I remember standing at the windows of the terminal of Billings, MT Logan airport and straining my eyes to see the huge jet as it descended for a landing. Becoming a pilot was a really big part of my life in those days. I flew with our father every chance I got, carefully adding hours to my logbook and anticipating the day when I would be able to take my private pilot’s check ride. The airplane coming in to land was the largest airplane I had ever seen. It came from the west and circled around the field a couple of miles to the south and entered a long final approach. It appeared to be going very slowly. My father said that was an illusion caused by its size. Smoke rose from the massive banks of tires as it touched down. It ran the entire length of the runway before turning off onto a taxiway, where its wings extended off of the edges as it came back towards the terminal. As the nose pulled up to the building, the ground crew prepared the longest stairway, mounted on the top and back of a truck.

I felt a bit of pride seeing the plane, painted in the colors of Northwest Orient Airlines. The pilot was the chief pilot of the airline, and had been a student of our father years before. The Boeing 747 with its cockpit raised in a bulb above the nose of the plane was massive. Later we got to climb that long truck-based stairway and go inside the plane. There was a spiral staircase inside the plane leading to the upper deck where there was a lounge and behind it crew quarters with bunks for sleeping on long flights.

Over the years I got to fly on 747 aircraft several times. One flight was a short hop from Chicago to Minneapolis in the middle of the night. That flight was not very full at all and we had room to stretch out on empty seats. Another time we boarded a flight in Calgary that made a stop in Edmonton before taking a great circle route to Amsterdam. It was, at the time, the longest flight I’d ever taken on an airplane.

The first production 747, after Boeing had gone through a lengthy certification process that tested every aspect of the “triple redundant” flight systems, was painted in the color of Pan American Airlines and began scheduled service flying between New York and London. By the time the plane was delivered, Boeing had orders for several years worth of production. Parts for the airplane were made in many different places. Final assembly took place in a building that was build as the plane was designed. The Everett, Washington building is the largest building under a single roof in the world. Inside giant cranes can lift sections of the airplane up and over other parts being assembled on the production floor. Visiting the building, and looking down from the viewing levels, workers seem tiny in comparison to the giant airplanes being assembled. Boeing has since used the facility for the production of other large aircraft, but none quite as massive as the 747.

At the time we first saw the 747, we expected that it would be a rare bird. Not many were expected to be built because Boeing already had a supersonic airplane on the drawing boards. It was felt that higher speed airplanes would soon replace the massive airliners. The story of the brief time of supersonic airline travel is another story at all, but it proved too expensive for any company to make a profit. A couple of spectacular accidents and the airline companies turned back to jumbo jets for their overseas flights.

The cargo versions of the 747 were very popular as well. Specially shaped containers made loading large pieces of cargo easy. Everything was handled with machines and the ability of the plane to lift and deliver heavy loads made it a regular part of international commerce.

Today the last production 747 will be delivered at the Everett facility. It is number 1,574. The building of the airplane started in September and it was, from the beginning, designed as a cargo hauler. It has already made its maiden voyages. The final paint was applied after initial test flights in Portland, OR, where the Atlas Air Worldwide colors were applied. The plane then flew back to Everett, and rolled back into a bay in the giant building with doors several stories high to allow the tail to enter and wider than the plane’s 225-foot wingspan. This morning there will be a ceremonial roll out of the plane. No more 747s will be built. It is the end of an era. The planes will be replaced by more efficient aircraft over a period of years.

The end of production doesn’t mark the end of the useful life of an airplane. The last Douglas DC-3 rolled off the assembly line in early 1943. Other DC-3s have newer dates on their serial number plates as hundreds of military C-47s went through a certified conversation process and were given DC-3 nameplates. All DC-3s entered service before I was born. There are still about 165 DC-3s flying on a regular basis today. I expect that there will be 747s in service throughout the lives of my great grandchildren, even after technologies have changed and new forms of airplanes have taken flight.

It has been a good long run for 747 production. The advance of technology in the 50+ year production run has resulted in many changes. The instrument panels of today’s jets are filled with glass screens instead of the analogue gauges that were sported by earlier planes. Navigation systems are much more precise and far more reliable than the ones in the first variants of the type.

I could still get a ride in a 747 for years to come, but I’ve already had a long flight in a 777 and would love to get a trip in a 787. Who knows what trips lie in my future, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be up for a few more long flights.

I’m not going to drive down to Everett for the delivery ceremonies. I doubt that I could get close enough for much of a glimpse of the plane, but it marks a significant milestone and gives me another story that I’ll tell my grandchildren about how it was “in my day.”

Hot showers

I have a memory that seems very clear to me. However, I have learned to be a bit suspicious of my memories. Researchers tell us that some of the memories that seem most clear are actually not very accurate. What happens is that when we tell stories of past events over and over, we tend to embellish the stories and the process of repetition causes us to incorporate things into the stories that were not part of the actual events. This can be true even if we haven’t told the stories to others. Stories that we are only recalling for ourselves also become embellished when we recall them over and over. And I am old enough that there are events and people that I cannot recall.

So here is the story that I remember. I hope it is fairly close to the event that occurred. We were on one of our trips to visit our sister church in Costa Rica. Those trips were for all ages and we would travel with a few members of our South Dakota Congregation to San Jose, Costa Rica, where we would visit our sister church, do a few work projects, and do a little touring of the country. This particular year we had partnered with our sister church to purchase a house across the street from the church building to be a home for church leaders as well as provide space for youth gatherings. The house was in need of paint and repairs, so our group was working on the house. In the bathroom, there were live electrical wires hanging out of the wall over the shower head. This is common in Costa Rica. Instead of household water heaters, small electric heaters are installed at the shower head to warm the water for showers. They work for the most part, but problems are fairly frequent. Those of us who had made multiple trips to Costa Rica all had stories to tell about lukewarm or cold showers. Part of the trick of making the heaters work is to decrease the volume of water so that there is less cold mixing with the trickle of hot that goes through the heater. On a previous trip, sparks had flown from one of the units while a young man was showering early in the morning before our trip to catch an early flight home. As we stood in the hall way, trying to be quiet so we would not disturb other guests in the hostel where we were staying, he called out “Fire, fire!” Coached not to make loud noises, his cries were muffled. No injuries occurred and the situation was soon corrected, but it made a funny story for us to tell later.

Having had those experiences, three of us were in the bathroom of the new house the church had purchased discussing the need to go to the hardware store to purchase a new electric heater for the shower. The young mother who was going to live in the house overheard our conversation and stood in the doorway of the bathroom to tell us that she didn’t want a hot water heater. She told us that hot water is not healthy. “It gives you wrinkles!” she declared. She did not want her children to learn to take hot showers. The water that comes out of the tap was good enough for showers in her opinion. The three of us, standing awkwardly in that small room, were all much older than she. Decades of living had left plenty of wrinkles in our skin. We had no counter argument. We quickly agreed to make sure the wires were safely protected from water and to forgo installing a water heating shower head. I chuckle when I remember the scene: one very short Costa Rican woman lecturing three older North American gentlemen on skin health as they stood in a small bathroom with her blocking the doorway. Sometimes it takes dramatic events for us to remember that mission is all about forging partnerships, and not very much about things we do for others.

I confess that I still take hot showers. In fact, I waste a significant amount of water because I like the water to be warm before I step into the shower. In our house the hot water heater is in the garage and our shower is in a bathroom in the northeast corner of the house. There is quite a bit of pipe between the two locations and the water in those pipes cools to room temperature quickly. To have a hot shower, the water needs to run for a couple of minutes. I stand outside of the shower until the steam begins to rise, informing me that the water is hot. It isn’t the only way I waste water. Often, in the evening, after a long day, I will soak in a hot tub surrounded by gallons of warm water. It is a luxury that I have grown to appreciate - the result of purchasing a home that was furnished by previous owners. I know that all of this hot water wastes not only water but also the energy that is used to warm it. For the sake of luxury, I consume resources.

Not far from our home, the severe weather shelters are open, welcoming people who are experiencing homelessness. Temperatures that seem mild to us, having lived for decades in a place that gets a lot colder, can be life-threatening. I feel guilty when I compare the luxury of a hot tub with the circumstances of homeless people shivering under a wet blanket trying to survive. Still, I continue to luxuriate in the simple pleasure of warm water surrounding my body.

We are born in water and we are made of water. Our connections to water are elemental. I find that I come up with many creative ideas when I am standing in the shower. Inspiration is a regular part of the luxury of an abundance of warm water. While I respect our Costa Rica partners, I haven’t adopted the practice of cold showers. I don’t mind the wrinkles. They are well-earned signs of a long and adventurous life.

Changing times

The Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ offers a training and certification program for local church faith formation leaders. The program consists of a dozen or so classes, offered online. Each class is three contact hours. There are additional requirements to complete the certification program. The classes include basic courses in instructional design, creating safe spaces, planning, educational psychology, theology, polity, and other topics. The program is accessible to students outside of the Southern New England Conference and its online format has made it an attractive professional development program for faith formation leaders in other parts of the country. With the demise of the denomination’s national certification program for educational leaders, the Southern New England Conference program is emerging as a standard for professional educators in the United Church of Christ.

Faith Formation is a high priority for the Southern New England Conference. The Conference employs highly qualified and experienced professionals to administer its programs and the Faith Formation Leadership Training program is well run and coordinated. It is easy to see how the program could be expanded to serve leaders across the denomination.

The program, however, is far less rigorous than the national certification program for teachers which was in place earlier in my career as a pastor and church educator. When I was certified as a specialist in church education, a graduate degree and ordination was required for specialist level certification along with specific additional educational requirements, a continuing education requirement, and a regular rigorous re-certification review. It is difficult to compare the old certification program with the Southern New England program because they serve a church that has undergone dramatic changes. The United Church of Christ is a smaller denomination with fewer paid professionals than was the case decades ago. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a deep impact on every congregation in the denomination. Churches are discovering ways to minister with much leaner budgets than was the case before the pandemic.

As an elder, who has been around for several generations and expressions of the church, I’ve witnessed big changes in how leaders are recruited, trained, supported, and deployed through the church. From my perspective, there is a lot of grief over the loss of programs and people. The United Church of Christ no longer publishes any church school curricula that is unique to our denomination. We used to have two companion publishing houses. The Pilgrim Press, the oldest printing house in the United States, focused on book-length publications. United Church Press focused on publishing church resources, including curricula for childhood and adult education programs. The two houses have now been combined and there is just a trickle of titles available from Pilgrim Press. Long gone are the days when our denomination operated a giant resource warehouse with a complete shipping department. We’ve downsized and endured round after round of layoffs. It is a reality that has been experienced by other mainline denominations.

I could wallow in the grief of all of the losses, but that wouldn’t change the reality. The times have changed and, for the most part, memories of the way it used to be aren’t helpful in providing the leadership and resources the church needs. Still there are times when I find myself a bit nostalgic for the old days. Perhaps that is natural for someone who is my age.

It seems to me that the church is facing a scarcity of leaders. Congregations are having difficulty finding and hiring the professional ministers they want. Lay volunteers are giving fewer hours and a different level of commitment to the jobs in the church. At the same time that the church is having trouble finding enough professional leaders, the nature of volunteers is shifting radically. Volunteers show up for individual projects on occasion, but are unwilling or unable to make a commitment to regular leadership and follow through for important programs.

There is a perception that millennials are not joiners. They will show up and become active at times, but they are unwilling to commit to assuming leadership. They have an expectation that churches provide programs, but do not assume leadership of producing those programs. There are a lot of reasons for this. The post-pandemic work environment makes great demands on professionals. Cell phones have made people accessible around the clock and with them has come the expectation that people be accessible. As a part-time professional, I am well aware that there is an expectation that I respond to phone messages and emails on the days when I am not working. Full time professionals experience even more pressure to be constantly available. There is nothing new about the challenges of juggling career and family. We were a two-career family when we were raising our children. We know how demanding it can be to balance the needs of a professional life and life as a parent. But there is a different quality to the current generation of young professionals. There are fewer barriers between work and home. I didn’t have a phone in my car when I was driving our children to school activities. I simply was not available until I got home or to my office where there was a phone. People had to wait.

The church may be experiencing hard times, but this is not the end. New leadership will emerge. As I reminded students yesterday when I was teaching a class for the Southern New England Conference, there are several places in the bible where a generation is considered to be roughly 40 years. Modern generational theory divides generations into 20 year time blocks. Whether it is 20 years or 40 years, we can count on a shift in the leadership of the church. New leaders with new qualities will emerge. Just as we boomers are stepping aside for the people of Generation X and Millennials, they will be stepping aside for those in generation Z and generation Alpha. In a way, I wish I could stay around to hear the Millennials when they get to be my age and start going on about “the way things were in my time.”

5-yeaar-old fashion

I made a couple of visits to our son’s farm yesterday. In the morning, I stopped by to use the tools in the shop to make some simple blocks. The blocks, inspired by the classic game Jenga, have phrases from the prayer of Jesus on them. For some young learners, having something that they can physically manipulate reinforces learning and we often are thinking of games that we can play with learners of all ages in our work as Ministers of Faith Formation. While I was at the farm, I filled several buckets with rich loamy soil from the compost pile to take home for the raised flower beds that I have constructed. Later in the afternoon, I returned to drop off the buckets at the farm.

My second trip was after school and our 5-year-old granddaughter rushed out to greet me and see what I was doing. She was still wearing the dress that she had worn to school and her new coat. On her feet were a pair of bright green muck boots. Muck boots are essential footwear at the farm this time of the year. There has been enough rain for the groundwater level to be pretty high and there are puddles all around with lots of mud. The parts of the pasture where the cows have been fed are really muddy. When I saw her in her dress and new coat with the muck boots, I remembered the rule that we had at our home when I was growing up that we had to change our clothes upon coming home from school before we went outside to play. I don’t know the rules at our grandchildren’s house about school clothes and play clothes. I decided to compliment her on the boots - a good choice of footwear for running across the yard to speak with me at the barn.

She didn’t say much about the boots at first. Instead she said, “I know what PE stands for. Do you?” “Yes, I replied. PE stands for Physical Education.” “We have PE at school,” she told me. “I know. We had PE when I went to school, too.” “You have to learn about PE,” she continued, “The letters don’t go with the words.” I had to think about this for a minute. She explained to me that “physical” begins with an “F” sound. That resulted in a long conversation about how the word actually begins with the letter “P,” but it doesn’t have a “P” sound in that word.

Then she told me that her boots are no good for PE. Finally the conversation began to make sense to me. She is the third child in her family and she is the third child of that family with whom I’ve had a conversation about ending up in PE class wearing muck boots. It is a definite fashion faux pas at Custer Elementary School. It is also easy to see how it could happen. In the rush to get ready for school in the morning, parents send the kids to get on their shoes and jackets and not much attention is paid to which shoes they choose. Muck boots have no laces to tie. They are easy to slip on and off. A rushing child chooses the easiest footwear to slip over their feet. Everyone is checked to make sure they have their lunch and backpacks and rushed to the car. Car seats, seatbelts, the baby strapped in and off they go. They arrive at school and the kids jump out and run to greet their friends. Another day successfully started. And no one paid any attention to which shoes the kids were wearing.

Later, in PE class, the disadvantage of muck boots when running, jumping, and engaging in games is obvious. Other children notice and children can be a bit harsh when teasing another child about their choice of footwear.

A visit from grandpa is a good opportunity to talk through the whole episode, but the feelings are fresh enough that it takes a bit of conversation before the story emerges. It is one of the great advantages of being a grandpa. I’m not in charge of getting children ready for school, planning meals for children, doing laundry for them, picking up after them, finding lost socks and shoes for them. I don’t have to drive them to school and make sure they have what they need for the day before rushing off to do my own work.

With three other children in the house and dinner to get on the table, homework to check, a baby who gets fussy at the end of the day and all of the other activities of a busy household, the parents don’t have the luxury of pausing for a long and sometimes slow conversation. Being a grandpa, however, gives me the luxury of time. No one gets upset when I sit on the tailgate of the pickup and have a conversation with my granddaughter. I didn’t have any work that was more important.

