that might have once been solicited, but are no longer used. I’ve found bags of egg cartons that were brought to the church and left even when no one had asked for them. A church school supply closet or a Faith Formation office are places where people bring all kinds of unsolicited donations, many of which have no financial value and look like so much garbage to untrained eyes.

Part of our job as Interim Ministers of Faith Formation in our current setting has been sorting out decades of accumulation. We cleaned one closet that had dated resources that were more than 50 years old. We hauled multiple boxes of 3-ring binders to a second hand store. We have composted packaged snacks that had long since passed their “best used by” dates. And we have only begun to scratch the surface of the accumulation.

Today we have scheduled a cleaning day. Volunteers from the church will help us sort out a supply room called the creative classroom. It once was a place for arts and craft activities for elementary school children. As the number of children involved in church programs declined and the church shifted its thinking around children’s programming, a dedicated classroom for arts activities is no longer needed. Children’s and intergenerational programming is mostly done in the fellowship and other spaces adjacent to the sanctuary. Each week we bring a lot of supplies to those spaces and then spend a lot of time cleaning those spaces for other uses during the week. We’ve learned to organize resources for educational activities in boxes and bins and other portable storage devices. As a result, the creative classroom no longer functions as a classroom, but rather as a supply storage area. And like supply storage areas in all churches, it has filled up with supplies, many of which were once deemed necessary, but now are no longer used in current programming.

And we, being educators, are not quick to throw anything into the trash. We are constantly thinking of how an item might be repurposed to support a program that runs on donations and leftovers rather than a budget with many dollars to spend. We are masters at recycling and reusing and repurposing items that others might quickly discard. So tackling the chaos in the creative classroom will involve a lot of careful sorting. We don’t want to dispose of items that we will someday regret having lost.

And Susan and I, being interim ministers, don’t want to dishonor the legacy of previous church educators. But we also do not want to pass on all of the tasks of cleaning and organizing to future volunteers in the church. We are keenly aware that although we are supported as professionals, the future of faith formation activities in the church will be led by volunteers. Decades of reading church budgets has taught us not to expect increases in funding for educational programs.

Having less money isn’t always a bad thing. Excellent programs and creative projects abound in the church despite a lack of funding. Congregations invest in programs for children and youth in other ways than providing cash funding. Making all of these programs work, however, requires a lot of sorting and cleaning. And it involves a few trips to the recycling center to drop off items for other uses.

Today will be a cleaning day. And it won’t be the last one.

National question

We are friends with a family whose young adult son was a prodigy as a child. He played the piano brilliantly and had an incredible memory. He excelled in school so much that he was admitted to University when he was 15. As a teenager he played for a concert at our church at which he demonstrated his amazing memory by playing the national anthems of countries around the world. Members of the audience submitted the names fo countries which were drawn from a hat and read in random order. As the name of each country was read, he played the national anthem of that country. In an effort to stump the young musician, audience members named some quite obscure countries. When one country was named, he announced that that country had no national anthem. My role during the concert was to sit at a computer and do an Internet search of each country’s national anthem as he spoke and played, to check his accuracy. As far as I could discern he made no mistakes at all. It was an amazing experience.

I, on the other hand, don’t know the national anthems of very many countries. I know “God Save the Queen,” now “God Save the King.” That song ends with the hope that England will remain a country of laws: “May he defend our laws, and ever give us cause, to sing with heart and voice, God save the King.”

I also memorized the words to the Canadian National Anthem, at least the English words. The official anthem has English, French, and Bilingual versions. And the words were changed since I memorized the anthem to make the song a bit more inclusive. That anthem ends with an appeal to deity: “God keep our land glorious and free! O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”

Our national anthem, on the other hand takes a different note. It ends with a question. In fact, the song has three questions. It begins with two questions: “O, say, can you see by the dawn’s early light what so proudly we hail’d at the twilights’ last gleaming?” and “Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight o’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?” After a phrase declaring that the flag was still there, the song ends with a final question: “O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

I wonder if it says something about our national character that we so frequently sing questions about our flag and our nation. I’ve been thinking of the words to that song, especially the question with which it ends recently. I think it is a legitimate question. Does our star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Last Thursday, Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old was shot once in the head and once in the arm when he knocked on the wrong door. He was sent to pick up his younger brother at an address on 115th Terrace. Instead he went to the same address on 115th Street. He went to the front door of the home and rang the bell twice. The 84-year-old owner of the house where he rang the bell responded with gunfire.

On Saturday evening, four young adults were trying to find the home of a friend in rural Washington County New York. They mistakenly drove up the wrong driveway. Before any member of the group could exit the car, a man opened fire on the car. A 20-year-old woman, who was a passenger in the car was killed.

In both incidents, there clearly was no threat from those who ended up at the wrong address. No threat existed, and yet, homeowners were so frightened that they felt that they had to use lethal force to defend themselves.

I don’t know the details of either situation. One news story that I read said that the homeowner who shot the 16-year-old had previously experienced some vandalism. I know nothing of the man who shot and killed the young woman, except that he was 65 years old. However, it certainly seems to me that both of those men were acting out of fear and that fear caused them to make tragic and irreversible mistakes.

I can go on and on with examples of out-of-control fear that is a part of everyday life in our country. The politics of fear involves big money and can influence the outcome of elections. Campaign ads play to the fears of people. In fact politicians intentionally try to stir up fear in attempts to motivate voters. The so-called culture wars are about people who are afraid that their way of life is somehow threatened by people who are different than themselves, who hold different beliefs, or who see things from a different perspective. The governor of Florida is so threatened by a corporation that expressed disagreement with a bill he signed into law that he is attempting to take over the business and drive its leaders out of the state. It is a stunning display of fear, if you ask me.

Of course you didn’t ask me. I’m offering my opinion without its being solicited. My opinion is that that examples of fear are easy to find in the news of our country. Much of that fear arises in situations where no threat exists. People are afraid and they act out of fear.

“O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Some days, when I read the news headlines it seems to me that the banner now waves over a land with people who are barricaded, isolated, and trapped in their homes living in fear.

I think it is healthy for us as a country to continue to gather and sing our anthem while saluting our flag. The questions it raises are worthy of our attention and consideration.


I am not the first in my family to write journals. My mother kept journals, but I don’t think she wrote every day. What she did do of which I am aware is to write daily when she was traveling. She loved to travel and over the years she made several international trips, including bike touring in China, Shri Lanka, the Philippines and other places. She wrote up her trip journals and when she got home she would type them, with several carbon copies which she mailed to her sisters and to her children. I am sure that some of my love of traveling comes from reading her stories of her adventures.

One of the most prolific writers in our family, however, was my mothers maternal grandfather. Roy Russell was the first court reporter in the Montana Territory. The territory was recognized in 1864, and shortly afterward, Roy and his wife, Hattie, came up the Missouri River to Fort Benton, Montana, which was as far as the steamships could navigate. His work as a court recorder took him to the territorial capital at Virginia City and after Montana became a state in 1889, he worked in the state capitol at Helena for some time. They always kept coming back to Fort Benton, however, which is where they were when my mother was a little girl.

Roy was a prolific journalist. His journals are the primary reason for the trip we are on right now. The journals were carefully placed in acid free sleeves by my mother and her sister. Then they were placed in banker’s boxes and set into an old deep freeze, which provided waterproof and mouse-proof storage. There are 10 or 12 of those banker’s boxes with those journals and they needed to be taken from the property we own in Montana before the sale is finalized. After more than a decade of wondering what to do with the journals, a plan has finally emerged.

The first step for the journals is to have them digitized. Our son, who is a librarian, will help me find a service that can make digital copies of all of the journals. After they are digitized, both the Montana Historical Museum and the Archives of the Montana United Methodist Church are interested in archiving the journals. I am hoping that one or the other of these institutions can make the journals available through a website so that family members and future historians will have easy access to them. After the journals are digitized, I will probably also keep a copy and make it available to family members and friends who request journals from me. The original documents probably will eventually end up in the Fort Benton, Montana Heritage Complex.

There are plenty of historic journals that contain mostly commentary on the weather and on day to day activities, and I am sure that Grandpa Russell’s journals contain a fair amount of those things. However, of particular interest to me are the references to Brother Van. Brother Van was a United Methodist Circuit Riding Preacher who arrived in Fort Benton in 1872, having ridden the steam ship up the Missouri just like my mother’s grandparents. Brother Van established a number of churches and quickly became a beloved fixture in the Methodist Church in Montana. At least two biographies of Brother Van have been written and there are scores of Brother Van stories that remain.

However, Brother Van did not write down any of his sermons. Although he was renowned as a dramatic preacher, he preached from the bible and from the heart and did not use written notes. The result is that none of his sermons are known to remain.

Brother Van and Roy Russell were friends and family lore says that Roy not only listened to Brother Van preach on numerous occasions, he also used his court reporting skills to record some of Brother Van’s sermons.

Here is where the challenge lies. I have 10 or 12 banner’s boxes of journals. That is a lot of reading to accomplish. I don’t know if I will find a sermon in the first box I read or in the last. I hope that there might be several and that I might find one fairly early in my reading of the journals and that the find might give me energy for quite a bit of additional reading. I’m going to try to find journals from 1872 to start because that was the year that Brother Van arrived in Montana. I’m hoping that Roy recorded his arrival and perhaps one of his early sermons in the Fort Benton Methodist Church. Roy and Hattie were stalwart members of that church and would have attended worship every Sunday that they were in town.

Today the journals are in their acid proof sleeves inside of the banker’s boxes, inside of water-proof boxes that are in the back of my pickup. We’ve still got 325 miles to get them home. Then they will go into temporary storage at our son’s farm until we can get the digitizing process started. I am expecting that it will be quite a while before I make a plan and sit down to read the journals.

Right now, however, I can at least claim that I come by my wordiness and my keeping of journals in part because of my family heritage. I don’t know about generations before grandpa Roy, but I do know how prolific he was. After all, I am now in possession of his journals. There are a lot of them! I know that my stewardship of these journals will be short, if for no other reason that I only have a few decades left of my life. I am aware of the responsibility that comes with taking care of the journals. After all they are more than a century old and some of them are 150 years old. They were treasured and kept by his daughter and by her daughters, who didn’t know how to make them widely available, but who did appreciate their value. I hope that I can honor the trust that I have inherited and make wise decisions regarding the future of the journals.

