From my point of view, the weather has been pretty typical for the end of July around here. Keep in mind that this is only my third August living here. In the summer of 2020, we were going back and forth between South Dakota and Washington and spent some time in this area. So, my experience is limited. Yesterday’s high was in the low 70’s. The church in Bellingham, which doesn’t have air conditioning in the sanctuary, was a little bit warm when we first arrived, but after windows were opened and fans were turned on, I was quite comfortable during worship. Later, at an after-church meeting, I turned off the air conditioning in the meeting room because I was getting chilly. In general, heat bothers me more than cold, so I generally believe that if I’m cold, so is everyone else in the room.

However, some of my friends were complaining about the heat. One friend commented, “I don’t do well when it gets hot. I moved from the east coast to get away from the heat.” I didn’t bother to point out to her that I think that it is still milder here than in New York City. I think they saw highs in the 90’s last week in New York. The point was that this friend is certain that it is hotter this summer than usual. There is a bit of a heat dome over the area. The high pressure is giving us clear skies, which are welcome. We have noticed that the garden needs a bit more water and we’ve allowed the grass to go dormant in some places to conserve water. But as former South Dakotans, the weather has seemed pretty pleasant for us. We walk outdoors every day and haven’t been suffering from the heat.

Despite the fact that summers her are cooler than any other place we have lived, we do have air conditioning in our house. I don’t think we’ve ever had to run it overnight, however, and it doesn’t get turned on until mid or late afternoon. When we do turn it on, a couple of hours is sufficient to cool the house for the day.

Things are much hotter in eastern Washington. Several wildfires have been reported and are growing. One has crossed the border and is now burning in both Canada and Washington. Closer to home, a wildfire was reported in North Cascades National Park, burning in a rugged remote area in the southeast part of our county. The lightning-caused fire is burning on a mountain that is visible from Highway 20. About 30 acres are burning above the North Cascades Learning Center on Diablo Lake. We enjoy driving up that section of the highway for the beautiful mountain views and are familiar with the area. According to news reports the highway remains open but fire officials have asked drivers not to stop to photograph the fire as they want to keep traffic moving on the narrow, winding road. There is an historic fire lookout at the summit of Sourdough Mountain that is on the National Register of Historic Places, but there is no information on whether or not the structure is threatened. There are no other structures threatened by the fire. Most of the surrounding area is National Park or part of an adjacent wilderness area.

From what we can tell, we are in a pretty fortunate place when it comes to global warming. Although many places are experiencing increasing extremes of weather, the effects in our particular location are pretty mild. Our winters are not too cold and our summers are not too hot. There are occasional storms and king tides have increased erosion near the water, but rising ocean levels will not be a big factor even for the homes that are built down near the beach. Our bay is shallow and the homes built around it are raised high enough to not be threatened by the predicted raises in ocean levels as the planet warms.

Still, it is likely that there are serious discussions about air conditioning happening at meetings of the trustees of the church. On argument about air conditioning has to do with the fact that it would make the building available as a severe weather shelter. The city is seriously looking for places where those experiencing homelessness can go during periods of extreme heat. Because our building already houses a drop-in day center for homeless youth, there have been conversations about opening the building to others. The youth drop-in center is located in the church basement. It probably won’t need any kind of air conditioning. The offices and several meeting rooms have mini-split units that cool the air. The remaining areas in need of air conditioning are the sanctuary and the fellowship hall.

In some parts of the world, air conditioning contributes to global warming. The increased energy required to run air conditioning often comes from burning fossil fuels, which results in more carbon in the atmosphere contributing to human-caused warming. In the case of our church, the increased electricity would have less environmental impact as the installation of solar panels later this summer will decrease the building’s consumption of outside energy. Solar panels will be at their peak production during heat dome events. Should the building require additional electricity at those times, the major source of electricity in our area is from water-driven generators at area dams, which is considered to be renewal energy and does not require the burning of additional fossil fuels. In that way we are once again fortunate because of our location. We have options that don’t exist in other parts of the world.

Like the church, we are on the wait list for installers to complete a solar system for our home. The system we are having installed will produce more electricity than our current consumption, though we will be sharing energy with the grid during the summer and using electricity from the grid during winter months.

For now, I’m not among those complaining about the weather. I guess I’ll have to get a few years older and gain a few years more experience before I join their ranks.

Another busy weekend

When I describe the beach near our house, I often refer to it as a gravel beach. I’ve read the term cobblestone beach and I think that might also be a good description. There is sand at the beach. We can attest to that because we walk along the beach nearly every day and a significant amount of sand makes its way back to our house. Although we remove our shoes at the door, we are constantly finding sand in the dustbin when we sweep and the bucket when we mop.

The bay itself is relatively shallow. At high tide the water is less than 5 feet deep for nearly a mile away from the shore. At low tide, it is easy to walk a half mile out into the bay on nearly dry ground. When the tide recedes it leaves behind what look like mud flats, and the ground can be a challenge to walk upon in places as the mud can develop significant suction. Those who know what they are doing have success harvesting clams.

Yesterday was the 9th annual sand sculpture competition at the bay. At 6 am, a pancake breakfast was being served at the library, which is across the street from the beach. Coffee and muffins were also available. The event was a fundraiser for the library. A field not far away was a designated parking area where visitors could park for a donation to the library. Registration for the car show opened at 6 am and for the sand sculpture completion at 7 am. The sand castle competition had to begin early as the tide receded. High tide would be back by 3 pm, which meant the sculptures had to be judged by noon and would be islands surrounded by water by a little after 1 pm. The car show had to be in the morning because many of the cars were set to participate in the Old Settlers Parade in nearby Ferndale. The parade and picnic is a century long tradition in that community.

It was a busy weekend in north Whatcom County. I admit I forgot about all of the festivities until I made what I thought would be a quick run to the hardware store. With various streets closed for the parade and a lot of visitors in town it took me at least an extra half hour to pick up new batteries for the carbon monoxide detector. In the afternoon, near high tide, we walked down to the beach to discover that there were a lot of people still out enjoying the water and sun.

Our beach is an interesting place because there are many nice days in the summer when it is nearly abandoned. We find it interesting that people rent beach houses and then stay inside when our weather is mild and the water is inviting. The ocean is a bit chilly for an extended dip, but hardy folks find swimming there to be invigorating. Our beach isn’t the best swimming beach simply because the water is shallow, but that makes it a fun and safe place for children.

We didn’t venture down to look at the sand sculptures. Some days we aren’t in the mood for crowds. Although I don’t mind donating to the library, the hassle of parking down at the beach didn’t seem worth it and walking all the way to where the sand sculptures were located would have added a couple of extra miles to our usual walk and would have required us to walk much earlier in the day than our usual.

We don’t mind sharing the beach with the crowds. There is plenty of space and plenty of time. We didn’t go down to the beach on the 4th of July either. Avoiding the crowds seemed like a good idea that day, too.

And we can get a pretty good car show just living in our neighborhood. Heading to the beach with a classic car is a common entertainment and we can see beautiful cars nearly every weekend. Sure, they gather at car shows, but individual cars are common driving alongside the coast.

It is a busy weekend for us. Today is our last Sunday as employees of our church. Our interim position is winding down. We’ll go into the office tomorrow and on Tuesday we will be officially retired once again.

One of the tasks of interim ministers, especially faith formation ministers, is to clean out areas in the church where old resources have accumulated. For the past two years there has always been a cabinet, closet, or storage area in need of cleaning and sorting. In one closet we found over 50 years accumulation of Sunday School curricula. Most of the contents of the closet were resources that no one will ever use again. Among those resources, however, were a few treasures that should be kept and stored in a way that they are more accessible and can be used. The last days of this job have been no exception. Our office had to be cleaned out, and it was a place where a lot of resources accumulated, especially during last week’s Creation Care Camp. There was a box of children’s coloring pages, books, and other resources that is kept in the usher’s closet at the church that needed to be sorted and organized in order to be useful. You’d be surprised how many things get stuffed into that box that are not useful resources for children visiting worship. Music resources used at the camp had to be put away in the music room. It seems that sorting and organizing is just a part of our lifestyle these days. We filled several wastebaskets and recycling bins in the process.

We have a similar process going on at home. I have a stack of boxes that I brought home having removed them from what had been our parents’ summer cabin before it was sold in the spring. Most of the contents of the boxes are papers that need to be shredded. There are old financial records, including records from my father’s businesses that have been closed for 40 years. Once again, those papers have to be sorted.

After a couple of days off I will be back at the task or sorting. One job ends and another begins. I don’t know exactly how to pull of being retired, but I don’t expect to become bored any time soon.

Earthquakes and high tides

Over the span of my lifetime, I’ve felt a few earthquakes. The most dramatic in my memory occurred when we were visiting Japan. We were at our daughter’s home. At the time she and her family lived in Misawa in Aomori Prefecture in the northernmost part of Japan’s main island, Honshu. I can’t remember the exact details, but I think that quake was 5.4 on the Richter scale. It was enough to make dishes rattle in the cupboards and pictures swing on the walls. When I was a child, the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake at Yellowstone National Park was a 7.5 magnitude quake. We lived about 60 miles away from the epicenter, but that quake happened at night. I have a vague memory of waking to feel something, but what I remember most is all of the activity that happened after the earthquake. I’ve felt multiple quakes in Costa Rica. The ones that occurred when I was there were relatively small. I think one was around 4 on the Richter scale, but don’t remember the details. No serious damage occurred where I was. It was just a unique experience. It doesn’t take an earthquake to set off car alarms in San Jose, but I think a few went off when the ground shook.

However, I didn’t actually feel the seismic activity that occurred in the Seattle area last week. According to seismologist Jackie Caplan-Auerbach, a geology professor at Western Washington University, on the evenings of July 22 and 23 at nearly the same time, small vibrations that measured 2.3 magnitude occurred. The center of the seismic activity centered at Lumen Field. The source of the vibrations was either the gathering of the sold-out crowd of 140.000 fans or the huge sound system for the event or both. Taylor Swift performed “Shake it Off” during the concert. It was enough to be measured by seismological equipment installed to warn Seattle residents of earthquakes. It broke the record, set in 2011 when fans celebrated Marshawn Lynch’s touchdown during a games against the New Orleans Saints. That quake only measured 2.0, .3 less than the two Taylor Swift events.

I wasn’t at either concert. Quite frankly, I hadn’t paid enough attention to which nights Swift was performing in Seattle. I saw a post on Facebook about a Portland, Oregon performance that one of my friends attended. I’m unlikely to be seen at any sold-out concert.

Of course our lives are affected by all kinds of forces that we don’t see or feel. I’m pretty sure that the shaking of fans and a huge sound system had some effects on those who were closer to the event. I have a brother who is a percussionist and who played in several rock bands earlier in his life. He is two years younger than I. He wears hearing aids. So far, I haven’t had to have them. I blame all of that loud music for his hearing loss, but I don’t know that my observations have been confirmed by medical experts. I do know that there are documented cases of hearing loss caused by loud music.

Earthquakes aside, which are never really aside for us because we live in earthquake-prone territory and paying attention to them is important because they could be indicators of volcanic activity. Since we can see Mount Baker, considered to be an active volcano, from our son’s farm, we should pay some attention to earthquakes. Nonetheless, earthquakes aside, I am learning about another natural phenomenon of which I had been previously unaware. Living near the ocean and paying attention to the rising and falling of the tides has taught me to pay attention to the phases of the moon. I’ve always paid some attention to the moon. I like to look at the night sky. The next full moon will be Tuesday, the first day of our retirement from our current position. August gets two full moons this year with one on the first and the other on there 31st. Twice each month (and three times this August), the variation between high tide and low tide is the greatest. These tides, called spring tides, happen at the full moon and at the new moon. During the quarter moon phases, the gravitational forces of the Sun and Moon are at their minimum, producing smaller ranges of tidal highs and lows known as neap tides.

When we have spring tides around here the reversal in the flow direction of Tenant Creek is at its greatest. Since we walk to the beach most days and we cross a bridge over Tenant Creek on our way, we pay attention to which direction the creek is flowing about a half mile from where it empties during low tide and takes water from the bay during high tide.

I guess I knew somewhere in the back of my mind about the relationship between the phases of the moon and the rising and falling of tides, but that information didn’t register as I’ve lived most of my life a thousand or more miles from an ocean. All of that has changed now that we’ve moved near the seashore.

You might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but an old guy can learn to pay attention to things he used to ignore. In addition, our house has skylights in the kitchen and when the sky is clear, I really notice the difference in the amount of light in the house at night during the full moon. I still know how to look up the phases of the moon and I also have a tide calendar available to check the tides, but I’m learning to sense them from the experience of living in this place and am becoming less dependent upon consulting calendars and charts to know what is happening. Since we get a fair number of overcast days and nights, I don’t need to see the moon to know its phase because I can observe the tides and the marks of seaweed on the beach indicating the high tide mark to judge the phase of the moon.

Apparently, however, it takes a quake bigger than 2.3 magnitude to get my attention.

A community crisis

A couple of weeks ago I felt a twinge of lower back pain. In the early 1990’s, I injured my back during a youth water sports camp. Part of the camp was a day rip with canoes. The campers were divided into four groups with each group engaging in a different adventure each day. One group learned about sailing with wind surfers in the cove, another group did small craft sailing with 14’ sailboats, the third group had a safety and survival workshop where each camper became certified in CPR, and the fourth group went canoeing on a river. The groups rotated activities, which meant that the canoes had to be transported every day. In order to make everything happen, I was shuttling canoes, including loading and unloading them each day. Somehow, I lifted and twisted in just the wrong way and my back rebelled. Fortunately the most intense pain came after the end of the camp when I was back at home.

The pain was sharp enough that I ended up flat on the floor of our home. My wife called our family doctor who phoned a couple of prescriptions to the pharmacy to get me through the worst of the pain until I could be seen in the office. One medication was a muscle relaxant, the other was an opioid pain medication. I took the first dose of both medications and went to sleep. I slept for 22 hours and when I woke, I was pretty sure that a second dose of those medications was not the right thing for me.

Later, I went to a dentist for treatment of an abscess and left the office with a prescription for an opioid pain medicine. I was advised to “stay ahead of the pain” by taking a pill before the Novocain administered in the office wore off. Having had the previous experience with the back pain, I was reluctant to take the medicine, but also afraid of the pain. I ended up taking one of the pills and later disposed of the rest of the bottle.

Still later, I received morpheme in the emergency room when I was being treated for flash burns on my face, chest and arms. I experienced a paranoid reaction. I knew that my thinking was irrational, but I couldn’t suppress the thoughts. My behavior was bizarre. At one point, I was plotting an “escape” from the emergency room where I was being treated. After I reported that experience to my family doctor, I decided to report a morpheme allergy on my medical records. I also decided that all opioids were not good medications for me.

I’ve know for a long time that pain medications have dramatic effects on me. I ask dentists to administer half of the dose of Novocain that they might otherwise use. Otherwise my face will remain numb for hours after I leave the office.

My family physician in South Dakota once commented to me that I was at low risk for opioid addiction because I had such adverse reactions to the times I had received the medication.

Meanwhile, physician education changed dramatically. Doctors used to learn in medical school that people with real pain cannot become addicted to pain medication. That incorrect information led doctors and dentists to prescribe too many opioids and often in inappropriately large quantities. Those prescriptions became a gateway for addiction for many people and those addictions led to tragic deaths.

Addiction to opioids became so intense that in many places around the world, those addicted would turn to heroin to satisfy their dependency simply because the street price of heroin was lower than that of prescription drugs. Deaths from drug overdoses increased. The demand for drugs resulted in various drugs being laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid drug prescribed for severe pain, nerve damage, spinal injuries and major trauma. The problem with fentanyl on the illegal market is that dosages are inaccurate and accidental overdose is a constant risk.

Addiction to pain medication has reached crisis proportions in many places. Just north of where we live, British Columbia has the highest death rate from opioid overdoses. The rate of those deaths was 5.8 per 100,000 people in 2000. It rose to 44.2 per 100,000 in 2021. Hospitalization rates have skyrocketed and despite several major governmental programs aimed at stemming the crisis, the rates of death continue to climb.

Addiction to pain medications is serious business. Sadly, this crisis has spread to younger people with devastating effects. In one study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 65% of youth overdoses occurred in youth who had no prior opioid use. A first experimentation with pills can, and does, lead to death. Narcan, a medicine that is effective in treating fentanyl overdoses, is now readily available. First responders are trained in recognizing the signs of overdose and in administering the life-saving medication. If the youth survives that first dose, addiction is another possible result of even a single dose, leading to an ongoing risk of death.

Young people recovering from overdoses have reported that drug dealers in our area have offered free pills to middle and high school age children, presumably to create addiction to boost sales of illegal drugs. One local survey discovered that half of counterfeit oxycodone pills have lethal doses of fentanyl in them.

Despite the efforts of law enforcement and border control officers, illegal drugs pass across the border in both directions on a regular basis. It is simply too easy to smuggle drugs from one country to the other. The opioid crisis in British Columbia is also a crisis here in our county.