It is not that I am bored. In fact, I’m quite busy. I have a class to teach this morning. We’ll go to the church to make preparations for a special intergenerational worship service later today. We have the usual chores of buying groceries, preparing meals, doing laundry and keeping the house clean. But our days also have time for reading books, sitting and reflecting, making toys and gardening. Like everyone I know, I have a list of undone chores, including some home repair tasks that seem to always get ahead of me. I have a shelf of books in my library that are waiting for me to get around to reading them. My desk is as cluttered and messy as it was when I was raising a family and working full time. But I have time to sit and talk. And I have the extreme luxury of living where I can stop by and see my grandchildren whenever I want.

Maybe wearing bright green muck boots with a purple dress isn’t considered the height of fashion in Kindergarten PE class, but the image of my granddaughter wearing the outfit and discussing the nuances of spelling and phonics with me is one that will put a smile on my face for years to come. Collecting memories is one of the joys of my life.

Thinking of Dinosaurs

These days I frequently find myself in a place where I am one of the oldest persons in attendance. I invested a few hours of the past week in a meeting of a board made up of other faith formation professionals. I consider them to be my colleagues. At one point, however, I realized that I was the oldest person at the meeting. Normally it doesn’t bother me. I frequently say that I have never been the right age for anything. I went straight from being too young to being too old. When I am serious about it, however, I haven’t experienced any real age discrimination. I was allowed to pursue my education and hold student jobs when I was younger than most of my classmates. I married younger than most of my peers. And I have been allowed to work in a meaningful job even though many colleagues my age are fully retired.

The span of a human life is short when compared to some known timelines. I’ve know a lot of children who are fascinated with dinosaurs. They will tell me about the different periods in which dinosaurs lived: Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. I know an eight-year-old who can give you rough dates for the times in which dinosaurs lived. Did you know that the span of time in which Stegosaurus lived (150 to 130 million years ago) is farther away from the time when Tyrannosaurus rex livd (80 to 65 million years ago) than the difference between Tyrannosaurus rex and the first humans (300,000 to 200,000) years ago? It is true. I looked it up, but I first learned that fact from someone who I’m pretty sure has no idea what it means to be 21 years old, let alone 70.

Our three-year-old grandson encounters information about dinosaurs in books, television programs, the Internet, and through conversations with other children. We have accepted that children have a fascination with dinosaurs and we encourage it by helping them find information. One of his craft projects was painting a wooden toy dinosaur with spines on its back and tail. An adult put his name on it and then added “saurus” to the end of his name. As far as I know there is no archaeological evidence of any creature that has been called “Patricksaurus,” but it was a project that entertained our grandson for a while. He presented the wooden toy to us as a gift.

The gift reminded Susan and me of other gifts we received many years ago. One of the children in a church that we served presented us with cardboard ornaments that had pictures of dinosaur-like creatures and our names modified to label the creatures. One said Susanasaurus, the other Tedasaurus. I’m not sure why we have kept those simple ornaments for so many years. Susan had hers displayed in her office for a long time. Mine had been stuck in a pile of unsorted papers and only recently emerged as we continue the process of sorting and getting rid of excess items we have kept for many years. I have no idea why we kept those cardboard trinkets. A sensible person would have discarded them before we moved from South Dakota. Then again, a sensible person would have disposed of them years ago. No one ever accused me of being sensible, however, so we have the three pretend items together in our bedroom for now. At some point we’ll recycle them. You can’t keep everything. I can’t imagine us taking such things to display in a nursing home room.

Silliness and stories aside, it is interesting to me that our imaginations allow us to travel millions of years into the past while most of us can’t or don’t imagine what the world will be like even a few decades into the future. We choose not to think much about what the world will be like after we have died.

The quirky movie about time travel, “Back to the Future,” and sequels, tell a story of Marty McFly, a teenager in 1985, being accidentally sent back to 1955. Later, McFly and Doc Brown travel ahead in time to 2015. The depiction of 1955 in the movie was more accurate than the depiction of 2015. We still don’t have functional hoverboards and it is 2023. One of the things about that particular movie is that the span of time travel was shorter than the span of my life. I was a toddler in 1955, the father of a toddler in 1985, and the grandfather of a toddler tin 2015. And I’m still around.

In one story, 60 years is treated like a long span of time. In another story, we are invited to think about what life was like 150 million years ago. Our brains make the adjustment from story to story without being fully aware of the incredible differences in the amount of time.

While it is fun and interesting to think about different spans of time, we have now come to a point in human history where we need to get serious about our future and make changes in the present that don’t precipitate human extinction. Three days ago, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists unveiled the current doomsday clock. The hands are at their closest to midnight ever, now only 90 seconds: one minute and a half out of 24 hours. It is supposed to be a wake-up call about how close we are to destroying all of humanity with dangerous technologies and misguided policies.

Just as the age of dinosaurs came to an end, it seems likely that the age of humans will also come to an end at some point. I wonder what will come next. It makes me think about what we leave behind after we are gone. Will our legacy be brilliant ideas and incredible inventions? Will we leave behind a history of life on this planet, or will our time be forgotten. Will the incredible knowledge of libraries and the Internet remain or be lost? Somehow I can imagine some future life form sifting through the remains of human civilization trying to imagine what our lives were like. They come across the remains of three representations of dinosaurs with strange words on them: Patricksaurus, Susansaurus, and Tedsaurus.


My mother’s father was an attorney. He died when I was young and I have far more memories of him that are based on family stories than ones based on actual experience. I have also had the opportunity to read some of his journals, though he wasn’t as prolific as a journal writer as some others in our family. Like many small town professionals, he was a generalist, drawing up contracts, helping with real estate sales, preparing wills, assisting clients with civil disputes and the like. As far as I know he never served as a prosecutor. He did become a politician and was elected to the state legislature, serving during the Great Depression. He also was a staunch church member and served as a volunteer layperson on Conference and national committees of his church.

One of the things that our mother reported to us often was that he was a stickler for the truth. He believed that there is an objective truth and that we have a natural innate sense of truth and falsehood. He definitely passed on that passion for the truth to his daughter. There were lots of behaviors that got a quick reaction from our mother, but I grew up thinking that the worst thing a person could do is to lie. If she caught us in a lie, her anger was quick and the punishment was real. One of the things that she told us is that if you lie you become a slave to the lie. One lie begets another. Soon the teller of the lies is unable to keep up with the lies told to cover previous lies and cannot present a consistent image. She also taught us that if people lie, they lose the ability to know the truth. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32 KJV)

My grandfather was a Republican. He believed in the principles of the party of Lincoln. I think, however, that it is a blessing that he did not live long enough to witness contemporary politics. He would have been appalled. Lies have become the stock and trade of politicians.

The talk show comedians have been having a field day with the daily revelations of the falsehoods that have been told by George Anthony Devolder Santos, the Republican representative of New York’s 3rd congressional district. It is a bit difficult to discern his story because it has been pointed out that nearly everything in his campaign biography is fabricated from schools he claimed to attend that have no record of him being a student to details of his mother’s death to work he claims to have done to protect animals. He has lied about his personal and financial background. He claims to have loaned his own campaign money that the simply did not have. He has been accused of misusing campaign funds and fraud. His lies are obvious, but that did not stop him from being elected. It seems that he has used the technique of simply saying what others want to hear has been successful for him.

I know nothing more than what has been reported in the news and it seems nearly impossible to discern what is true and what is false about Santos, including his name. He apparently has used several different names throughout his career. It leaves me wondering whether or not he knows what is real and what is not.

Some lies seem to have more serious consequences than others. I don’t care whether or not Santos appeared as a drag queen in Brazil. I’m pretty sure his political career will be short, given the web of lies that have already been disclosed. And I’m not particularly concerned that a former President of the United States lies about his golf score, claiming to have won a tournament in which he didn’t even show up for the first days’ competition. It is worrisome, however, that a large percentage of voters believe that there was massive fraud in the 2020 election despite the total lack of evidence and the consistent rulings of court after court.

It is like my mother said, “If you repeat a lie often enough, you will lose the ability to know what is true.”

My mother and her father believed that in the end the truth would become clear. They believed in standing up for the truth especially when doing so demanded courage and taking a stand that is unpopular. And they did a good job of passing on those expectations to their children and grandchildren. I may have some frustrating lapses of memory, but I am confident that I can tell the difference between the truth and a lie. I also know that I don’t have the inclination to become a politician. Aside from church politics, which I admit can be intense at certain moments, I have no desire to engage in the politics of government. I care about policy, but you won’t see me running for office.

I have been wondering lately if all politicians lie. Is telling lies a requirement of getting elected in our society? Are there no politicians with integrity and the courage to stand with the truth? I worry that my cynicism might be exaggerated. There must be some political figures who can be trusted to tell the truth and who are willing to accept the possibility of unpopularity because of their insistence upon the truth. I know that political courage is not a common commodity in today’s world, but I still believe that there must be some who are willing to stand for the truth.

On the other hand, telling a lot of fantastic lies certainly gets a politician more press and more mention on the late night comedy shoes than telling the truth. If I am going to discover the truth and find honest politicians, I’m going to have to switch my source of information.

I’ve got some homework to do before I cast my next ballot. And that’s the truth.


Yesterday was one of those days that sometimes happen. Fortunately for me, they are less common in these days of semi-retirement, but they do occur. I was involved in meetings for about four hours, most of it over Zoom. Since the start of the pandemic, virtual meetings have become a part of life. I’ve had meetings over Zoom that took place when all of the participants were in the same building. Yesterday, however, two hours of the meeting were part of the meeting of the board of directors of a national organization. Participants were in four different time zones. The pandemic has made that type of meeting more efficient than was the case in prior years. I served on the board of the same organization years ago, when a meeting of the board involved two days of travel for me. Two hours yesterday and two more today is a much smaller commitment of time. I probably would not have agreed to serve on that board if it still involved multi-day in-person meetings. One of the decisions made during the meeting is that we will have an in-person meeting a year from now, in January of 2024. The meeting will be added to another meeting so that many members would already be traveling to the meeting site. Still, attending that meeting will take a substantial investment of time. I’m pretty sure that it will be the sole focus of a week of my time.

Yesterday, I not only attended the board meeting, but also attended meetings that are relevant to the life of our congregation and its programs for this week. Despite the two-hour online meeting, I was able to have a varied day with face-to-face meetings, a nice walk outdoors, and time for some professional writing and preparation for two groups that I will be facilitating today.

Of course that means that I have two hours of board meeting and two hours of small groups - all over Zoom - today. I also teach a class on Saturday that involves four hours on Zoom.

If you had told me even a few years ago that i would be spending half of my working time in a week sitting in front of a computer monitor, I would not have been able to believe it. My life has been working with people and that has meant lots of face-to-face time. I didn’t go into the ministry because of a love of technology, or a desire to have a camera recording my face for hour after hour.

But here we are. The hardware and software are familiar to me. I know the login credentials for four different Zoom accounts. I have gigabit fiber optic Internet in my home. I also have studio lighting at my desk. I pay attention to the background when I log on. I have a closet with an array of shirts in bright colors. I have been known to put on a dress shirt and a tie while wearing jeans.

Fortunately so far, I have not felt the need to wear makeup. If that comes, I think I will opt out. Some things are taking it too far - then again, I never thought I’d worry about how I looked on camera. Yesterday, during a lull in a meeting, I looked at my computer monitor and decided that I need to get to the barber shop. I was using the computer as a mirror to judge my own appearance.

It is probably time for me to retire again. In 2020, when I retired, I resigned all of my board and committee assignments. Somehow, however, I’ve picked up a host of new ones. I didn’t mean to do it, but here I am and I have to admit that it is the result of decisions I have made, not something that someone else has done to me.

My watch and my phone communicate wirelessly with my computer and they keep track of my screen time each week. What they don’t measure is how much time I spend in front of the screen of another computer that belongs to the church and sits on my desk at work. However, it is common, as was the case yesterday, for me to be using my personal laptop to do research and view documents while I use the office computer for the Zoom meeting. Each week I receive a report on how much time I’ve spend in front of a screen. I’m confident that my screen time report this week will show a dramatic increase. Maybe it will inspire me to stay away from the screens a bit more next week.

Most of the other members of the board that is meeting this week are younger than I. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I am the oldest member of that board. As I noted during the introductions yesterday, I have a guitar that is older than half of the members of the board. Most of those other members are spending a lot more time in meetings and a lot more time online than I do. After all, I’m only working half time, so I have a significant number of hours available to work at the farm, play with our grandchildren, go for walks with my wife, and marvel at the beauty of this place. Listening to the things that are going on in the lives of the other members of the board amazes me with how busy they are. Maybe I was once that busy, but if I was, I certainly was busy in different ways. It sounds like some of the other members of the board have lives that are mostly meetings. I’m guessing that there are those whose screen time is triple mine.

I am estimating that the four hours of this board meeting will mean that I need to put in a couple of extra hours of hands-on work at the church to be ready for Sunday’s activities. That seems reasonable. I’m used to squeezing in a few extra hours from time to time. I’ve never been one to count the hours. I’d be no good at using a time clock. Some days it takes me more time to complete a task than the same task would take other days.

There used to be a popular television advertisement for a car company in which a child said the words “Zoom zoom!” as the car was driven by. I think that’s one of my theme songs these days: Zoom zoom! I’m sure I’ll have to retire again and cut back on all of the meetings. For now, however, I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy the ride: Zoom, zoom!

Spiderman isn't real

We have a large portrait of me when I was six years old. The picture used to hang on the wall of our family room alongside the pictures of five of my siblings. The first four of those portraits were made the year I turned six. Our oldest sister was married and not living in our home at the time. Our youngest two brothers were not yet a part of our family. That year we took a trip to Washington, DC, traveling in our parents’ Beech 18 airplane. We made the trip in a single day with a fuel stop in Indianapolis. On the return trip, we stopped overnight in Chicago. It was a grand adventure. The portraits were done at our uncle’s studio in Maryland. He took studio photographs of each of us and our aunt hand colored the prints that hung on the wall in our family home. Later, our two youngest brothers had their portraits done when our Aunt visited Montana and theirs joined the set that our mother kept on her wall as long as she owned the house. After mother died, we were unsure what to do with the pictures, and they ended up going to our individual homes. We don’t have the portrait hung in our home, but we take it out of storage from time to time to show to our grandchildren, who are a bit puzzled to see what I looked like when I was a kid. It’s hard to imagine someone as old as their grandfather being a six-year-old with missing front teeth.

The portrait sparks memories of that wonderful trip for me. I loved flying with our father, and I used to sit on the wing spar right behind the pilot and copilot seats whenever I could when we traveled in that airplane. I got to sit in the copilot seat on several trips, but on the big trips, our mother sat there. She was a pilot and she assisted with navigation, radio work, and other chores as well as flying the plane by hand or monitoring the simple two axis autopilot with which the plane was equipped. I remember sitting there behind them looking out of the windshield as our plane broke out of the clouds on the instrument approach to Meigs Field in Chicago, We had been flying in the clouds over Lake Michigan and everything beside and behind us was dark when the bright lights of the city appeared right in front of the plane as we descended.

We took other big trips as a family. A couple of years later we flew in that same airplane to San Francisco with a stop in Salt Lake City on the way down. When I was ten we flew non stop to Seattle, landing at the Boeing Field and seeing where the 707 jetliners were made.

When we took big trips as a family, our mother would make up a packet for each child. The packet would be a large manilla envelope closed with a metal tab at the top. We weren’t allowed to open our packet until we had taken off and reached our cruise altitude (usually only 9,000 or 10,000 feet in that airplane in those days). Inside the envelope there would be a package of gum, a roll of life savers, a puzzle book, a pencil and a small plastic pencil sharpener, a small package of six or eight crayons, a few pages of typing paper, and two or three comic books. I loved comic books. We didn’t get them very often. In those days there weren’t any comic books at the library. The only way to get one was to buy one and they usually cost between 15 and 25 cents each. When I had cash, which wasn’t often because I spent my allowance pretty quickly, I would be tempted by comic books, and I might have bought one or two, but usually the lure of candy got the best of me. Three Hershey bars seemed like a lot more wealth than a single comic book until the chocolate was consumed.