My journals, on the other hand, are already digitized. They are available on my web site. I have no clue whether or not anyone in future generations will have any interest in what I am writing.

The pace of travel

I think that I had a sense that after we retired we would learn to travel at a slower pace. For a while we did. The first summer after we retired, we tried to drive a few less miles per day and added an extra day here and there. When we drove to South Carolina in the summer of 2020 I think we planned all of the days of driving to be less than 500 miles. Some were as short as 350 miles. It was a nice pace. But on that trip, we didn’t linger in any one place. Every campground was one night and then we moved on. My retirement vision was that we would travel at our own pace and if we wanted to linger, we would do so.

Of course that doesn’t work if you are staying at commercial campgrounds. Virtually all of them require reservations. If you want to stay more than one night, you have to plan to stay more than one night.

One of the ironies of our life right now is that even though we are only working half time, we don’t have the vacation benefits that we had for all of our working career. When we were full time pastors, we had four weeks of vacation each year. In this job we have only two weeks of vacation. As a result since we have been working at this job our days to travel and accomplish things has been limited.

This trip to Montana is an example. Because our vacation days are limited, we decided to take as few as possible for what is essentially a business trip. It is family business, but it is business all the same. Since we work Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays, we could get 5 days for this trip by taking only one day off - Sunday. Two days driving to Montana, one day of being there, and two to drive home make five days. Then, in our one day of being here, which was yesterday, we had to take care of things at the property in Big Timber, meet with the realtor, make a trip to Billings to pick up some things we need to leave with the property we are selling at a big box hardware store, and go to Red Lodge to visit Susan’s sister and her family.

Today we wake up in Red Lodge, travel back to Big Timber to deliver the items to the property there, and try to get halfway home - or nearly so. The entire trip feels a bit rushed. It isn’t the pace that I keep imagining might be possible.

Still, in general, my life has a lot less stress than was the case when I was serving as the senior minister of a busy congregation. I only work three days a week. I have time for some of my hobbies. I have time to play with my grandchildren. I have more time for home repair chores and other things that often got deferred when I was working full time. I have no reason to complain. I’m the one who decided to cram this trip into these days. I could have chosen to take one or two more days of vacation. I could have planned differently.

I have friends my age who don’t enjoy road trips the way I do. I don’t mind the driving. I like to go places and there is so much truly beautiful scenery between our Washington Home and this part of Montana that there is always something to look at. Last evening I walked out to the pickup and flushed two whitetail deer who were grazing in the back yard of our family’s house. As I did so, I was reminded how much I miss living in Rapid City where we had deer in the back yard every day. Things are beautiful at our new home, but they are different.

I don’t think I have been missing the snow very much. Spring is coming very late in Montana this year. There is a lot of snow on the ground here in Red Lodge. The snow is making the locals just a but nervous because last year’s run off came suddenly. The weather turned from cold to warm in the high country and then it rained, causing the melt off to happen so quickly that the creeks draining the mountains flooded really bad. Here in Red Lodge the creek left its banks completely and rushed down main street and some of the side streets of town. Bridges where washed out and debris was strewn everywhere. There were several buildings that were destroyed and many others that were damaged. At the house where we are staying, the basement flooded taking out the furnace and hot water heater. They have recovered and replace the items destroyed, but as spring comes, everyone around here will be looking at the creek and estimating how much water is coming down. Prayers around here are for a slow, gentle springtime.

We won’t be waiting around to see how things go. Today we’ll be back in the truck, headed west, trying to make some miles.

Maybe I’ll leave slowing down to a few more months later this year. We finish this interim position at the end of July. Our plan is to take all of August and September off to allow time to go camping with our grandchildren and to visit family in Oregon at a more leisurely pace. After that we may look for another job, but we are able to take our time and consider what we do with care.

Maybe I can learn to slow down just a little bit. I don’t want to stop making trips. I don’t want to become lethargic and always want to stay home. But I think we would enjoy having the luxury of spending a few days in the same location before moving on.

I’ve still got a lot to learn about being retired. I may have to do it more than once before I get the hang of it.

Time and space

I can confuse myself when I try to think about numbers. In the grand scheme of things, we see such a small amount of time. When I hear astronomers talk in thousands of light years, I cannot imagine the distance. When I hear geologists talk about millions of years, I have no concept of how much time that is. When I hear politicians talk about trillions of dollars, I have no idea what that amount of money might be.

I can tell you how many years since I was born, but I cannot tell you how long it will be until I die. I cannot tell you what percentage of my life has passed by.

For about 75 years, my family has owned property in Big Timber, Montana. Since I am not quite seventy five years old, it seems to me like we have always owned property in this town. I walk down main street and I see the house where I grew up. When I was young, the house was white with green trim. Now it is black, with white trim. It looks good, like someone has fixed it up and cared for it. I suspect that the current owners paid five or six times what we got when we sold it in order to own it. But I don’t know how to compute values. Somehow, before I was born, my parents figured out how to buy that house. I’m sure there was a mortgage, but I suspect that the numbers would seem surprisingly small to us today. Maybe the paid less than the balance in my checkbook to purchase that house. I just don’t know.

Next week we will sign papers that will complete the sale of the last piece of real estate owed by my family in this town. That particular chapter will come to an end. My signature will be on the papers that officially mean we no longer own any property in this town - or in this county - or in this state. I guess “always” can come to an end.

On the other hand, proceeds from the sale of the property will be invested in at least three states. Maybe my grandchildren, who liven a 100 year old farm house with no comprehension of how long 100 years is, will someday look back at the farm and say, we’ve always lived there! My youngest grandson was born in that house. It is the only house he has ever known. And for him, grandma and grandpa have always lived just down the road in the blue house. From my point of view, it isn’t always. We’ve just barely moved there, though we’ve live in that house for a year and a half now.

When we were about 50 miles away from Big Timber, I was talking to Susan as I drove. I said, just a little while and we’ll be home. It is funny that I talk about this town as home. I moved away from here more than half a century ago. I haven’t lived in this town since I was 17 years old.

That got me to thinking about the town and the state where it is located. During the first year of our marriage we decided to move to Chicago to attend theological seminary. We both had enjoyed our undergraduate education and had thrived in the academic environment. We wanted to continue to be students and pursuing graduate degrees made sense. We had earned scholarships to make it financially possible and Chicago seemed like a grand adventure. Besides there were no theological seminaries accredited by the American Theological Association in Montana. Still, it was very hard to leave our home state. We had grown up here. We loved this state. We felt our spirits lifted by the rivers and mountains and clear fresh air. We felt we needed the wide open spaces of big sky country.

In order to make the decision to move to Chicago, we had to promise each other and ourselves that we would come back. As it turned out, it was a promise that I did not keep. When we graduated from seminary, there were no UCC congregations in Montana that were looking for the kind of leadership we thought we had to offer. We received and accepted a call to two small congregations in southwestern North Dakota. Our new home was only 70 miles from the state line, but we didn’t return to Montana. When the time came for us to move, we accepted the call to a congregation in Boise, Idaho. We drove across Montana to get between those two homes, but we didn’t stop in Montana to leave. A decade later, we moved our family back across Montana - this time to Rapid City, South Dakota. Since we left for seminary, we have never lived in Montana.

And now I’m preparing to sell the last bit of Montana remaining in our family. Susan’s sister still owns a home in Red Lodge, so her family is still partially anchored in this state,

Still our home is in Washington now. And at least one of our grandchildren thinks that it has always been that way. And we do love living so close to our grandchildren. But we also have a grandson who lives 3000 miles from our home in South Carolina. And, as I said when I start this journal entry, I don’t really understand numbers. Even though I have driven all the way from our home to South Carolina and back again, I don’t really know how far it is. After Christmas we flew there and made the trip in a day. Again when we came home we got home the same day we left there. When we talk by FaceTime of Skype it seems like we are nearly together. The distance doesn’t seem far at all until someone needs a hug and we remember that there are things we can’t do over the Internet.

Today will be a time to look around for one last time. I’ve a few chores to do and a few things to pick up. Then, when the truck is loaded, we’ll be heading out of town. I don’t know when or even if I will ever come back. It is a different kind of good bye. Somehow right now it doesn’t seem as momentous as when we moved to Chicago all those years ago and perhaps it isn’t.

Customer service

Our travel didn’t go exactly as planned yesterday. Instead of traveling a little over half way, we are spending the night about one third of the way between our Washington home and my Montana home town. It isn’t a problem. We’ve covered the remaining distance in a day often before. The drive isn’t really a two day drive to begin with. It more like a day and a half.

We got off to an early start, but a short distance into our trip, there was a severe vibration in the truck’s steering. I pulled over and couldn’t see anything. I started to drive and found that it didn’t occur at speeds under 55 mph. Unfortunately, there had been an accident and the Interstate highway was at a standstill in the direction of our return, so we took a very convoluted route to get around the delay and arrived at the dealership that had done work on the truck a couple of days earlier about an hour later. After the previous expensive maintenance the service advisor remembered me and rushed to get our truck evaluated. Unfortunately they had two service technicians in the truck department that had not yet arrived at work. In order to help us evaluate what to do, the shop foreman took the truck for a short drive and said that he thought the issue was tires out of balance.

The attempt to balance the tires revealed a tire that had been destroyed. Although it was still holding air, a large chunk of tread was missing. Furthermore it would not rotate at all smoothly on the balancer. The missing rubber wasn’t enough to explain the severe out of balance. It turned out that the inside of the tire, including some of the steel bands were coming apart. I must have hit some obstruction on the highway hard enough to destroy the tire. It took a while to find the right tires. A technician worked through his lunch hour to get the new tires mounted and balanced and get us on the road again.

We, however, had packed a lunch for the day, so we didn’t have to delay our lunch. We sat in the comfort of the dealership waiting area and ate our lunch while the work was being finished. Shortly afterward we were on the road with no vibration and a smooth trip for the rest of the afternoon. We stopped for dinner and got a motel room a little after 6 pm.