Solving this crisis will take a coordinated effort of many people. Law enforcement officers, court officials, treatment providers, policymakers, physicians, teachers, parents, community members and the youth of our community need to come together and work together to address the tragedy that is upon us. Like many other issues, the crisis is upon us before we have come together. Like many other issues, the response needs to come from the entire community. I know I say this all the time, but we are all in this together. All of us need to take advantage of opportunities to become educated and active in working to decrease access to these dangerous drugs and treat addiction as quickly as possible.

Like many other topics I have addressed in my journal, I have no easy solutions.

Fortunately for me, physical therapy has proven to be effective in treating back pain. I now know that when I feel the twinge, the appropriate response is careful stretching exercises. I’m not shy in telling my doctors and everyone who will listen about alternatives to medication to treat pain.

Outdoor learning


Yesterday was a field day for our Creation Care Camp. After our usual opening exercises in the church sanctuary, we walked to a nearby park for outdoor art, an opportunity to learn about trees from a forester, and a few outdoor games. The weather was perfect for our adventure. It was slightly cool as we been our walk, but the sun came out and warmed the park. By the time a volunteer delivered popsicles for the children, it was hot and they were ready for the cool treat.

The park that is close to the church and easily accessible by walking has a wide lawn area bordered by a variety of trees. It was perfect for the children to make rubbings of bark and leaves, to learn about the growth of trees and ways that trees communicate through their roots and a variety of organic materials in the soil.

Boulevard park was once at the edge of the city, near the end of the streetcar line when there were streetcars serving the community. At one time the area was heavily forested, but it was logged around the turn of the 20th century. Most of the trees in the park were planted in the early1940’s, making the oldest trees in the park a bit over 80 years of age. Our area is a healthy environment for trees and many of the trees in the park are large. The park boasts a large number of trees making it a good place for the children to identify different species of trees. The park district has a brochure that shows 47 different species of trees growing in the park.

Outdoor art included making nature mandalas, sketching, and painting trees.

My role was to provide a few activities for children who were seeking opportunities to run and play. I led parachute games, a beanbag toss game, an old fashioned tug-o-war and other games.

There are always delightful moments of watching children learn and play. One of those special moments occurred yesterday when several children spotted a hawk in the tree. As we watched, we were able to identify three Cooper’s Hawks that remained in the area for the entire morning. The hawks frequently called out to one another. It is likely that what we were seeing was a nesting pair and a fledgling that was learning to fly and hunt. The children were fascinated by the hawks’ cries and enjoyed spotting them as they flew from tree to tree. A possible nest site was observed.

It was interesting to see the group of about 20 children react to the outdoor setting. Some of them used the open space to simply run and feel the joy of being outdoors. Others were engrossed in the drawing and painting opportunities. Others could hardly concentrate on anything except the hawks. I was able to observe them as other adults assumed various responsibilities to guide children through the planned activities.

After the children were picked up by their parents and grandparents, I invested part of my afternoon in sorting some of the photographs we had taken of the activities. I am preparing a slide show that will be presented to children and parents at the closing ceremonies of our four-day camp just before noon today. The slide show as a high point of last year’s camp and I’m expecting the children to enjoy this display of them engaging in their activities. Looking at the photographs reminded me once again of the value and meaning of faith formation work in the church. As we engage with one another, all of us grow in faith.

I grew up in an era of “Vacation Bible School.” It was part of all of my elementary school summers and I looked forward to it each year. Our understandings of how children learn has changed over time and the activities of our Creation Care Camp are more immersive and engage all of the senses a bit more than the classroom-based activities of my childhood. Nonetheless, those activities had a deep impact on my life as I was coming to age. Most important were the relationships I developed with adults who were outside of our immediate family circle.

Being in a position to observe growing relationships between the children and the group of volunteers who were providing leadership to our program was another reminder of the importance of community in developing faith. Our Creation Care Camp also reminds me of how the community is much broader than just the people of our church. We are connected with all of creation. The health of our environment is a concern for people of faith. Learning to become involved and engaged in working for environmental justice is one of the most important aspects of faith formation. Getting outside of the building is a critical part of our learning.

I couldn’t help but see the parallels between the activities of the hawks in the trees and the children below. Adults were investing their time in witnessing and assisting in the growth and development of younger members of our families. Ways of life that have been passed down for generations are being discovered by yet another generation.

I’m not quite as old as the trees in the park, but I’m definitely of the grandparent generation. In fact two of the participants in this week’s Creation Care Camp are our granddaughters. The hawks don’t have the benefit of three generations. By the time adult birds are nesting they have separated from their parents. We humans, however, have the benefit of being able to engage multiple generations. Our time on this earth is, however, shorter than that of the trees. A healthy forest has many generations of trees growing near each other. The trees in the park can be around for the grandchildren of the youngest children in the park if they are allowed to grow. Our perspective on tie is much shorter than that of the trees.

It is a good week for the last week of our time in this position. Going out with a flurry of activity and memory-building seems appropriate. I know I will take memories of this time with me and I trust the children will as well.

Privileged children

The seminary program in which I participated was a four-year straight through professional doctorate. The program included all of the classroom and professional writing requirements of a three-year masters program including a formal thesis defense, an additional year and additional thesis and defense, plus a full year’s internship. Unlike many of my peers, I managed to complete the program in four years because I served internships while also completing my academic requirements. I completed internships in pastoral counseling and in youth work. Both internships took place at the same physical location, but my counseling internship was with an independent nonprofit that operated at the church and my youth ministry internship was working for the congregation. The church was in a wealthy suburb of Chicago.

The youth in the youth group I served were children of privilege. Most of them came from single-income families, with fathers who were lawyers in prominent Chicago law firms, traders on the Chicago Board of Trade, physicians with medical specialties, and other high-paying professions. Many of the youth owned automobiles that had been received as gifts. In that community it wasn’t unusual for a youth to receive the gift of a car when that youth earned a driver’s license and another new car when graduating from high school. I met youth who went on prom dates where the dress cost more than any item of clothing I had ever owned and the cost of the date was beyond any I had ever spent. One young couple traveled by limousine to dinner and by helicopter from dinner to the dance, from there they went by horse-drawn carriage to a motel for an after-prom party.

There were many interesting challenges for me as a youth minister to privileged youth. During the summer I worked in that internship I led youth on bicycle trips in the country, a trip to an amusement park, an out of state camping trip, and other adventures. The budget of the youth program in which I worked exceeded the combined budgets of the first two congregations I later served. I had some experience with youth work, having served as director of a conference camp for the two prior summers, but I had never before encountered youth who had such extensive experience with alcohol. Although the program, like the camp, had rules against alcohol use by the youth, I had never run into infractions at camp. I had to deal with youth who brought hard liquor to events in my internship. Most of the youth in that program had traveled internationally, vacationed in exotic locations, and had experiences that I had not had.

One of the issues I had to face in my youth ministry internship was working with the youth through the grief of the loss of a slightly older young man who had graduated from the program a year before I arrived. I never met this young man face to face, but he died in the crash of his automobile, which hit a bridge abutment traveling at over 120 mph. I do not know the details of the accident, but it was common knowledge among the youth that there had been no skid marks or signs of braking at the accident scene. Nothing was said out loud, but I’m pretty sure that the youth, like me, wondered if the cause of death had been suicide. I was young and inexperienced, and I allowed silence on that topic as I attempted to guide the youth through the experience. I didn’t know how silence about mental illness and suicide can be a factor in additional deaths from suicide. I didn’t know how to talk openly about suicide.

It seemed to me at the time, and still does, that privilege was a factor in the young man’s death. The fact that his new car - the second he had received as a gift from his parents - was a BMW that was capable of going over 100 mph was a factor in the intensity of the crash.

I feel very fortunate that most of my career as a pastor took place among people of more modest means. I know that I would not have been good dealing with the constant privilege and wealth of that community. I have been quite at home among communities where there is significant economic variation.

I have been thinking of children of privilege lately, however, because the congregation where we are serving as interim ministers of Faith Formation is a congregation with many privileged children and youth. Many of the children of our program have had access to private schools and participate in expensive summer camps and programs. They had special instruction during the pandemic that advanced their academic growth when many of their peers were struggling with school closures. They have grown up being constantly reminded that they are unique, special, and can do and be anything they choose when they grow up. Most of them have two parents who are professionals. Many live in homes that are worth more than double the value of ours.

It seems to me that one of the burdens of their privilege is that they have received so much individualized special attention that they lack community skills. They are used to being self-directive in learning situations, and don’t know how to behave in group learning settings. I have encountered children who are incapable of participating in group activities. They are used to being able to make their own decisions about when and how to engage in various activities. They simply don’t comply or conform to group norms, and are used to being able to get their own way by simply asserting their wishes. They believe that rules don’t apply to them. We have to recruit extra adults to staff our programs so that there are people available to work with some children one-on-one because they cannot function in a group.

I’m sure that the pandemic has robbed some children of opportunities for group learning, but I have been surprised to discover five- and six-year-olds and even older children who don’t know how to participate in a group. Their life experiences have robbed them of community. While we work hard to provide group experiences and to engage them in community activities, our influence on their lives is comparatively small.

It is hard to focus on the problems of privilege in a world where children experience poverty, hunger and injustice. This will be a small chapter in the larger story of my life an career, but it fascinates me that my career has, so far, been bookended by experiences of working with privileged young people. Perhaps, in my own way, I too have been a child of privilege.

Refreshing rainfall

According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, our county is experiencing a drought emergency. There are three small water systems in our county that are operating on emergency status, and some area wells have run dry. Some small water systems, serving about 350 people, have had to have water trucked in in order to keep up domestic water availability. Our water system has put into effect a few conservation rules, but only restrictions on lawn watering, which are familiar to us from living in South Dakota. We have a small lawn, and we have allowed it to go dormant. We have used domestic water to water the flowers and vegetables, and are experiencing no distress at the present.

Severe drought conditions were brought on by early snowmelt, a lack of spring rain and low streamflows. Rainfall estimates are just 25% of normal in our county according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. May and June this year were among the warmest and driest since 1895. A drought is declared when there is less than 75% of normal water supply available.

For us, the drought doesn’t seem all that unusual. We have lived most of our lives in the Dakotas, where low rainfall amounts were common. We’ve noticed some warmer temperatures, but we haven’t suffered with air conditioning available in our home. It gets cool in the evenings and we are able to open up the windows and cool the house effectively overnight. Many days we don’t need air conditioning at all, when we do, a couple of hours is all it takes.

We did notice with gratitude the simple gift of rain yesterday. It was raining lightly when we arose and rain continued off and on throughout the day. Around 4 pm it started to rain heavily and heavy rain continued for a couple of hours. By late evening the rain had stopped and the skies cleared. We saw a bit of blue sky before sundown.

Rain is such a wonderful gift. A shower like we had yesterday renews the plants in ways that no amount of water from the tap can. We took a walk in the rain. We have adapted to our new home enough to have good rain jackets. It felt good. It smelled good. It was downright blustery at the beach and although we walked a typical route for us, we didn’t linger at the beach and found ourselves facing away from the water most of the time because of the pelting rain.

One lesson we have learned about living in this part of the country is to keep fresh blades on the windshield wipers of our vehicles. The new wiper blades on our car were welcome yesterday as we were able to see without streaks on the windshield.

As refreshing as yesterday’s rain was, our county fire marshal warned that the amount of rain we received is not enough to restore already-low streamflows, and will not reduce the risk of wildfires. “In order for the burn ban to be lifted, the region will need several days, if not weeks, of rain and cooler temperatures.” The burn ban is expected to remaining effect until the end of September or early October.

We are newcomers to this place and don’t have enough experience to know what is usual and what is extreme. The temperatures have not felt extreme to us. We’ve lived in places where summer heat is higher than we have had here. However, the weather is generally a bit milder around here than what we have experienced in the time we’ve lived here. We are told, however, that what we are seeing this year is likely to become the new normal as climate change makes warm, dry summers more frequent and droughts more severe.

I am not much of a gardener. I have a few tomato plants, some sunflowers, and a couple of beds of dahlias, all of which are doing pretty well. I have plans to expand my growing of food crops in our yard including building up more beds for vegetables next year. The things I am growing seem to be doing well in the weather we have experienced. It simply is easier to grow plants here than it was in South Dakota. I’m sure that part of the reason is that I am not working as many hours at the church and so have more time to pay attention to the plants in the yard. But mostly, I suspect it has to do with having moved to a place where it rains more often. This year I installed a drip irrigation system for our backyard beds where the dahlias and tomatoes are growing. I have a diverter on one of the downspouts that fills up a rain barrel. The rain barrel, however, has been empty for at least a month. Yesterday should have added enough water to the rain barrel for several days of irrigation before I have to go back to using the hose attached to our home water system.

Another bonus to yesterday’s rain was that it fit right in with the day’s theme at our Creation Care camp, which was clouds. There were plenty of clouds to observe in the sky, though an overcast of stratus clouds isn’t as dramatic as blue skies with a few cirrus or cumulous clouds. Locals tell me that yesterday’s overcast is more typical of the weather around here than the weeks of sunny blue skies that we have experienced for much of the summer. The contrast of yesterday’s rain was just right to make the weather a topic of conversation among the children as they gathered at the church for a morning of songs, movement, art projects, and learning.

Today the theme is mountains. We live near the mountains, but it takes clear skies for us to see them. We’ve got plenty of pictures to look at if the day is overcast and the children are used to being able to see snow-capped mountains from their homes and schoolyards.

For now, the aromas of wet trees and plants are refreshing as they come in through our open windows. The air is cool and there is much for which to be grateful. Compared to many other places in the world, we are very fortunate. Blessings abound.

Gratitude looking forward


Today marks the beginning of Creation Care Camp at our church. The program, a four-day day camp for elementary school children, began last year after a break from summer programs due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A year ago, we were still wearing masks in our building and the children word masks for all indoor activities except snack time. A lot has changed in a year.

This year, the camp is centered around four themes of our congregation’s all church read: “Speak with the Earth and It Will Teach You” by Daniel Cooperrider. Those themes are Rivers, Mountains, Trees, and Clouds. In our camp we are exploring the themes in reverse order due to the availability of themes presenters. Today we start with clouds. The children will participate in a variety of activities including art, music and movement, and theme engagement with special presenters every day. Part of my responsibility will be teaching a yoga position for each day. I’m no expert in yoga, but I do practice poses and sometimes being responsible for the overall program means stepping up to fill in when another leader is not available. One of the things Susan and I have always said to one another is, “We’ll make it work.” And we will.

I’m excited about the week to come. We have 23 children registered and a great cohort of leaders. Our cloud presenter is an active sailor who has a wealth of knowledge about winds, weather and clouds. Our mountain presenter has summited peaks all over the world and has significant technical climbing skills. Our tree presenter is a retired forester who also brings years of experience teaching gardening skills to children. And on our final day, we will have people from a salmon recovery group presenting on river and stream restoration. The team of artists leading the artwork promises wonderful projects. We have an original theme song composed for the week and music leaders who are very experienced with working with children.

And most of all, we have children. Throughout our careers, one of the deep joys of our work has been working with children in the area of faith formation. Forming faith is always a process of developing significant relationships and having the ability to witness children as they grow and mature is a special privilege for us.

Yesterday’s plan was for a kickoff event in our children’s garden. That event was altered slightly to include a celebration of our time as Interim Ministers of Faith Formation. There was a party with sandwiches, cupcakes (with gummy worms on them) and ice cream bars. There were gifts from the congregation and a large basket of cards.

Over supper last night we read the cards. They are deeply meaningful and it was a real treat to have such a variety of hand-written greetings from members of the congregation. We were touched by the words and ideas that were shared.

Among the fun cards were those written by children. We’ve had the opportunity to witness a significant part of the growing of many of them. Two years produce a lot of changes in young ones. Some of those who wrote us cards weren’t able to write a couple of years ago. Now they can express themselves well in words, even if they still employ a bit of creative spelling. We couldn’t help laughing over the card that I’ve used as an illustration for this journal entry. From our point of view, our interim position didn’t involve “many years.” It was only two. But things look different to a young person. And working on weekends is such a part of all of our working lives that we didn’t see it from the perspective of sacrifice, but the sentiment expressed in the card is precious. I haven’t included the signature line in this setting as I make it a practice not to include identifying information of children on social media of any kind.

Among the other joys of our time working at First Congregational Church of Bellingham are the memories that we have. We have had some really fun times teaching and working with children and families. I have especially enjoyed the process of facilitating small groups. A wise teacher once challenged me to write a prayer for each class I taught. His challenge was more than “say a prayer.” He suggested that taking time to write out a prayer forces a teacher to think about the particular class in an important way. Remembering to encourage spiritual growth helps shift the focus from the transfer of information or content to be learned to a more essential part of faith formation. Writing is a discipline with a particular focus. During my time as part of the church staff here, I have continued that practice - a practice that was reinvigorated when I hosted a daily prayer vlog at our congregation in Rapid City. Writing prayers has been an important spiritual discipline for me.

For the next four days, I have plenty of prayers to write. In addition to our Creation Care Camp, I will be meeting with two small groups of adults this week. It is a fitting group of activities and practices for our last week of formal employment before we retire once again.