I never got into collecting comic books, and I didn’t read them very often. The comics I remember most are ones designed for early readers like Scrooge McDuck or Richie Rich. By the time I might have been interested in Superman or Spiderman comics, I had moved on to reading other things and never really got into those story lines.

Our three-year-old grandson, however, has Team Spidey action figures, and a toy spider car and a spider tower among his toys. the problem that it presented for me is that I even’t watched any of the Spidey videos and I don’t know any of the storylines other than the general sense that these are kids who have super powers who solve crimes. I don’t know if kids drive cars in the videos. I know a little bit about the original Spiderman stories. Peter Parker was a sickly kid before he was bitten by a radioactive spider and got superhuman strength as well as the ability to stick to walls. Our grandson doesn’t know that story line, just that the characters in the videos have adventures. He has no problem realizing that these are not real characters and that they exist only in fictional stories.

I am not entertained by all of these videos populated by cartoon characters and wouldn’t pay attention to them, except that I enjoy listening to and talking with children. And I have learned quite a bit from children. I learned from a ten-year-old that insects can’t get as big as people. Their breathing systems are inefficient and limit their size. Even though they have strong exoskeletons and are strong for their size, their size is limited because they can’t breathe air efficiently. There was a time, millions of years ago, before the dinosaurs, when insects were larger, some as big as the a dog, but that was when there was more oxygen in the atmosphere than there is now.

It never ceases to amaze me how children can carry solid scientific facts in their minds even though they are surrounded by fictional characters and imaginary story lines. Maybe I’d be less amazed if I had read more comic books as a child. However, I doubt it. As it is, I need to have lots of conversations with children just to get my facts straight.

Spring fever

Our official retirement date was the end of June. Because we took a bit of accumulated vacation time at the end of our employment, our last Sunday in the pulpit was in the middle of June. After we retired, it took us quite a while to sort out our possessions and prepare our home to go on the market. We finally completed the sale of our home and made the last trip with our belongings in October. Our second-to-last trip found us snowbound in Montana on the return when an early blizzard dumped loads of snow. That snow melted and the roads were clear as we headed West for the final trip, but we were delayed by heavy snow for a few hours going over the last mountain pass atop the Cascade mountains. We moved into a rental home and didn’t give much thought to gardening for the next year. Other than mowing the lawn and pruning the rose bushes, we didn’t garden much at all in the time we lived in the rental. Another year passed and once again we were moving in October - this time into a home that we have purchased.

As a result of our early summer retirement and autumnal moves, I didn’t invest much energy in spring fever for several years in a row. Last year, I began to get eager about gardening once again, but with our very small yard, we didn’t make many plans. By late spring, I had put a couple of planters on our deck to grow flowers and we had put in a few tomatoes, some peas, a bit of kale and some herbs in another bed on the south side of our home.

We have been in this home for a full year now, and I am ready to be a bit more intentional about gardening again. I’ve got some ideas about how we might expand our flower beds, add some new bedding plants, and grow a few more vegetables. We’re never going to have a big garden at this house. We don’t have enough real estate. Furthermore, we have access to the farm where there can be lots of very large plots. However, I want to grow a few flowers and at least some salad vegetables and herbs in our own yard.

That means that spring fever is setting in very, very early this year. Last week, I built some new raised planter boxes for our dahlias and some bedding plants. I hauled in about 5” of topsoil for the new beds. Today on my “to do” list is hauling fresh compost from the farm compost system to layer with that top soil before adding a layer of planting soil on the top. I plan to use 5 gallon buckets to haul the compost soil. 6 to 10 buckets should do the job.

As I woke to write my journal this morning, however, I thought to myself, “You’ve got a bad case of spring fever!” You think you have to get those new beds finished, but there is no deadline today. It is still January!” It is the truth. The climate is a bit milder here. Depending on the year, mid to late May was the earliest you could plan on frost-free days in South Dakota. Here you can probably get by around the middle of April most years. Thats three months away. There is plenty of time to prepare our new flower beds for planting. I don’t need to have hauling compost as a high priority for today. I could relax and do other chores instead.

It isn’t the first time that I have let spring fever get the best of me. Four decades ago our son was born in the middle of March. We were living in North Dakota. The joy of becoming a new father combined with some mild March weather in North Dakota to set me off. I set out two sets of tomatoes that were frozen before I got our tomatoes going that spring. Not only did I freeze all of the seed sets we were raising inside the house, I froze a half dozen tomato plants that I bought from a nursery. Spring can be fickle. It was that year.

In my own defense, this is a very different place from any other place where we have lived. There is no frost in the ground right now. When we did have frost, it was only 2 or 3 inches deep. I don’t think we’ve had more than 2 or 3 weeks of cold weather all winter so far. There is plenty of rain and the grass is turning green. Some of my neighbors have even mowed their lawns, though I won’t need to do so in January. Even if the grass gets a little long, I have to have some standards. I’m waiting at least until February.

Then again, those dahlia beds will be ready to plant by the end of the month. Out of respect for the weather, forged by decades of poor gardening decisions, and out of my own capacity to recognize the symptoms of spring fever, I have resolved that I will not plant any dahlia tubers until after our son has put some of his into the ground. I won’t need to purchase any tubers this year. We harvested plenty last fall. They are all neatly layered in dry peat moss in the garage waiting until time to plant. It would be easy to jump the gun. I’m not going to do it. They are staying in the garage until our son declares it is time. And he is a very, very busy guy with four children, a farm with animals, and a busy administrative job that comes with a 45-minute commute when the traffic is light. He won’t be rushing into gardening this spring. He’ll be too tired. Then again, they have baby who turns one in early February and you never know what being around a young one can do to lift your spirits.

So, I will take a deep breath and relax. There are no gardening deadlines today. I’ll just see how things go. Still, I think I’ll take the pickup when I run errands this morning - just in case I decide to stop by the farm and shovel a bit of compost into buckets on my way home.

Treaty Day

Living in a new place offers opportunities to learn about the history of that place. There is a lot about the story of western Washington that we did not know. Sometimes we have learned about this place by visiting parks and museums. Sometimes we have learned about this place by talking with those who have lived here longer than we. Sometimes we have learned about this place because our grandchildren attend public schools. Sometimes we just need to do a bit of research.

We knew about the holiday honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We have lived through some of the history related to that holiday. Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, GA. The holiday honoring him and remembering his contributions to American history is marked on the third Monday in January. Although it has been a federal holiday since 1983, the year our son was born, it was only approved as a state holiday in all 50 states in 2000. Nonetheless, our grandchildren had a day off from school in recognition of the holiday a week ago on Monday, January 16.

They are off from school again tomorrow, Monday, January 23. Being a curious sort of person, I wondered what the reason for this break in their schooling was about. I know it isn’t the end of the semester, so there must be some other reason. According to the school district, the schools are taking a day off in observance of Treaty Day. I didn’t know the story of this holiday, so I did a bit of historical research.

On January 22, 1855, the United States of America entered into a solemn agreement with the Lummi Nation. Representatives of these two nations came together in Mukilteo and made promises to one another about how their respective peoples would share the land and resources of this region. This land where we now live had been the traditional homeland of the Lummi people for more than 150 generations. On that day back in 1855, both the Lummi people and the settlers who had come to Washington came together and signed the Point Elliott Treaty and promised to live together in peace forever - for all future generations. We are able to live in this beautiful place because of the treaty signed by the Lummi people and the government of the United States. It was one of 29 treaties with sovereign indigenous nations within what was then Washington territory. Those treaties made it possible for Washington to become a state and for people like us to move to this place.

I grew up on land that was originally guaranteed to the Crow people whose name in their language is Apsáalooke, sometimes spelled Absaroka. The amendment to the treaty that changed the boundaries of Crow land and allowed settlement of the place where I grew up was not formally agreed upon by both sides. Tribal members were forced to move into a smaller and more concentrated reservation after the boundaries were changed. A similar change in boundaries and territories that had been agreed upon in the Treaty of Fort Laramie signed in 1868. That means that the place where we lived when we lived in North Dakota and the home we had in South Dakota for 25 years were both on land that was taken without agreement by both parties. The United States Supreme Court has upheld the Lakota claims for their historic lands guaranteed by the treaty, but the resolution of this injustice has continued to be a point of ongoing controversy and negotiation. The court ordered financial restitution. The tribe has steadfastly refused money and insisted on the return of the land. That means that for the majority of my life, I have lived on land that was seized without the full consent of all parties.

Here in Washington, it is different. The Point Elliott treaty allowed for the settlement of the land where we now live. It also guaranteed hunting and fishing rights to the indigenous tribes. The treaty is legally binding today and has been upheld in federal court. We live on land where the Lummi and other Coast Salish people allowed settlement. In exchange we agree to honor the rights of those people. A day to honor and remember the treaty that established peace between the settlers and the indigenous people seems appropriate.

Today, as every day when we drive to church, we will pass through the Lummi Reservation. We are able to do so in peace. We often stop on the reservation. There is a seafood market run by the tribe where we often purchase food. The tribal gas station usually has the best prices for fuel in the area. Business and trade was one of the reasons the two nations agreed on the treaty in the first place. The fact that we are able to live where we do and to travel freely and do business on Lummi lands is one of the ongoing benefits of the treaty. In a sense we are all people of the treaty.

I am grateful that a school holiday gave me the opportunity to learn a bit about Treaty Day. It is a part of the history of our country and of this particular region that has not been well taught and learned by generations of people. Treaty Day only became a recognized holiday in our local school district two years ago. In observing the day, the school district has forged new partnerships with Lummi tribal leaders to develop lessons that are used to teach students about the meaning of Treaty Day. The students in the district aren’t the only ones who are learning. At least some of their grandparents are also discovering part of our shared history of which we previously were not aware.

We have plans to spend some time with our three oldest grandchildren on Monday. I am going to make sure that I ask them about the holiday we are enjoying. We’ll also make sure to make a stop on Lummi reservation lands as part of our activities for the day if for no other reason that their grandfather needs to keep learning about the story of the place where he now lives.

Friends of all ages

A recent Wall Street Journal article shared some of the findings of an incredible 85-year-old (and counting) study known as the Harvard Study of Adult Development. The study started with an original group of 724 men and now has followed more than 1, 300 of their male and female descendants. It is in its third generation of study subjects, asking thousands of questions and taking hundreds of measurements on what make them happy and healthy. The Journal article highlighted the lifelong power of close relationships, noting that “the people who were most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest, mentally and physically, at age 80.” The Harvard study results line up with other long-term surveys, adding to a large and growing body of data showing a truth that we have known: relationships with other humans are critical to health and well being. Other longitudinal studies looking for common factors for those who lived into their 90s and beyond have discovered the three most common factors are: staying engaged in community, close relationships with others, and belief in a greater power.

We need each other to remain healthy.

The stories brought to mind something that happened to a friend of ours that made the news. Our friend had heard a doctor on television saying, “the best thing you can do for your health is to walk. Get out and walk everyday.” The doctor also said it is better if you walk with someone. It was something that she already knew. She had been walking every day for years. Her walking became even more important when the Pandemic forced the shut-down of so many activities. One day someone started riding her bike around her as she walked. Pretty soon they began to talk. Later she took her bike home and the pair began walking together. They became fast friends. The other person was a ten-year old girl, who told her parents about her new friend. She spoke of this friend day after day and her parents became curious. Was it one of the little girls down the street? They asked how old her new friend was. The ten-year-old surprised her parents by saying, “She’s 92-years-old.” Before long our friend had met and become friends with the girl’s parents. The friendship and practice of walking together outdoors of a 10-year-old and a 92-year-old made the local news.

That was two years ago. Our friend is 94 now. Knowing her, I’m sure she continues to keep contact with the growing girl. Knowing her, I’m sure she is open to new friendships with other people as well.

When I think of the things that give my life meaning and joy, one of the things at the top of my list is forming friendships with children. Fortunately for me, I have a life-long partner who also enjoys spending time with children. Like many other older couples, we get great delight from spending time with our grandchildren. We occasionally provide short-term childcare for our grandchildren. They enjoy coming to our home and playing with the toys we keep for such occasions. We enjoy visiting their home and seeing the projects that interest them. Our soon to be 12-year-old grandson is a hard worker and I enjoy doing projects with him on their farm. Several years ago, when we were visiting during a sabbatical, I was building a fence at their place. I’d get up early in the morning to dig post holes because it was cooler. As soon as I’d start digging, our grandson would pop out of the house to help. He’s still that way. If I have a project and he has the time, we both enjoy working side by side. He is learning to use tools and is getting pretty good with a paint brush.

I will, however, have to make more friends as the years go by. By the time I’m 92, he’ll be in his thirties. Perhaps I’ll be lucky and be a great grandfather by then.

Forging healthy relationships with people who are different ages is one of the great benefits of participation in the life of a church. We get to know the children of the church and their parents because the church has many intergenerational activities. For us, we have the added benefit of working as faith formation ministers and having responsibility for planning and leading programs for people of all ages including children.

How else would I have found out what Brennon’s third favorite dinosaur is? For the record it is not one of the dinosaurs named by archeologists, but rather an imaginary creature. He drew me a picture so I could see what he was talking about.

Of course we have to be honest and careful about the history of the church where children were not always honored. There is an awful history of abuse of children that has taken place in the church. Knowing that history has helped the congregations with whom we work to forge intentional and careful policies and procedures to protect the safety of all persons. Our background screening and safe child policies are critical to providing a place where people of all ages can form significant relationships while still assuring the safety of everyone.

I have gone through periods of worrying about family members and friends who have isolated themselves from children. Seniors often find themselves living in places where there are no children. The pandemic intensified this isolation. Many facilities were locked down and residents were not allowed visitors. I wonder about how we traded the health benefits of relationships with others for the isolation required for infection control. Certainly the lock downs were only marginally successful at controlling the pandemic. Those in institutions still became sick.

Fortunately for our friend and for us, we are still healthy enough to walk. We get outside and explore our neighborhood every day. Like our friend, I hope we continue to be on the lookout for new friends. Doing so can be a lifesaving exercise.


Erik Erikson’s landmark work, “Childhood and Society” outlined eight stages of psychosocial development. Developmental theory is one of many perspectives on how humans learn and grow, but an understanding of developmental theory is essential to understanding the process of teaching and learning. Among the breakthroughs of Erikson’s theories is the assertion that development continues throughout all of the life span. Development is not just something that infants and children experience. There are active developmental tasks for people of all ages. In Erikson’s theory, the critical developmental task for people my age is “Integrity vs. Despair. During late adulthood, the pace of life slows down and people look back on their lives to assess what they’ve achieved. People often alternate between feelings of satisfaction and regret.

It is, fundamentally, a process of sorting. Much of what is being sorted are memories. In our case, and the lives of many of our friends, this emotional and memory sorting is accompanied by physical sorting. In preparation for a long-distance move, we sorted through our possessions and got rid of some of the things we had accumulated. Then, a year later, we downsized once again when we moved from our rental home to the smaller home that we purchased. We still have a few things in storage at our son’s farm that need to be sorted. We own too many possessions to fit into our present home and we know that we will need to downsize even more in years to come. We are extremely fortunate to have free storage space to assist with this process. Many seniors are paying rent on storage units while they sort out the accumulation of their lifetimes.