Despite the delay and the expense of two new tires, our day definitely wasn’t as bad as some people had yesterday. I mentioned earlier the Interstate highway being at a standstill. It turned out that two semi truck had sideswiped on the Interstate, leaving a huge trail of truck parts and the contents of one of the trailers. Law enforcement was forced to close the entire north-bound lanes of the Interstate for over two hours, detouring traffic through city streets between two exits. At times the Interstate was backed up over 10 miles. Somewhere in all of that backup, were the technicians who couldn’t get to work at the dealership. There were a lot of others who were delayed by the accident as well. I don’t know many of their stories, but I’m sure that there were plenty of people who were inconvenienced way more than we were.

A tire that is destroyed by a road hazard is no one’s fault. It might have been covered by our tire warranty, but we bought the tires in South Dakota and there are no dealers of that company anywhere around here. We will purchase two more tires when we get back from this trip and in the end we will be all set with new tires a bit sooner than we expected. And these tires should be good enough that we don’t have to worry about replacing them for another 70,000 or so miles.

I am really grateful for a service advisor who went out of his way to get us going as soon as possible and a technician who worked through his lunch hour to get us on the road. Despite my grumbling about the cost of repairs a couple of days ago, the people who work at the dealership are thoughtful and caring people and the customer service exceeded expectations.

As we drove yesterday afternoon, I was thinking about how much tire technology has changed in the span of my driving years. Our first car was lucky to get 10,000 miles out of a set of tires. Now, I’m disappointed if I don’t get 75,000 miles out of a set of tires. In general a punctured tire can be driven on to the shop. It is truly amazing that this particular tire continued to hold air and allow me to drive after it was so badly damaged. Our pickup now has over 120,000 miles on it and the spare tire has never been used. I have to check it to make sure it has the right air pressure before each trip, but I have never had to change a tire alongside the road in the time we have owned the truck. The same is true of our car. In my first year as a minister, I had to change a tire on my car on the way to church on Easter morning - and I didn’t think anything about it. Times have changed.

Most of all, we are safe and comfortable. We’ve had a good night’s rest and we’ll have no problem making the miles we need to make today. Even with the change in time zones, we’ll be there before the businesses close in town.

I almost never write reviews about any goods or services I receive. Auto repair shops usually hound me to take satisfaction surveys or write reviews. My rationale is that if they charge over $100 for shop rates they should be willing to pay over $100 per hour for a professional writer to write reviews, so I just don’t do it. I broke my rule on yesterday’s service, however. They earned a good review. There is still some excellent customer service in this world and luckily I was able to find it yesterday.


Today is the start of a pilgrimage for me. We leave this morning to drive back to my home town - 842 miles from where we now live. It is the place where I grew up. It is a place where I have been going for all of my life. I know the way. But this trip will be a bit different from others that I have taken.

Shortly after the end of World War II, my parents began the quest for a place to live. They had married during the war. My father was serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps, based in Victorville, California. My mother traveled alone to California, in the midst of rationing, to marry him. They had met on the campus of Billings Polytechnic College when he was a student there and she was on campus to attend a play in the campus theatre. The story we were told is that he was in the balcony and made a paper airplane that he threw over the heads of the crowd below. She was with some other nursing students sitting below and the airplane descending from above caught her by surprise. She decided to give a piece of her mind to the rude person who had thrown it and who was now laughing above her. After the play she found him and returned the paper airplane. And, as they say, the rest is history.

He was a pilot before enlisting and she completed her nurses training before they married. After he completed his service they moved to Oklahoma for a short time while he completed his airframe and engine mechanic’s licenses, using GI Bill money to pay tuition. After that, they both were interested in moving back to Montana to be near family. They looked at towns in Montana and Wyoming where there were airports, but no active fixed base operators. They selected Big Timber to set up operation. They rented a house in that town and he set up shop at the airport with a single airplane, offering whatever aviation services he could. He gave rides and lessons, sought charter work, bit on aviation jobs in the National Forest and National Parks, sold airplanes, serviced airplanes, sold fuel and began to apply agricultural chemicals from airplanes. They bought a home on main street in Big Timber, right across the alley from the new hospital that was being built.

They wanted to have children and raise a family, but no children came in the early years of their marriage. They became foster parents and two girls were placed in their home. They fell in love with the girls and decided that being foster parents wasn’t for them. They applied for and received permission to adopt the girls. Later three children were born to them. I was the middle one.

The business grew slowly, but it was always a struggle to find enough aviation work to support the growing family. The little house became too small, so additions were completed. The attic was expanded to make a second story. An addition was put on the back side of the house. The business grew and airplanes and pilots were added. At first employees worked seasonally, as there wasn’t enough business in the winter to support them. Later, year-round work was secured. Hangars were built at the airport. The shop was expanded.

Then my father got sick with meningitis. While he was in the hospital he worried about ways to support his family. A neighbor was selling his small farm supply store and he decided that he could run that business and the airport at the same time. Mother began to do all of the book work, rising early in the morning and taking care of paying bills, payroll and other paperwork before preparing breakfast for the kids.

The small farm supply shop was expanded. A feed warehouse was hand built. Father designed the trusses to be built form 2 x 2 lumber that has been purchased at a discount after an accident caused a load of the boards to be dumped alongside the highway and the insurance company put the clean up out for bids. As the business grew mother’s uncle moved to the town to serve as parts manager. A home was found for him and his wife.

With a busy family and a growing business, they began to seek a way to get some family time away from work. Other friends were building vacation cabins in the mountains south of town. Land up there was relatively inexpensive, but the right piece of property didn’t appear. Then one day a Sheriff’s auction was held at an abandoned travel court right on the edge of town, down by the river. Several tiny cabins, a shower house, and a residence that was not in very good shape was purchased at a very reasonable cost. We began to camp there during the summer. At first mother cooked over a campfire. We slept in the cabins as we learned to glaze new glass into broken windows, scrape and paint interior walls, repair shingles and fix things up.

After I had grown and was establishing my own career, my father died of cancer. Shortly before his death a fast moving fire swept across the property, burning several trees and scorching the outside of the old house. The year after my father died, our mother had a new log home built on the site, designed as a summer home. Over the years various houses were bought and sold, including the home place on main street, but our mother kept the cabin and outbuildings alongside the river. She fixed up the cabins with new roofs and siding and built a metal shop building.

Since her death, we have kept the river place in trust. Two of my sisters and one of my brothers have lived there for stints, but now none of us live close enough to take care of the place. We have found a buyer and I’m making one last trip to pick up a few items and check the place before the sale is closed next week. For almost 70 years my family has owned property in that town. That era comes to an end next week. The time has come for us to turn attention elsewhere. For me this week, however, I have a pilgrimage of memory and thanksgiving for the investment and care my parents made in a small town and a family that continues to grow in new places.

Service sticker shock

My father was a natural salesman. Over the span of his life he sold a lot of different things. His various businesses put him in line to operate franchised dealerships for Piper aircraft, Cessna aircraft, John Deere farm machinery, Farmall farm machinery, Purina feeds, Simplot fertilizers, DeLavall dairy equipment., Jeep vehicles, General tires, Cooper tires, Jacuzzi pumps, Crisafulli dredges and pumps, Meyer snowplows, and dozens of other brands. He bought and sold used airplanes, vehicles, and machinery. He was known in our small town as a solid businessman and a fair dealer. During my high school and early college years, my father briefly entertained the notion that I might follow him into his businesses. I soloed in an airplane and became a licensed pilot as soon as I was old enough and I worked summer jobs in the family business. He never pressured me to take over the family business, but he shared with me some of how his businesses worked and talked to me about his philosophies of business.

He spoke of machinery and vehicle dealerships as “three legged stools.” The three legs of the stool are sales, service, and parts. Each leg is important and must be strong in order for a dealership to survive. Strength, however, doesn’t mean that each needs to be bringing in huge profits because they all work together. In his businesses at that time, sales were the profit centers. New machinery and vehicle sales were supported by a shop that kept those machines and vehicles working and producing income for farmers. That shop, in turn was supported by a parts inventory that kept repair and down time to a minimum. There were times when he didn’t care if he was turning a profit on service or parts because the overall business was turning a profit and salaries were being paid for employees from active sales. New sales meant that customers had to have ways to get value from their trade-in vehicles and equipment. Once again, large profits were not needed in used sales if new sales were the key drivers of the business.

Of course, my father sold his aircraft business before the product liability crisis of the 1980’s brought general aviation sales to a standstill. He sold his machinery, vehicle, and feed businesses before the farm crisis of the 1980’s drove major machinery businesses to bankruptcy. He didn’t live to see the double punch effect of the Covid-19 punch that drastically reduced manufacturing while sales plummeted and supply chain issues made resupply impossible emptying the showrooms and sales lots of car dealerships.

I did not inherit my father’s love of sales. I have never worked in a retail business. I have had a life of ministry in the church and I have taken great delight in my career path. But I learned enough from my father and have gained enough from being a customer to understand some of the dynamics of vehicle dealerships. So I get it. I understand that sales continue to be slow in the automobile industry. Dealers could sell more cars if they could get more inventory. However, in order to keep their dealerships in business they have been forced to raise the prices of parts and service. The profits from parts and service are needed to do more than keep those areas of the dealership going. They need to pay overhead costs that allow the dealership to remain active selling new and used vehicles and reduced profits.

Still, I continue to experience sticker shock when I take my vehicles to the shop for service. Yesterday I took my pickup to a dealership for routine service. There were no problems that were preventing me from driving it. I simply wanted to be proactive and have service provided that would help keep the vehicle from major repairs and problems. The service involved a few parts: a belt, a gasket, some filters, and fluids including oil and antifreeze. It took less than eight hours of labor to complete the work. The bill was just under $2,000. A simple oil change, performed in less than 15 minutes is well over $100 these days, and double that for a diesel pickup.