A week from today we have a scheduled exit interview with the personnel committee of the church. They gave us a list of questions to consider in preparation for that interview. One of the questions is “what would you change if you could?” My first reaction was, “nothing.” I have really appreciated the whole of our time working at the church. What surprises me, however, is that if I could I would change the end date of our time. I would continue with this work. I didn’t know how coming out of retirement would feel, but it was wonderful. I can imagine myself working in such a position for at least another decade. My health is good and meaningful work is a blessing.

That, of course is not an option for us in this work. But after the end of this month, when we’ve had a few days to rest, I know I’ll be open to what might come next. There are no prospects on the horizon at the moment, but I suspect something will turn up.

After all, we are willing to work weekends.

It isn't usually like this

When we lived in North Dakota more than four decades ago, we used to joke that the weather in North Dakota was never normal. It didn’t seem to matter what the weather was, there was someone at the city cafe who would say, “It isn’t usually like this.” We moved to North Dakota in the summer and were told that the hot weather was unusual. “It isn’t usually like this.” Then, when we had a couple of weeks of below-zero weather in the winter, local folks were once again saying, “It isn’t usually like this.” The reality was that we were quite comfortable. The parsonage in which we lived had a good furnace and we were able to be warm and comfortable inside during the winter. Although we didn’t have air conditioning in our home or in our car, it wasn’t a problem. the number of days in which air conditioning would have been nice was small. We learned to open up the house and sometimes put a fan into a window during the night and to close it up to keep the heat out during the day. There were a few hot days traveling by car. Later, when we decided to have two cars, we did get one with air conditioning. I remember saying to friends, there is no need for two cars with air conditioning. When it is hot we can drive the one that has cool air.

We haven’t had a car without air conditioning for nearly 30 years. The home in which we have lived for the past couple of years has central air conditioning. We don’t need to run it for extended periods of time, but a couple of hours in the late afternoon and early evening keeps us comfortable.

However, it turns out that the people we met in North Dakota were right - if not back then, at least now. “It isn’t usually like this.” Dangerous heatwaves in Europe are breaking records. The oceans are warmer than they have ever been. Antarctic sea ice is melting at alarming rates. Scientists who study the weather say that the speed and timing of the warming of the earth is unprecedented.

It isn’t like we didn’t expect this to happen. Scientists have been warning us that the over consumption of fossil fuels is contributing to global warming for decades. International conferences have brought attention to the climate crisis that is bearing down upon the planet. Of course there are those who are in denial. They tend to be some of the same people who think that the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t real.

It does appear, however, that the scientists, including some who predicted worst case scenarios, were correct. There is significant evidence that there has never been a period when all parts of the climate system were in record-breaking territory, according to Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics. Imperial College London climate science lecturer Dr. Paulo Ceppi agrees, “The Earth is in uncharted territory.”

The world experienced its hottest day ever recorded in July, breaking the global average temperature record set in 2016. There is little doubt among scientists that ongoing emissions from burning fossil fuels like oil coal, and gas are behind the planet’s warming trend.

The heat wasn’t just a single day in July. This year also saw the hottest June on record. El Nino, the world’s most powerful naturally occurring climate fluctuation that brings warmer water to the surface in the tropical Pacific, came earlier than predicted. It isn’t just the absolute temperatures, but also the rate of change that has scientists wondering what the next decade will bring. Although the climate predictions of a decade ago are relatively accurate, scientist are less confident about their predictions for the next ten years because the rate of change is accelerating so quickly.

All of the last three months, May, June, and July have seen average global ocean temperatures rising well above record heats. The extreme heat in the North Atlantic ocean is particularly alarming to scientists. People tend to think about trees and grasses dying when they talk about heatwaves, but scientists are even more alarmed at the impact of rising sea temperatures on marine ecosystems. The oceans produce 50% of the world’s oxygen. Rapid depletion of ocean plants will cause the warming trends to accelerate.

Warm oceans mean less sea ice. The area covered by sea ice in the Antarctic is at record lows. An area around 10 times the size of the United Kingdom has disappeared. It isn’t just a record being broken - the amount of sea ice in the Antarctic is 10% lower than the previous low. The depletion of sea ice is much more rapid than previously predicted. This means that it is nearly impossible to obtain sufficient data to make long term predictions. No one is sure how much more sea ice will be lost in the next few years, let alone decades.

More heat brings more wildfire which increases the carbon in the atmosphere. It is a viscous cycle that is accelerating in ways that alarm even casual observers. Scientists now talk about “a livable future for many,” acknowledging that the changes in the atmosphere may mean that the planet will not be able to sustain current levels of human population. Reductions of population by deaths due to heat, flooding, fire, and pandemic seem like drastic predictions, but they are not beyond reason. Extreme heat is already the most dangerous weather phenomenon in terms of human lives lost.

It isn’t usually like this.

In the short run, rapid heat increases result in increased use of air conditioning, much of it powered by fossil fuels, the use of which increase the carbon in the atmosphere in turn increasing the temperature. We have decided that the fact that we have air conditioning in a region where it isn’t common means that we need to install solar panels to generate the electricity we use so that we don’t increase our carbon footprint. But one house has such a tiny impact that we can’t reverse global trends.

The truth is that we are all in this together. We humans have only one planet as far as we know. And it is getting uncomfortably hot. There no longer is time for a debate about whether human caused climate change is a reality. Our energies are needed to find solutions to save lives. If we cannot envision a livable future for all at least we must work for a livable future for many.


We have a niece, the daughter of my brother, who grew up on Whidbey Island. When she was tiny, we visited them on the island. We lived in Idaho, and later in South Dakota, so we didn’t get out to the west coast very often. There has always seemed to me to be something a bit romantic about growing up on an island. Whidbey is a large island. On the south end is the ferry to Mukiteo, with Everett and Seattle beyond. There is a huge Boeing factory at Paine Field not far from the ferry terminal and workers who live on the island commute by ferry. The island wraps north with Camano Island between it and the area north of Everett on the mainland. At the northern end of the Island is Deception Pass State Park. A bridge spans the pass to Fidalgo Island where another bridge connects it to the mainland near LaConner. When our niece was little, we would take the ferry and visit the south end of the island. When we moved out to Washington we spend a bit more time visiting the north end of the island, as it was a short drive from the home we rented when we lived in Mount Vernon. By then our niece had grown up, gone to college back east, traveled the world, and gotten married.

She now is an adult with a beautiful daughter of her own who is almost four years old. Yesterday we met my brother and our niece and her family at Deception Pass State Park. She comes back to the island where she grew up frequently to visit. Her mother still lives on the island and this year was a high school reunion and an opportunity to get together with old friends. I think that there is something about having grown up on an island that makes you want to come back to the island. There is a quality of life there that is different than living on the mainland. Our niece has always been an island girl in my mind. She is a terrific swimmer and, like her mother, swims in the ocean when it seems very cold to us.

For our day visit to the island, we had our six-year-old granddaughter with us. Her older sister and brother were attending space camp at a robotics and coding school and weren’t available for the trip and her baby brother was too young to be away from his mother for that long. It is a special treat for us when we have time with just one of our grandchildren. This one is adventurous and loves being outdoors and exploring a bit of the island was a great fit for her. She plays well with other children and she and our great niece got along well, painting pictures and rocks, discovering things along the beach and, of course, playing in the water. We met near Cranberry lake, where there is a fresh water lake that is very close to the ocean. A narrow spit of land separates the two and there is a sandy beach where you can dip in the ocean, and walk across the sand to dip in the lake.

When it was time for us to go, I got the chore of cleaning up our granddaughter’s feet so she could slip them into her shoes. Her father had packed a change of clothes so she had dry clothes, but before she could put on her shoes, someone had to clean the sand from between her toes. It is a wonderfully fun, giggly task for a grandpa and one I loved when our children were little. It always makes me think of a poem by A.A. Milne:

“I went down to the shouting sea,
Taking Christopher down with me,
For Nurse had given us sixpence each-
And down we went to the beach.

“We had sand in the eyes and the ears and the nose,
And sand in the hair, and sand-between-the-toes.
Whenever a good nor'wester blows,
Christopher is certain of

There is more to the poem - three verses with the refrain after each. It is the refrain that seems so musical to me. I’ve been with children with “sand in the eyes and the ears and the nose, and sand in the hair, and sand-between-the-toes.”

Our granddaughter has a librarian for a father, and I’m sure that they have the book, “Now We are Six,” a collection of poems about Winnie-th-Pooh and Christopher Robin. Her father was given a copy of the book when he was two, just before his sister was born. Along with helping children to clean the sand from between their toes, reading the poems to them is one of the great pleasures of this life. I’ve don it enough that I have the refrain to the poem memorized, which comes in handy every time I have the opportunity to clean the sand from between the toes of a child.

We had sunny skies and a beautiful day for a picnic at the beach. Our great niece’s father is a wonderful cook and we had a delicious potato salad and a delightful smoked whitefish dip to go with our sandwiches and watermelon. You couldn’t ask for better company. The young family now live in upstate New York so visiting them is a rare treat in our lives. It was one of those very good days that we’ve been fortunate to share. No nor’westers were blowing. We do get weather from the northwest, and walking along the beaches around here in blustery weather is fascinating, but I was glad to have a sunny day for taking children to the beach. I’ve learned over the years that you don’t really need a good nor’wester to blow in order for children to get sand between the toes. On the other hand you don’t need bright sunlight or any particular type of weather for children to shed their shoes at the beach. Even when it is cold, the water is too inviting. When we are lucky we remember boots for the blustery days.

In the afternoon we delivered a pretty tired six year old to her father at the library. Most people get to check out books from the library. We do that, but on occasion, we are also allowed to borrow a child. By the time we returned her she was a bit dirtier than when we got her in the morning. And she was tired. I suspect that she fell asleep in the car on the drive home. And, I’m pretty sure that before she went to bed, there was a bath. After all, even though I tried, I’m confident she still had sand between the toes.

Woes of home ownership

Being a homeowner means that there are constantly repairs that need to be made. One of the features of the home we purchased is that it has an “upgraded” kitchen. In this case upgraded meant that a previous owner purchased new appliances at some point, so that the ones in our kitchen are not the ones in the home when it was first built. It also probably referred to the fact that the flooring in the kitchen is also newer than the house. Now that we have lived in the home for a couple of years, we know it better. We also know that “upgraded” doesn’t necessarily mean better. This is particularly apparent in the kitchen.

For one thing, when it comes to appliances, newer is not always better. We bought new kitchen appliances when we moved into our Rapid City home. When we moved out, the stove and refrigerator were 25 years old and still working well. Newer kitchen appliances aren’t expected to last for 25 years. In this house, the first appliance to fail was the microwave oven. After exploring options to repair it, we replaced it with a new one. Then the broiler in the oven failed. It could have been repaired, but we decided to replace the gas stove with a new unit that has an induction cooktop. By switching from gas to electric, we slightly increased the air quality in our home. In addition, because we are in the process of having solar panels installed on our home, our carbon footprint will decrease because the electricity from hydro electric dams and solar panels does not result in as much carbon being released to the air as natural gas.

One thing that was not upgraded in our kitchen was the sink. In this subdivision, the builder saved a few dollars by placing sinks with a ceramic coating in the units. Those sinks suffered chips over the years and ours looked a little worse for the wear. Our biggest problem, however, wasn’t the sink itself. It was the faucet which had been upgraded. The faucet in place on the kitchen sink when we bought the house had a feature that allowed for it to be turned on and off with a touch instead of turning the valve. That system was powered by eight AA batteries and never worked exactly as designed. It was so frustrating that we disconnected that feature, leaving the sink in manual mode. However, the fancy electric valve would occasionally leak, which should have simply resulted in water dripping into the sink. The faucet, however, was not properly sealed on the ceramic sink, so water would drip beneath the sink. If we didn’t notice right away, we’d end up with a puddle in the cabinet beneath. This happened often enough to be frustrating and when it leaked when we had a house full of company in June, we decided the time had come for a new faucet. We shopped carefully and selected a faucet with out electronics and a simpler way of sealing to the sink. Then, even though the faucet was expensive, we decided to replace the sink with a new stainless seal one. A plumber was hired to do the installation and we are very pleased with the results.

However, the water that dripped under the sink had done some damage. The base of the cabinet under the sink is particle board, which had absorbed some of the water. It wasn’t enough to weaken the base, but it left some stains and there was a bit of surface mold. There is a good primer/sealer/stain paint that I’ve used before. I have put two coats of that paint on the base of the cabinet and all is well. In my spare time over the next week or so, I will install plank vinyl flooring that matches the kitchen floor inside the cabinet. We had a similar experience in our Rapid City home and when we had new tile installed in the kitchen, we had tile installed on the bottom of the under sink cabinet. We’re looking to having the same clean, waterproof and easy to clean surface in this cabinet.

That would finish our kitchen, except the refrigerator has already required the replacement of the door seals. The freezer compartment, which is a large drawer at the bottom of this unit has had to have the drawer slides adjusted repeatedly. Then there is the matter of the ice maker and water dispenser in the refrigerator door. Because this model has the freezer compartment in the bottom, the ice maker is located in the refrigerator, not the freezer as is common in other models. A combination of the failure of a solenoid that controls a water valve and a bit of ice build up that deformed a bit of plastic has rendered the ice maker unusable. Replacing the entire ice maker is not an option. For now we are making ice with ice cube trays as we did for years in other homes. It isn’t a problem for us and not having a water dispenser in the door of the refrigerator is another thing that doesn’t disrupt our lives. We keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator and have cold water available whenever we want it. But we have been told by an appliance repair person that the solution is to replace the refrigerator. We’re reluctant to do so both because of cost and because we are not at all sure that a new appliance will last very long.

These are the woes of anyone who owns a home. There are constantly things in need of repair. And we know that we have great privilege to have such a beautiful and functional home. A bit of labor seems an appropriate cost of home ownership. With the housing shortage deepening across the region, we are fortunate to have a home in such a great location. Those who are living without homes would have no sympathy for my complaints about this house.

Still, I’ve bumped my head several times working under the kitchen sink and I’m pretty sure that there are a few more bumps in store before I finish putting the vinyl in. As is true of other home repairs, it isn’t just a matter of labor. There is a learning curve involved. I’m hoping I learn without any more scrapes that leave scabs on my head.

Rebellious thoughts

Many years ago we were invited to participate in a service of profession of holy orders in a Roman Catholic Church. A friend of ours was taking his vows to become a member of a religious community and he asked us to share in the ceremony. For millennia, faithful members of the Roman Catholic Church have chosen to live their faith in intentional communities. Sometimes known as monks or nuns, often simply as brothers or sisters, individual take solemn vows to live a common life according to the religious rules established for each particular order. Some religious orders establish monasteries as shared residences and places of worship. Within the monastery, faithful members participate in regular prayer and worship, do the work of providing food and shelter for one another, and serve the wider community.

Not all of the participants in religious communities become priests. Lay members serve the church without being ordained or becoming part of the religious hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.

The names of some of the orders are familiar to Protestants as well as Catholics: Benedictines, Carmelites, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, and Trappists are among the names of religious orders, but there are many others. There are monasteries in Protestantism and religious orders outside of the Roman Catholic Church. The Priory of St. Wigbert is a Lutheran monastery that follow the Benedictine tradition. Protestants have become oblates in Benedictine monasteries. And there are non-monastic orders within the Catholic Church where members do not share in communal living, but are connected to the order without living together.

As part of our participation in the ceremony of our friend’s vows to join a religious community, we were vested with stoles from the sacristy of a Roman Catholic Parish. In preparation, we received instructions from the Bishop about our participation in the ceremony. As we received those instructions it was clear that the Bishop was a bit nervous about our participation. Such ceremonies are generally reserved for those who are members of the Catholic Church. In general, Roman Catholic priests and members of religious communities take a vow of chastity and we were openly married Protestants. It was not a violation of the rules of the order or of those of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, but it was outside of the usual and outside of that particular bishop’s comfort zone.

I have since frequently told stories of that experience and the thoughts that ran through my mind. Of course I wanted to show respect for the traditions and the ceremonies of the church and I wanted to support my friend in his genuine commitment to a life of religious service. But my role in the ceremony was as a supporter of my friend. I was not an officiant in any way. The fact that I had been ordained as a Protestant minister gave me a certain authority within my own church, but none in the Roman Catholic church. Still the bishop’s instructions about when to sit, stand, and kneel; what to do when the host was consecrated and elevated, how to appear in front of the congregation was very serious. When the host was elevated in the ceremony, the Roman Catholic clerics would raise their hands along with the priest who held the bread of communion. We were to keep our hands at our sides. I understood. I am not a Catholic priest and have no intention of pretending to be one. Still, I couldn’t keep from wondering how it was that whether or not I raised my hands could affect the sacredness of the eucharist. Did I actually hold the power to disrupt the ceremony? Could I have made the process somehow less holy by the position of my hands?

I would not have made a good priest. There is too much of the trappings of religious ceremony that does not make sense to me. While I have a deep respect for spiritual life and religious tradition, I am full of questions. I don’t submit to the rules of the hierarchy. I could not take vows of obedience to religious structures and authorities.