At the same time as we are sorting in our private lives, there is a large sorting component present at our work. The church we are serving has a large building with a lot of classrooms and ample storage areas. As a result, they accumulated a lot of things over the years. When the congregation welcomed another congregation to share our space, room had to be made for their offices. This prompted a huge process of sorting one of the major church school storage areas in the church. In one of the closets we found that they had stored previously-used curricula dating back more than 50 years. I hauled a pickup load of paper to a recycling facility. Moving out of that area resulted in dozens of boxes of additional items that needed to be sorted. Books were evaluated and sorted into piles of ones we can continue to use, ones that should be archived for historical value, and ones to be discarded. We are still delivering boxes of books to a local library’s book sale on a fairly regular basis.

We’ve found a lot of other items that need to be discarded. We found a stash of snacks and supplies for holiday baking that were well past their safe use dates. We found toys that no longer meet current safety standards. We have piles and piles of pictures and teaching posters, some of which might still be useful, others of which represent antiquated methods of teaching and learning.

When we are done sorting all of the things from that area, we have more class rooms, more cupboards, and more closets to sort.

There is, of course, a problem inherent with hiring someone to do sorting. As newcomers to our church, we sometimes don’t know the history and which items are connected to important stories of the church’s life. We often don’t recognize the emotional attachment a long-time church member might have to a particular item.

I should have noted at the beginning that all of this sorting involves a lot of emotions. When we are sorting our personal items, we have emotional attachments that come from receiving an item as a gift, or associating an item with a particular stage of our life. Our grandchildren regularly play with toys that we kept from our children’s growing up years. We are not sorry that we have kept them. Similarly, there are a lot of emotions in a church. We have families that are in their fourth and fifth generation of participation in the church. What appears to be a worn out Christmas pageant costume for us might spark a deeply meaningful memory for someone else. The church, by hiring us to do some of this sorting, risks having something precious recycled or thrown away.

Recently the Federal Aviation Administration was forced to ground more than 11,000 flights on January 11th due to the temporary shut down of the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) database. The problem as essentially one of people hired to clean out and sort throwing away some necessary items. What happened is that computer professionals were hired to do some synchronization between the data base’s current operating and backup files. The database of notices had become so large that it was unwieldy. A pilot does not need to know that there was turbulence on their route 25 years ago in order to make responsible decisions about flight plans. That same pilot does need to know what was going 25 minutes ago and 25 hours ago. Sorting the information into a form that gives the needed information is critical to the system. Some data that seems to be no longer relevant needs to be retained so that accident investigators can access what happened before an accident or incident. What caused the computers to shut down was the deletion of critical files from the backup data base. The experts hired to sort threw out files that were still needed.

The files were recovered and the NOTAM database is up and running once again. An investigation has been launched into the incident and how to avoid a similar incident in the future. Planes are once again flying after a day of confusion.

I worry that some of the decisions we are making about discarding items may not be as easily repaired. We might throw away something that is valuable to someone. I’m sure it is happening in the church we served for 25 years. A new pastor probably doesn’t know that some of the shepherd’s robes were made from the old curtains in Nancy Humke’s house. They might not even know the story of who Nancy Humke was. Memories fade. The past is lost.

I just hope that we aren’t throwing away too much of the past. Some things are worth keeping. I know. I’ve moved some of the same toys to four different homes since our children played with them, and I still can’t bear to part with them.

When to move on

Sometimes I wonder how we get to certain topics in conversation. We’ll be going through the course of our lives and all of a sudden we will be conversing about a topic that seems to have nothing to do with what is going on in our household. It is one of the fascinations of free and open conversation. Our minds wander. Put two or more minds together and the range of wandering is even wider than for an individual. When we go for a walk, we just talk about what comes to our minds. We might talk about current events, politics, individuals we have known, family history, household purchases, the weather, the position of the stars and planets, the distance between various landmarks that we can see, breeds of ducks, brands of automobiles, how to repair an appliance, school policies past and present, medical appointments, menus for meals, and a dozen more topics in a 30 to 45 minute walk. When we take a longer walk, we talk about even more topics.

Last evening, after I finished leading a small group over Zoom we went from volunteering at school to the public acceptance of politicians who lie in a 5-minute conversation. I remember that I said, “Running for political office is something that I can never see myself doing. I appreciate that some people want to be involved in politics, but I’m not that someone.” It is a sentiment that I have expressed several times. If you were to press me, however, I would have to agree that there are politics in the church and that learning to understand power dynamics and relationships is essential to serving in a church.

One of the dynamics of the church, however, is that the politics are often turned upside down. Winning a battle in the church often doesn’t make one a winner. Jesus noted that the one who wants to be first must become servant of all. He also said, whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will surely find it. There really is no career ladder to climb in the vocation of serving the church, or if there is, it is very short. Personally, leaving a job as senior minister with responsibilities for managing a congregation and becoming a part-time minister of faith formation has felt like a promotion in many ways. I spend more time doing the things I love best and less time dealing with tasks that I don’t enjoy. I’m perfectly happy to have someone else in charge. I’m not losing sleep over the church budget as the annual meeting approaches. Actually, when I was a church janitor during my student years, I enjoyed that job quite a bit. I don’t think I’d mind doing it again.

When it comes to national politics, however, it seems like people who become life-long politicians become increasingly corrupted by their alliances and commitments and behind the scenes arm twisting. Part of our conversation last night was the observation that “all politicians lie.” Of course such a bold generalization isn’t factually true, but certainly a lot of politicians become practiced liars. Sometimes a political figure arises who is particularly corrupt. I don’t know much about George Santos, but he has been accused of lying about everything from his resume to his religion. There was an article on BBC recently where a veteran was interviewed about his accusation that Santos had stollen money from a Go Fund Me campaign that sought donations to provide surgery for the man’s dog. You’ve got to be scraping close to the bottom of the barrel to elect a representative that steals from a dog. If the charges are true, some of the voters might think they made a mistake with their ballot.

I simply am not willing to do what it takes to get elected to national office. I don’t want to subject my family to abuse. I don’t want to have to attack other candidates. I don’t want to make behind the scenes deals with donors. I don’t want the job.

There are a few politicians, however, who have gained my admiration. Jacinda Arden, prime minister of New Zealand is one of them. Her compassion and caring in handling the Covid-19 pandemic was a model for leaders everywhere. Under her leadership, her country faced a recession, shootings in a mosque, and the eruption of a volcano. She was the youngest female head of government when she was elected in 2017. She is the second world leader ever to have given birth while serving as head of state. And now, in what I believe is another brilliant example of leadership, she announced yesterday that she will resign as Prime Minister. “We need a fresh set of shoulders for [the next] challenge.” It is rare indeed for a world leader to admit that they aren’t the only one for the job. It is rare for one to step aside to allow new leadership to emerge. "I hope I leave New Zealanders with a belief that you can be kind, but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused. And that you can be your own kind of leader - one who knows when it's time to go," she said.

I believe that this world could use a few more leaders like that.

One of the questions I ask myself about my career is whether or not I stayed too long as pastor in Rapid City. Did I make the transition following my time of service more difficult by staying too long? Would it have been better for the church if I had moved on sooner? Of course there is no clear answer to those questions. The relationship between a pastor an a congregation is always a relationship. I wasn’t the only one making decisions about how long to stay and when to move on. We did what we thought was right at the time.

I’m sure that Jacinda Arden has private doubts and questions her decisions in private, but publicly she seems to have made a lot of correct decisions. Other world leaders would do well to pay attention and learn from the lessons she is teaching.


My mother took a vow to never drink alcohol when she was a teenager. I think the vow was part of a program of Christian Endeavor, which was a youth organization. Whatever the origin of the vow, she took it seriously. Other than a sip of some alcoholic lemonade that she had one time, believing that it was an alcohol-free beverage, we don’t think that she ever took a drink of alcohol. Our father was similarly sober. He had witnessed aircraft accidents in which he believed alcohol was a factor and taught his students that a strict 12-hour “bottle to throttle” rule applied to pilots. Since he wanted to fly multiple times in a day, he decided to live without alcohol. Being married to our mother was also a big influence for him, I’m sure. Neither of our parents smoked, either. We grew up knowing several stories of tragedies that occurred because of addiction to tobacco and alcohol.

Our parents would sometimes refer to their cigarette and drink fund. In their early marriage they set aside the amount of money they estimated others spent on cigarettes and alcohol as a savings for travel. I think the practice of having a separate account for these funds had faded over the years, but they frequently would refer to their trips as having been funded by the fact that they did not smoke or drink. It became a bit of a joke that some years they took several large trips and justified their travel by saying that others would go on binges or engage in criminal behavior while drinking resulting in expenses that exceeded what our parents spent on travel. As adults we knew that they had good friends who were social drinkers and as far as I know the fact that they did not drink wasn’t a factor in their friendships with others.

At least three of my sisters and brothers went through periods of their lives when they smoked regularly and all of us will have a drink of alcohol from time to time.

When we were in our first call to the ministry in rural North Dakota, the State of North Dakota was the only vendor of alcohol. Bars and taverns purchased their alcohol for sale by the drink from the state. Private persons purchased alcohol at state liquor stores. Every small town had a state store. In our town, the store was right across the street from the radio station where I worked. I had a clear view from the window of the station of everyone who came and went from the store. Usually, however, my radio shifts were in the early morning before the store opened. It was, however, an unwritten expectation that ministers did not go into that store. It was also well-known that we enjoyed a glass of wine or beer from time to time and we were offered drinks when we visited the homes of congregational members.

In those days, Assumption Abbey in Richardton, North Dakota, had a special arrangement with the State of North Dakota that allowed them to sell wine with their own label. The brothers of the monastery did not make wine themselves, but they purchased California wine in bulk and bottled it with their own private label. Benedictine monks have sold wine for over 1500 years and I developed a friendship with Father Robert, who had served as Abbot before “retiring” to become the abbey’s wine expert and run the retail wine shop. He used to joke with me about my purchases being “strictly for liturgical purposes,” knowing that our congregation used non-alcoholic juice for the sacrament of communion. “Stopping to visit with Father Robert” became a euphemism for purchasing wine among our clergy colleagues.

I never was, however, a heavy drinker. A glass or two of wine with dinner was an occasional experience and not a daily habit. I have had lots of friends who drink more than I without any negative affects of which I am aware. Of course, I have also seen people for whom addiction became a problem and I have been involved in interventions to help people get treatment for alcoholism. I’ve witnessed plenty of folks for whom drinking too much resulted in big problems. After a bout with atrial fibrillation and learning that alcohol could be a trigger for irregular hearth rhythms, Susan stopped drinking alcohol completely and I drink a bit less now as a result. Still, I’m not the teetotaler my parents were.

Two recent news stories that mentioned alcohol consumption caught my attention recently. A recent report, funded by Health Canada, states that the official government-backed advice for Canadians is to consume no more than two drinks per week. This is a reduction from the previous guidelines allowing for ten drinks a week for women and 15 drinks for men. The main message of the new guidelines is that any alcohol consumption is not good for your health. If you drink, less is better.

The very next article I read after reading about the new Canadian health advice on alcohol was an article about the death of the world’s oldest person, French nun Sister André, who lived to the age of 114. According the the article, she never claimed to know the secret of longevity, preferring to answer questions about why she lived so long by saying, “Only the good Lord knows.” She did note, however, that while she was looking forward to heaven, she enjoyed earthly pleasures, including eating chocolate and drinking a glass of wine every day. Of course she lived in France, not Canada, but I think that the new Canadian guidelines would not have benefitted her. If she really had a drink of wine every day, she would have been under the old limit, but above the new one. Her alcohol consumption, however, didn’t seem to cause her any visible health consequences. 114 years is a long life by any standard.

As for me, I’m not going to worry if I have a couple of glasses of wine at dinner one night and then do it again another day. I’m fully in compliance with the new Canadian guidelines if you average it over a month. My genetic heritage doesn’t make it seem likely that I will live to 114 years, but I’m in good health right now and when I visit North Dakota, I’m not ruling out a visit with the good brothers at Assumption Abbey.

The Library

My freshman work study job in college was at the college library. It worked out very well for me. After my initial training, I signed up for the first shift in the morning. I’ve been a morning person all of my life. The library opened at 7 am. I could report for work at 6:30, check in and shelve the books from the night depository, turn on all the lights and unlock the doors and usually have a half hour or more of sitting at the front desk before any other students entered the library. I had access to all of the reserve book reading assigned by my professors, and I learned my way around the library, which saved time when I had research papers to write.

The head librarian of our college library was a traditional librarian. Take every stereotype you know about librarians and mix them into a single person: half glasses on a chain around the neck, a very serious and quiet demeanor, a suspicion of every library patron. This librarian checked every box. She also was a very fair boss. Furthermore, she was completely unflappable. Nothing got her upset. Another work study student was careless with a paper cutter and sliced the side of his thumb. She calmly wrapped the injured finger with gauze, sent the student to the student health office and cleaned up the blood. When the same student made the same mistake and cut the same thumb a second time, I nearly threw up. Our librarian, repeated her performance and then posted a sign banning students from operating the paper cutter. Fortunately, neither cut left any permanent injury.

We tried to get a reaction out of her once. We filled an entire drawer of the card catalogue with random dummy cards, removed the rod as if we were filing new cards then pretended to be startled when she walked by, pulled out the drawer sending all of the cards to the floor. She was unfazed. She calmly said, “Look carefully before you move anything, the majority of the cards will still be in the right order.” Then she continued walking out of the catalogue area.

I did, however, work at the library long enough to see her get upset a single time. Someone had filled the popcorn maker in the break room and left it going without putting the lid on it. As the corn popped, pieces flew out of the top of the maker. I didn’t know what was going on, but saw the librarian open the door and stand in the doorway, saying “Oh! Oh! Oh!” She didn’t yell, she might not have even raised her voice, but she seemed to be frozen with surprise and just kept saying, “Oh! Oh! Oh!” as popcorn continued to fly. When I figured out what was going on, I slipped past her and put the lid on the popcorn maker. She said, “Oh, my!” and left me to clean up the popcorn from the floor.

She had a reputation of being a very strict boss, with little tolerance for students who arrived late for work. This was never a problem for me and I remember her and the time I worked at the library fondly.

I took my love of the library to Chicago when I went to graduate school, where I had access to our seminary’s modest library, the University of Chicago Divinity School Library, and the giant Joseph Regenstein Library with its five stories of collections and two levels of basement archives. With over half a million square feet the library is one of the largest buildings on the University of Chicago Campus and is divided into sections with different collections occupying different areas of the building.

Little did I know back then that one day I would grow up to be the father of a librarian. There were a lot of things I didn’t know in those days. It was impossible for me to imagine the impact that computers and the Internet would have on education. It was impossible for me to imagine how much libraries would change to respond to community needs, becoming community service centers providing Internet access for those experiencing homelessness and offering a range of maker spaces and other services not directly related to books.

Recently I learned an interesting fact about the community library of which our son is the director. The library does not have enough shelves to store all the books it owns. We like to think of libraries as places with huge collections of books and the image of banks of shelves comes to mind. But the library is much more than an archive. It is primarily a system for circulating books. The goal of the library is not to have a lot of books in the building, but rather to have a lot of books circulating in the community. A well-planned and well-run library focuses on how to get its collection out of the building and into the hands of its patrons. When the Covid pandemic forced the temporary closure of public libraries, the buildings began to fill up with books as they came due and were returned. They didn’t have space to store them all, and soon were developing systems of curbside delivery and other ways to get books back into circulation.

As a dad who loves libraries and who naturally is proud of his son, I am thrilled with the new Mount Vernon Library Commons project. It is truly an innovative way to think of what a library can be and it is really happening. With construction continuing and an expected completion date around the end of this year, the project promises to provide a true hub for the community and region. Its innovative conception and design is a model for other libraries. Here is a link to additional information.

I wonder what my old college librarian would think of this project. I suspect her reaction wouldn’t be all that dramatic, but I bet it would at least elicit an “Oh! Oh! Oh!” from her.

Morning light

I have a lovely Harris Tweed jacket that I bought when we were in England visiting our daughter, who lived there for a couple of years. It is an especially warm sport coat that is enough jacket for extended periods of time outdoors during the spring and fall - and often during the winter in our Washington home. Some days, when going for a walk, if I’m going somewhere that will not result in my getting dirty, I wear the jacket. If I wear a stocking cap and a pair of gloves, I know I’ll be toasty warm in that jacket.