Part of the cost is the result of choices we have made. We choose to purchase used vehicles and to drive them for many years into high mileage. The vehicle is a dozen years old. It has been well maintained, but it has accumulated a lot of miles. And we choose not to carry extended warranties. While repair insurance policies can result in big payoffs, we feel that in general another for profit business - maintenance insurance and warranties - results in more total expense than simply paying for repairs as they are needed. However, it would take less than 20 trips to the shop at that price to exceed the acquisition cost of the vehicle. It won’t be the first vehicle we have owned where we have spent more on maintenance than we did on purchase.

Still the rise in maintenance costs over the past four years is staggering, and I retired in that time so I’ve become a bit less of an active participant in the economy of inflation. My income doesn’t keep up with some of the rises in expenses in our current lifestyle. I’m all in favor of independent vehicle dealerships and locally-owned businesses. I try to support them as part of my purchase choices. However, I don’t want to be the only customer who is propping up the business. It feels like the profit from yesterday’s maintenance on my vehicle produced enough profit to pay the light bill for a whole month at the dealership. Judging from the line of vehicles at the service department in the morning, however, I know I’m not the only one who wrote a big check yesterday. OK I didn’t pay with a check, I used a card, sharing some of that profit with an inflated banking industry.

And I know that every time one of those independent dealers ceases to make a profit the only way out is to sell that dealership to a larger chain of dealerships that invest fewer profits in the local economy and export profits to support additional acquisition and corporate growth. That in turn drives prices up even more. I also know, however, that costs will continue to affect my decisions about travel and even what type of vehicles to own.

I’m glad I chose a career in the nonprofit world. It hasn’t made me rich in money. It has, however, helped me avoid the complexities of the boom and bust cycles of dealerships. I’m pretty sure that had I taken over my father’s businesses, they would have long since gone broke.

Two brothers arguing

I wasn’t there to see it. I think it must have happened when I was really young, maybe two or three years old. But I sure heard the story of what happened told over and over again.

It isn’t hard to carry a live chicken. If you tuck their heads under their wings, they become quite calm and you can easily tuck one under your arm and carry it leaving the other hand and arm free to do other tasks. Still, carrying a live chicken all the way to the peak of the roof of the barn is another matter entirely. That’s why I think that the story was exaggerated. I suspect that the two brothers, Cliff and Ned, didn’t really carry a live chicken all the way to the peak of the roof of the barn. It is hard enough just to climb all the way up there. And it would be very scary to do so. It is high! My theory is that they carried a live chicken up into the hay mow. From there they proceeded to throw the chicken out of the window, or perhaps out of the big door where the bale conveyer went when they were pitching and stacking bales up there.

What I do know is that their experiment didn’t stop the argument. I also know that the chicken survived - at least that particular experiment. And I know that the two kept arguing a long time afterwards.

I knew Cliff a bit better than Ned, though I can’t say that I knew either of them very well. Cliff worked seasonally for my father, flying a spray plane treating crops for a variety of pests, mostly spraying to help control weeds, but sometimes spraying to help control alfalfa weevils. Cliff was a reliable worker, showing up at the cafe at 4:30 in the morning in order to be in the air by 5:30. He was methodical as he checked his airplane before flying. He also talked out loud to himself. I learned the steps of preflighting an airplane in part from Cliff talking through the process as he did it. I worked as part of the ground crew in my younger teen years. Cliff was single. He never married. He lived alone. And I think he might have been his own best friend from the way he talked to himself. But that doesn’t have anything to do with the story. Except that he was a pilot.

Ned was gregarious. He was married and he was one of those guys who would always come up to me and talk to me in the grocery store, the post office, or just walking down the street. Ned talked to everyone. I think Ned had a lot of best friends. Even after I was an adult and had moved away from my home town, Ned would come up to me when I came back to our home town to visit and start a conversation about the weather, politics, my life, or whatever other topic was on the top of his head at the time.

It was from Ned that I gathered part of the back story. It appears that he and Cliff had one day had an argument about whether or not a chicken could fly. Ned argued that of course a chicken can fly. A chicken is a bird and birds can fly. Maybe chickens aren’t the best flyers in the world of birds, but they can fly a little bit. Have you ever seen one running from the dog? It will get going fast enough to make it to the top of a fence post. And it got there by flying. Before the trip up in the barn they had experimented by throwing a chicken up into the air. It didn’t resolve the argument.

Cliff, argued that while chickens can glide, they can’t fly. If you watch a chicken descend from a height, they will stretch out their wings and make a controlled descent. However, they can’t gain altitude. If you watch a dog chasing a chicken, all you see is frantic activity. They flap their wings and they lose a lot of feathers and if they get running fast enough there is somehow just enough aerodynamic ability in those wings to get 3 or 4 feet off of the ground, but they couldn’t go any higher than that because as soon as they lost the speed gained from running their wings don’t propel them fast enough to actually fly.

Tossing a chicken out of the hay mow, or even from the peak of the roof of the barn didn’t solve the argument. The chicken glided to the ground and survived and Ned claims it flapped its wings and flew. Cliff says is merely glided.

The next part of the story was one that my father loved to tell. I’ll spare you the details of my father’s story, partly because he loved to stretch out the story with lots of details, some of which I’m pretty sure are imagined. Also he could be a bit graphic in his descriptions which are not necessary for this journal entry. The basic gist of the story is that Ned and Cliff tried their experiment with a Piper Super Cub airplane. Cliff flew. Ned held the chicken in the back seat. You can fly a Super Cup with the doors open. The clamshell arrangement on the right side of the plane works by the windows going up and clipping to the underside of the wing and the bottom of the door going down to clip to the side of the fuselage. Most of the time when a pilot wants more air they just open the top half of the door. That would be enough space to throw a chicken out. Ned says it flew, briefly. Cliff disagrees. The result was a whole lot of chicken feathers and, unfortunately there was a casualty. My father said that they failed to consider prop blast. While a Super Cub will fly at very slow speeds, as slowly as 38 mph. However, at that speed the air going past the cabin and over the tail surfaces is going much faster because of the propellor at the front of the plane. At least we know that chickens aren’t designed to fly at high speed.

As far as I know the two brothers never resolved their argument. Neither is alive today. Neither succumbed to a flying accident. Both lived to see years of retirement. I think they got together on occasion - two old men sitting on the porch and talking. I suspect that more than just talking they were arguing. That’s what they did best. And they didn’t have access to the Internet, which sides with Ned. The world record for a chicken is a flight that lasted 13 seconds and covered just over 300 feet while reaching an altitude of nearly 10 feet.

Traveling in style

I have a reputation in our family for finding what we call “long cuts.” Many people are familiar with the term “short cut.” It is a method or way of doing something more directly and more quickly than the usual way. Short cuts, when not referring to a path to travel, are often thought to be not as careful or thorough as the ordinary procedure. In our case, especially when going for a leisurely walk or drive, I have a tendency to take a route that takes longer than the usual path. I admit that I enjoy exploring. When driving to and from a particular destination, I enjoy finding different routes that lead to the same destination. When asked why I chose a particular route, I often make reference to something interesting that can be seen along the way.

A few years ago, I learned that I am not the only one who occasionally finds a “long cut.” I was visiting with the UPS driver who delivered packages to our church in Rapid City who was complaining, just a little, about the GPS software that his company uses. The software is designed to allow drivers to complete their duties quickly and safely. It arranges the order of package delivery according to an algorithm. Instead of relying on the geographical skills of the drivers, which is often very extensive, the company requires drivers to follow the routes specified by the software. One of the things the software does is to avoid left hand turns. There is considerable evidence that more accidents occur when vehicles are turning left than right. That way of choosing a route might make a lot of sense in certain urban areas. It might also save time in places where there are unprotected left turns. However, in small towns or rural areas, the result can be long unnecessary detours. I was fascinated by the driver’s explanation, and probably caused the remainder of his deliveries that day to be a bit late because of all of my questions about how it worked.

I, on the other hand, enjoy GPS in part because it will keep searching for new routes when I don’t follow its directions. If I pre-load a destination into our GPS at home, it will direct me to follow the larger, more well-traveled roads from our house to the Interstate highway. However, I prefer to drive a back road that makes a diagonal that results in less distance traveled. It probably isn’t quicker because the traffic moves faster on the road preferred by the GPS, but it is more interesting and I like to look at the houses and farms on the way. I also enjoy defying the directions the voice in the GPS gives. It makes me feel a bit rebellious as the machine recalculates a route and directs me to turn at several intersections before finally “giving up” and charting the route the way that I am going.

I doubt if I would be very good as a UPS driver.

I have a few friends who pay more attention to the doings of British royalty than I. They have reminded me that May 6 will be the coronation of King Charles III and Camilla as king and queen of England. They plan to watch the event on television. I will likely forget the date and I doubt that I will watch it because I don’t have a television. We can watch whatever we want on our computer and feel no need to have a television. I did read, however, that part of the ceremony will include a kind of royal procession or parade from the royal residence at Buckingham Palace to the coronation service at Westminster Abbey. It isn’t a very long distance. When we visited England we walked between the two places, wanting to see both as tourists and finding walking to be easier than negotiating London traffic. We aren’t practiced at driving on the left where right-hand turns are more dangerous than left-hand turns.

The distance is just over one and a quarter miles. I know that distance well. Susan and I take a daily walk, and when we shorten our walk due to inclement weather or a busy schedule, we often walk from our home to the beach and back, which is a distance just over one and a quarter miles. It takes a bit less than a half hour walking at our usual pace.

However, the royals won’t be walking. They will be riding in horse drawn carriages. Unlike the coronation of Queen Elizabeth which took a long cut along Piccadilly, Oxford Street and Regent Street, the May event will process directly along the Mall through Admiralty Arch, around Trafalgar Square and along Whitehall to Parliament Square. Queen Elizabeth’s long cut was 5 miles, stretched out to allow more people to crowd the streets to see the queen passing by. I guess Charles and Camilla aren’t expecting such large in person crowds, with more being able to watch on television.

However, the article detailing the plans also noted that the traditional Gold State Coach which was used by Queen Elizabeth to travel both ways for her coronation, will be used only for the return trip after the service at Westminster Abbey. Apparently, that coach makes for a bumpy and a bit uncomfortable ride. Charles and Camilla plan to arrive in comfort by traveling to the ceremony in a newer, more modern coach, the Diamond Jubilee State Coach, which was built in 2014 and is equipped with a hydraulic suspension and air conditioning.