Memories of a few meaningful times of sharing worship with Roman Catholic friends, including the profession of orders by our friend, came to mind last evening as a small group within our church was discussing the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard, as he is often commonly called, was a Jesuit priest. He also was a scientist and a mystic. We know of his life primarily through his writings which were published after his death in 1955. The fact that those writings were published and have become available to the wider community is the result of what might have been considered to be an act of disobedience on Teilhard’s part. While it is common for those who are part of religious communities to leave their writings and personal effects to the community, Teilhard arranged for his writings to be published after his death in direct disobedience of the instructions of religious superiors that he not publish his writings. His ideas were controversial. As a scientist he had lived and done research in China. He had developed ideas that stood in contrast to mainstream religious thinking. While he obeyed the order not to publish his ideas during his life, he made arrangements for them to be published outside of the church after he died. It was this act of disobedience that made his writing available to us today.

From my perspective, his writings are not radical or revolutionary. He recognizes the feminine as well as the masculine in a life of faith. He argues for the unity of science and religion. He experiences the sacred in the everyday matter of life. He senses the presence of God in the rocks and soil and living things of this planet. He does not expound on heaven as some distant other place, but finds the sacred in the stuff of the earth. In that I do not disagree with him.

Perhaps Teilhard caused a minor confusion by his act of disobedience in arranging for his books to be published, but he did not disrupt the order of the Catholic Church. In some ways his ideas have had more impact among Protestants than among Catholics.

I know that had I lifted a hand or an arm during that ceremony I did not hold the power to disrupt the ways of the hierarchy of the church, but I can’t help but wonder what might have happened had I shown some small sign of disobedience. Perhaps my presence itself was sufficient to open a few minds and get some people thinking. Our community is much wider than we think and we are connected in ways that reach beyond the definitions and vows of a particular community.

The burden of student debt

The folks I know have mixed feelings about student debt and debt forgiveness. While some folks celebrate the efforts of the Biden administration to help people with educational debt, others think that perhaps the Supreme Court was correct in overturning the original Biden plan, saying that it was an over reach of Presidential power and that such a sweeping program must require congressional consent.

Laying aside the inability of the United States congress to pass very much effective legislation because of extreme partisanship and a few antiquated rules of procedure, it does seem like the problem of student debit should be addressed by legislation. After all the crisis is the result of laws that have allowed the situation to develop.

However, I am a bit tired of people my age saying, “I paid my student loans, they should pay theirs.” This statement simply ignores the huge difference between the situation in recent years and the situation we faced when we were students. Susan and I went to undergraduate school and graduate school together. Our total combined student debt after earning our degrees was $7,500, financed at 3%. I recently read that the average debt for a single student going straight from undergraduate school through a master’s program is $90,000. The average federal loan interest rate is 6.36%, up 24% since 2020. Private loan rates are typically higher, and can be as high as 16.2%. Most student loan debt is federal with interest rates between 4.99% and 7.54%.

There are plenty of professions, ours included, that simply don’t provide sufficient income for the debt we would have accumulated had we completed our educations in 2020. And when students fall behind in payments they incur additional fees.

Comparing how my generation dealt with student debt with how the current generation is dealing with it is meaningless. We simply didn’t have the amount of debt and we had the means to repay it even with modest salaries.

There are a lot of other problems around student debt. A number of for-profit colleges and universities encouraged student debt by promising direct placement into high-paying jobs upon graduation. They failed to deliver those job placements. Furthermore, they oversold the value of their educational programs. Some of those sales pitches amounted to scams. There has been quite a bit of publicity given to the ways students were enticed to incur debt believing that the educational programs would provide income to offset the debt. The educational institutions were receiving payment for services, sometimes at inflated rates, knowing that their target audience didn’t have to afford to pay the price of education because it could be covered by loans. More than a few of those educational programs were worthless in terms of providing income.

Another problem is that when someone is unable to make full payments on loans, fees and interest pile up. I recently heard of a student who graduated with $21,000 in debt. That student has made payments on the debt, but has not always been able to make full payment of the monthly amounts. After 20 years of payments, the payoff of the loans is now over $100,000. They have been paying for 20 years and now owe over four times the amount borrowed.

Add to that that simply defaulting on a student loan does not erase the debt. Congress has passed laws that make it challenging to have student debt discharged in bankruptcy proceedings. Unless very narrow criteria are met, people can go through a bankruptcy believing that they have gotten past their debt only to find that the student debt, with additional fees and charges persists. It can prevent those who owe from establishing a credit rating decades after a bankruptcy.

Student debt is crippling the economy. Those struggling under the burden of the debt are unable to fully participate in the economy. They are forced to live a poverty lifestyle instead of being able to invest in homes, retirement savings, and other items that boost the overall economy for the entire country.

The issue of student debt is effectively placing the cost of education beyond the reach of many people. Those who carefully study the debt to income ratio may, in many cases, conclude that the investment in higher education, especially graduate school is simply not a paying investment. The choice to forgo education because of financial limitations may make business sense, but it decreases the options for those who fail to obtain education and increases the gap between high wage earners and those who earn less. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer either way. If they are not impoverished by the burden of high debt, they are impoverished by the lack of education and the inability to obtain high paying jobs.

There is no doubt that the Biden Administration is seeking to decrease the amount of student loan debt. Following the ruling of the Supreme Court, new loan forgiveness and refinancing programs have been put into place. Additional programs are promised. Whether or not these will be challenged in the courts and whether or not they will go into effect remains to be seen. In the meantime, loan repayment relief programs that were put into effect during the Covid pandemic are now expiring and payments need to be resumed. Fees will continue to accumulate. Repayment amounts will continue to increase.

These issues could be addressed legislatively, which seems like the practical way to seek solutions. However, the federal legislature is at a complete standstill with virtually no meaningful debate and no compromises. Party affiliation dictates every vote, with party leaders holding the purse strings for campaign finances and legislators forced to spend their entire term of service raising funds to continue to wage multi-million dollar campaigns for reelection.

I wonder what they might do if they believed that freeing people from student loans might transform them into campaign donors.

The bible has strong opinions on charging interest on debt and several rules about debt forgiveness. Forgiving debt is a virtue, not a problem. I don’t expect the federal government to embrace biblical financial management as official policy, but I wish that some of those who claim to be Christian would at least learn a bit about those Biblical teachings.

The problems will remain - with effects that last decades into the future - until we find a solution.

What are you going to do?

“What are you going to do when you retire?” It is a question that several people have asked me over the past few weeks. Like some other things in my life, retirement has not come to me as a single event with a single date. We retired at the end of June, 2020. Our call as pastors and teachers at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Rapid City, South Dakota, came to an end. Back then, when people asked “What are you going to do?” I usually answered with our plans to sell our Rapid City home and move to Washington, where our son lives. At the time, I didn’t anticipate that our son would move from one town in Washington to another. I didn’t even know, before we retired, exactly where we would live, but moving from one state to another supplied a sufficient answer to the question.

We did move. Our plan to rent a place to live while we shopped for our home seemed to be working out. After a struggle we found a house to rent. Rent was higher than we anticipated, but we had an excellent landlord whose rental home was in a very nice neighborhood. After focusing our energies on sorting our possessions and moving, we settled in - sort of. I worked at scanning and organizing slides that we had collected over a lot of years. I made model airplanes for our grandson. We went on walks.

Then the opportunity came for us to go back to work for a couple of years. I was eager to seize that opportunity. When our lease on the rental home came to an end, we extended it for one month and found a home to buy. It was not where we thought we would end up when we imagined retirement from our Rapid City perspective. This time we moved while we were working at the new job.

The two years have passed quickly. In two weeks we will conclude this call to ministry. And now the questions are coming once again. “What are you going to do?” I’m no better at answering that question now than I was three years ago. I usually say something about the unfinished boat project in our son’s barn, a bit of travel that we have deferred while working, a dream of a large, multi-week trip, or the joy of playing with our grandchildren.

The reality is that there are a lot of things that I will do when we are fully retired. One of those things, that I don’t mention, is keep my eyes open for new possibilities to return to work. Perhaps there is a small congregation that needs a part-time pastor. Ministers will take sabbatical and we might cover for them while they travel and learn. I’m fairly confident that something will turn up, but I have no intention of looking very hard until after we have concluded this call. I’m having too much fun working at this job.

When I pause to think, however, I know that the question is the wrong one for me. I’m not worried about what I will do. There are way more things to do than the number of years that I have left in my life. There are poems to write, places to visit, people to invite to dinner, new skills to learn, repairs to be made. I will still make “to do” lists on pads of yellow paper. I’ll still get up in the morning with a sense of purpose and tasks to accomplish. The real question, when I am honest with myself, is “Who will I be when I retire?”

Ever since I received my first call to provide pulpit supply in a rural Montana congregation during my last year of undergraduate education, my work has not just been a way to earn income. My job has been my identity. I am a minister. I am a preacher. The second one, however, is already somehow less true than it once was. I have preached only one sermon since the end of June, 2020. I am not the preacher in this congregation. I have been a teacher. I’m the one who tells the children’s story in worship. I’m the one who writes prayers for small groups that meed regularly. I’m the teacher of bible studies. I’m the planner of day camp for children. I’m the one who says, “Yes, I can do that!” at meetings. But I’m running out of meetings. I’ve already attended my last meeting of the Faith Formation Board. I’ve got a couple of staff meetings and an exit interview left. I’ll offer the prayer at a couple of small groups.

In the United Church of Christ ministerial status does not end when a call ends. I will still be an ordained minister. I will still have official standing in the denomination. I will still need to take regular boundary training. I will still be able to officiate at weddings and funerals and serve communion. That is if someone asks me to do those things. And there are limits to when I might say yes. Professional ethics specify that I will not perform pastoral functions in the communities where my ministry has ended.

I already wonder if I am still able to preach a sermon every week, or if any congregation will be interested in asking me to do so. I don’t think of it in terms of what I will do, but in terms of who I am. I’m having trouble answering the question, “What do you do?” with the words, “I am retired.”

I have wonderful mentors and models when it comes to retirement. I have dear friends who have shown me how meaningful volunteer service is. I have witnessed the joy that comes with the end of the expectation of daily work at a job for income. There is no need for me to complain. The Pension Boards of the United Church of Christ will continue to deposit funds in my bank account every month. I’ll still receive a payment from the Social Security Administration. I’ll have money for groceries and upkeep on our house. I’ll have funds to travel and indulge in an occasional splurge. I am very fortunate.

I’m just not sure who I will be.

To start with, I’ll focus on the things that are not ending. I’ll still be husband. I’ll still be father. I’ll still be grandpa. I know how to be those things and they are very good things to be.

I think that the next time someone asks, “What are you going to do when you retire?” I might answer, “The first thing I’m going to do is to figure out what I will do.” Then again, I should be more honest and say, “I’m going to figure out who I will be.”

Speaking of bees

Last week I added a second honey super to my bee hives. The hives now consist of four boxes each. The bottom two boxes contain the brood. They are where the queen is laying eggs and the colony is raising new bees. On top of those two deep boxes is a screen known as a queen excluder. The holes in the wire mesh are large enough for worker bees to go through, but too small for the queen to go through. Above the excluder are boxes that are not quite as deep where the bees are filling cells with honey. It is prime honey season for the bees in our hive. The farm is full of flowering plants and the bees are coming back to the hive with lots of nectar that they turn into honey and store. Some of that honey will be their food source over the winter when many plants are dormant. Most of the honey in the supers will be harvested for us to eat and to share with friends and neighbors.

While I added the supers, I did a full inspection of the hive, pulling out some of the frames to look at the bees, notice the capped cells with larvae, see the honey cells, and make sure that there were no signs of mites or other problems for the colonies. The bees are healthy an active. Still, inspecting the hive riled them up a bit and I was glad I had my bee jacket and hood with so many flying around me. I’m learning the art of paying attention to the bees and moving slowly when I handle them. They are learning to trust me and go on with their business.

Our son and daughter in law have been hosting her father and his wife and her grandmother over the weekend and we had the whole family at our house for dinner last night to celebrate our daughter in law’s birthday. Everyone had seen the beehives and we got to talking about bees. People always have a few questions about the bees and how I work with them. I commented that my experience has made me question the title “beekeeper.” Bees aren’t really kept. I provide the hives - a place for the bees to live. I pay attention to them, make sure they have access to water and a safe place for the queens to lay eggs, but I don’t “keep” the bees. The bees are doing all of the work of gathering pollen and nectar and raising new bees.

That conversation led to talk of the many phrases and turns of speech that refer to bees. The phrase, “none of your beeswax” means “none of your business.” You can see that beeswax and business are similar sounding words and imagine how the slang phrase originated. We tried out our best Brooklyn accents as we talked, but none of us are from that part of the country and I’m pretty sure our accents weren’t close to authentic.

How did “bees knees” come to mean the best or finest? Bees do have knees, or at leas their legs have joints that make them bend like creatures with knees. However, I’m not sure that the knees of bees are somehow superior to those of other insects. Other creatures have slang for excellence that are equally strange. I’ve never seen a cat wearing pajamas, so don’t know what makes “cat’s pajamas” an expression of excellence. According to an online etymology dictionary, the phrase “bees knee” was used as far back as 1797, but in its original use meant “something insignificant.” Our language is full of complex phrases with obscure meanings. I’m pretty sure that such phrases are a bit of a mystery to those who have learned English as a second language.

There are a lot more slang phrases that refer to the tiny honey-producing insects. We say “What’s the buzz?” to inquire about a busy rumor or simply to ask what is happening. When an airplane flies low over the ground, we say that it is “buzzing.” Airplanes flying low and changing the throttle serve as a warning in some circumstances. The German rocket weapon developed during World War II was referred to as a “buzz bomb.”

We use “buzzed” to refer to a state of intoxication.

We refer to bees as signs of productive work. Someone who is in charge is sometimes called a “queen bee.” Those who contribute to getting the work done are called “worker bees.” “Busy like a bee” is a compliment for someone who gets a lot done.

Honeybee is a term of endearment. Lovers refer to their mate as “honey.” Teaching someone about the birds and the bees is a conversation about sexuality.

Emily Dickinson wrote:

His labor is a chant,
His idleness a tune;
O, for a bee’s experience
Of clovers and of noon!

Muhammad Ali advised, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

I guess people have been observing bees, thinking about bees, appreciating bees, and talking about bees for a long time. We know how dependent our food is upon the bees’ work of pollination of important crops. We enjoy the sweetness of honey. We have felt the sting of a bee and aren’t eager to experience that pain again. Our language is filled with phrases that relate love and life to bees.

In my brief tenure as one who keeps and cares for bees, I have found real joy and peace in just looking at the bees. I am pretty sure that my bees recognize me. When I am calm, take my time, and watch closely the bees are not aggressive. I can work among them without fear. Unless I’m moving the boxes or inspecting the hives, I don’t need to wear protective clothing. Even when I am wearing my bee suit, I don’t always have to wear gloves. Being patient and watching the bees is an art that I’m still working to achieve. One of my beekeeping friends calls it the “Zen of bees.” There certainly is a meditative quality to being around the bees.

I’m sure that I will enjoy the honey. That bonus aside, I appreciate the role of the bees in pollinating the fruit trees, flowers, and crops of the farm. I’m grateful for the opportunity to observe and to learn to work with the bees. Doing so is teaching me about patience and developing a calm demeanor.

It is fun. It’s just the bees knees!

A little mystery

When Aretha Franklin died in 2018, her estate was estimated to be worth $80 million. That’s a lot of money. At first the news was that she died without a will, leaving confusion behind as to how to distribute the estate. She was the mother of four sons: Clarence, Edward, Teddy, and Kefcalf. After her death, however, her family uncovered three handwritten wills hidden in her home. The wills present different scenarios for the distribution of her estate. The brothers are fighting over the estate. The court case is trying to sort out the mystery of her intentions. There are plenty of questions. Does the will found in a secret drawer supersede the will the was found down the back of the sofa? Does the doodles-on, spiral-bound document trump the more formal but earlier one? Who gets the fortune, and will they get the fortune before the fortune runs out?

I have no inside information. I and not a legal expert. And I don’t know what is right in the dispute between the brothers. But I do understand how important things get lost in the sofa.

When our grandchildren visit our home common kitchen items sometimes are used as toys. Wooden spoons, spatulas, measuring cups and other items offer opportunities to play with the items that the children see us using in everyday life. Most of our kitchen utensils are washed in the dishwasher that uses hot water to sanitize the dishes. Since lots of the things handled by the youngest ones end up in their mouths, we try to make sure that the items they handle are clean and as free from germs as possible. Many kitchen objects have no sharp edges and are safe for small hands to manipulate. We have toys, but children often prefer “real” items.

I know that I saw our youngest grandson playing with a small silicone scraper that I like to use when preparing small servings of food. I often use it to scoop a bit of yogurt from a measuring cup. Somehow, however, that particular utensil has gone temporarily missing. I’ve checked the obvious places: the toy box in the living room, under the dining room table, on the carpet in front of the fireplace. So far the little item hasn’t turned up. I know we will find it, and chances are that when we do its location will surprise us. We are careful to watch our grandchildren when the are at our house. They are never left alone or unsupervised, but there are things we fail to notice.