The jacket was an extravagance in the midst of an extravagance. The trip to England pressed our ability to pay and then I topped it by purchasing something else for myself. Now, years later, I don’t regret the purchase. I certainly don’t regret the trip. I am completely convinced that when one divides expenses between “needs” and “wants,” visiting children falls into the “needs” category. When I’ve gone too long without seeing one of our children or grandchildren, my longing grows so intense that being with that loved one becomes as important as food. I have no idea how families endure permanent separations. Fortunately, I have not had to learn that lesson.

The jacket wasn’t the most expensive clothing purchase I made on that trip. We bought our daughter’s wedding dress while we were visiting her in England. That dress traveled back to South Dakota with her for her wedding. It moved to Missouri with her after the wedding. Then it came back to our home when she and her husband moved to Japan. It moved to Washington with us and then, we took it to South Carolina when we drove down to visit them after they moved there. The dress was worn for a single occasion, but it is very well traveled.

There were other wonderful adventures that were a part of that trip to England. I got to punt on the Cam when we visited Cambridge. The technique is to push the punt using a long pole that reaches the bottom. It takes a bit of practice to handle the pole without being a bit awkward. I didn’t get good at it, but I did succeed in getting the punt to propel us on the famous river of scholars.

I also remember a very gray day when we drove around the area in a rental car. The sea was wild and the day was short.

We had driven to Olympia, Washington, to visit our son and had flown from Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia to board our flight to England. The return trip took the same route in reverse. I remember looking at the map in the airline and realizing that England was farther north than Vancouver. It is something that I remember in the short days of winter here. We notice the shorter days, but they aren’t as short as the winter days were for our daughter when she lived in England.

Scotland, where Robert Louis Stevenson lived, is even farther north, with even shorter days in the winter. He wrote:

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,  
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;  
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,  
A blood-red orange, sets again.  

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;  
And shivering in my nakedness,  
By the cold candle, bathe and dress. 

The length of the day and the amount of sunlight we experience has a dramatic effect on our well being. And the experience of dawn is a critical element in establishing our circadian rhythm. Light in the blue spectrum is strongest at dawn and that light is received by specialized cells within our eyes that receive this light and sends signals to our body clock to tell us what time it is. These specialized ganglion cells have nothing to do with vision. People who are blind also can sense the light of dawn and their body rhythm is set and refreshed by the light. People who live closer to the poles adjust their sleep and waking patterns in response to the rhythm of daylight, sleeping more in the winter and less in the summer without being consciously aware of the effects of the change in the amount of sleep.

However, modern urban people have altered patterns arising from the extensive use of artificial light. When it gets dark, we flip a switch and stay up into the night. Furthermore, we tend to be slow to go outside in the morning, which has a big effect on the amount of that special dawn light that we receive. Studies have shown that simply going outside at dawn results in receiving four or five times as much of this rhythm-setting light as receiving it through window glass.

As a result, we live artificial lives, our circadian clocks not receiving the necessary information to regulate our sleep. We stay up late into the darkness and we tend to stay indoors too much. The World Health Organization is aware of this so much that it recommends that prisoners be allowed to be outdoors a minimum of one hour every day. Keeping them inside all day long is considered to be cruel punishment.

Robert Lewis Stevenson was not a healthy man. He died in his mid-forties after suffering a chronic lung ailment for most of his life. He did, however, seem to understand the value of going outside, even in the midst of the winter.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap  
Me in my comforter and cap;  
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.  

Black are my steps on silver sod;  
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;  
And tree and house, and hill and lake,  
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

A study conducted at the Broadmoor Institute showed that the equivalent of 20 minutes of bright sunshine in the morning was more dramatic in elevating the mood of patients than anti-depressants. When our skin is exposed to sunlight, it starts making vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential to strong bones and a healthy immune system.

So the medial advice is to go outside when you see the sun. And those of us who live in norther places need to be especially careful to do so in the winter months. Spring will come. The days are getting longer. Now is the time to get outside and enjoy it.

Still adjusting

This is our third winter in northwest Washington. Sometimes, i think I have adjusted to the change, then I realize that there are things about the place where I live that are really different from other places where I have lived.

Last week, we took a walk in the rain. If you want to walk every day, and we do, you have to be willing to walk in the rain around here. Some days it simply is raining. We have invested in good rain gear and it isn’t anywhere near as difficult to walk in the rain as it was for us to walk in below-zero weather when we lived in South Dakota. I remember days when we lived in South Dakota that our walk consisted of parking a mile from a cafe, walking to the cafe, taking a break to eat and warm up, then walking back to the car. We planned our walk so that we would walk into the wind going to the cafe - the lure of warm beverages and food being incentive. The walk back to the car, downwind, was easier.

Walking in the rain, however, isn’t what got me to thinking about the differences between where I now live and where i used to live. At least it wasn’t the walking. What got my attention is that one of my neighbors was outside washing the windows of their house while it was raining. I sometimes think that natives in this area don’t notice that it is raining when it is raining. I have no conscious memory of ever washing windows in the rain. I think of it as an activity for a bright, sunny day.

We have had several bright sunny days. it didn’t rain every day last week. We walked in the sunshine at least twice. Yesterday it was over 50 degrees and sunny when we took our walk. It was delightful and everything felt like spring. It is, of course, January. When we had some warm, sunny days in January when we lived in South Dakota, we were wise enough not to get our hopes up. We knew more snow was still coming. February can be the coldest month. Spring blizzards continue into May. Here, however, it is different. When we got home after our walk, I noticed that I’m going to have to cut the grass in my lawn soon. Mowing the lawn in January would be a definite reminder that we don’t live in South Dakota any more.

We don’t have to worry about mowing at the farm, yet. In fact, I was walking around the farm yesterday and I’m quite sure that it would be really, really easy to get the lawn mower really, really stuck. I know from personal experience not to drive off of the compacted driveways at the farm when the ground has this much moisture. I could bury our pickup truck deep enough to require a tractor to get it out in minutes. I’ve only gotten stuck at the farm once, but that time I was close enough to a concrete pad in front of the barn that the neighbor was able to keep his pickup on the pad when he pulled me out.

Mud and getting stuck are dangers in a lot of places. When we lived in North Dakota tractors stuck in the field were a spectator sport. When news of a stuck tractor made it to the cafe in town, folks drove out to see the process of recovery. I’m not sure that the mud is any worse here than it is in a lot of other places I know. But in most of those places, the ground is frozen for all of January and you don’t have to worry about it. Here, you have to be vigilant.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I own two pairs of muck boots. It is a luxury that occurred by accident. I bought one pair. The other came to me when we cleaned out a family summer place last year. One pair has been living in my pickup. You never know when you’re going to need them around here.

I keep thinking that I should cook dinner on the barbecue one of these days, then around 4 pm, when I might start to think of putting things out, dusk starts to creep in and I lose my enthusiasm for cooking outdoors when it is so dark. A little patience is in order. The days are getting longer. I’ll be cooking outdoors soon.

I have made moves that were at least as challenging as this one in my life. Moving to Chicago was a real big deal when I was 21 years old. I had never lived in a big city. I was amazed at all of the locks. I had no trouble remembering to lock my car, but occasionally forgot to remove my keys, which taught me to be fairly competent at opening locked car doors, a reminder that the locks weren’t very effective in the first place. We had a tiny apartment in a building that had a tiny lawn shared by all of the families in the apartment building. I don’t know if I would have been able to maintain my sanity were Chicago not located on Lake Michigan. At least I could walk down to the lake and see something a little wild if I turned my back on the city. But I adjusted to Chicago living. We only lived in Chicago for four years. By the time I had lived in Chicago for as long as we have lived here, I was confidently making a 25-mile commute out to the suburbs to the church where I was working.

Perhaps adapting to change takes more time when you get older. I’m not surprised that I miss the people of South Dakota. We lived there a long time and we have good friends there. I am, however, a bit surprised that I’m still learning to make this place feel like home. Some days I think I’m making the adjustment. Then another day comes and my neighbor is washing windows or mowing grass in the rain and I think, “this is a strange place.”

We used to say it takes three generations to become a native in small town North Dakota. Maybe I need to just give it some time.

This was not written by artificial intelligence

When I was a student, the general thought was that advances in technology were driven by problems that needed to be solved. President John F. Kennedy delivered a famous speech to Congress in which he set the goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth” within a decade. Initially, that goal was not accepted by everyone. Shortly after the speech, 58% of Americans were opposed to the goal according to polls taken at the time. However, the goal was achieved, and the achievement of that goal colored my elementary and high school experience. Achieving that lofty goal was a process of solving a lot of problems, big and small.

I once had the honor of delivering the eulogy at the funeral of a NASA engineer who had headed up a team of engineers that built systems for handling liquid oxygen required for the rockets of NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. According to the man’s children, one of his favorite phrases was, “Well, actually, it is rocket science, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible.”

The space program gave us a host of consumer products that we use daily. Some of those products solve problems that come up frequently but for which we had not yet imagined solutions. Velcro and WD40 are two products that are immensely useful that are spin offs of the space program. There are lots of other products that we now take for granted that have their roots in scientists and engineers solving specific problems involved in human space travel.

Sometimes, however, products appear that solve problems that we don’t know that we have. I used to make a comment in that regard about electric windows in cars. “Why do I need electric windows? Turning a crank to lower or raise a widow is a perfectly elegant way to accomplish the task. Having a motor and a mechanism just adds to the complexity and expense of the car. We pay more and gain nothing.” My protests, however, accomplished nothing. Electric windows are here to stay. the last car we owned with manual windows was a 1982 Ford Escort. Ever since, we have driven cars with electric actuators that raise and lower the windows. The devices are reliable and use a small amount of energy and are universally accepted. I still believe that our cars are filled with all kinds of unnecessary technology, but my opinion has no effect on automotive designers.

There are lots of things about computer software that seem to be seeking to solve problems that don’t exist. I am a big fan of computers and I use mine extensively. But some features that come with software updates seem to me to be unnecessarily complex. Initially I resisted spell check programs. The early versions were clumsy and often inaccurate. I used to be so frustrated with the spell check program that couldn’t distinguish between “here” and “hear,” and made mistakes with “to” and “too.” The programs have improved and I’ve learned to use them. The same is true with grammar checkers. Initially, I didn’t want them at all, but I have learned to use a grammar checker to improve my writing.

However, technicians and creators have come up with software that seems to “solve” problems that I don’t think are problems at all. I have several friends who are university professors who are very concerned about the emergence of ChatGPT. About a year ago a free online chatbot appeared that can expertly write almost anything, from English essays to news articles. It can write computer code. All the user has to do is to input a simple prompt. Essentially, the task of writing an essay, for example, is to come up with a good topic sentence. A news article can be written from a headline. The program is enormously popular. Some US universities have had to block it from their servers because of the large amount of students who use to to cheat on their assignments.

It raises the question about artificial intelligence displacing writers and other creative thinkers. Newspapers are already cutting corners by using computers as editors. Is the future one where the news we read is generated without human input? The program’s capacity to write computer code has already been used to create harmful malware.

Reminiscent of the old days when developers were selling radar detectors to consumers and then selling more sophisticated radar to law enforcement in a kind of technology race, creative thinkers are already coming up with artificial intelligence to detect the use of ChatGPT. Edward Tian, a senior at Princeton University has developed an application called GPTZero that has been proven to be highly successful in detecting the difference between text written by a human and that generated by artificial intelligence. The program, now available in a beta version for public use, continues to be refined, but it uses two variables in a text - perplexity and bustiness - and assigns each of those variables a score. AI generated text has little variation in its level of complexity and uses sentences and paragraphs that are very similar in length.

Human generated text rarely is as consistent.

Mr. Tian’s program has been used on easy tasks, such as distinguishing between a BBC article written by human journalists and one written by ChatGPT using the same headline. The program was very accurate with a less than 2% false positive rate. The program has been wildly popular. It has been used by thousands of people and teachers and university admissions officers from around the world have contacted Tian for additional information about how the program works.

The problem that Tian set out to address, academic plagiarism, is a real problem. And it is easy to imagine how the program, or variants of it, could be used to address other real problems, such as detecting computer malware and online disinformation campaigns.

Like electric windows in cars, artificial intelligence is here to stay. Like it or not, we need to learn to live with it. In the meantime, however, I have no use for ChatGPT and have not used it. I continue to write my journal entries the old-fashioned way. Well, mostly - I do use spell check.

Choir concert


I went to a middle school choir concert last night. It is one of the gifts of having been able to move close to where our grandchildren live. I’ve made it through life long enough to be one of those grandparents that you always see at school programs and concerts. What hair I have left is pretty much all white and my white beard distinguishes me as an elder in crowds. I don’t mind being identified as a grandpa. I rather enjoy the distinction.

I enjoyed the concert. The 6th grade choir sang selections from The Wizard of Oz. Those songs have been around for a long time. The movie was released in 1939, before the birth of the teacher and before the birth of most of the grandparents in the audience. Prior to preparing for the concert, those songs were far more familiar to folks my age than they were to the young people performing on that middle school stage. The teacher had choreographed fun hand movements and gestures for the choir, which added to the fun of their performance.

After the sixth grade choir performed their numbers, the combined seventh and eighth grade choirs sang. Their program was more varied than that of the sixth graders, including a couple of solos, a duet from Phantom of the Opera, and a six voice girls’ chorus.

Sitting in the audience watching the performances reminded me of my years of singing in choir. I don’t remember that singing in the children’s choir at our church was an optional activity. I don’t think I was ever asked whether or not I wanted to be part of that group. It was simply something that all of the Sunday school kids did. I liked singing songs and I memorized the lyrics pretty easily. Choir at school was a different experience for me. I can distinctly remember not liking choir in the sixth grade and in the seventh and eighth grades, when choir was optional, I did not sing with the group. I returned to singing in the choir in the ninth grade, which was freshman year in high school for our school system.

My experience was pretty typical. And it appears, that is pretty much the case today as well.

Somewhere around 11 years of age, about the time of sixth grade, a boy’s voice begins to change. This usually occurs after a pretty big growth spurt, and it doesn’t occur all at once. The timing is different for every individual and some boys’ voices change more quickly than others. Mine took quite a while to make the change to my adult pitch. On the way, my voice cracked at unexpected times, usually when I was raising my voice or pushing to reach a particularly high or low note. An unpredictable voice can make one shy about singing in public. In my case, my voice settled down pretty much by the time I was 14 and in the ninth grade. I have a tenor voice and never developed the full rich bass pitches to which i once aspired.

In last night’s concert, the entire sixth grade choir sang in the upper register. Every number was sung in unison. That doesn’t mean that none of the boys in the ensemble were going through the change of voice. It meant that those whose voices are deepening were afraid to sing out loud enough for the audience to hear them. Sitting where I was, it sounded like there were only high treble voices in the choir. The choir sang well. I’m sure the teacher is well trained in changing voices. I’m pretty sure that singing an octave lower was allowed. But we couldn’t hear those voices in the audience.

Then, as the sixth-graders marched off of the risers and the seventh- and eighth-graders took their places, it was obvious that this ensemble had only one male. While about a third of the sixth-grade choir was male, the percentage dropped dramatically in the older ensemble. Welcome to changing and unpredictable voices. I opted out of choir at that phase of my life, too. The one male who did participate in the choir sang beautifully in the lower register. He sang a solo and sang in a duet. His voice was clear, though very soft on the lowest notes of the duet. Phantom of the Opera is pretty challenging music with a very wide range. I know I can’t reach all the notes of that song. When the choir sang, his voice was strong enough to be heard alongside all of the treble voices.

Out of the entire middle school, only one seventh- or eighth- grade boy went out for choir. I don’t know the statistics, but I’m guessing that is pretty typical for middle school choirs.