Presumably, the switch in coaches means that someone has to drive the extra coach empty to the event and return with the modern one also empty, unless there are some members of the royal staff who, like the royal couple, will be switching rides for the event.

I’m pretty sure that if offered, I wouldn’t mind riding in either coach just for the fun of it. I’m also certain that it won’t be offered just for the fun of it, so I’ll probably stick to walking. After all, unlike the royal family, I don’t own any horses.

Now if they’d let me drive, I’m sure I could find a route that covered more distance. It would also take more time. I prefer the long cut.


My parents were Christian. I grew up attending church every Sunday. I went to church camp every summer. I met my wife at church camp and we were married in a church. I graduated from a church-related college. I graduated from a Christian theological seminary. i was ordained and served for 42 years as a Christian minister. After a little more than a year of retirement, I was called to serve as an Interim Minister of Faith Formation in a Christian Church. I have lived my life inside he Christian church.

Easter remains a mystery to me. I don’t fully understand it. There are, however, some things that I have learned over the course of my life that have led me to an emerging sense of the many meanings of this holiday.

I was joking with our grandchildren about Easter last night, trying to get them to give me a sense of their understanding of the holiday. “Let me see,” I said, “Easter is when a big rabbit rides in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer that lands on your roof and the rabbit comes down your chimney with presents to put under your Easter tree.” “No!” our kindergartener shouted. “That’s Christmas and Santa Claus.” “Oh,” I continued, “I know. Easter is when you lose a tooth and a Rabbit comes and puts money under your pillow.” I was declared wrong again. “That’s the tooth fairy.” I tried silly expressions for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Birthdays, the 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Kwanza. “Easter is when the Easter Bunny brings you a basket with eggs and presents and candy!”

The twelve-year-old, who had been sitting in the recliner reading a collection of Calvin and Hobbes Cartoons chimed in. “I can’t remember the whole story, but isn’t Easter about Jesus dying and all?” I gave a quick summary of Holy Week to the children, but I suspect that not much of the story sunk in. It may be that it takes a lifetime of faith and practice to begin to grasp the deepest meanings of Easter. It is that sense of the challenge of understanding resurrection that has taught me to encourage my Christian friends to recognize Easter as a season and not just a single day. In the traditions of the Christian church, Easter is 50 days long - the longest season of the Christian year except Pentecost or Ordinary Time. I regularly tell people because our understanding takes time.

Even when we look past all of the Easter egg hunts, rabbit costumes, baby chicks and other symbols of the holiday, there are a lot of Christians who would describe Easter as “the day when Jesus was resurrected from the dead.” Some will go on to say, “He appeared to his disciples before ascending to heaven where he is seated at the right hand of God ruling over the world until he comes again in glory.” All of that is based on reading and studying the Christian gospel, but in many ways it falls short of the full meaning of Easter. Far too many Christians imagine the Easter story as being about what happens after a person dies and visions of gilded heavily glory when it is much more about Christ being alive in our lives calling us to continue his work of love, compassion, and justice. The resurrection isn’t just some ancient historic event preserved for theologians to discuss and use as an example of the impermanence of death.

Resurrection is about experiencing the resurrected Christ in the way we live our lives every day.

It is a challenging concept and it is not easily learned in a single day.

We know that the full meaning of the resurrection was slow to develop in the experiences and minds of the first disciples just by reading the small number of stories of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances that are told in the gospels. Jesus closest friends do not recognize him at first. They try to return to their former vocations as fishers. Their awareness of the resurrected Christ comes slowly. Like a lot of other stories in the Bible, it takes a disciplined practice of reading the stories over and over again to discern the depth of their meaning. We are like those early disciples. We experience joy in the recognition of the presence of the living Christ, but we don’t always understand the full meaning of the holy presence. Resurrection is a concept that reveals itself slowly. It is an experience that takes a lifetime to understand and even then we don’t fully understand.

After all of these years, I am still wrestling with my Easter faith. Each year I try to submit to meaningful disciplines through the season of Lent, stretching my understanding and my faith, challenging myself to new ways of expression. Each year I anticipate the coming of Easter, but try to dwell with the experiences of grief and loss that are in Holy Week before I dive into Easter Celebrations. Each year I find myself continuing to discern how I should respond long after the chocolate rabbits and candy eggs have been consumed.

After church today, we’ll gather for a family dinner. We’ve planned a celebration menu that includes a special cake that the children will help to decorate. Family dinners are among the highest forms of celebration in my life. I absolutely love it when we gather around the table, hold hands, and repeat the blessing prayer that I learned as a very young child. I absolutely love it when old and young recite the memorized prayer together. Even the baby joins by holding hands. I wouldn’t trade the food on the floor around the high chair, the fairly common spilled glass, the multi-topic discussions, the sudden outbursts of song, and the sense of love and belonging for anything.

Like so many things that I deeply love, I don’t always understand. I can’t come up with a formula for a family celebration. I just know that when we gather around the table, I am deeply aware of the presence of so many who are no longer alive, but who are present in our celebrations. As the letter to the Hebrews states, we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.”

I’m willing to give understanding time to emerge.

Holy Saturday

When I was serving as a pastor, I tried to make an initial call to grieving families as soon as possible after a loss. I would express my condolences and tell grieving family members that there was plenty of time to make plans in regards to a funeral. My first visit was just to sit with the family and listen. Often I would jot a few notes to myself as I sat.

For nearly 20 years, I served as a suicide first responder. I was part of a team of volunteers who responded whenever a coroner determined that a suicide had taken place. We would go to the surviving family members as soon as possible, often in the middle of the night. We would explain coroner procedures, deliver packets of information on suicide grief and support services, and, as was the case with families in my congregation, to sit with those who were grieving.

Through those experiences, I learned a lot about grief. I also learned a lot about crafting meaningful funeral services. In the case of the suicide responses, I usually attended the funeral, but did not officiate. When I officiated as a pastor, my role was different. I became a public spokesperson for the family, sharing their grief and their love for the one who had died. I often told stories that the family had shared with me in ways that were meaningful to both the family and to the wider community.

Those experiences have given me a perspective on some of the origins of the Gospels in our Christian bible. I have noticed that each Gospel has a different perspective. In Matthew, there is a flood of stories. Jesus’ parables come one after another, as if a group of people were sitting around telling stories of Jesus: “Remember when Jesus said . . . ?” “Yes, and he also said . . .” Mark’s Gospel seems to drive quickly towards the story of the crucifixion. Once again, it is easy to imagine Jesus’ friends sitting together in their grief and going over the details of the death. Luke seems to want to collect and tell as many stories about Jesus as possible. The stories are blended with the same writer’s stories in Acts to present a more comprehensive picture - to tell more than just Jesus stores, but also the stories of how his life impacted others. And John tells the story in the midst of somewhat more esoteric theological reflections. He uses more metaphoric language and has a more poetic tone. Each gospel has its own personality, but each represents a style of remembering and telling stories that I have observed in my interactions with grieving people.

When a death occurs, those who are most closely affected gather together. When it has fallen to me to inform someone of the death of a loved one, there is an initial period, perhaps 20 minutes or so, of shock and anguish. People cry. They sometimes sit or even fall to the floor. They ask questions without listening to the answers. They do not remember what they are being told. But that period of time doesn’t last very long. After a few minutes, they become open to support. They become capable of listening to information given. In many cases, their support community begins to gather. The grieving persons may make phone calls, or family and friends receive the news from other sources and begin to gather. Neighbors drop in with a gift of food or words of compassion. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, healing begins.

One of the deep gifts of being trusted to enter into another person’s grief is that of being able to witness healing in its earliest stages.

I think of Holy Saturday as the day of initial grief. I imagine the disciples gathering. Perhaps a couple of them decide to take a walk. None of them is able to engage in any business as usual. Their lives have been disrupted. Their usual work and even common chores like preparing meals is suspended. They sit and talk in low voices. They share their grief. And like families who have experienced a death, they begin to tell stories.

All of the Gospels give insight into the grief of the early disciples. But in some ways, I have found Matthew’s version to be particularly reminiscent of a family gathered in the depths of grief. The stories seem to flood out. Sometimes in no particular order. I know the writer of the Gospel did some organizing and arranging of the stories to group them together. But there is a bit of rawness to the ways the stories are told.

Going through Holy Week is a very good way to practice the process of grief. Many of us have known seasons of grief in our lives. For us, thinking of the community of Jesus and their grief at his crucifixion reminds us of our own personal grieving. We note that grief is always a part of our lives. We don’t get over the deaths of those we love. We continue to grieve in ways for the rest of our lives. For those who have not had a close personal experience with grief, observing the services and rituals of Holy Week can be a way to practice for the inevitable time when grief enters their lives. It will come. It does to all of us. Practice can make the process a bit less painful. Returning to grief as part of the annual cycle of the church calendar can remind us all of the role of loss and grief in our lives. It helps us make sense of our experiences.

Today is the waiting day. After Good Friday and the Tenebrae services, after the candles have been extinguished and the congregation has gone home, the time comes to simply sit and wait. Because we have lived through the cycle of services for so many years, we know that Easter is coming. We have anticipation about tomorrow’s sunrise. But that is not today. Today is a time to wait. And it is a good time to tell stories. It is a good time to simply listen.

May the stories of this day bring meaning to your grief and healing to your life.

Where did the bunny come from?

According to several local people, this spring is not a particularly early one for our part of the world. There have been years when this area has been frost free from the first of April. However, we did have a touch of frost a couple of mornings ago. It wasn’t heavy enough to threaten the plants that we’ve set out on or porch or to pose any danger to early plantings or the daffodils and tulips that are already up, but there was definitely frost on our deck when i got up. With all due respect to my many midwestern friends who have been digging out from underneath holy week blizzards this week, it is definitely spring around here. The grass is green and I have to mow. The song birds have returned and the geese and swans are heading north. And in our neighborhood, wherever you go you see rabbits, lots of rabbits, chasing one another around beneath the bushes. Yesterday when we took our walk, there were a lot of rabbits scurrying to hide as we walked along the edge of a birch forest on our way to the beach.