And yes, I have looked for that little scraper in the sofa. I have removed the cushions. I found a pen, several lego bricks, and a popsicle stick. We don’t allow the children to eat while sitting in the living room furniture. The popsicle stick didn’t come from a popsicle. It was likely one of the items in the craft box that we keep for art projects that seem to be common whenever our granddaughters are at our house. Last night they were making birthday cards for their mother whose birthday is today. I don’t remember seeing any popsicle sticks as part of the cards, so the stick might have been in the sofa from another crafting time. Who knows? It might have been there for several weeks.

I understand how important things can get lost. I understand how things might turn up in the sofa. I hope the lawyers and judges take the will found in Aretha Franklin’s sofa seriously. It may not be the only important document, but just because it was in the sofa doesn’t mean that it isn’t important.

Our last wills and testaments are on file at the offices of the attorney who drafted them for us. We have copies in our fireproof box and we have shared them with our children. But it has been some time since they were drafted and we intend to have new documents drawn up sometime in the next year that comply with the laws in the state of our new home and mention the grandchildren who have been born since the other documents were drawn up. Over the years as our circumstances have changed, we have needed to have our final wishes restated. When we had our first wills drawn up, we had little money, but we wanted the custody of our son to be clear if something happened to both of us. Then, just a couple of years later, we had a daughter and needed to revise our wills. In fact the status of our wills was one question the judge asked me at her adoption finalization hearing. At the time I resented having to pay the whole price of having new wills drafted just to add the name of one child. I understand how Aretha Franklin could have more than one will. I also understand how she might have not run every draft by lawyers despite having enough money to make those legal fees seem small. Sometimes you can intend to get to the lawyer, but put off making an appointment when other things take precedence.

Not knowing the whole story, there is enough mystery and intrigue in the news reports that I have read to make the story of Aretha Franklin’s missing wills interesting. The stories hold my attention. Maybe something lost will be discovered that makes a big difference. Maybe one of the sons will inherit something that somehow softens the grief of the death of his mother. Maybe there are some hidden riches that change the amount of the estate to be distributed. Did she have some jewelry that also was hidden somewhere in her home? Could a stray diamond have fallen into the sofa along with the paperwork behind the cushions? Was there a suitcase of cash stashed somewhere in the back of a closet?

The good news for our children and grandchildren is that we don’t have enough possessions for a good fight. We haven’t acquired enough to make our estate interesting to high priced attorneys. Our legacy will be love, not financial security. Our story won’t make the news.

Still, I wish I could find that little spatula. Maybe I should take the cushions off of the sofa and look one more time.

The death of a firefighter

There is a special set of rituals that are observed at the death of a firefighter. Over the course of my career, I have participated in a few funerals for fire fighters, including at least two for fire fighters who died in the midst of their careers. Other members of the fire service participate in the funeral by bringing fire equipment, creating a procession of fire trucks, and sharing in a special ceremony that includes the ringing of a bell. It is a powerful and moving set of traditions. Tradition can be helpful for grieving family members who are left behind. When they see how the loss of their loved one has affected others they begin to understand that they are not alone in their grief. Sharing grief does not make it any less painful, but it does help overcome some of the isolation that can occur in the midst of loss.

Because I have been close to the process of honoring fallen fire fighters, I pay special attention to news stories of fire fighters who have died. The last couple of days, I have been following the story of Devyn Gale, a 19-year-old who was killed by a falling tree while fighting fire in a remote part of British Columbia near the town of Revelstoke. I’ve been to Revelstoke and can picture the terrain. I’ve seen summers of wildfire and smoke and understand a bit of the process of fighting large fires. But I cannot imagine what it must have been like for the nursing student, spending the summer fighting fires to have been clearing brush and then to fall victim of a falling tree. I cannot imagine the pain experienced by her family, friends, teachers and coaches. I cannot imagine the crushing blow to the spirits of firefighters.

Wildfire fighters’ deaths in the line of duty are fairly rare. When they do occur they usually garner a lot of media attention. Norman Maclean’s “Young Men and Fire” is a very painful account of a terrible tragedy. The 1949 Mann Gulch Fire led to the deaths of 13 firefighters, 12 of them smokejumpers. Maclean’s 1992 book reveals his obsession with the tragedy and describes the deaths of the firefighters in detail that makes it difficult to read the book. In 2011, a 23-year-old South Dakota firefighter was killed and another seriously burned when storm winds pushed fire into the area where they were working.

Wildfire fighters caught in raging flames account for only a small percentage of firefighter deaths. Heart attacks, vehicle accidents, and aircraft accidents are far more common reasons for fatalities. Much less reported are deaths by suicide of those upon whom the effects of trauma cause major mental illness and depression. Two deaths of firefighters by suicide are seared into my memory.

Firefighters suffer many on-going long-term effects of their service. Inhaling smoke causes respiratory disease that can last a lifetime. Witnessing trauma can leave mental illness and deep scars that are difficult to heal. Repeated adrenalin rushes can weaken the circulatory system and lead to heart disease.

Fighting fires is dangerous business. The risk is real. And firefighters know the risk, but continue to rush to their work out of a sense of service to others and to the community, a sense of being able to help, and perhaps even a rush of adrenalin. We all owe a debt of gratitude to firefighters and to their families for their sacrifices.

Devyn Gale’s death was the first death of a wildfire fighter in British Columbia since 2015. The premier of British Columbia and the Prime Minister of Canada have expressed their condolences to the family. It comes in the middle of the worst year for wildfires Canada has ever seen. There are currently 900 wildfires burning across the country with 560 remaining out of control. So far this season has seen more than 24.2 million acres of land burned. The current season is burning more than three times the average acreage of the past 10 years. In British Columbia alone there are 365 active fires. Thousands of firefighters including those from many countries including the United States are at work across the province.

And if anyone is still questioning whether global warming is having an effect on the everyday lives of real people, they might consider the effects of the smoke which has blanketed large areas of the United States and blown as far as Europe in amounts enough to reduce air quality in the United Kingdom. Hot and dry conditions are expected to persist for the foreseeable future.

There is no need to talk about the future effects of global climate change. The consequences of a warming planet are upon us right now. One third of the citizens of the United States are under extreme heat advisories. Emergency room doctors are treating dehydration and heal exhaustion on a daily basis. Europe is baking as temperatures set records on a daily basis. Heatwave red alerts have been issued for 16 Italian cities. It is hot out there and extreme heat is becoming a new normal. In the past week I’ve read at least two articles speculating that Texas might become too hot for people to live there. Phoenix, Arizona is America’s hottest large city with daytime temperatures ranging between 108 and 115 degrees for the past three weeks. Very hot temperatures, increased wildfire, and intense smoke are becoming a new normal as the climate of this planet continues to shift.

High temperatures have had an especially devastating effect in Canada, which has experienced temperature increases at a rate that is almost twice that in other parts of the globe. I guess we should feel fortunate that the deaths of firefighters have been relatively low given the intensity of action fire fighters are seeing. That, however, is meaningless to the friends and family of Devyn Gale who are caught up in the unwanted tasks of planning a funeral. Their loss is overwhelming.

I join with others who are mourning the loss. For this family the cost has been too high. And I fear other families will suffer loss in the months and years to come.

Tales of two strikes

Movie and television script writers have been on strike since early May. And yesterday, movie and television actors have also gone on strike. The union representing actors claims that the giant corporations that stream movies are making enormous profits and that those profits should be shared more fairly with the actors. There are also issues about working conditions and the Screen Actors Guild, the body representing the actors, wants to protect actors from being usurped by digital replicas. They want guarantees that artificial intelligence and computer-generated faces and voices will not be used to replace actors.

I have to admit that I am largely unaffected by the strike. I don’t often watch television. I’m not one to stream movies. I don’t have a Netflix account. I don’t have access to our children’s Netflix accounts, either. For the most part, I don’t even recognize the names of the actors who will be walking the picket lines starting today. I am, however, intrigued by the process of negotiating contracts and what seems to be a rise in the effectiveness of unions in wage disputes in recent years.

Laborers and those who hire them have been negotiating disagreements for a very long time. The argument is not completely new. How much are employers obligated to share profits with the workers who produce those profits? What is a livable wage? Those questions and disagreements over the answers come at a time when corporate profits have been growing much faster than wages for a long time. This discrepancy is made even more visible by the presence of inflation. Growth in corporate profits is a big driver of inflation. When inflation is higher than the increase in wages, workers have less ability to purchase essential items.

I suspect that movie and television writers and actors have the ability to endure a long strike. The strike has the effect of reducing the profits of employers, but it also halts income for writers and actors while the strike is going on. Famous writers and actors who have received substantial wages, have enough savings to hold out for the terms they want. I suspect, however, that there are many lesser-known writers and actors who are scrambling to make ends meet under the work stoppage. When you live paycheck to paycheck, missing those checks can be devastating.

Meanwhile, I have been paying attention to another strike just across the border. Dock workers along the coast, most notably those in the large port of Vancouver, just 40 miles from where we live, had been on strike for 13 days when their union and their employers accepted a tentative deal yesterday ending the strike. While a 13-day strike has disrupted the ports and had threatened to create significant supply chain issues, 13 days of strike is relatively short and the result is a 4-year deal that is still subject to ratification, but is likely to hold.

It makes one wonder what is the difference between those Canadian negotiations and the ones that led to the spikes of screen writers and actors. Of course there are differences in labor laws in the two countries. I don’t know much about the technicalities of labor laws. I do know that the union and the employers in the dock workers strike had been working with professional mediators even before the strike was declared. It is my understanding that the work of mediators was instrumental in discovering the deal that is ending the strike. I don’t know if there are any mediators involved in the writers and actors strike in the United States. I haven’t found any evidence of mediators in the few news stories that I have read online.

I suspect that a dock workers strike just across the border carried more possibility to have impacts that I would feel than a strike of writers and actors in the entertainment business. Most days I share the Interstate with a lot of trucks moving goods across the border. Loads of shipping containers are common on the highway and warehouses just a few miles down the road from our house handle a lot of goods that have arrived on this continent through the Port of Vancouver. Had the strike persisted much longer, I’m sure that folks I know would have been feeling the effects.

As far as I know, the use of artificial intelligence was not a factor in the dock workers’ strike. I think workers have, for the most part, embraced technologies that have made the work of loading and unloading ships a bit less dangerous and a bit less labor intensive. So far the machines don’t seem to be threatening any jobs. Then again, I have trouble imagining how digitally created images might replace live actors. As I have said, I don’t watch many movies or much television. Maybe the technology is so fully refined that artificial intelligence might allow media corporations to continue to produce content while negotiating the strike. I suspect, however, that playing a lot of re-runs is a more likely scenario.

Shipping companies don’t have the option of playing reruns while huge cargo ships keep arriving at the port. Those ships have to be unloaded and reloaded with outgoing cargo. The financial impact of ships sitting idle while they wait for workers to unload and load them is significant. The stopping of ship traffic for even a dozen days has a significant impact on other workers. Truck drivers and retail store employees are dependent upon dock workers to pass along work to them.

Maybe the incentive to solve the disagreements was simply higher among dock workers than it is among screen writers. Perhaps there is simply more at stake. I suspect, however, that the difference in the length of the strike has something to do with the willingness and ability of those involved to compromise and negotiate deals.

I’m guessing that the mediators involved in discovering the resolution aren’t worried that they will soon be replaced by artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, I’m writing these words myself. Since there is no money involved, chances are good I’ll keep writing without a strike.

Wildness and community

One of the groups at our church is currently reading John Philip Newell’s “Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul.” The book is a collection of stories about Celtic thinkers and what they have to teach about recovering a lost relationship with the earth in this time of climate crisis and injustice. The chapter we were discussing was about John Muir. Muir was a Scottish-born American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher who was an early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States. He, along with President Teddy Roosevelt, is often credited with the founding of American National Parks.

Posters and bumper stickers often display one of Muir’s famous quotes: “In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world.” He also wrote, “Earth has no sorrows that earth cannot heal.”

Muir is so celebrated in American history and environmental studies that his name is given to Muir Woods National Monument, an area of trails winding among towering old-growth redwood trees in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California.

A lesser known piece of the story of John Muir is that he wrote some racist remarks about Native Americans early in his career. Although there is evidence that his views about indigenous Americans changed over the course of his career. He later wrote positively about Alaskan Natives’ appreciation and stewardship of the natural world. Members of our discussion group expressed a willingness to forgive Muir for the racism that was, in part, a product of the wider culture of the times in which he lived. One member of the group stated, “I would hate to be held responsible for everything I said when I was in my twenties.” It is a point well taken. I know that even though I was born in a different time with different attitudes about race, I, too have held racist notions and thoughts.

In a way I believe that we are well served by studying the wider context of the times in which Muir lived as well as remembering his personal contributions to modern conservation and the protection of the earth. Ours is a human history. We are who we are because of real human beings who shared ideas, took stands, and sacrificed for the sake of the future. These heroes of our history were not perfect. They made mistakes. They had ideas and notions that were dangerous alongside ideas and notions that are important to preserve for future generations. Part of the job of historians is to report as much of the story as possible so that we can understand the complexity of our history and not make it into a simple story.

If we remember Muir only as one of the fathers of the National Parks movement and the proponent of the preservation of wild spaces, he becomes a bit of a mythical figure. A bearded, fedora-wearing wilderness philosopher. However, if we understand that not all of his ideas were good ones, that he had his own prejudices and failings, an understanding of a real human person emerges.

We, who are flawed, who make mistakes, who have said unkind words in the past, can also make significant contributions to the common good. A person does not have to be perfect in order to participate in great movements such as environmental preservation.

Sometimes we put historic figures on pedestals and remember them as somehow larger than life. This kind of partial memory tells only part of the story.

I think that Muir and those who have worked to preserve his memory understand that he was part of something much bigger than a single human life. His commitment was to principles that are larger than he was. It is fitting to remember him with a hike through giant Redwoods, a journey into the deep canyons of Yosemite National Park, or a visit to a glacier. Hope lies not in the words of a single man, but in the wilderness itself.

Newell wrote his book to inspire readers. He lifts up Celtic thinkers and writers as examples of leaders who have more than ideas. They offer a deeper, more rounded spirituality that we can approach when we learn of their ideas and understand their lives. He makes no attempt to hide Muir’s racist comments, but rather tells the story of how Muir’s ideas evolved over the course of his adult life. There is inspiration not only in a few choice quotes, but also in the story of the life of a man who could propose not only changes in how we treat the world, but also changes in his own personal life.

John Muir spent a decade of this life as a farmer, tending soil and harvesting crops. It is impossible to say what part of his story was most influential in his becoming a champion of wilderness. Of course no single thing shaped the man that he became, but rather a lifetime of real world experiences. His pilgrimages into wilderness combined with his experiences growing up and his work as a father and provider for his family to help him forge a life of public witness that contributed not only to the quality of life in his time, but to the quality of life touched by every one of the millions of visitors who annually make their wilderness pilgrimages to national parks.

I grew up near the border of America’s first national park. Yellowstone country is a big factor in my spiritual growth and development. My experiences hiking and backpacking and camping in the wilderness have shaped my life and the decisions I make. My spirituality is formed both by my experiences of community and by my personal times of being alone in nature. Now I live in a very different place where the mountains meet the ocean and I have ready access to different kinds of wilderness. Walks on the beach and walks through heritage forests continue to be an important part of my spiritual practices.

I am, however, also grateful for the life of the wider community and of having small groups with whom I can read, study, and discuss important ideas. Muir may be right that “in God’s wildness lies the hope of the world.” It is equally true, however, that hope also dwells in community.

Nature's Bounty

This week is dance camp for our two granddaughters. We provide rides for them to go to camp and some days their mother picks them up from camp. Other days, we give them a ride home. The camp is just three hours each day for four days, so it isn’t much extra for us to drop the girls off on our way to work. Yesterday, we left the office a bit early to pick them up and participated in meetings over Zoom later in the day. On Thursday, we will attend their performances, which will be a treat for us. Just being in the dance studio is a bit of nostalgia for me because I have so many fond memories of our daughter’s years of ballet classes, camps and performances.

Next week, the two oldest grandchildren have coding camp, and the following week is our church’s Creation Care Camp, our version of Vacation Bible School. We are scrambling with all kinds of preparations for the camp and looking forward to that week. It will be a fun time and we already have more children registered than total attendance last year.

As we stop by the farmhouse to pick up and return children, the sidewalk up to the house travels between flower beds. There are lots of California poppies, daisies, and lavender in bloom. Yesterday, I paused at the lavender under the dogwood tree and saw that there were three kinds of bees working on the tiny purple flowers. I am always looking for the honey bees whose hives I tend and was happy to see many of them at work collecting nectar and pollinating the plants. But there were also several mason bees among the blossoms. As I watched a larger bumble bee came by and began moving from flower to flower. I was delighted to see all three types of bees.

I worried a bit when I brought honey bees to the farm that they might compete and perhaps even displace some of the other pollinators on the farm. However, there are plenty of blossoms for all fo the bees. The dahlias are just beginning to produce flowers, so there will be a lot of blossoms for the next six weeks or more - just right for making honey. And there seem to be plenty of wild bees that are out among the blossoms, so the honey bees are adding to the farm, not disrupting its balance.