Years ago, when I was active in producing an annual summer music, arts, dance and drama camp, we had professional musicians screen each participant to check their vocal range. Students were allowed to sing inside of their natural range, even if it changed during the week. The composer and arranger with whom we worked was careful to arrange music in a rather narrow range to make it singable by those with changing voices. And there were a few weeks when music was changed and rearranged during the week to adapt to the voices of the campers we had. The average middle school music teacher doesn’t have the luxury of a staff of musicians. That person is usually working alone and is responsible for a whole classroom of students at the same time. Getting students to match pitches at all and soliciting ensemble sound from the group is a challenge. I think the sixth grade choir has been working on their 15-minute set since school started in the fall. Four months of singing the same songs over and over would try the patience of anyone. Kudos to the choir director.

Our youngest grandson is only 11 months old. That gives me roughly 13 more years of middle school choir concerts. On the other hand, with some luck, I’ll be attending high school choir concerts within a couple more years. At least I hope our grandson will either stick it out or come back to choir when his voice settles down. In the meantime, the middle school choir director has my sympathy and my support.

Baking bread

My parents started out with a small house. At the time it made sense. Then the children came. First two adopted daughters, then another born to them, followed by two boys and finally two more were adopted. As the family grew, so did the house. The crawl space was dug out and concrete poured to make a basement. One side of the roof was raised to turn the attic space into a second story. The ground floor bathroom was remodeled and a cantilever floor installed to expand it by two feet out the side of the building. An addition with a shed roof was added that included a family room, a laundry room, and a new back door. With that job, the kitchen was remodeled, including all new cabinets and countertops. Those cabinets were custom made by a local carpenter to a design drawn up by my parents on sheets of scrap paper while sitting at our kitchen table. That same year, I made a display of each type of wood used in the construction process for the science fair at our school. The display identified each type of wood, told where the wood was originally grown and how it was finished. The cabinet faces and doors were made of philippine mahogany, a loose term that applies to a number of wood species coming from southeast Asia. It is not “true” mahogany, but rather wood that is known by its common name Meranti. Within that group there are several different colors and densities of wood. Our cabinets were made of the wood called dark red meranti, which, of course is much more information than you need.

Interestingly, the design of the cabinets in the kitchen produced a U shaped area of counters with the narrow center section counter tops only 30 inches from the floor while the other counters were the standard 36 inch height. That section of 30 inch counter was specified by our mother for her dream kitchen so that she had a low counter upon which she could knead bread. She was not a tall woman and she needed to be able to put her shoulders into the hard work of mixing the final flour into the dough. Her old sunbeam mixer simply wasn’t big enough to handle the job. She mixed the bread dough by hand in a large stainless steel bowl. Two cakes of yeast proofed in warm water with a bit of sugar, 1/2 cup of lard, two eggs, a cup of sugar, two teaspoons of salt, 5 cups of water and 16 cups of flour. The flour was freshly ground in a home grinder from hard red winter wheat grown on my uncle’s farm and transported to our house in 30-gallon galvanized garbage cans.

Six loaves of bread every week. I can remember the recipe, but I can’t remember which day mother baked. It was a school day and the bread came out of the oven just as we got home for dinner. In our household, we had breakfast, dinner (at noon), and supper. We knew families that had dinner for their evening meal, but in our household, our father locked the door of his business at noon, came directly home, and we all sat at the table until he left to go back and open the business for the afternoon at 5 minutes to 1. There was an extra place at the table, just to my left, for the guest my father often brought home for lunch, usually a traveling salesman or a customer who happened to be in the shop when he closed up for dinner.

There have been long stretches of our family life when we have eaten bread from the bakery. In fact, the year Susan and I married, my summer job was in a commercial bakery, sorting racks of freshly-baked bread to fill the eight semi trailers that hauled it away 5 afternoons each week. The trailer that made the longest journey came back from Kansas City with cupcakes baked in that city. I learned to tell which bread was the freshest by the color of the twist ties on the bags.

Now that we are retired and settled, I generally bake on Thursdays. I make half of mom’s recipe and i use honey instead of sugar. 1/3 cup of honey will replace 1/2 cup of sugar. I add a quarter teaspoon of baking soda as well. I proof my dry yeast with a couple of drizzles of honey in the water. The hearth of our fireplace is just the right amount of extra warmth for the dough to rise quickly. I have a mixer that was new to our mom when all but two children were out of the house that can mix up my half recipe in a single batch. I knead the dough on a standard 36” countertop, but I am only a couple of inches taller than our mom and I know why she wanted the lower countertop.

I’m sure that it is a layer of memory and aroma and other senses that gives me so much comfort to bake bread. It just feels good and makes me happy. Susan and I don’t even eat three loaves of bread a week. One loaf usually goes over to the farm where hungry grandchildren consume it the first day it arrives. We have a couple of loaves in the freezer for weeks when I get lazy and don’t bake. There is no pressure and I take off a week whenever i want. We buy bakery bread and rolls whenever we need them. But I like to bake. It makes me feel good. It reminds me of our mother. It makes her seem close.

When our mom was in her late eighties, she came to live in our home. One day I was kneading bread and she asked me, “Where did you learn to do that?” I stopped and looked at her with what must have been a strange expression. “From you, Mom. Where else could I have learned it?” I don’t know if it was a moment of memory lapse for her. We were soon telling stories of baking and baking failures and laughing together. Now, every time I bake bread, I ask myself the same question as I start to knead. “Where did you learn to do that?” As long as I know the right answer to that question I think I’ll keep baking bread.

Living the dream

We went to a fair last night. It was the second fair we have attended hosted by our granddaughters, ages 5 and 8. The popcorn was delicious, although it did seem like the 11-year-old who was in charge of distributing popcorn ate more than the rest of us combined. I was remarkably successful at “pin the tail on the unicorn,” but did not do well at all with the maze. None of the adults did well on the maze, which had passageways designed for bodies with less volume than ours. I made it through two rounds of “magical chairs” before being eliminated. Magical chairs was remarkably similar to musical chairs, but I was corrected when I used the wrong name for the game. The game 4 corners was new to me, but I succeeded in being the second to last to be eliminated from the game. The piñata was remarkably tough, surviving multiple hits from three children and four adults before breaking. I was awarded one mint-flavored sucker from the piñata. The children divided most of the spoils, which was fine with me. I think the stash of candy came from the post-holiday sales bin at the grocery store.

All-in-all, it was a delightful event and I’m glad we were invited. On Thursday, we will have our youngest grandchild, who is 11 months old for a couple of hours so his mother can catch up with a bit of paperwork from her office. Susan will volunteer in a kindergarten classroom in the afternoon and we will attend a middle school choir concert in the evening.

These are all events that we would have missed were we still living in South Dakota. It is for events like these that we made the move to the Pacific Northwest.

According to financial experts and advisors, spending the bulk of one’s active career in the Dakotas and then retiring to the Northwest coast isn’t the wisest of financial decisions. I’ve read a few articles saying that we could live with more luxury and have more financial security had we made different decisions. Lately, however, I have found such articles to be quite boring and I pretty much have given up reading them. They never evaluate the benefits of spur of the moment carnivals or middle school choir concerts. They never consider the health benefits of holding a sleeping baby while rocking in a comfortable recliner. They don’t count the sheer joy of doing farm chores side by side with your son.

Like an old advertisement on late night cable television, “But wait! There’s more!” The security of having our son and his family just a couple of miles down the road is more valuable than having money invested in a volatile market. Our neighbors recognize his family’s vehicles, and expect them to be in our driveway even when we are out of town. Returning home from a trip to find a baby toy that has rolled under the sofa is way more fun than finding a slew of undone chores.

Mind you, we had incredible support when we were living farther away. When Susan had a health scare in 2019 while we were still in South Dakota, our son arrived all the way from Washington the same day. The next morning I woke up to one of my sisters and one of Susan’s sisters who took over laundry, shopping, and cooking at our house. Our daughter flew in with her infant son from Japan for a supportive visit. We were never left alone until Susan was well into her recovery. Despite the realtor’s mantra of “location, location, location,” we know that when it comes to navigating the tough times of life the real blessing is “relationship, relationship, relationship.”

Yesterday we were invited to tell a bit of our story to one of the fellowship groups that meets at our church. We recounted our career path through college, graduate school, three parishes in three different states, retirement and our return to working in the church. We told the general stories of our children’s lives, families and careers. We talked about the work we are now doing with the educational and faith formation ministries of the church. There were a few questions and a few supportive comments. There were lots of smiles and happy conversations. There were excellent home made scones and piping hot tea. As they say, “a good time was had by all.”

As I slipped into my bed in the evening, I reflected on how genuinely happy I am. It is easy for me to county my blessings. If you count wealth by the number of possessions, the size of a stock portfolio, the value of real estate holdings, or the savings tucked away, I am not a wealthy man. But if you count the blessings of family, friends, health, meaningful work, and good memories, my riches abound. Alongside Lou Gehrig, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

And, when you think of it, I’m even luckier than he was when he made that famous speech. This journal entry is far from my farewell speech. I’m not putting the cap on the end of my career. I’m not saying good bye to my friends and supporters. I bet I have a few more impromptu fairs left in my future. I know I have a few more precious minutes of rocking a baby and cooking barbecue for hungry children and playing silly games with giggling kids. From where I sit the future looks bright.

It was sunny yesterday afternoon as we walked down to the beach - a stark contrast with the last few days of walking in driving rain and lots of wind. The clouds had parted and the islands were in clear view. The seagulls were flocking and the ducks were finding plenty to attract them to the shallow waters of the bay. The beach was littered with new shells washed up by recent tides. The sun was warm on my face.

Sometimes making a poor financial decision can be the best choice to make. It isn’t the first time I made a decision that others considered to be unwise.

Thanks for the memory

I received a private message with a video clip yesterday from a young man who was part of the church we served in Boise, Idaho. Of course, he isn’t young any more. We moved from Boise in 1995. He is a grandfather now, but he was young when we moved. The video clip that he sent shows me announcing his marriage and delivering the benediction at his wedding. It is a joyous reminder of a relationship that has grown and strengthened over decades of faithful loving. When I officiated at that wedding, I had been married fewer years than that couple now has experienced. Time moves on. The man in the wedding video isn’t the only one who isn’t young anymore.

I don’t mind getting older. As a collector of memories, I have been quite successful in this life. Most of those memories are good. It is how humans work. We are better adapted at remembering pleasant events than painful ones. We can remember loss and grief, but we are even better at remembering the joys of our relationship with the one who we lost. I’m sure that the young man and his wife have had trials and problems in their lives. I’m sure they struggled with challenges and problems. But when they look at their wedding video, it brings them joy and it is natural to want to share that joy with others. I received the video clip from the couple because I was a part of a joyous time in their lives and when they celebrate that joy I am included in their thoughts.

Receiving communications similar to that video clip is a regular experience for me. Someone who I have known for many years will send me an email or write a note that recalls a meaningful exchange that we have had in the past. Their memories spark my memory and when I read the note, I share their joy.

There are lots of things that spark joy. Susan was packing up our Christmas decorations and decided that one of the boxes we use to pack was so worn that it needed to be replaced. I looked at the old box and recognized it as a box that we had used when we moved from North Dakota to Idaho in 1985. We tend to save and reuse useful things like cardboard boxes, so it probably had other jobs after we moved. I’m not sure when it became the storage place for Christmas decorations, but it has served in that role for many years. The box contains a lot of memories for us. New decorations for the tree are frequent Christmas gifts that we receive. They mark significant moments in our lives such as the birth of a grandchild or a big trip. We have an ornament with a photograph of the house we now live in that was a gift from the realtor who helped us find and purchase it. That ornament has only been on our tree twice. We also have ornaments that came from the collections of our parents. Some are more than 50 years old. Each has a unique memory and the memories are often layered. We remember multiple times when we have hung that ornament on the tree.

We chose a small Christmas tree this year, so we had plenty of ornaments that didn’t fit on the tree. We hung a few of them in other places around our house, but others were looked at and then placed back in the box without being displayed this year. They will come out again next year and we’ll make new choices.

We also planted the tree that we had for Christmas yesterday. It seemed like an appropriate celebration of Epiphany for us. It is a reminder that we now live in a mild climate where the ground is free from frost and gentle rains nourish new plants and it is reasonable to plant a tree in early January this year. We’ve lived in a lot of places where we would not have been able to dig the hole for many months. The tree now serves as a reminder of Christmas 2022 for us. Each time we look at it we will remember the particular joys of this year. Perhaps we’ll hang a few decorations on it in Christmases to come. When it is well established, a small seed feeder for the birds might be a good Christmas touch.

Of the various collections I’ve accumulated over the years, my collection of memories is one of the most precious. Like all collections, there is a certain amount of care involved. Memories don’t require dusting like the knick knacks on my bookshelves, but they do need attention from time to time. Something needs to bring them from the depths of our minds to present consciousness. There are things from my past that I cannot tell others because I cannot remember them. They are as real and as true as the things that I do remember, and perhaps I could remember if the right person or the right set of circumstances stir my memory. That is where all of the friends we have known come to my aid. They share their memories with me and those memories spark my own.

There are a lot of things about that wedding that I do not remember. I can’t remember who the organist was. I don’t remember who the guests were or where the reception was held. I couldn’t tell you the names of the Best Man or Maid of Honor. I don’t know if they had a ring bearer or a flower girl.The couple can tell you a lot more about their wedding than I. But their memory sparked my memories of serving a vibrant congregation full of wonderful people that was part of my becoming the person I am today. I learned a lot from serving that congregation that has informed my life since.

I’m no Bob Hope, but I’ve got the song “Thanks for the Memory” in my mind and in my heart. I’m grateful for this wondrous collection.

Deere and the right to repair

My parents’ first business was aviation. They owned and operated a fixed base operation in Big Timber, Montana. My father managed the airport in addition to flying charter, air ambulance, crop spraying, search and rescue, fire patrol, game count, and other aviation services. They also sold airplanes, gave instruction to new pilots, and performed annual inspections and repairs. My father was certified as an airframe and power plant mechanic, and inspector.

He also was an entrepreneur. So, in the late 1950’s, when he was stricken with spinal meningitis, he expanded his business by purchasing a John Deere dealership, to which he added a feed warehouse and other farm and ranch services. He sold his Deere franchise in the early 1980’s after 25 years of operating that business.

He used to say, “We sell parts and service to support sales.” He believed that the parts business and the repair shop should run as close to possible on a break-even basis to provide good jobs to the workers and support the physical facility, but also to provide service to customers at the lowest possible prices. His parts and repair businesses gained him a lot of customers for the sale of new and used equipment. In the early days of his operation, the company, John Deere, supported that kind of thinking. In 1960, John Deere released a new line of tractors with more powerful engines, new appearance, and expanded features. The “New Generation” tractors were popular and sold well. For two years, from 1963 to 1965, John Deere made and sold its largest two-wheel drive tractor, the 5010. It was the first two-wheel drive tractor to boast over 100 horsepower. That number seems small compared with the horsepower ratings of modern equipment, but at the time, it was a real breakthrough. Individual tractors were tested at over 125 PTO horsepower. There was, however, a serious problem. The 5010 engines had a design flaw that resulted in early failure of the engines. Ready to release the even more powerful 5020 tractor, Deere made a decision that paid off big time for the company in the long run. They honored and in some cases even extended the factory warranties of the 5010 tractors. Many of them received new, more powerful engines designed for the 5020 tractor at minimal cost to the owners.

The 5010 cemented customer loyalty. It also contributed to the success of my father’s business. For a decade from the mid 1960’s to 1970’s our company sold a lot of new John Deere equipment. it earned a lot of repeat business.