Our grandson who lives in South Carolina attended an Easter Egg hunt yesterday. Our great niece, who lives in New York has one to attend tomorrow. Our grandchildren here don’t seem to have connected with any local easter egg hunts, but I’m sure that there are plenty of them around. The reason I bring up Easter Egg hunts is that I confess that I don’t understand the connection of Easter and rabbits. Why is it that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus by telling stories of rabbits hiding eggs?

The egg part of the story is fairly easy to trace. Since around the time of Jesus, Jews have incorporated eggs as part of the passover observance. The boiled eggs were dipped in saltwater and eaten to begin the formal part of the meal in many observances dating back to Roman times. In the Christian church, early Christians in Mesopotamia dyed eggs in the the period after Easter, a 50-day season called Eastertide. This practice was adopted by Orthodox Churches and from there spread to Western Europe. Eggs represent new life and rebirth. Most scholars believe that the ancient custom of coloring eggs dates back to pre-Christian spring rituals and observances. This custom was adopted into Christian Easter celebrations.

Rabbits, however, are a bit more tricky. Certainly there are ancient symbols depicting hares and rabbits that are much older than Christianity. Such symbols appear around the globe, including in places where Christianity was late to appear. The three hare symbol, which depicts three hares running in a circle with their ears touching to form a triangle, appears in many medieval churches in Europe, but it is a symbol that appears in non-Christian settings as well. There are examples of this symbol in the Dunhuang Caves in China, a Buddhist holy site created in the sixth century AD. It is theorized that the symbol was part of first millennium trade. The symbols were likely featured on objects that were bought and sold and exported along the Silk Roads linking Europe with Asia. The symbol is believed to imply prosperity and regeneration. I suppose it is possible that the Easter Bunny derives from an ancient Buddhist symbol.

Rabbits do appear in the Bible, with mixed attitudes. In Deuteronomy and Leviticus, in passages about dietary laws, they are referred to as impure animals. But rabbits appear in Psalms and Proverbs as animals with some intelligence, though often condemned as being weak.

Ancient texts from non-biblical sources, such as ancient Greek and Roman writers, often depict rabbits as fertility symbols. Aristotle noted the speed with which rabbits reproduced. Pliny the Elder suggested that both male and female hares could produce babies. He was wrong in that observation, but it seems that the idea of associating spring and fertility with rabbits is an ancient one.

Rabbits appear in historic art both as symbols of purity and as symbols of boundless sexuality. Titan’s “The Madonna of the Rabbit” ( 1520-30) portrays a white bunny as a symbol of Mary’s celibacy. Pisanello’s Allegory of Luxuria (1426) shows a rabbit that symbolizes lechery. It appears that medieval artists had mixed images of the role of rabbits.

Then there are all of the stories of rabbits as tricksters. Many indigenous tribes of North American including the Michabo and Manabush have myths about rabies as tricksters. Similar tales are found in Central African tribes. Some of the tales with African roots survive in American stories of Br’er Rabbit, a hero of cunning. In the United Kingdom there are tales of witches transforming into rabbits and hares. And generations of American children grew up with Buggs Bunny cartoons, in which the rabbit always outsmarts the farmer. I don’t think, however, that we think of the Easter Bunny as having much in common with Buggs Bunny.

There is a theory about the origins of the rabbit as an Easter symbol that is based on the writings of the Venerable Bede (673-735 AD). In those writings, an Anglo-Saxon death named Ēostre was accompanied by a rabbit because she represented the rejuvenation and fertility of springtime. Her festival celebrations occurred in April, and it is commonly believe that through Ēostre we have acquired the name of Easter. Perhaps her rabbit sidekick joined Christian traditions along with her name. The problem with this theory, however, is that Bede is the only source that connects Ēostre and Easter. It seems likely given the similarity of names, but it is impossible to find a corroborating source, meaning that the single-source bit of information will always remain a bit suspect.

I guess that this journal post is a bit like Alice in Wonderland, following a white rabbit, but never catching it. Rabbits have been seen as sacred, as crafty tricksters, as symbols of chastity and as symbols of superlative fertility. The bottom line is that I don’t know how we came to have adults dressed up as rabbits hiding eggs for children to find. It is a rather strange tradition when we think of it. Rabbits are mammals. They don’t lay eggs. At best we are handing our children and grandchildren a mixed metaphor.

Maundy Thursday

I recently watched a video made by a colleague about the special services of Holy Week. In the video, the colleague commented that Maundy that is used to refer to today means command. That is true, and it reflects Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 13:34: “A New command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” What struck me about my colleague’s explanation was that she did not use the word “mandate,” an English word for command with similar roots to the name for the Thursday of Holy Week. Mandatum is the Latin term meaning “command” that is used in the Latin translation of the John text. It gives a bit of context for the day and a tool for remembering the name.

A few pieces of trivia about the day we observe today. The first is that not all Christians will recognize today as the Thursday before Easter. The exact date of observation depends on whether it is established on the Julian or the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar that we use in our part of the Christian Tradition names this week as Holy Week and today as Maundy Thursday. In churches that observe the Julian Calendar, such as Eastern and Russian Orthodox churches, next week is Holy Week and next Thursday, April 13, is Maundy Thursday.

A second piece of trivia is that another name for the day, used in ancient times is Shere Thursday. Shere means “pure” or “guilt free.” That name may have to do with the belief that Jesus was innocent of the charges brought against him in his arrest. It may also refer to the ancient tradition of cleaning the altar on this day. In congregations that observe a more liturgical tradition, the communion table or altar is stripped clear at the end of the Maundy Thursday service and remains bare until Easter Morning. During that time the table is cleaned and prepared for decorations that appear during the Great Vigil of Easter. The tradition of Shere Thursday may also have to do with an ancient tradition of showing penance on this day. Lent is a traditional time for Christians to purify themselves by performing acts of penance. The Roman Catholic church recognized penance in some areas by presenting penitents with a green branch. There is also a tradition of new converts to Christianity preparing to join the church by memorizing a creed and being baptized during the service on the Thursday of Holy Week. Some historians make a connection between Shere Thursday and the process of shearing, as in medieval times it was traditional for men to cut their hair and beards on this day. In those times a tradition developed of monks and priests shaving the top of their heads leaving the hair along the sides to grow long. This practice was called tonsure, and was abandoned by papal order in 1972 a decade after the Second Vatican Council.

I wear my hair and beard quite short these days, but I have no plans to go for a haircut today.

Another piece of trivia about the day is that in Germany the day is often called Gründonnerstag or “Green Thursday.” The association with the color green may have come from the practice of penitents receiving green branches or from a confusion with old German words meaning “green” (grun) and “to weep” (greinen). The English word, “groan” comes from a similar root. At any rate there is a tradition in Germany of eating green vegetables, especially spinach. There may be an ancient connection between the eating of fresh greens and the arrival of spring, though it is a bit early to count on fresh spinach from the garden in the part of the world where we live.

While I don’t plan to trim my hair and beard today, it is likely that I will eat greens as part of my usual diet. I’m pretty big on salads for lunch these days.

The mandate of Maundy Thursday comes from the Gospel of John right after the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. The washing of feet is a tradition in some Christian communions. That tradition is often accompanied by services of baptism as well. In addition to the washing of feet, most Christians also celebrate Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday in remembrance of Jesus’ last supper with the disciples before his arrest.

The Maundy Thursday service is traditionally held in the evening, marking the beginning of what is called the Easter Triduum. A triduum is a space of three days. The Easter Triduum begins with the observance of Maundy Thursday, followed by Good Friday and Holy Saturday and ends with evening prayers on Easter Sunday.

For most contemporary Christians the major mode of observing Maundy Thursday is attending a special communion service. For many of us, the observance of traditional services is part of our Holy Week activities and we have become attached to our traditions. We may be more open to experimentation and deviation from traditions at other times of the year than we are during Holy Week. Because my active career was focused on leading worship during Holy Week, I am at a bit of a loss now that I have different responsibilities. After the disruptions of the Covid-19 Pandemic during the last year before I retired and the changes in my life with my retirement I haven’t yet fallen into a new set of Holy Week practices. I am aware that I miss parts of my old practices, but haven’t yet developed a full set of practices to replace them. As I result, I continue to explore new ways to express my faith and connect with other believers during this time of the year.

Holy Week continues to be a time for exploration of my faith during which I am open to new discoveries and new practices as I continue my faith journey. May you find deep meaning in your practices today.

Blessings of a busy life

Early in my career I discovered that some of my colleagues would complain about their jobs and the churches that they served when we were together as a group of clergy. The practice bothered me. I made up my mind that I would avoid speaking negatively about the work I was called to do and the people I served when I was in a gathering of clergy. the practice didn’t cause me to be dishonest about my work. Sure, there were times when being a pastor was a challenge for me. There were things that happened in the churches I served that I wish had not happened. However, for the most part, I didn’t have complaints. I was treated well by the congregations I served. They were filled with good people who tried hard to do the right thing. I was never the victim of abuse by a congregation or its leaders. I did, however, think that some of the complaints I heard from my colleagues were petty. They, too, had the benefit of meaningful work and flexible hours. They also were treated with respect and love.

These days, I spend quite a bit less time in meetings of clergy than earlier in my career. Many of the church gatherings I attend now are mostly lay people with a few clergy. However, I still have plenty of conversations with clergy. When I was an active pastor, I often met with clergy who were older than I. The congregations I served had retired clergy members and the Black Hills of South Dakota were an attractive place for retired clergy. There were plenty of meetings of clergy in South Dakota where retired pastors were the majority. Sometimes there was a lot that I could learn from my colleagues. Sometimes, I wished that our time had been spent wrestling with the challenges of serving congregations instead of telling stories of what used to be.

These days, when I am talking with other clergy, the others are usually younger than I. I try very hard to offer stories of the past only when I find them to be relevant to the challenges and pressures of contemporary pastors. I try to spend more time listening and less time talking.