I plan to add more honey supers to the hives in the next week or so. It is exciting to see the bees build out the frames with comb, fill the combs with honey and cap the cells. It appears that this will be a good year for honey harvesting. The mild winters around here mean that the bees need less honey to keep the hives warm and I have a strategy for insulating the hives and the capacity to supplement the bees’ honey if necessary. However, I don’t think I’ll need to feed the bees this winter. Things are looking very good at the hives.

I am struck by the abundance of nature. Our freezer is nearly full and it is only early July. I admit that part of the space in the freezer is taken up by our over-purchasing for our anniversary celebration in June. We still have a couple of gallons of ice cream that were left over from the party. But the freezer has many gallons of cherries. I haven’t kept track of how many we have, but we picked every day for a couple of weeks. One night I picked a bucket of cherries, came inside, washed, sorted, and pitted the cherries. That bucket full yielded nearly eight pounds for the freezer. At the current price of $7.50 per pound of cherries with the pits in them, I was putting at least $60 worth of cherries in the freezer that night. We have several hundred dollars worth of cherries in our freezer - enough to last us a year. All of that produce is from a single cherry tree. We have two cherry trees in our back yard, but only one produces sweet cherries. The other one’s chief role seems to be to offer pollen to keep the cherry production up. It does produce a few small, tart cherries, but the other tree is the one that gives us and the birds such a bounteous harvest.

In some ways, this year is a bit short in plant production. The pasture at the farm yielded several hundred fewer bales this year than last. The spring was cold and warm weather was slow to come resulting in shorter grass in the pasture. The decision has already been made to keep fewer cows this year to offset the lower hay production. But even with the lower production from the hay field, there are other areas of the farm that are yielding bounty to match the cherry production in our back yard. Our grandchildren have harvested and dried bundles of lavender to sell in the farm stand. Fresh bouquets of flowers are also added to the stand regularly. There is abundance even in a year when growing is slow.

We have already harvested the first tomato from the plants in our yard and we can tell that this is going to be a good year for tomatoes. The sense of being surrounded by abundance greets us wherever we turn.

We are aware that we are in a very privileged place on this globe. We read about heat domes and flooding that is threatening agricultural production in many other parts of our country. Huge fires are setting records every day in Canada. There are lots of challenges and problems all around the world that slow or even stop farm output. And, at least for now, we are living in the midst of incredible bounty.

As we express our gratitude for such blessings and say our prayers of thanksgiving, we are reminded that experiencing the bounty is only part of our calling. Such abundance has put us in a position to share. Bags of cherries have already found their way to others’ homes. Bunches of lavender also are being distributed. And the busyness of the bees and the health of the hives has me thinking about honey harvest and having more than we will need. I don’t want to count my chickens before they are hatched, but prospects of a big honey harvest seem good.

And as for chickens - the flock at the farm is up by 10 or more. There will be plenty of eggs in the months to come. There is much to add to our prayers of thanksgiving each day.


We had an evening meeting last night, but it ended early and so we had a bit of extra time in the evening that we had not anticipated. Since it stays light late, we decided to take a slightly longer walk along the beach than our usual. After walking a bit over two miles as the sun was setting with the sea breeze gently cooling after a warm day, we paused to simply look. Often, when we go for a walk, we are eager to get back home and get on with the usual list of things that need to be done. Last night, however, we were able to linger. We stood and watched as the sun made its final plunge beneath the horizon, watching the changing colors of the clouds as the sun set. We weren’t the only ones watching the sunset. The beach at Birch Bay is a favorite spot for tourists and locals to linger watching the sunset. The sun reflects off of the water, making the view particularly lovely.

Having had a good walk and coming to the end of a busy day, the pause and calm were welcome gifts. The beauty of the setting sun provided a visual attraction for us to linger. Just being together was a gentle feeling. I know that my attempts to describe the experience in words will fall short.

Worth noting, however, was the way that the colors continued to shift and change even after the sun had sunk below the horizon. Of course I know that the sun isn’t sinking at all. Our planet is spinning and our perspective on the sun changes as the earth rotates on its axis. Still, from our point of view it seems as if the sun is moving more than having the sensation of the earth’s motion.

If one wants to get technical, it is also true that some of the colors we witnessed last night were the product of smoke and dust particles suspended in the atmosphere. The brilliance of the afterglow is caused, in part, by dust in the high stratosphere, which catches the hues of the twilight arch below the horizon.

Giving ourselves the gift of time to watch the sunset was a reminder to me about the life journey we are sharing. I have often begun to think of sunset as a metaphor for the retirement phase of our lives. After sharing intertwining careers for more than four decades, we are now sharing the closing of our careers. Like many other things in life - and like the sunset itself - our careers are not ending suddenly. We were fully retired for a bit more than a year. Then we went back to work part time for a couple of years. Now we will be fully retired again in 20 days. But we know that we may choose to go back to work once again. Instead of a rigid date after which we don’t work for pay any longer, we are enjoying exploring what offerings might appear. We don’t have to rush to find work, but we will be keeping our senses tuned to see which directions the spirit is calling us.

It is possible that our lives and health also will not come to sudden ends. At least I hope that we will be able to linger through the years to come long enough to witness some of the intense beauty of the sunset of our lives. Over the years we have been with enough people at the ends of their lives to know that it is not something to fear and that there is deep meaning and great beauty in the twilight years of life. Lingering to see all the beauty seems like a worthwhile way to go.

I know that none of use gets to choose the timing or the way of our death. Part of dying is losing control, but for now, investing in our health, making choices about diet and exercise with care, and focusing on our relationships with loved ones and friends seem to us to bee worthwhile ways to focus our attention and to witness the beauty that is unfolding.

Even after the sunset, there is a beautiful afterglow.

The worth, the meaning, and the beauty of life doesn’t end with death. Even in the presence of death’s realities, there is much beauty that remains. Fortunately for me, I’ve been privileged to witness that beauty many times. I remember times when I sat with people who had just experienced a sudden and traumatic loss. Often it seems like all of the stages of grief are present in a few short moments. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance all flow through a person in about 20 minutes. The process can be incredibly intense with a lot of tears. I’ve seen people collapse to the ground as they try to sort through their emotions and adjust to the new realities of their lives. After those first few minutes, however, there is an intense beauty that begins to emerge. A few memories are shared and sharing memories begins to feel good, even though the pain of grief is ever present. Friends and relatives begin to gather and it becomes obvious that those closest to the grief are not alone. Love has not died. The beauty of supportive community becomes increasingly evident as time passes.

I ended the evening with a deep sense of gratitude for the gift of sunsets and the lessons they have to teach us. Linger to witness the beauty that occurs at endings. Know that the beauty remains even when the sun is no longer visible. Look for the beauty that comes in the midst of deep grief. Witness the love that does not die.

As we move into the next stages of our life journeys, I hope that we take more time to linger with sunsets and to sit in the afterglow looking at the silver linings of the clouds. Perhaps sunsets are more than metaphors. They may be rehearsals for the realities of what is yet to come.


We have been fortunate that each of the homes that we have owned have had comfortable outdoor spaces. In Boise we had a covered patio that functioned as an extra room of our house. We often ate on the patio in the summer. One winter, I covered the open walls with heavy plastic and used the space to build a canoe because there wasn’t room in the garage for me to build. In Rapid City we had a large two-level deck where we ate, lounged, and entertained. Our deck here is a bit smaller, but it provides a very comfortable space for outdoor dining and lounging. This summer we purchased a large umbrella that provides comfortable shade in the late afternoon and evening when the sun shines directly on our picnic table.

Last evening we were eating super on the deck and enjoying the quiet of the space. Our neighborhood is very tight and there are times when our neighbors seem too close for us. We have been used to having more space around our house than is the case here. However, last evening it seemed that all of our neighbors were inside. Even the neighborhood dogs were quiet. It occurred to me, briefly, that perhaps our neighbors didn’t know how truly pleasant it was outdoors. Then I thought that perhaps it was simply the case that they didn’t want to leave their television sets. One thing that is common in our neighborhood is for people to set up living spaces in their garages. They then open the garage door to allow the outdoor air to circulate. We walk by plenty of homes that have living room furniture and large television sets in the place where we park our car. On summer evenings those spaces are filled with people. Since the garages face the street, the back yards tend to be quiet on summer evenings.

For whatever reasons, I have mostly escaped the television bug. We keep talking about getting a television set and we probably will do so one day. In the meantime, we have a large computer monitor on which we can stream media and watch movies, though we don’t tend to watch movies very often. And our computer monitor isn’t large by television standards. The televisions we see displayed in area stores and in the homes of our friends and neighbors are much bigger than anything we would want. I haven’t gone shopping, but I suspect that the challenge of shopping for a television set these days would be finding something that is small enough for our desires. Most televisions are so big that they take up an entire wall. We like having our artwork and family pictures on our walls. And, of course, we have lots of bookshelves.

Reading is what we enjoy doing when we have some free time, and books are very portable, so we don’t have a single place where we sit to read. I like to sit in a recliner in our study, but I also read a fair amount sitting at the dining room table. There is a comfortable chair and a good lamp in our bedroom. And, of course, we have our outdoor space which is a comfortable space to sit and read.

I have been reading on the Internet about all of the places where being outdoors isn’t very comfortable. Record heat is producing dangerous conditions across the South with heat dome events predicted for the mid section of the United States and stretching into New England. Heavy rains have resulted in flooding in many places including recent floods in New York and Oklahoma. One thing I am observing in all of this weather-related news is how our area has been escaping the uncomfortable weather. When it comes to climate, we are living in a pretty desirable location.

That has been true of where we have lived for much of our lives. I can remember when we were living in North Dakota during a particularly hot and dry summer. We came to the Black Hills of South Dakota and stayed at the home of relatives. I stood outside on their deck and marveled at the cool and comfort of the hills and thought to myself, “I could enjoy living in a place like this.” As it turned out we lived in the comfort of the Black Hills for 25 years, enjoying the mild climate. Sure, there were some pretty epic winter storms. We did move our share of snow during those years. And there were a few flash floods, though those didn’t effect our home on the hill. And we worried about fire some summers and watched as wildfire spread quickly through the forest and came uncomfortably close to our area. So I guess that the climate wasn’t perfect in the hills. On the other hand, it was pretty good and we certainly enjoyed living there.

Here in our new home we feel pretty lucky when it comes to the climate. The ocean and typical onshore breezes keep it cool here. This week the daytime highs will be in the 60’s with overnight lows in the high 50’s. We have an air conditioner, but it doesn’t need to run very often. Our winters are mild, compared with other places where we have lived.

Even in this place of mild climate, there has been serious talk of developing climate shelters for extreme weather events. The climate is changing more rapidly than had been predicted. Summers are getting hotter, winter storms are getting more severe, flooding is becoming common in many areas. Communities are developing plans to open shelters to keep people cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

We are feeling pretty lucky. We go for outdoor walks every day and outside of the fact that we had to get some comfortable rain jackets that we hadn’t needed when we lived in South Dakota, we don’t need much severe weather gear. Most days we find ourselves on the beach for at least a few minutes, enjoying the sea breeze and the sense of openness of the ocean. And we have a deck on the north side of our home and a covered porch on the south side that provide us with comfortable places to sit outdoors.

I confess that I don’t understand why our neighbors spend so much time indoors.

The joy of working together

I put in a good day’s work yesterday. Well, perhaps not a whole day, but I worked pretty hard for half a day. I got to the farm around 8:30 and fired up the big weed eater to trim weeds around the bee hives and then continued to tackle some big weeds that had grown up around a concrete block wall behind the barn. Concrete block doesn’t describe this wall very good, because the “blocks” aren’t cinder or cement blocks that can be picked up by hand. They are custom chunks of reinforced concrete. There are various manufacturers that make huge concrete blocks designed to be stacked. You can see them in large retaining wall and highway construction. Most people have seen the temporary concrete barricades that are used to separate traffic and protect buildings from car or truck bombs. There are similar devices made for use on a farm to create silage and compost bins. A former owner of the farm that our son now owns used these blocks to create various storage areas when the farm was operated as a dairy. A second of one of the walls had toppled during heavy rains that undercut the ground beneath the wall. The huge blocks were probably placed without adequately compacting the soil beneath them, so the wall had developed a bit of a lean. Our son has been worried about the jumble of fallen blocks. It is possible that another section of the wall might topple or that the toppled blocks could shift.

These blocks are heavy. Two of us couldn’t budge one. Isaac’s neighbor brought his tractor with a loader over and we used a log chain to connect the blocks beneath the loader. The neighbor is a very good equipment operator and very safety conscious, so the work wasn’t overly taxing, but we had to deal with weeds and chose which block to move next. The blocks were made in three different sizes. It took a bit of thinking to place them so that the portion of the wall that had been leaning was corrected and reinforced. Part of the section that had toppled was removed to give access to a fenced area that Isaac mows with the lawn mower. On the other side of the fence is a runway giving the cows access to the barn.

We ended up moving and placing over 30 of the big blocks. The tractor and loader could pick and move two at a time, but placing the in the wall meant that the blocks had to be picked up one at a time and connected to the loader with two chains to keep it level beneath the loader. Isaac’s neighbor worked the tractor with precision, maneuvering it so the blocks ended up right where he wanted them.

By around 1 pm, the block were moved, the wall repaired, and that chore finished. It was a big relief for our son to have the blocks in a stable place where they pose no danger. Even if the children climb on them, they will not fall. The entire operation was conducted safely. After moving the blocks the neighbor hooked his baler to the tractor to transport it back home. His mower, rake and bailer had been at Isaac’s place because they hayed the big pasture last week. The yield was just a little over half the amount harvested last year. The grass was short due to an unusually dry spring and early summer. Isaac is partner with this neighbor raising beef cattle, and they will purchase fewer cows this year because feed is a bit short.

I have a smart watch that has a fitness tracker in it and although it is programmed to measure workouts and not work, it gave me plenty of “move” points and tracked about two hours of exercise during the half day’s work. I didn’t need the watch to know that I had been really working, however. I could feel it in my arms and legs and shoulders. We didn’t do any lifting, but we scrambled over the big blocks, hacked our way through nettles and blackberries with a machete to connect and remove the chains from the blocks, and kept moving back and forth around the area all morning long.

I did manage to hit my head hard enough to draw blood, but that had nothing to do with the operation. I bumped my head later, in the evening, when crawling beneath the kitchen sink to wipe up a water spill. I’m a bit clumsy, but the block moving operation was conducted safely with no injuries to anyone.

After the morning’s work, I tried to chip in to pay for some of the diesel that the tractor used, but the neighbor refused to accept any cash. He said that his partnership with Isaac is strictly 50/50 and that part of being equal partners is that they help each other. He likes to do his part to help with maintenance of the property where some of his cows live.

I happen to know that this neighbor and I could find a lot to disagree about if we worked at it. I know from the bumper stickers on his pickup truck that we don’t vote for the same political candidates. I know from a couple of conversations that he attends a church that has very different theology than mine. But we had no need to talk about those subjects. Sharing hard work gave us a significant connection. We have learned to trust each other and know how to work together.

The day’s work was good for my spirit and my body. I need hard work to keep myself fit and to feel a sense of accomplishment. I miss working with my friends in our firewood project in Rapid City. That work was meaningful. Good work helps people to connect in positive ways. It reminds us that despite differences and disagreements the people around us are good folk who are generous of spirit and time. Reaching beyond the things that divide us reminds us that we are all in this life together and we all need the community of friends and neighbors.

There are always a lot of chores at the farm. There are plenty of things to repair and work to be done. At this phase of my life my son having a farm is a true blessing for me. Being able to help out, to connect with neighbors, and to feel the effects of good work on my body all contribute to a positive state of mind. As Isaac often says, “We work for progress, not perfection.”

Horrors of War

I am not a politician. I have jokingly said, on several occasions, that I could never be the President of the United States because I simply am not qualified. It is a joke because no one has proposed that I become the President, I have never run for political office beyond positions on the boards of nonprofit corporations, and I have no financial backers willing to invest big money in my candidacy. I am not qualified because the President of the United States is the Commander in Chief of the United States military and I lack the background to command troops in battle.

I don’t understand the ways of war.

I have felt that it is important for the United States to support Ukraine in their war of defense against invasion by Russia. the story of small countries being dominated by super powers is at least thousands of years old. The book of the prophet Isaiah is in part the story of tiny Judah and Jerusalem caught between super powers. Assyria threatens from the north. The king attempts to enter into a treaty with Egypt and Ethiopia for protection. The northern kingdom has already fallen and Jerusalem is vulnerable. Then, probably as the result of a plague of infectious disease, Assyria’s army is unable to attack. But Judah and Jerusalem are not out of trouble. Eventually they are conquered by Babylon. The city is destroyed and the leadership class are carried off into exile in Babylon. For a while it appears that all is lost, but Babylon is also militarily vulnerable. Finally, after more battles and wars of powers much greater than tiny Judah, the Persians gain the upper hand and Cyrus, king of Persia, allows the return of the exiles to Jerusalem.