That was a long time ago and things have changed. Farm equipment has become outrageously powerful and capable. It has also become outrageously complex and expensive. In addition to tractors and other equipment, John Deere has developed computers and software to monitor maintenance and improve equipment efficiency. They sell a driverless tractor that uses GPS technology to perform vital farm functions including planting. Along the way, they have become more and more secretive about how their equipment is manufactured and repaired. Long gone are the days of the old two cylinder John Deere tractors that were deemed to be the lowest cost of ownership because of the ease of repair. Farmers were once supported in making field repairs, including engine overhauls. No more. John Deere warranties now specify that certain repairs can only be made by authorized dealers. They have refused to share repair manuals and specialized tools with farmers and independent repair shops.

Yesterday, however, Deere & Co. signed a memorandum of understanding with the American Farm Bureau Federation that may be the beginning of returning to some of its roots of supporting farmers. Deere now claims to be the world’s largest manufacturer of farm equipment and now claims to be committed to ensuring farmers have the resources to diagnose, maintain and repair their equipment.

The struggle to get to yesterday’s agreement has been long and hard. Farmers have felt that Deere’s secrecy and insistence upon the use of authorized shops have driven up the cost of farming. They are frustrated that they are unable to obtain information and parts to make repairs on the equipment they own on their own farms.

Like modern equipment, the issues in the “right to repair” conflict are complex. Deere & Co. are worried that proprietary information might be gained by competitors. They are also concerned that independent shops and farmers might disable emissions control systems and increase power on engines that have been intentionally de-rated to extend the life of the equipment. That kind of “hack repairing” is common with diesel pickup trucks and Deere wants to avoid such self-repair practices on their equipment. They want it to perform as manufactured. Secrecy, however, has impeded everyday farmers from being able to make simple field repairs and driven up the cost of operation of the equipment.

Deere isn’t the only company to face such challenges. A year ago, Apple Computer announced a “self-service repair” plan to give customers access to information and parts to replace batteries and make other repairs. And other manufactures of farm machinery face similar problems with giving farmers access to proprietary information, tools, and potentially lower cost and lower quality after-market parts.

Yesterday’s memorandum of understanding doesn’t solve all of the problems with modern farm equipment, but perhaps it is a step in the right direction. Perhaps John Deere can remember its earlier commitment to producing tractors that keep the total cost of ownership in mind. Maybe it can return to its former commitments to keeping equipment serviceable for long periods of time.

When my father purchased his John Deere dealership, his first sale of a tractor was a used John Deere Model D, manufactured in the late 1940s. He was proud to tell the story that when he sold his dealership that tractor was still working in the field. In the 25 years of his dealership, he owned and resold that tractor two more times, and his shop kept it running and working for each owner. We cannot go back to the way things used to be, but I hope the days of that kind of long-lasting quality are not forever gone.

Epiphany and the baptism of Christ

As we have moved and served different congregations, we have discovered that there are a lot of similarities among the churches of the United Church of Christ. We also have discovered a lot of differences. Most of the differences are small and subtle, and many wouldn’t make much of a difference to the majority of members, but being pastors we notice differences.

The congregation in which we now are members has a tradition of making a big celebration of Epiphany Sunday. It is difficult to tell how old this tradition is, but I suspect it is rather new. At any rate today, being the Sunday nearest the day of Epiphany, is being celebrated as a special day, with those participating in worship receiving star words. This will be our third year of participating in this tradition. The first year was a bit different because the congregation was not meeting in person due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That year we received our star words in the mail. Last year and this year, we will pick up our star words in person during the worship service. Words are written on paper stars. Each person is invited to choose a star receiving a random word. The instructions are to sit with that word for the year and discover how it informs you life. On the following Epiphany Sunday, several members of the congregation will share their experience with their star words. I am unclear on why randomly assigned words are a part of Epiphany and don’t know what they have to do with the visit of the magi to the Christ child, but I have tried to understand.

My star word the first year was “plan.” It was a strange word for me because there was a lot about 2021 that was about figuring out to do when there is no plan. We had planned our retirement for 2020 and the way it all came off required a lot of improvisation due to the pandemic. I felt like retirement was, for us, almost the opposite of having a plan. We ended up going back to work part time in August. It turned out to be a very good thing for us, but it wasn’t what we had planned. We came to the end of September, when our lease on our rental house was set to close without having closed on the purchase of a permanent home. It all worked out. We extended our lease for a month at an increased price, we closed on our home, and we got moved. But it wasn’t exactly how we had planned.

My star word for 2022 was “longevity.” That word simply hasn’t informed much of my life. I am serving as an interim minister. My job doesn’t involve longevity. I turned 69, an age at which one is well aware of one’s mortality. I began to think more about legacy than longevity.

Not everything planned for congregations is meaningful to every person in the church. I accept that. I will draw a new star word today and hope that I can find more meaning in the process than I have experienced in the past. Sometimes one just has to give a new practice time for it to become meaningful.

One of the results of placing a big emphasis on Epiphany Sunday is that this congregation doesn’t make a formal observance of the baptism of Christ. Since the annual recognition of the story of Jesus being baptized by John in the wilderness and the stories of him receiving the Spirit and hearing God’s affirmation was part of our tradition for the first 42 years of our active ministry, having a year go by without such a service seemed strange.

Baptism is one of the things that I really miss in my new role. As a pastor, I had the privilege of officiating at the baptism of infants. Most years there were several baptisms. I have participated in the baptisms of four of my grandchildren and will participate in the baptism of the fifth this year. Baptism and the entrance of infants into the family of the church is an important symbol of renewal for me. The United Church of Christ recognizes only two sacraments: baptism and holy communion.

I have never seen water in the font at the church we now serve. There have been infants born into the congregation each year, but it seems to not be a tradition to baptist them. None of the youth in our recent confirmation preparation class had been baptized and none were baptized at their confirmation. That seems really strange to me. I know that the church is changing everywhere and that old traditions are being questioned and in some cases are being abandoned. I know that there are many paths of entrance into the community of the church. We encountered adults who considered themselves to be active members of the church who had not been baptized in all of the congregations we served. There are different ways to enter the community. Still, I really miss the ritual and ceremony of the sacrament.

I miss the annual celebration of the baptism of Christ. The Gospel of Matthew reports some ambivalence on John’s part with Jesus’ baptism. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” he said when Jesus came to him. Jesus’ response was, “Let is be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” That exchange carries great power for me. Sometimes we go through the rituals of the church without having all of our theology worked out. Sometimes we engage in the behavior without having all of our beliefs in line. People can keep their questions and still be a part of ancient traditions. You don’t have to fully understand baptism in order for it to be meaningful and powerful. It is, after all, a sacrament. We don’t control the sacraments. We participate in them.

So I will go to church today. I will receive my star word. I will try to discover the meaning in this new-to-me practice. But I will also miss the sacrament of baptism and long for the day when it returns.

Epiphany full moon

The full moon wasn’t visible last night due to cloud cover. I had gotten glimpses of the nearly full moon in the wee hours of Thursday morning and there were some blue skies during the day yesterday, but by evening the clouds had rolled in and I couldn’t see the moon at all. According to the Farmer’s Almanac website, this full moon is called the wolf moon. The site says that wolves were more likely to be heard howling at this time of the year.

There is no scientific evidence that wolves are more likely to howl at a full moon than any other phase of the moon. However, the belief persists. Stories of wolves howling at the moon date back to Greek and Roman mythologies. Stories of werewolves being transformed during the full moon have been a part of popular culture for a long time. There is no scientific evidence that animal or human behavior is affected by the phase of the moon.

Belief that the full moon affects behavior, however, persists. I have plenty of friends who have worked in psychiatric hospitals and law enforcement who firmly believe that behavioral health issues increase on nights when the full moon is visible.

As far as i know there are no wolves near where we live. I have to be content with howling coyotes and while we have lived in places where we regularly heard coyotes we rarely hear them in our new home. I must say that my experience doesn’t include any evidence that coyotes are more likely to howl during the wolf moon. That may be due to the fact that the wolf moon occurs in the middle of the winter, when I am less likely to be sleeping with my windows open.

My personal theory, is that sound travels farther in crisp, cold winter air. People may have been more likely to be awake on nights when the moon is full and the landscape is bathed in light. And they may have been more likely to hear wolves howling during the winter when the air is cold. This is pure speculation and not all myths and stories have rational explanations, so there may be nothing to it at all.

The name “wolf moon,” however, persists as does the use of the word “lunatic” referring to someone with behavioral health problems. The root of the word lunatic is luna, which means moon. The suffix “atic” means “of the kind of,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The use of the word is based on the belief that there is a particular kind of insanity that is dependent upon the phases of the moon. As far as I know, there is no scientific evidence that such insanity exists. The use of the word lunatic is considered offensive to many who have experience with family members who suffer from mental illness.

Using the term wolf moon to describe a particular full moon, however, is not considered offensive. I guess that mistaken beliefs about animal behavior are less offensive to humans. I have no idea what wolves think of the designation.

I do know how controversial the introduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park has been among some of my rancher friends in Yellowstone country. There is a long-standing hatred of predators among sheep and cattle ranchers. There has been some predation of sheep in areas near Yellowstone National Park attributed to wolves, but most of the wolves are remaining in the park where they have helped to control the size of elk herds, which in turn has benefitted many plants and animals. The beaver population returned to normal after the reintroduction of wolves. The wolves decreased the number of elk, fewer elk meant less stream side erosion and left more willow plants for the beavers. The beavers, in turn, built dams that benefitted fish populations in the rivers.

If I were in Yellowstone country this winter, I would probably have made a point of going outside after dark just to listen to see if there were any wolves howling. I went outside to look for the moon here last night even though there are no nearby wolves and I couldn’t see the moon. I guess I hoped I might at least hear a few coyotes, but I heard none. The neighborhood dogs were quiet as well. Sometimes they can hear the coyotes when I cannot and howl in response.

There are many different traditions surrounding the first full moon of the new year. Some groups of people wear read to symbolize life. Others have campfires. There are drumming traditions and ceremonies held during the full moon. Some even howl at the moon as a social activity.

Last night’s wolf moon landed on the day of Epiphany, a day in which Christians celebrate the visit of the magi to the infant Jesus. Lighting candles and celebrating the gift of light in our lives are part of our traditions at this time of year. The Gospel of John begins this way:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Light shining in the darkness is an important symbol for us. Having a full moon on Epiphany is another experience of light in the darkness during a season when the sun rises late and sets early. For us, having been in South Carolina for the last week, the difference in the length of the days is very apparent as we return to the north. It is easy to understand why light has become an important part of our language and rituals at this time of the year.

We didn’t light a bonfire. We didn’t howl at the moon. We turned in early. Getting enough sleep is one ritual that we are quick to observe.

May this season bring light to your life.

Coming home

I have heard a lot of stories of problems for those who are traveling by air. The recent melt-down of the Southwest Airlines computer system resulted in the cancellation of thousands of flights leaving tens of thousands of people stranded away from their intended destinations. It also resulted in a huge pile-up of luggage that had been separated from travelers. We ourselves have experienced a few delays and flight changes. Once, on a flight from Atlanta to Salt Lake City, a blown oxygen canister resulted in the flight being diverted to Denver, which was actually closer to our home than Salt Lake City and we were able to rebook and arrive at home close to the time we expected. Another time, a cancelled flight in Denver resulted in us having to rent a car and drive to Rapid City because we were unable to rebook within a day of our intended arrival.Another time our son had a round trip ticket from Portland, OR to Rapid City, SD. Due to cancelled flights, he traveled the entire trip on a different carrier than the one on which he was booked. He made it home for the holidays, but never entered an airplane operated by the company that issued his ticket. I once spent my wife’s birthday in an airport on standby, missing flight after flight, trying to get home. The situation was caused by overbooking.

Today, however, I don’t want to tell stories of travel woes. Yesterday we flew across the country, from South Carolina to Washington, on three different flights operated by two carriers. Every on of our flights departed on time and every one arrived at least 15 minutes ahead of schedule. We never had to run through busy airports to make our connections. We had time to walk calmly and even pick up our meals in airports. We and our luggage arrived at home earlier than anticipated. We were treated graciously by airline employees and didn’t have any travel problems. I know that the experience of one couple doesn’t offset an airline cancelling more than 2500 flights three days in a row. It was, however, a good day for us. Our entire trip had only one glitch and that was that our luggage did not arrive in South Carolina on the same plane as we did. It was, however, delivered to our daughter’s home about six hours later. The inconvenience was minor. Airline employees were kind, understanding, and efficient in helping us with the problem. They kept us informed of our bag’s travel with text messages. Not everyone had huge travel problems this holiday.

Of course we had the luxury of traveling on days that weren’t as busy as the peak of holiday travel. And we were careful to book flights with sufficient time to change planes in busy airports. There are perks of being retired and having a bit of flexibility in our schedule.

I think that this is the first time I have made the end of the year/start of the new year transition in my web site when I have not been at home. In other years when we have been traveling over new years, I was managing the site differently and made the adjustments when I was at home. The changes seem minor, but they do require high speed internet. My menus appear on every page of my site, so adding a new page for the new year’s journal requires that thousands of already-uploaded files have to be replaced with updated versions. Fortunately, our daughter and son-in-law have good Internet service in their home and the change came off without problems for me.

As I continue to organize and modify my journal archives to make them more accessible, I have been reading scores of early entries. One of the recurring themes is “homecoming.” I wrote a journal entry about the process of coming home for nearly every trip I took during the early days of my journal writing. And I was traveling a lot. I was writing and editing curricula and attending multiple writers’ conferences. I served on multiple national boards at the same time. In those days, we traveled for face-to-face meetings that are all done by remote conferencing now. I thought little of making multiple trips to distant locations for meetings. When I served on a search committee for a national staff person, I traveled from South Dakota to Baltimore, MD for every meeting of that committee. I wrote a lot of posts about homecoming.

I don’t travel as much these days. This recent trip was our first in three years. We have, in the meantime, made some monumental road trips, so I have had plenty of homecomings. And we have moved twice in the last couple of years, so the location of my homecomings has changed. I no longer call Rapid City, SD my home. It still am a bit surprised to see Washington license plates on my car. I’m adjusting to being a person who lives within walking distance of the beach and within minutes of an international border.

Still, it definitely felt like coming home yesterday. Our house was all ready for us. Within a few minutes of turning up the heat, we were comfortably unpacking our suitcases and taking food out of the freezer to prepare for supper. There were fun notes from our grandchildren waiting with our mail on the kitchen counter. We slept in our own bed. I sat for a few minutes in my comfortable chair next to my bookshelves and read a couple of poems before retiring. In just over a year, this house has become our home.

Psalm 90 begins, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” It speaks of the sense of home that the people of Israel were able to discover despite generations of being nomadic people. If you just take the four generations from our parents to their great grandchildren, members of our immediate family have lived in dozens of states and multiple foreign countries. We are no longer nomadic, but we do travel around quite a bit.

The psalmist reminds us that home isn’t a place, but rather a relationship. Our dwelling place is with God and in God we find our true home. That’s good news for all travelers.


When I was growing up, I don’t think I ever had a pair of rain boots. They wouldn’t have been practical where we lived. What we did have were overshoes. Probably when I was little, I had a pair of three buckle overshoes, but the ones I remember were four buckle overshoes. You pulled them on over your regular shoes and they were a bit difficult to get on. Then you buckled them up to about mid-calf. They were great for snow. The snow couldn’t get into the boots, even if it was deeper than the tops of the boots. They had a bit of extra insulation to help keep your feet warm.

But I saw pictures in books of children with rain boots and rain coats and even some with umbrellas. I thought they looked pretty good. We never had any of those things. When you live in a place where the winds can top 60 mph, umbrellas aren’t considered to be useful at all. Still, I remember imagining myself with a yellow rain coat and a yellow rain hat and a pair of yellow rain boots.

We did splash in puddles when we wore our overshoes. In the spring when the snow turned to slush and the puddles formed in the street, it was fun to splash. We also loved it when it was cold enough for skim ice to form on the puddles so we could break the ice by jumping in the middle of the puddle.