It bothers me, still, however, when pastors complain about their calling and the congregations they serve.

Recently I was with a few colleagues who we talking about Holy Week. The particular pastors with whom I was talking served congregations that had two or three extra services during Holy Week. That doesn’t seem excessive to me. There were years when I had at least one extra service every day of Holy Week. I didn’t, however, tell my story. I tried to listen instead. One of my colleagues told of an Episcopalian priest who had a lot of extra Holy Week services in the congregation that person served. The response of the colleague with whom I met was to say, “I’m glad I’m not Episcopalian.” Somehow the way the comment was made got me to wondering whether or not the colleague who was telling the story enjoys leading worship. I always did. I found it to be a privilege. I confess that I really miss being in the pulpit each week.

I suppose that there must have been times when I was a younger pastor when I complained about the work of preparing worship services and writing sermons. Looking back, however, I cannot see those experiences as a burden. I feel fortunate to have had the career that I was given. I loved the work that I did. Furthermore, I don’t have it bad now. I am allowed to live near my family and I get to see my grandchildren nearly every day. I get to work with small groups in the church and I get to lead the time with children in worship on a regular basis. I am allowed to teach Bible study classes and plan intergenerational events. I don’t have to deal with the pressures of balancing budgets and enduring long meetings in the same way that was the case when I was the senior minister and head of a church staff.

I wish I could see more of the joy of being a pastor in the lives of my younger colleagues. I don’t know how to take their complaints about the work they do and the congregations they serve. Then again I realize that it isn’t up to me to change their attitude. It isn’t my responsibility to do anything more than listen respectfully. I can do that.

I hope that the dedicated lay volunteers who serve the church have opportunities to see the joys of our calling. I hope that they don’t only hear stories of sacrifice and burnout. Being a worship leader and being called to serve a congregation is a wonderful privilege that leads to a life of joy. Crafting a sermon is a challenge and can involve hard work, but it is work with a lot of rewards. Serving a congregation can be a process of coming face to face with a lot of grief, but grief work is good work and being with those who mourn is an opportunity to learn about the nature of life and develop strength for endurance that carries you through the tough times of life.

My prayer for my younger colleagues is that when they reach the point in their lives where they look back - a place in their careers similar to the place where I find myself - that they can look back with joy and that their memories are of the deep meaning and love found in faithful work. May the complaints they sometimes voice fade into the background of their memories so that the memories of joyful service come to the foreground. May their memories put a smile on their faces and a spring in their step. I know that mine do. I have indeed been blessed by the work to which I was called. I wouldn’t trade the long days and tired nights of a busy career for anything. I don’t remember them as a burden. May they also discover that joy.

Sittin' with the Blues

I have a friend who is a recent widow. This first year has been hard for her. I was surprised, however, when she reported that one of her colleagues at work had commented to you, “When are you going to get over with this and get on with you life?” Obviously the friend doesn’t know much about the process of grief. The death of a loved one isn’t something that one gets over. We are all changed forever by grief. Furthermore, grief has no set timeline. Those who are grieving themselves sometimes think, “When do I go back to normal?” They also sometimes think, “I must be going crazy to feel so sad for so long.” They aren’t. Grief is a long-term process. It isn’t crazy to feel bad in the midst of irreplaceable loss.

Over the span of my career, I have had the privilege to sit with people with whom grief is raw. I have been called to be with people who have just experienced sudden and traumatic loss. I also have had the opportunity to be with people who participate in support groups for those who have had loss. I know a bit of what grief can look like years after a loss has occurred. These experiences have taught me quite a bit about my own grief.

Sometimes you simply have to sit with grief. You don’t expect it to get over. You don’t know if it will. You simply are grieving and you allow yourself to be in the midst of the process without any expectation of an end time.

If you only skate along the surface of Christianity, it might seem like the Christian faith doesn’t spend much time with grief. After all, the trip from the Good Friday service to Easter Sunday worship is less than 48 hours. And many Christians don’t even travel that part of the journey, going from Palm Sunday to Easter without attending any Holy Week services. From triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the celebration of the resurrection in a week - and then get on with the rest of the Christian year.

I remember a year of loss in our lives. Nine months after my brother died, my mother died. A couple of months later my father-in-law died. It was a tough time for our family. Later that same year our church went through a stressful season of wrestling with a challenging budget. Harsh words were said in frustration. I wanted to say, “Hey, cut me some slack here!” but refrained from the outburst as together we wrestled with the process of developing a spending plan for our congregation. Looking back, I realize that I learned a very important lesson in that process. I learned to ask myself what it might mean to cut some slack for others when we are going through a difficult time. I developed a more healthy way of handling conflict with people with whom I work. I learned to give others the benefit of the doubt. I discovered how to look at the sources of grief in the lives of others. It has helped me immensely. Now when I encounter a difficult person, my mind goes to the question, “How can I cut that person a bit of slack?”

Sometimes you simply have to sit with grief.

For me, Tuesday of Holy Week has become a day to practice the art of sitting with grief. I drop the pretense of putting on a cheerful face. I allow myself to remember the losses. And there have been so many losses. In just the past year there have been several significant deaths of friends and colleagues who were younger than I. There have been 32 deaths from severe storms in our country in the past week. The death toll of the war in Ukraine continues to climb. The entertainment news is filled with the deaths of significant stars whose names were once household words. A person doesn’t have to look far to find grief.

In the 1860s, as the United States teetered on the edge of a Civil War, a unique new form of music began to emerge. Characterized by the notes of several different African-American cultural motifs such as spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, and chants, a unique scale and set of chord progressions accompanied by a shuffling or walking bass line began to emerge in music. The music began to be called “The Blues.” It isn’t a narrow genre. There are acoustic blues and electric blues, Chicago blues and Delta blues, West Coast blues and Piedmont blues. The forms of the music began to be set with early publication of music in the first years of the 20th century. Today a blues concert might feature a wide variety of flavors from country to bluegrass to jazz to ragtime to rock and roll to rhythm and blues.

When we added a blues concert to the Holy Week offerings at our church in Rapid City, we attracted a different group of people than our other Holy Week services. Some found the event to be slightly irreverent. A few wondered about the expense. It was, for me, a time to simply sit with the grief that comes with being a pastor of a congregation. I could sit and listen and think of all of the losses our community had suffered in the year that had passed. I could dwell for an evening with my personal grief as one who had been sitting with a lot of people in the midst of grief as well as my grief over losses in my life.

The blues don’t offer to fix anything. They don’t pretend to make things better. They simply express the burden of generations of oppression and human cruelty.

Sometimes you simply have to sit with grief.

My prayer for Holy Week this year is that people will be allowed time to sit with their grief. In a society that is always rushing to the next event or the next mood, may we find time to simply be sad. It isn’t the worst thing in the world. Scan your playlist for the blues and take time to listen. I’ll be sitting with you.

Emoji expression

For the record, I do have a Twitter account. Then again, I haven’t posted a tweet for years. I have no followers and I don’t follow anyone on Twitter. And, no, I don’t have a blue verification mark on my account. You have to pay to get one of those. I haven’t spent much time on Twitter. If I had, I would have figured out how to delete my account. I’ll get around to that some day. Or perhaps I won’t. It isn’t at all important to me.

When I want to be spare with my use of language, I attempt to write poetry. I’m not a very good poet. In fact, I like to use Jess Walters’ description of his poetry. When asked about his poetry at a public forum he said, “I write bad poetry.” I think I also write bad poetry. Once in a while I write a poem that I like, but I’m no poet. What I write are essays and they are far too long to fit into a tweet.

Furthermore, I like to use a variety of different punctuation marks. In fact, I seek to use them correctly. As near as I can figure, the most popular function marks on twitter are exclamation points and there are quite a few writers of tweets who like to use a lot of them, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY WRITE IN ALL CAPS!!!!!!

I do employ sentence fragments when I am using oral language, but I am less likely to do so when I write. One of the biggest flaws in my writing is that I can, on occasion, use extremely long run-on sentences to express rather simple concepts in cases where dividing the sentence into several shorter sentences would be more grammatically correct, and if not so, at least easier to read.

I try to make it a point to use punctuation in my text messages, but I have noticed from the text messages that I receive that the use of punctuation other than exclamation points is fairly rare. I believe that using comas, periods, and the occasional semi-colon or colon makes my writing seem more serious. Then again, I doubt that many people remember that back in the 1960s Marvel Comics used exclamation points as the default way to end a sentence. It didn’t matter who was speaking of what the subject matter was. There were just no periods in early Marvel Comics. One theory is that periods would become lost during the printing process. The larger exclamation marks were more visible. Whatever the reason, during the 1970’s Marvel Comics became hesitant. Writers were told to cut back on them, because they were seen as part of juvenile writing. Marvel Comics was trying to appeal to adult readers. If you look at comic books today, however, the exclamation point is definitely back in popularity. However, I think that the overuse of exclamation points makes writing appear more comical.

As long as I’m on the subject of exclamation marks, I guess I should note that a small community in Quebec is in the Guinness World Records. The municipality of Saint-Louis-du-Ha!-Ha!, located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, about 250 km northeast of Quebec City is on page 161 of the 2018 edition of the book of records as the only community in the world with two exclamation marks in its name. As far as I know, the designation of Rapid! City! South! Dakota! has not caught on in an attempt to break the record.

What surprises me is that I’m already over 600 words into a 1,000-word essay and I have become sidetracked on exclamation points when I meant to write about the fact that the new operating system on my phone has a host of new emoji. The thing is that I rarely use emoji, feeling that it is easier to write out my feelings, using correct punctuation, than trying to select an image from a list. Exactly what emotion is a hair pick supposed to express? What does it mean if I send maracas to my daughter?

I like ginger. I use a lot of the spice in cooking. I add ginger to my oatmeal for breakfast. But I didn’t recognize the ginger emoji until I had someone explain it to me. I thought it was just some nondescript root. I get the pea pod, but I doubt that I’ll ever use it. And I’m not sure how often I will use the hyacinth emoji now that the hyacinth in our yard died, perhaps as the result of over-aggressive pruning. I’m trying to think of what to plant in its place. I need something to shield the cluster of Internet cable boxes in the side yard. I suspect that I’ll chose another plant. I don’t think that there is an emoji for bougainvillea. I don’t intend to plant bougainvillea. I just like the name.