I have no idea how many soldiers died in all of those battles, but it appears that there were many casualties. I don’t know how many civilians died, but it seems that there are always civilian casualties in war.

Autocratic leaders often start wars to divert attention from failed domestic policy. Nothing rallies people like an enemy whether perceived or real. Putin has exploited public opinion in Russia by portraying the legitimately elected government of Ukraine as oppressive to Russian nationals who live in that country. He used Russia’s resources to back a few insurgents in Ukraine and when that was unsuccessful he opened the conflict to full scale ware and eventually to an invasion intent on seizing the territory of Ukraine and eliminating its self governance.

The international community, especially western European and American governments, have come to the defense of Ukraine. Stories of the bravery of Ukrainian troops in the face of the better financed and equipped Russian troops have circulated around the globe. Nation after nation has declared support for Ukraine and its forces as they resist the Russian invasion.

Remembering that I am no expert in military matters, it has made sense to me that the government of the United States would be on the side of Ukraine in this conflict. Providing military training and sending weapons and other supports to Ukraine seemed to make sense in the light of Russia’s aggression. History has demonstrated that despots and bullies cannot be allowed to run roughshod over more vulnerable countries.

However, I believe that there must be limits in war. Humans have developed weapons that are far too destructive to be employed regardless of the validity of their cause. Nuclear and chemical weapons indiscriminately kill innocents. The size of their destruction is so large that they pose a threat not only to enemies, but to the survival of humanity on this planet. For decades the world’s super powers have brandished their capability to destroy all life as we know it in a dangerous form of gamesmanship in which the weapons and their capacity to destroy are employed as deterrents. The consequences of the actual use of nuclear weapons are far to devastating to imagine.

There are other weapons of war that are incredibly dangerous and that have terrible effects upon innocent bystanders caught up in war. On such class of weapons are cluster bombs. These weapons are based on a large munition that contains large numbers of smaller explosives or bomblets. These bomblets are released mid-flight from the larger artillery shell or rocket and scatter over a wide area causing multiple explosions. Not all of the bomblets explode immediately, however. Some fall onto soft ground where they can remain unexploded for a long time. This makes the weapons effective in routing entrenched combatants, rendering their defensive positions dangerous for a long period of time. Different cluster weapons have different rates of scattering unexploded bomblets.

Cluster munitions are already being used in the War in Ukraine. Russia has employed such munitions that have a high rate of unexploded bomblets. Some analysts have reported that as many as 30% of the bomblets remain unexploded where they will be found by civilians, including children, decades after the war’s end. US manufactured cluster weapons have a much lower rate of unexploded bomblets, perhaps as low as 2%. Regardless of the statistics, all cluster weapons leave the possibility of killing explosions after troops have left the battlefield. The use of cluster munitions has been banned by a treaty signed by more than 100 countries. Our country is not one of the signers of the treaty. Cluster munitions are part of the inventory of the United States military.

Now our President has announced that these controversial weapons will be supplied to troops in Ukraine. It is a terrible choice. Presidents often are faced with awful choices. I am not qualified to say whether the terrible effects of the use of the munitions that will last for decades are justified by the current military realities. I simply know that I would not have authorized the use of such weapons under any circumstances. It is one of the reasons I am not qualified to be President. I simply am incapable of taking responsibility for such a decision.

The debate over the use of cluster munitions will continue as long as nations manufacture those weapons in a world that already has too many weapons. There has to be a better way, but I don’t know what that way might be. Our failure to imagine a better way has a legacy of death and destruction that will continue for many years to come.

Learning acceptance

When we think of our family and friends there are many different types of relationships. Different people have found themselves in different circumstances and made different choices. We have friends who are couples who have been married as long and longer than we have. They have happy and successful marriages. We also have friends who have experienced divorce and family reconfigurations. There is no single set of relationships that mark the people in our social circles. I have tried hard and I believe that for the most part I have been successful in not judging others.

My family has a wide range of ages. Before I began dating Susan, two of my sisters had experienced divorce. On remarried, the other never again married although she had significant loving relationships in her life. If I have counted accurately, my siblings have experienced eight divorces. That is a lot of pain and trauma from which to recover. They have found themselves in difficult circumstances and made choices based on their life experiences and needs. They have also gone on to find joy and love in other relationships.

I remember the first time one of our friends came out to us as gay. I didn’t have much experience with those who are GLBTQ+. At first I struggled to accept my new understanding of that person. He is, however, a dear friend and he has been patient in helping me to grow in understanding. Other gay friends came into our circle and we became more aware of the sexual identities of our friends. We have GLBTQ+ friends who have forged strong and long-lasting relationships. We have other friends who have experienced break-ups and divorce.

The first time I was aware of a friend who was transgender, I was uncomfortable and awkward as I learned to use the correct pronouns. Some of the stages of the process of transformation for that individual were hard for me to understand. A dear friend who is transgender helped me a great deal by suggesting that she was not asking me to understand, but rather to accept her identity. That was a very good bit of advice for me. I have learned that there are many things about other people and their relationships that I don’t understand. I don’t, however, need to understand in order to accept others.

What I do need to do is to make my relationship with other people safe for them. I need to communicate effectively that it is safe for them to be who they are in their relationship with me. I will do my best not to be cruel or unaccepting. I will try as best as I am able to make our relationship one where that individual is free to be whatever they are.

I have made a lot of mistakes in my relationships with others. When I first became aware of friends and colleagues who were nonbinary, I used the wrong pronouns. I was so used to using either he or she to refer to every person that I had to practice and learn to use the right pronouns. And I made a lot of mistakes. Fortunately those friends and colleagues have been kind and forgiving and have helped me to learn new ways. One of them gave me a very good piece of advice: “Pray for me. It will give you an opportunity to practice.” I took that advice. I prayed for them. Using the correct pronouns became an easy habit. I still make mistakes, but they are less frequent. I am grateful for the patience of my friends.

Not long ago, I got the inkling that someone who is important to me might be feeling that I have been acting a bit smug in the celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary. This person didn’t say as much, but I sensed that they were feeling a bit judged by my open joy and celebration. Being married for 50 years is not an option for many people. This doesn’t mean that they are somehow worse at making relationship choices. It just means that their circumstances are different from mine. I am well aware that it is hard to find the right partner in life. I was very lucky to have met Susan when I did and to have found in her a relationship that continues to grow. We have been blessed with good health - not everyone is as fortunate in the health department. I have good friends who have had wonderful marriages that didn’t last 50 years because their partner didn’t live that long.

I certainly don’t mean my joy and celebration of our marriage and this particular anniversary to be smug or to make others feel judged. My expressions of joy at the blessings of my life is in no way a lack of joy at the circumstances and decisions others have made. I know that there are a lot of things in life that are beyond our control. I know how fragile life and relationships can be. Part of my joy comes from the simple fact that there was a time when I thought I might lost Susan. When she was in the intensive care unit recovering from cardiac arrest, I didn’t know whether I would have even one more day - one more conversation with her. The blessing of her recovery is not due to any actions or decisions I have made. It is a gift I have received without any merit on my part. It makes every conversation and every day with her a special joy and a gift that I hope I never take for granted. It has made me a bit more sensitive to the circumstances of those who have lost their partners to death. Although I will never know their unique grief and the unique struggles of their lives, I can appreciate how difficult their journey is. I can choose to be with them and remind them how much they are loved in spite of the pain they are experiencing.

Having been married 50 years does not mean that I possess some special relationship magic, or some inside information on what makes for marriage success and happiness. I am not somehow better than someone who has had a different life experience. I am, however, going to work a bit at the smugness. I have no right to judge others, or even compare their experiences to my own. Fortunately for me, I have friends who are willing to help me learn, even when I make mistakes.


For several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s I drove a boxy sport utility vehicle. It was a Mitsubishi Montero. The Montero, marked in the rest of the world as a Patero, was Mitsubishi’s attempt to enter the lucrative market forged by the British Land Rover that was successfully imitated by the Toyota Land Cruiser. Those vehicles became world famous for their reliability and repairability no matter where they were driven. Mitsubishi was less successful with its first foray into the growing sport utility vehicle market. Our Montero, a 1991 model, was a very good go-anywhere vehicle. We drove it over 200,000 miles, often carrying loads that exceed its design. Once, I loaded all of the wood for a 12’ x 12’ deck raised 6’ off the ground onto the roof rack of the vehicle. It strained, but carried the load and delivered it successfully. Another time we drove the Montero with our entire family, including a Japanese exchange student on a monumental road trip through South Dakota, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington before returning back to South Dakota. On that trip we had two roof pods for cargo and pulled a popup camp trailer with a canoe on top of the trailer. Then one day, while alone in the vehicle, I was driving on very icy roads. I was going slow, about 30 mph, when it started to slide sideways. When the tires on the right side of the vehicle got to the edge of the pavement and gained a bit of traction on the grass at the edge of the road, the car tipped over onto its side. As accidents go, it wasn’t very dramatic. I was going very slow. It didn’t break any of the glass of the vehicle, including the outside mirror on the side on which it landed. A bit of damage to the front fender was all of the body work required after the accident. However, it lost my confidence at how easily it tipped onto its side. I decided that the time had come to sell the vehicle. I found an eager customer in the mechanic who had been servicing the car for more than 100,000 miles.

One thing about that boxy vehicle, however, was that it was a magnet for rock chips in the windshield. I don’t know how many times I had chips repaired. Even though I always tried to get them repaired as soon as they occurred, I think that we replaced the windshield in that car at least eight or ten times. It seemed like we were constantly receiving new chips.

I hadn’t thought about that car very much in a long time, but this summer has been a season for our little Subaru. The car, which has been very reliable and is our daily driver, had a windshield chip right at the base of the glass where I didn’t notice it. Last winter that chip cracked across the windshield. The crack was low and not obstructing my vision as I drove, so I left it unprepared during the winter when I thought I was most likely to get additional chips. When summer came, I had a new windshield installed in the car. Within a week, I got another chip. I got that repaired as soon as possible, noting that chip repair was over four times - nearly five times - as expensive as it had been when we owned that Mitsubishi. I don’t think I went three weeks before another rock hit the windshield causing a chip. I have an appointment to get that chip repaired today and I noticed yesterday that there is yet another chip in that windshield.

The run of bad luck with the windshield is really just that, a run of bad luck. Unlike the Mitsubishi, with a nearly vertical windshield and a boxy shape that made it especially vulnerable to flying debris, this car has not been hard on windshields. We have owned it for 11 years and driven it 125,000 miles and have only had a few chips repaired until this last year. I suppose that our exposure is a bit higher now that we are commuting on a major Interstate highway in place of the relatively rural roads we drove in South Dakota. And they do use a sand and salt mixture on the roads here in the winter, which does get thrown by winter traction tires. Still, we have had good results with the car before this summer. I am fairly confident that we could go for several years without getting another chip after the repairs are made today. On the other hand I could get a new chip driving home from the glass shop. One never knows for sure.

Our semi-retired lifestyle here in the northwest does involve driving less than was the case when we were working in South Dakota. We usually commute together instead of in separate cars as was the case in our previous jobs. We only go into the office three days a week instead of six or seven. And we are diving a lot less for meetings and other gatherings in this post-covid time of Zoom meetings. That’s good for us. Being able to make the cars last a bit longer fits into our retirement budget. Knowing that we can make cars last for a lot of years is reassuring especially when we consider our ages. We won’t be buying too many more vehicles before the time comes for us to stop driving.

In the meantime, however, i’m getting a bit tired of making appointments at the glass shop. I’ll be happy if I can go a bit longer between visits. And, of course, I still need to get the windshield in the truck replaced. It too succumbed to a chip right at the bottom of the windshield that went unnoticed. the crack in that windshield is very close to the bottom of the glass and might get left unprepared for quite a while. With my luck, it feels a bit reassuring to be presenting a cracked windshield that I know needs to be replaced when driving down the highway. Maybe my luck will change and I’ll avoid new chips for a few months. I’d sure like that.

The day after

The call has gone out. The Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department is calling for as many volunteers as possible to help with beach cleanup in Birch Bay this morning. It is the kind of thing for which we might volunteer. However, we need to work at the church in Bellingham today and won’t be available. I hope that they get lots of volunteers. It is going to be a big task. The beach was packed with people yesterday. The skies were filled with amateur fireworks for several hours last night. And fireworks leave behind a lot of debris and litter. Bits of paper and cardboard along with quite a bit of plastic is left behind when the pyrotechnics are blasted skyward for the annual nighttime display.

We didn’t go down to the beach to watch. Instead we drove up to the town of Blaine, right on the Canadian border, where there was a professional fireworks display. The waterfront in Blaine is lower than downtown, so folks could line up at a lot of different places to see the show. The fireworks were blasted from a public park on the pier which juts out almost meeting the Semiahmoo spit to form a protective ring around Drayton Harbor. I’m sure that the fireworks make a dramatic display when seen from a distance with the blast reflecting in the water. As we have done before, however, we walked down to the park to watch the display up close. I don’t know how many others walked down there, but I’m sure it was thousands. Those who went early filled all of the parking lots. We didn’t even try to park there, but found a place a block off of main street and walked from there. If nothing else, it sped our departure after the fireworks display.

We saw a bit of our own area’s July 4 craziness in the afternoon. Thinking that the festivities would be an evening phenomenon, we headed down to the beach in our car in the early afternoon intending to park in a familiar spot and walk a little over a mile to the end of the beachfront berm and back. There was no chance of finding any free parking in Birch Bay, however. We ended up driving through the beachfront area and circling back home. With our car in the garage, we walked back down to the beach which was already full of people who had brought tents, shelters, blankets and beach chairs to stake out spots for watching the evening’s festivities. All along the waterfront cars and trucks and campers were packed into all available parking places. Those who wanted to park probably found their place fairly early in the day.

I’m sure that even without a professional fireworks show there was a lot to see down at our beach last night. There is a burn ban on in the county due to dry conditions, but campfires are still allowed. The beach was filled with campfires making a rim of reflections surrounding the water. We could see from our home that the amateur fireworks included many blasts of huge bright bursts. I wonder how many thousands of dollars had been spent at fireworks stands in preparation for the event. There were a couple of vendors selling fireworks in our area. Although it is technically illegal to light fireworks purchased on the reservation off of reservation land, I’m sure that rule is impossible to enforce. How could any enforcement officer trace the origin of the carloads of fireworks that were brought into the bay yesterday? Fireworks are big business on the reservation.

I like to watch the fireworks, but I am not tempted to spend any money at the fireworks stands. I’ve got plenty of ways to spend my money without feeling the urge to turn it into cardboard tubes with fuses that cause explosions. Even with showy rockets that create large bursts of color in the night sky, I find the expense to be unnecessary. I’ll leave the purchasing and lighting of fireworks to others.

Still, I would like to help with the cleanup. Perhaps next year I won’t have to be working on July 5 and will be available to join my neighbors in the important task. That is another thing about fireworks. The ones who light the fuses rarely clean up the debris themselves. It is blasted over a large area and although I haven’t gone down to the beach yet this morning, I’m pretty sure that there is plenty of parking. Several thousand folks who spent the day in Birch Bay yesterday have already gone home. I’m not the only one who has to be at work today. Like all of those revelers, I’ll be going to work a bit short on sleep. Even if I hadn’t stayed up for the fireworks display, sleep before midnight was nearly impossible with all of the booming from fireworks all around our neighborhood. Some of my neighbors were putting on impressive displays. Hopefully there will be plenty of neighbors out with their brooms and garbage cans today. I’m sure the neighborhood is as badly littered as the beach this morning.

In some ways Independence Day is a bit of an oddity among holidays. The focus is on outdoor activities. People celebrate with barbecues, picnics, and days at the beach. There is plenty of drinking and recreational smoking going on. Parades and car shows are other components of community celebrations. Basically, general revelry is the norm. As opposed to many other holidays, the holiday is not attached to Monday or another fixed day of the week. We celebrate on the 4th regardless of what day of the week it occurs. When it is near a weekend, as was the case yesterday, a lot of people arrange to have an extra day off making a long weekend. On there other hand, there were plenty of businesses that were open yesterday. In town hardware stores and grocery stores were doing booming business and were open for business as usual.

Today, however, it is back to the usual. The commute will feature drivers who are more tired than usual. Traffic may be a bit higher with some celebrants still heading home after a long weekend. Be careful out there. We wish everyone safe travels.

And maybe next year I’ll be out there with the good folks who are giving their time to clean things up.

Independence Day

I have been thinking that today would be a good day for an essay on the United States. The occasion of our national holiday is an appropriate time to reflect on the state of the union as it were. Of course, my audience is very small. I don’t expect that anything I write would have the impact of a presidential speech or an address by a famous person.

Frederick Douglass, for example, delivered at least three speeches on the occasion of Independence Day that have become part of the historic record of this nation. Perhaps the most famous was delivered in 1852 when he wondered what the enslaved might say if they were called from the plantations to reflect on the themes of liberty, justice, and equality. It is a powerful speech. I think the reorientation of perspective offered is meaningful for our world today.