I haven’t thought about rain boots for years. Our grandchildren have rain boots. The three that are walking at the farm need them for much of the year. There is plenty of mud on the farm and plenty of other things that you don’t want to step in without proper footwear. I bought a pair of muck boots when I arrived in the northwest and then my sister gave me another pair when she moved from Montana. Those were probably left over from when she lived on the farm, but they were way too big for her and they fit me fine. So now I have two pairs of rain boots. They are black, but they keep my feet warm and dry.

Yesterday we got a good rain in the morning. It poured hard for nearly a half hour and then it sprinkled and showers passed through for a couple of more hours. In the afternoon, when the rain stopped, our grandson was ready to go out and splash in puddles. He has rain boots and so he was all ready to go.

A three-year-old, however, is capable of making splashes that are big enough to get wet feet even in a pair of good rain boots. In fact a three-year-old is capable of getting his pants and even his shirt wet in a trip around the block stomping in puddles. I know. I saw it happen. There was a distinctive “swish, swish,” as he walked the final 25 yards to home. His mother slipped him out of his boots and took him into the bathroom to change into dry clothes. I picked up the boots and poured a cup or so of water out of each one. I think he picked up enough water to add four or five pounds of weight to carry around. That didn’t dampen his enthusiasm, however.

A pair of boots and a street full of puddles is sufficient entertainment for a child. He has plenty of toys. I’ve learned about Spiderman and Paw Patrol and Bluey and Toy Story and a host of other characters. I’ve played “stinky socks” and “pie in the face” and a half dozen other games. I’ve helped with puzzles and built with legos, duplos, magna-tiles and other toys. I’ve had a good time playing with our grandson and I’m going to miss him when we get back to Washington. Thank goodness for Skype and FaceTime.

Our journey today takes us from Columbia to Chicago. We’ll only see the airport in Chicago, but we might get a view of the city out of the window of the airplane as we approach. We lived in Chicago four four years, but tomorrow doesn’t really afford us much time for nostalgia or remembering our Chicago years. We’ll rush to find the right gate and change planes for Seattle. By the time we get home, we’ll be tired and ready to be in our own space. Life goes on and we have lots of things to do.

I know that it is popular to say that the most important part of the trip is the journey, but for us travel has several important parts. There is journey, destination, and home, all of which are important. We enjoy traveling. I like to see what types of planes we get to ride in. I like seeing the changes in the airports. I enjoy looking out the windows and figuring where we are. I am amazed at the speed of travel even though we have had lots of opportunities to do so.

But I also enjoy being with our daughter and her family. Our visits are too infrequent and too short for me. We know that things will change and perhaps they will be closer to us at the next phase of their careers. But we also know that love is much stronger than the distances that divide us. We have sustained friendships for decades over great distances. We have great friends who live on different continents. Our friendships endure even though we don’t get to see each other as often as we would like.

Today we will have plenty of memories of a great visit to sustain us through the travels and we will have plenty of pictures to remind us of how fortunate we have been to make this trip. New adventure await us. After all it doesn’t take much to make us happy. A child, a pair of rain boots, and a few puddles will do!


One of the adult groups that I facilitate at the church had a special Advent series focusing on listening to different voices in our community. The four part series included listening to theologians, children, indigenous voices, and poets. To focus our conversation for the second week, we listened to author and illustrator Kevin Henkes read his book “Waiting” to a small group of children. During that presentation, Henkes commented to the children that he thought that it is harder for children to wait than it is for him now that he is an adult. The idea struck me as consistent with my experience and I’ve been observing examples of how different people behave while waiting for the few weeks since.

My attention has been focused on our there-year-old grandson this week. Waiting is frequently a part of his everyday experience. He wakes hungry, but has to wait while his parents prepare breakfast. He wants to get to play activities, but has to wait until the adults finish breakfast. All throughout the day he has short periods of waiting for others. He can’t drive, so he goes places on other people’s schedules. He needs an adult to accompany him when he rides his bike around the neighborhood, so he has to wait until someone can go with him. Perhaps having his grandparents visit means that he waits a little bit less, but it still seems like he is always being asked to wait.

Sometimes he gets frustrate with the waiting. Not being one to keep his emotions to himself, he lets us know that he is frustrated. It is easy for me to relate. I remember being frustrated with times when I had to wait for others. I think that I have become a relatively patient person, but I was not always so.

I can remember how difficult it was to have to wait for big events such as the arrival of Christmas or my birthday or summer vacation. There were days when it seemed like the clock on the wall of our classroom had nearly stopped its advance towards recess or the end of the school day. I tried to distract myself and not allow myself to look at the clock for periods of time so that I could see the hands advanced, but I rarely was able to do so for very long.

I’m pretty sure I bored friends with my tirades about waiting rooms. I was offended that other professionals lined up appointments in such a way that forced me to wait for their schedules. I felt that my time was as valuable as my doctor’s time. If an appointment was for 10 am, I expected it to start at 10 am, not to be ushered into a waiting room for 15 minutes only to be taken to an exam room and being instructed to wait more. The very existence of waiting rooms in medical facilities is an example of the inefficiency of the system. They design physical space, constructed at large costs, just to keep people waiting. I can go on and on about the subject, but it isn’t very entertaining and it may be as repetitious as waiting for a medical appointment.

A very good friend once suggested to me that I could change my attitude about waiting by looking at a time of waiting as a gift. “You are always wanting more time for prayer and wanting more time to sit and think, but when you are given the gift of time, you sit and stew about how inconvenient it is to wait.” The more I thought about my friend’s comment, the more it made sense to me. My attitude towards waiting makes a huge difference.

I am trying to keep all of that in mind as I prepare to travel again this week. Airline travel involves a lot of waiting. Depending on the size of the airport, one needs to arrive two or more hours in advance of a flight’s departure to go through the process of obtaining boarding passes, going through security screenings, and orderly boarding. Flights can be delayed and involve more waiting. Some of that waiting involves standing in line, another example of inefficiency in my opinion. Even with the relatively long flights of this trip diagonally across the United States, we will spend more time waiting than we will spend flying on our trip home on Thursday.

Still, it is amazing that we will be able to travel a distance of nearly 3000 miles in a single day. We will wake up in South Carolina and have supper in Washington. The change of time zones works in our favor when traveling west, so our day will be extended, but it is still a pretty remarkable feat to cross so much territory in such a short amount of time. Our part in that travel, of course, involves sitting and waiting. In addition to waiting for our flight to board, we will need to wait while others stow their luggage, wait while the crew completes paperwork and ground inspections, wait while the plane taxies, and wait while it flies to its destination. We aren’t the ones controlling the machine. We are the passengers in the back, waiting.

I’ll take that waiting. I’ve enjoyed monumental road trips that cross the country and for this trip in this season of the year, I am grateful that we are able to board airplanes and make the trip all in one day. The high speed travel, even though it involves waiting, gets us to our destination quicker than driving.

I suspect that as I age, I will have to become even more tolerant of waiting. My schedule is already more flexible than that of some of my friends. Because I don’t work full time, I have more time that is discretionary. I seem to have plenty of activities to fill my time, but it is practical for me to wait for others who are busier than I. As I become less abled with the normal processes of aging, I’ll need to become more tolerant of waiting. The day will come when I won’t be able to drive any more and, like my grandson will have to wait for others’ schedules to go places.

It makes sense for me to practice the art of waiting and see the times when I need to wait as a gift of time to practice. I’m not completely sure, but I think it is getting a bit easier for me to wait.

What Year is it anyway?

I confess that I am a little mixed up about time. Spending a week in Eastern Standard time is a break from living in Pacific Standard Time. Both places observe Daylight Savings Time in the summer, so that is another factor to consider, but that is not a factor at this time of the year. It is important for us to keep track of time because we not only flew here on the airlines, which operate on the local time, we will return by the airlines. On our trip home, our first flight will depart at a time listed in Eastern Standard time. We’ll change planes in Chicago, which is Central Standard Time, and change planes again in Seattle, which is Pacific Standard Time. The elapsed time on the clock will be different than the elapsed time when we traveled East, having a shorter than normal day, which didn’t turn out to be short for us because we got up at 2 am to catch a 5 am flight. Our return trip will be a long day, waking early to catch our first flight which is an early departure. I’m not spending too much time thinking about it because we’ll just get up at the appointed time on Thursday. Our son in law will have to get up early, too to drive us to the airport. He’s a good sport about it all.

Then, we are adjusting to living in 2023, which is a new year. But if one travels around the world, there are other ways of counting the passage of time. For example, in Myanmar there are two official calendars. In the Gregorian calendar it is 2023, but in the traditional calendar it is 1384. Tin Thailand it is 2566. Moroccans are praying in 1444 but farming in 2972. In Ethiopia it is 2015 and each year has 13 months.

We have a nephew who married a woman from South Korea, where everyone celebrates their birthdays on New Year’s Eve. It is possible for someone to have three official ages at the same time. Their domestic age is a year older than someone born on the same day in another place because they begin life at age 1. Koreans have little trouble with the difference, knowing that their domestic age is one year more than their international age. Then, there is the fact that many South Koreans celebrate their personal birthdays in a traditional way, advancing their age at on New Year’s Day. To confuse matters more, some traditionalists observe their symbolic birthdays on Lunar New Year’s day rather than on the Solar New Year’s Day. The Lunar New Year’s Day will be January 22 this year. It is also known as “Chinese New Year” and is observed across East Asian Countries and recognized worldwide because of the number of people of Chinese descent who recognize the holiday.

International time, however, designates this year as 2023, as the ISO-approved global standard calendar is the Gregorian calendar. We like to think of this calendar as being superior to other calendars because of its accuracy and efficiency, but it is not any more accurate or efficient than any other calendar. The reality is that we observe this particular way of counting the passage of time as a result of politics. It is a matter of who has won wars and which cultures have dominated world trade and commerce. The Gregorian calendar is a unique product of Renaissance science and Roman Catholic religious doctrine. It officially replaced the Julian calendar upon orders from Pope Gregory XIII in the late 16th century. However, neither Protestants nor Orthodox Christians were quick to embrace the change in the counting of time based on a papal decree. At the time, the variation between the Julian and Gregorian calendars was roughly 10 days. The Gregorian calendar was slightly more accurate, but the Julian calendar was impressive for a system set up in 45BC.

Protestant parts of Europe changed over to the Gregorian system little by little. The Netherlands made the change in 1700 and England and its colonies followed a century later in 1800. By 1900 non-Christian places including Egypt and Japan had switched to what was then the most common calendar, but Orthodox countries like Romania, Russia, and Greece held out for decades. 2000 was the first year that all of the countries of Europe agreed on the Gregorian calendar for the celebration of the new year.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me that I have a bit of trouble keeping track of the time. There are plenty of reasons for confusion.

Scientists have now developed super clocks that define time to the tiniest fractions of seconds. No calendar completely lines up with the actual movement of the Sun and planets, necessitating leap years and even leap seconds in order for the calendar to remain synchronized with the movement of the Universe. Furthermore, the scientific theory of relativity acknowledges that time advances at different rates on different moving objects, meaning that there is no such thing as a single universal time.

There is an obscure debate about the nature of time in the study of physics that not only compares the rates of the passage of time on moving objects, but questions the direction of the flow of time. Observation of natural phenomena leads to the conclusion that time flows from past through the present to the future, but there are some ways of observing the flow of time that could lead to the conclusion that time actually flows in the opposite direction. I am not a physicist and I don’t fully understand how this works, but I can grasp the concept of thinking of my own life both in terms of the amount of time that has passed since my birth and also in terms of the amount of time that remains until my death. Since the time of my death is not known, this isn’t a useful way to count in practical terms, so I will continue to count from the time of my birth, which means that if I had been born in Korea, I might have turned 70 on New Year’s Day. Then again I might have turned 71. However, since I was not born in Korea, I guess I’ll wait until June 15 to celebrate my entrance into a new decade.

New Years Football


The family in which I grew up wasn’t much for sports. My father had experienced some success as a golden gloves boxer during his time in the Army Air Corps, and he occasionally enjoyed watching boxing on television, but we rarely watched with him. But when New Year’s Day came around we might find ourselves watching the Rose Bowl on television. Sometimes we also watched the Orange Bowl as well. I think we watched the first Super Bowl when I was 14, but I don’t have memories of watching professional football before that. We played baseball, basketball, and football in pick up games as children, and I learned the rules. I went out for basketball in the 7th grade, but wasn’t a very good player. In fact, I was asked to be the team manager, who kept score at games and assisted the coach pumping up balls, picking up towels and other chores. As a high school and college student, I attended nearly all of the home football and basketball games because I played in the pep and marching bands.

As an adult, I have followed sports a bit so that i have enough information and knowledge to engage in conversation with sports fans. There have been plenty of fans in the congregations I have served and I’ve watched a lot of games with them. I have also enjoyed watching high school games when I knew the players. We lived in Chicago for four years and I became a fan of Chicago Cubs baseball and have enjoyed watching the Cubs’ mediocre run over the years. I followed the Cubs pretty closely in 2016 when they won the World Series.

Our son in law, however, grew up in a family of sports fans. His father and uncles are all lifelong fans of the New York Giants football program and, living near Washington, DC, they also have closely followed the Washington Nationals Baseball team since they moved to that city. Michael grew up following the team throughout the season, got to know the names of coaches and players and paid attention to each year’s wins and losses. When he and our daughter married, he had to teach her how to be a fan, and he has been successful. She refers to the Giants as “our team,” puts on her Giants jersey to watch games on television, and pays attention to the season.

So, of course, watching the game was a big deal at their house yesterday. The Giants dominated the Indianapolis Colts and you could hear our grandson yell “touchdown” to celebrate as the game progressed. Like his parents, he has a jersey. He also has pants and a helmet. His jersey, however, was in the wash yesterday, but that didn’t stop him from putting on his helmet and pants and bringing out his football to toss with his father.

Our daughter and son in law have a great deal in common. For example his parents were married the day after we were married, which means that they will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this summer as will we.That could pose a conflict for the younger generation, but we have already amicably decided that his parents will celebrate on the weekend of their actual anniversary and we will celebrate on a different weekend. The exact day isn’t as important to us as the gathering of family and friends.

There are many, many, other things that they share in common. But there are also some notable differences and some wonderful new traditions that our son-in-law has brought to our family. Celebrating New Years by watching football is one of them. Our celebration wasn’t just football, however. He loaded up the smoker with ribs and the aroma enticed us all day before we finally sat down to a wonderful dinner. There was a walk outdoors, trying to keep up with our grandson on his strider bike. There was a relaxed pace to the day with plenty of time for conversation and a few projects and chores. And, of course, there was time for games, puzzles, stories, and play with our grandson.

Over the years we have celebrated the New Year in a lot of different ways. Because we have been northerners, we have often celebrated with outdoor play, sledding, skiing, and ice skating. I remember once when we were kids it got very cold, but it didn’t snow. That left an irrigation canal frozen very smoothly with no snow cover. We could ice skate for miles up and down the canal. Other years you couldn’t even tell where that canal was for all of the snow drifts. We would dig tunnels into the snow drifts and make snow caves. A real treat for us was the trips to a local hot springs in the winter. There is nothing that matches the sensation of rolling in the snow and then dipping into 100 degree water. I’m not sure that I would be so adventurous these days, but I remember really enjoying our trips to the hot springs. Some years our extended family would gather at the hot springs and take a day trip with a picnic into Yellowstone National Park. Winter is a great time for viewing game in the park and the hot springs and geysers are spectacular when the temperature is very cold.

So it is a little bit strange for me to be celebrating New Years in a place where it is about 70 degrees out during the day and we go walking in our shirtsleeves. I’m not used to summer weather in the middle of the winter. It is, however, a great thing to try from time to time.

We have had so many rich experiences because of the people who have come into our family. The addition of children and then the addition of the people with whom they fell in love has brought great variety and joy to our lives.

When asked about my favorite football team, I used to say “The Bears” simply because we had lived in Chicago. These days, however, I have to say “The Giants” because of a three year old in a helmet. I’ll pay attention to the game next week even though we will no longer be in South Carolina. The things that are important to them become important to me.

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