No one has explained to me why there are emoji for flute, saxophone, guitar, violin, trumpet, banjo, and drum, but so far as I can discern, there is no emoji for oboe or bassoon. Do you suppose that there is an implicit bias against double reed instruments? Of course I get the banjo. There are a lot of pretty funny banjo jokes, although I’ve never found one that my banjo-playing friend has not already heard before I told it to him.

I also cannot think of an occasion that might prompt me to use the moose emoji. After all yesterday was Palm Sunday and I didn’t employ the donkey emoji even one time. Chances of me even remembering that there is a jellyfish emoji are pretty slim.

I read that there are over 3,600 emoji. I definitely don’t have 3,600 feelings that I need to express. I’m pretty sure that I don’t know the meaning of at least half of the emoji that do exist. Can you tell me what "👠🦝 🍔" means? Sometimes I just send a string of random emoji to my sister for no reason at all. It usually confuses her.

So, I guess I’m going to stick with trying to master punctuation. I used to be pretty good at it when I was in elementary school, but I still make mistakes. I’ll leave the emoji to others.

Palm Sunday

For as long as I can remember, Holy Week has been an important part of my life. Before I became a minister, when I was a child, Palm Sunday was a special day of pageantry. Our father tried to have a baby donkey for the occasion, but donkeys, with a year-long gestation, are notoriously hard to predict when it comes to the date of a birth. Nonetheless, some years we had a fairly young colt for the festivities. One year the colt arrived a week late and was born on Easter. We named the colt Hallelujah, but her name quickly got shortened to Lulu. She was a bit of a problem animal. When she was a yearling, she stepped through a cattle guard. Fortunately she didn’t break her leg, but she skinned it up terribly requiring a visit from the vet and bandages for a few weeks.

When we were seminary students, Holy Week was a time of extra services at the seminary and in the churches where I served my internships. After I graduated, I served congregations with various Holy Week traditions, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday services were common even in small congregations that I served. The congregation we served in Rapid City had a tradition of a Maundy Thursday pageant with members of the congregation playing the roles of disciples at the last Supper. Over the years, the tradition shifted. There was a year when there was a Holy Week blizzard that brought down trees in front of the church. We barely got the parking lot cleared in time for Maundy Thursday and several of the people who would have played the parts in the pageant were not able to get to church. I was recruiting disciples as people arrived at the church.

In the later years of our time in Rapid City, we began having services every day of Holy Week. Instead of having a Palm and Passion service on Palm Sunday with the reading of the entire Holy Week Story, up through the crucifixion following the Palm Sunday festivities, we separated the two services, observing Palm Sunday on Sunday and having a reading of the passion story on Monday. A blues concert marked Tuesday evening. On Wednesday we had a meal and special observance in the fellowship hall. In the latter years representatives of the Synagogue of the Hills led a seder service on that day. Maundy Thursday was the observance of the Last Supper, with optional foot washing some years. Good Friday we had a “Journey to the Cross” service with readings and prayers at noon. On Saturday we observed the Great Vigil of Easter and Easter morning began with a sunrise service followed by a breakfast and a well-attended Easter service. When we offered all of those services, the combined attendance at the midweek services exceeded the attendance at Easter.

Then Covid-19 hit the last year of my service at that church. All of our midweek services were cancelled. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to use a new web camera to livestream the Sunday service. The first year of our retirement was a very unusual year for our new church home in Bellingham. The lead pastor was doing double duty as the Minister of Youth, Young Adults, and Mission was on a health-related leave. Both Susan and I helped that Lent with preaching. I preached on Palm Sunday. But it wasn’t preaching in front of the congregation. Rather we pre-recorded services in our living room that were included in recorded services streamed over facebook. The Easter services were similarly pre-recorded. It just didn’t seem the same. I don’t know if it was a bit of post-retirement malaise, or just the strangeness of living through a pandemic, but Holy Week didn’t feel right.

Last year we were back in the stream of things, working as Interim Ministers of Faith Formation at the church. We had a kind of Palm Sunday pageant, with children and adults waving palm leaves, and a family event at the church on the afternoon of Palm Sunday in which we taught a variety of lessons about Lent and Holy Week.

Today we have a full intergenerational Palm Sunday service with a scripted pageant, written by Susan, special music, and a variety of intergenerational services during the hour following worship with tables in the fellowship hall with activities as varied as baking pretzels, making palm crosses, writing advocacy letters, a discussion group for older youth and adults, working a large floor puzzle, and more. There will also be Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunrise services, so church staff will be busy with special services as well as the regular services. Our congregation shares our building with a United Methodist congregation and we will have a joint service on Good Friday and separate services on other days.

Holy week coincides with spring break in the public schools here in Whatcom County. There are a lot of families who are traveling this week. We had a problem recruiting players for today’s pageant. Fortunately our grandchildren were able to step in and take roles to fill out the cast. There is a lot going on and we will be busy. Busy and tired are part of the mood of Holy Week for us, however. I don’t mind pushing a little bit during this time.

I read an article yesterday about Pope Francis, who was admitted to the hospital last week with bronchitis. He was released from the hospital yesterday and the Vatican confirmed that he will lead a Palm and Passion Mass today. The writer of the BBC article was a bit surprised that he would be leading a mass the day after he was released from the hospital, but it seemed obvious to me that he would lead the mass if he was at all able. It is what pastors do during Holy Week. We lead worship for our people.

I’m not quite as old at the Pope, but I have come to the place where younger pastors are doing most of the leadership of the church, while I take a somewhat smaller role. It is appropriate, but there is a part of me that misses the rush of busy activities during Holy Week. I wish I knew where to find a concert to sit with the blues one evening this week. I plan to listen to my recordings of James Van Nuys playing his guitar this week just to remember and reflect. May your week be holy.

An Evening at the Theatre

I took my bride to the theatre last night. It was a romantic date followed by a late evening dinner. That is if you can really call our venue a theatre. there were rows of metal folding chairs in the grade school gym and about three rows of bleachers on each side. Although the gym has a stage at one end, the set for the play was erected on the floor in front of the stage, I suspect in part because none of the audience would have been able to hear a word from the actors had they set up on the stage. And the late evening dinner wasn’t at some romantic bistro, but rather leftovers at home, warmed up in the microwave. I had a bowl of the previous evening’s jambalaya. Susan had a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup. It was late enough that neither of us bothered with dessert. And I don’t think that 6 pm is a fashionable hour for the theatre in most places. Still, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and the evening’s activities.

At one point in the evening I commented to my wife, “This is why I retired, so I could do these things.”

The event was a production of the Missoula Children’s Theatre of a play called “Red Riding Hood.” It was a pun-filled take off on the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood, complete with a Big Bad Wolf, a Little Lovable Wolf, and guest appearances by the Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and three of Red Riding Hood’s girlfriends who find themselves in trouble as they stray from the trail during their walk in the woods. We were particularly interested in one of the little wolves from Little Lovable Wolf’s pack and a friendly raccoon who appeared for a couple of the numbers. The play was a musical on top of the comedy written into the script. Even though the gym was noisy and we couldn’t hear many of the lines in the play, the jokes got big laughs and the cast received a thundering ovation. We joined right in, showing our delight with our applause.

In addition to a week’s worth of auditions and play rehearsals, the two artists from the Missoula Children’s Theatre offered a post-play workshop titled “Fitting all of the lights, props, staging, costumes, and scripts into the back of a F-150 pickup.” Their visit to the little town of Custer, Washington, was a huge hit.

Since 1972, the Missoula Children’s Theatre has been bringing productions to local communities and teaching children the fun of acting. They have produced plays in all 50 states, all of the provinces of Canada and dozens of overseas countries. Their touring artists have delighted audiences in cities and small towns. They are calling 2023 their 50th year of touring because they were forced to suspend tours for a year during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

This really is one of the incentives that we had to plan our retirement. Our children lived a long ways from where we worked for the last 25 yers of our career - too far for us to attend the children’s concerts, plays, and sports events. Now their grade school is just a short drive down the road from our house and we’ve already attended numerous events at the school. Our oldest grandson is in middle school, just a little bit farther from our home and we were able to catch his choir concert earlier this year. Attending our grandchildren’s school events is every bit as much fun as I thought it would be.

As an added attraction for the evening, our youngest grandson, just a baby, has learned to “cluck” his tongue and will imitate his grandpa to the delight of parents, siblings and most of all grandpa. He was in a good mood despite the noise of the crowd in the echo-filled gymnasium. A copy of the playbill and his father’s car keys were all the toys that he needed to remain entertained during the production.

The play kicked off spring break for our grandchildren. They get Holy Week along with Palm Sunday and Easter weekends off from school. The two oldest grandchildren will be part of the Palm Sunday intergenerational worship at our church on Sunday. As a bonus, the restrictions following a medical procedure are now lifted for Grandpa and he is once again allowed to pick up the baby and get down on the floor to play with the other grandkids. This morning we will start work on a kit that our oldest grandson has been waiting to assemble. The kit involves the use of precision screwdrivers and a soldering iron. It provides a perfect opportunity for a bit of teaching and since our son has the day off from work, we’ll probably get in some time with three generations working together. Life is being extremely good to me.

I continue to be a bit surprised by how much I am enjoying this phase of my life. I had such a wonderful career. I didn’t mind my job. I enjoyed my working years. I was in no rush to retire and have been delighted to get the opportunity to work again for a couple of years in my retirement. My work brings me great joy. But the one thing that was always part of my working career was that I was called to serve where the church needed me, not always to the places where I wanted to live. Each place we served was a beautiful setting filled with very good people, but now we have been able to move close to the place where our son lives and where our grandchildren are growing up, a luxury that was not part of our active working careers, though we did enjoy watching our children grow up and we were able to have our parents close during the later years of their lives.

Now, If I could just figure out how to get to a few youth soccer games in South Carolina, I’d really have it made. Prospects for such adventures are looking good. Life is good.

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