I might follow Douglass’ example urging readers to think of this holiday and the ideals of our nation from the perspective of those who are powerless and whose voices aren’t heard in the clamor of political writing and rhetoric on this holiday. Consider those who are attempting to recover from the trauma of being part of a crowd where a shooter claimed multiple victims. Or grieving family members who lost a loved one to gun violence in the past year. What would those people have to say about the status of justice in our nation?

Consider what an African-American woman might have to say about the inalienable right to life. Black woman disproportionally experience death and trauma during childbirth. What hard truths would they raise about their fears for themselves and their unborn children?

What might a young Lakota man sitting in a county jail in South Dakota because he has no money for bail have to say about liberty?

I think that such a shift in perspective is valuable. But it is important, I suppose to also consider how our own perspectives shift with the passage of time. Douglass’ 1852 speech has an entirely different tone than the one he delivered a decade later. His earlier speech, written in the aftermath of the fugitive slave act did not see the signs of unity and hope that he saw in the battle against the Confederacy. By 1875, when he once again took to the podium on Independence Day, he outlined a narrative of progress: “Colored people have had something to do with almost everything of vital importance in the life and progress of this great country.”

It may just be that this Independence Day falls right after I have celebrated my 70th birthday and my 50th wedding anniversary. Like others my age, I am aware that I am engaged in the process of evaluating and integrating my life’s experiences. Developmental psychologists call this process ego integration and declare that it is the job of everyone upon reaching a certain age. In looking back and taking stock I am evaluating my place in the world and my contributions.

While I have some sense of accomplishment and even progress over the span of my life, I don’t have a similar optimism about the course of our nation’s history. How do I write about the progress of America’s ideals when the front runner for one party’s nomination for the highest office of the land has publicly declared that he places his own interests above national security? How do I proclaim the triumph of justice when public trust in the nation’s highest court is at an all time low. It isn’t just that justices Samuel Eliot, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas have accepted gifts such as undisclosed trips on private jets and yachts, free luxury vacations, secret real estate deals, and donations to pet projects. It is that the court has totally failed to exercise oversight over itself and the behavior of its members. I suspect that history will remember John Thomas as the chief justice who turned a blind eye to ethical lapse and official misconduct. There is a big difference between judicial independence and judicial license. Judges of the highest court in the land should show restraint, but none is evident in those who feel their position authorizes them to do and say whatever they please without considering the appearance of impropriety. Their personal behavior only increases the doubt cast by their partisan opinions rendered without regard for judicial precedence and the careful consideration of the jurists who preceded them.

The process of selecting a President and the state of the Supreme Court aren’t the only causes of caution when it comes to proclaiming optimism about the state of our nation. The legislative process is clearly broken as well. The makeup of the court is the result of obvious manipulation of the process of advice, consent, and confirmation of appointments. Gerrymandering has resulted in the makeup of both the House of Representatives and the Senate disproportionately favoring a minority of voters. Intense partisanship placing party over country has resulted in a legislative standstill that has rendered legislatures at the state and national level ineffective and non productive.

It isn’t just government that is broken. It is hard to find a news story about the institutional church that doesn’t highlight sexual abuse, coverup, and scandal. School boards have become more interested in fighting so called culture wars than the education of children. Book bans, once used to be associated with authoritarian regimes, now have left junior high and middle school libraries with empty shelves. A complaint by a single individual can effectively remove a book from a library. Even the bible has been officially banned by school boards.

Despite all of this, however, I remain optimistic about this nation. My optimism isn’t rooted in the strength of public institutions, however. It is born of witnessing volunteers pitch in to assist neighbors with flood recovery. It is forged in the hard work of feeding hungry people and working to overcome food deserts. It is buoyed by the generosity of volunteers constructing simple decent housing in partnership with those in need.

Perhaps the greatness of this nation is best demonstrated not in moments of victory, but rather in the nitty gritty hard work of overcoming obstacles. Our true character will be judged by how we face adversity and in the strength of the people when the institutions teeter.

Happy birthday, America! May the trials and struggles of the year past and the year to come reveal our true character.

Change is coming

The countdown clock is ticking for retirement version 2.0. When we accepted the position in which we are currently working, we knew that it was an interim engagement. Called to serve for 18 to 24 months, our 24 months will end at the end of this month. It has been a very good match from our point of view. Job sharing a single position means that we are working half time, which gives us time for retirement projects, spending time with our grandchildren, family events and celebrations and more. Working at the church has allowed us to keep active in our profession, make connections with colleagues, and do meaningful work. The extra income from the job has allowed us to set aside some savings and develop a bit of a cushion as we transition to what comes next.

Two years has, however, sped by. In many ways I’m sad to be moving on to whatever comes next. I don’t really know what comes next. On the one hand, it will be nice to have some time off. We haven’t had time for much vacation in the past two years. The trips we took during that time were rushed and we are longing for time to travel a bit more slowly and look around a bit.

The list of things that we plan to get done when we have time is growing. One thing about retirement, we won’t be bored. There are several projects we intend to tackle that will work best with full-time focus.

In the back of my mind, however, I know that I’ll keep looking for another place to serve. There is a shortage of pastors available to serve in part-time positions. However, our search needs to be confined to a small area because we are not available to move for a job. It might take some time for us to discern what comes next.

The wonderful thing about retirement, however, is that we will have time for that discernment. We don’t have to panic that we will be unemployed for a while. We have sufficient retirement income to cover our expenses. We have a comfortable home and a stocked pantry. We have the gift of health and energy.

A little over fifty years ago, I had a deeper sense of panic about a short-term job. I was lookin for summer work between my junior and senior years of college. I had not had to worry about summer employment in the past because my cousin and uncle always were looking for farm help during the summer and my father always had need of extra workers at his business. I had built-in summer job opportunities. However, this particular summer I had a specific location where I was looking for work and that location didn’t involve the farm or my home town. I had already lined up an apartment on the campus of our college. A building that housed several church offices had a small efficiency apartment where I could live and trade providing janitorial services for my rent. And we were planning our wedding. I needed to find a summer job that would put groceries on the table.

At first driving an ice cream truck seemed like a ticket. I was a good driver and I loved ice cream. However, at the interview it became clear that there was a lot of risk involved. The system required drivers to purchase inventory before heading out on their routes. the driver took the risk of unsold inventory. Profits were based on sales. It wouldn’t be a problem selling ice cream on sunny days, but a few days of rain or clouds could have an impact on income. When I put numbers to paper the income wasn’t going to be that much. I passed on the job. I thought that other jobs would appear, but I wasn’t getting interviews. I found a short-term guiding job that fit between the end of the school term and our wedding. I was starting to worry.

Then, at what seemed to me to be near the last minute, I got an interview for an hourly job at a large bakery. It was a union position with a good wage, reasonable days off, and a few benefits. I jumped at the opportunity. Work would begin three days after the wedding and I needed to shave my beard even though my job didn’t involve working with any of the production before the bread was sliced and bagged. I had a beard for the wedding and arrived at work for my first day clean shaven. It was hard work, but it was good work. I took racks of fresh-baked bread off of the line, rolled them through a large warehouse and lined them up for loading onto semi trucks. The racks needed to be lined up closely and if I got careless and my fingers got between the racks they would be pinched enough that I lost my fingernails - something that happened multiple times during the summer. The pace of the production line was relentless. I had to keep on my toes. If the rack had to go a long distance in the warehouse I had to sprint back to fill the next rack without allowing the line to back up. It took me a couple of days to get into the routine.

After that job, I have always found it easy to find the next job. I worked part time through college and graduate school and had additional part-time work through the first decade of my pastoral career. After that, we did a series of free-lance writing projects on the side. There has always been something.

And there will be something this time. I don’t think I’m ready to just stop working yet. For now, however, I’m not putting any energy into looking. There will be time for that later. There are a lot of things to do in the month to come. We have a week-long day camp and registrations are already ahead of last year. There are worship elements that need to be planned, staff and board meetings to attend, people to visit, emails to write, and classes to teach.

I am among the most fortunate people I know. I love the work I do. I’ll miss it when things change. And something new will come up. In the meantime, I get to practice patience - a skill I will need in increasing doses as I continue to grow older.

So it is back to work - for now.

A judgment remembered

There is a rather obscure and quite marvelous story buried in the 27th chapter of the book of Numbers. It does not appear in the Revised Common Lectionary so there are plenty of Christians who worship regularly who aren’t familiar with the story. There are plenty of preachers who don’t know the story. There are plenty of people who have read the entire bible, those who have read through the bible in a year once or more who don’t remember the story.

It is the story of five sisters. Like many other stories of the Hebrew scriptures, it comes from a very patriarchal culture. These are the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as recounted by generations of descendants in a time when lineage was mostly traced from father to son. There are scores of stories in the Torah - the first five books of a contemporary bible - that don’t tell of female characters and when they do the women in the stories are rarely given names. But this story stands out in part because the five sisters are named: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. Their lineage is also reported. They are the daughters of Zelophehad. Zelophehad was the son of Heepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, son of Jospeh. Joseph, of course is a famous son of Jacob, about whom there are a lot of stories in the historical books of the section of scriptures commonly called the “Old Testament.”

The story takes place in the early days of the organization of the Hebrew people after they were brought out of slavery in Egypt. In those days the wandering tribe s were few in number and the people followed Moses as they lived a nomadic life between the time the people had lived in Egypt and the time they were allowed to enter the promised land. In the early days of that time, before judges were named to assist the leaders, people appealed directly to Moses for the resolution of conflict. The sisters appeared before Moses with a question about inheritance.

As I said, this was a time of patriarchy. Wealth traveled from father to son. Women had access to the resources of previous generations primarily through the relationship of marriage. If a woman was unmarried and had no sons she didn’t have formal property rights. The case that the five daughters brought before Moses had to do with naming rights. The father of the five daughters, Zelophehad, had died when the people were in the wilderness. The sisters had no brothers. Tradition said that if a man died, his inheritance passed to the first-born son. If there was no son, then to the brothers of the deceased. If there were no brothers, then to the uncles, and if no uncles then the inheritance was to be distributed to the nearest kinsman. There was no mention of property rights of the women in the family in the tradition.

However, Moses also know of another obscure law that had remained with the people alongside the patriarchal tradition. This obscure law allowed for daughters to take the name of their father and to obtain a portion of inheritance, stating that if a man dies and has a daughter but no son then the inheritance should pass to the daughter. In the story, Moses prays to God to discern the resolution to the conflict. In this part of the bible God is known by the name designated by four consonants, YHWH. This is sometimes referred to as the name of God.

After praying, Moses rules that the daughters should receive the inheritance. The chapter goes on to report of Moses being allowed to see the promised land, but not to enter it. There is no more mention of the five sisters in scripture.

Like all biblical stories, the question arises, “Why did our people remember and treasure this story?” Somehow this story was kept for generations of oral tradition and eventually it became part of scripture. There must have been hundreds and thousands of stories that didn’t get remembered. The ones that have become a part of our scripture must have been retained for some reason. In the case of the story of the five sisters I think that one reason it was kept and treasured is that it has a surprising outcome.

In a very patriarchal culture, one might expect that the women would have been passed over when it came to their father’s inheritance. Like tradition, whatever wealth he had and his name, would have been given to his brothers, uncles, or kinsmen without any mention of the daughters. Somehow, however, the daughters dared to expect another outcome enough to raise an appeal to Moses and Moses doesn’t side with all of the tradition, but also comes up with a lesser known rule, forged somewhere in the experience of the people of Israel, that allowed the inheritance to pass to the sisters. Their appeal is heard by Moses and he is moved enough to come up with a solution for them.

The story stands out from what may have been hundreds of cases heard by Moses that ended up with inheritance following the typical father to son route. Not only did the sisters receive their inheritance and retain the name of their father, they also had their names remember by sacred history. Although this story is sometimes called the daughters of Zelophehad they are more than just daughters. They have their own unique names. They are Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.

It may be that the rulings of judges that are most remembered and treasured are the ones that are unexpected. Hundreds of people appeal to judges expecting the judges to hold with tradition and for no surprises to come. Yet, from time to time, the administration of justice brings surprising outcomes.

The end of the current term of the Supreme Court of the United States has come with few surprises. The conservative super majority in the court, manipulated by Senate power brokers and more than a few dirty tricks, delivered judgments that were expected. Their legacy may not be particularly remembered generations from now. They have been doing what was expected and ruling as expected. It remains to be seen what judgements they render that are truly memorable and will be treasured by those who come hundreds and thousands of years from now. Only time will tell for sure. However, I suspect that history will favor judgments that bring unexpected justice - judgments that favor those who might otherwise be discounted and forgotten. Such judgments are rare - rare enough to be remembered.


It is the big weekend here in Birch Bay. I made a quick trip to our local market yesterday afternoon and endured a long line of cars atypical for our little town. Once I got into the parking lot, I had to look carefully for a parking place. This is not common for us. Usually I park at the edge of the lot where there are a lot of empty spaces. Even the electric vehicle charging stations at the store were full. As I walked into the grocery store, I noticed that the pile of watermelons was larger than usual. I also noticed that the price was 50 cents per pound higher than Memorial Day. This is a weekend when local merchants need to take advantage of the crowds and plan ahead for leaner times that will come in the winter when there are a lot fewer tourists in town.

At the edge of the parking lot there were large tents set up and I could see people milling around them. They were selling fireworks in the tent. the market is located at the first exit from Interstate 5 in the United States. There is a ramp where north-bound traffic can exit and south bound traffic can enter between our exit and the border, but ours is the first opportunity for those on the Interstate coming from Canada to exit.

People who know their way around our area know that the biggest fireworks stands are three more exits down the road at the Lumi Nation, but if you are heading south in search of fireworks, you might be tempted to stop at he first fireworks stand you see. It isn’t that fireworks are not for sale in Canada. They are. It is just that it is easier to purchase fireworks on the same side of the border crossing that you intend to use them.

This weekend is a day for fireworks on both sides of the border - well that is if you count Monday and Tuesday as part of the weekend, which quite a few people are doing this year. Our neighbors to the north celebrate Canada Day today. Typical celebrations include fireworks, parades, barbecues, concerts, carnivals, fairs, and picnics. It is about the same way that we celebrate the 4th of July with our own fireworks, parades, barbecues, concerts, carnivals, fairs, and picnics. The cottages and condos at the beach are filled with a pretty even mix of folks from both sides of the border. Even the empty lots in town have recreational vehicles parked and are adorned with flags.

Canada Day, formerly known as Dominion Day is the national day of Canada. It is a federal holiday that celebrates the anniversary of the Canadian Confederation, which was recognized by official ceremony on July 1, 1867. Those of us on the south side of the border have pretty much been celebrating July 4 since 1776. It is such an entrenched holiday around here that almost every advertisement for celebrations uses the term “old fashioned.”

The communities of Blaine and Birch Bay both have ads in the local paper for their “Old Fashioned 4th of July” festivities. I’ve looked around a bit in our area and you can check it out where you live, but none of the communities around here are having a “new fangled” 4th of July. I haven’t even seen any “moderately innovative” 4th of July festivities and “brand new” is definitely out of the question.

The menu for the festivities seems to be mostly hot dogs, burgers, watermelon and ice cream with a few salads tossed in for effect. That and a lot of beer. Our neighbors across the back fence were having an animated discussion of beer in their planning for their party last week. We don’t mean to be eavesdropping but they are a bit loud and sometimes it isn’t possible to be in our back yard without overhearing their conversations. I guess they had to endure our festivities a couple of weeks ago when we hosted a brunch in our yard, so turnabout it fair play. I’m fairly confident that our celebration had more children than theirs will have. And children can be loud.

I have enjoyed some spectacular fireworks displays in my life and I still enjoy watching them. We don’t have definite plans in place, but we may drive up to Blaine to watch the fireworks over Drayton Harbor. We could also just walk down to the beach here and have a look. The bay is pretty with campfires ringing the water and fireworks dotting the night sky. The advantage to driving north is that those fireworks are professionally executed. Around our little bay the fireworks are strictly amateur. On the other hand we have a few amateurs who really get into their displays and who obviously have spent a significant amount of money at the fireworks stands.

I’m not much into lighting fireworks myself. While I enjoy the bursts of light and color in the night sky, I’m a bit too frugal to take a match to a purchase in which I’ve invested my money. I just don’t get enough pleasure from the experience to want to spend money at the fireworks stand. I didn’t even buy watermelon at the store because I enjoy having a bit of my money in my pocket. I’ll wait until the price drops - and it will drop next week for sure.

It is a good thing that I don’t have a busy week at work because I’m pretty sure that things will be fairly noisy at my usual bedtime for a few days. With the Canadian holiday today and the American holiday on Tuesday, there are bound to be people touching matches to fuses all around the bay for the next few nights. Add in generous amounts of beer and there will probably be a few sirens joining the cacophony as well.

Across both nations, I suspect that celebrations will be a bit muted this year due to the smoke from all of the wildfires in Canada. It’s hard to look at fireworks when the skies are already filled with smoke. We probably will have some of the best air quality in both nations this weekend with gentle onshore winds carrying our smoke off to the east.

I hope that whatever holiday you are celebrating, you find a way to do so safely. We’ll be having a blast here in the northwest corner of the US. I think we’ll start with hot dogs for supper tonight. That menu is generally a hit with our grandchildren.

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