Bears and people

The relationship between bears and people has long been an uneasy one in Yellowstone National Park. When I was young there were bleachers set up at the dump behind Old Faithful Lodge. People would go out there in the evening to watch the bears as they came to feed at the dump. The leftover food from the hotel restaurant and other venues was dumped on the ground and the bears would rummage through it. There was a bear that was called “Old Scarface” who was dominant. When he came to the dump, he got preferred status. The other bears would give him space and he would eat what he wanted. If he was challenged by another bear, he would quickly respond with growling and quick swipes of his claws. The scars on his face were thought to have come from fighting with other bears.

Black bears would line up along the park roads and tourists would feed them by throwing scraps of food out of their cars. From time to time there would be tourists who were injured by bears. They would get out of their cars to take pictures and fail to estimate the speed with which a bear could travel. After several incidents, park officials decided to reduce the contact between bears and tourists. The bleachers were removed. The dump was closed and the park company began hauling trash out of the park to landfills in surrounding counties. Bears who had become accustomed to surviving by begging from tourists were trapped and hauled to remote locations.

Some of the first radio collars were fitted on some of the bears in the park. There was a complex antenna mounted under the belly of one of my father’s Super Cub airplanes that could be used to track bears with collars. The range of the transmitters on the bears was not very good and we had to get within a couple of miles in order to get a signal, but over time learned the bears’ travel patterns and could usually find them.

The general cycle was that the bears would be trapped alongside roads and lodges in the park, trucked to the end of the Slew Creek road and released. It would take the bears a couple of months to work their way back to the places where they had been trapped. Summer season in Yellowstone was only four or five months in those days and usually a single trip would keep the bear away from tourists. The problem is that the bears learned not to enter the culvert traps, even when they were baited with live animals. From time to time officials would euthanize a bear when they couldn’t find a way to keep it away from tourist locations.

Some bears, including Old Scarface, learned that mountain cabins were good places to raid for food. They learned to break into cabins through windows and doors and steal food. Once, Old Scarface went over the top of the Slew Creek divide and started working his way through the cabins on the main Boulder River. A group of volunteers was recruited to hunt for the bear. There is a long story of the bear hunt, including a forest service ranger who accidentally shot a horse. The local story is that the ranger was reassigned to the Everglades in Florida. I guess alligators don’t look like horses. Then again I don’t think bears look like horses, either. Anyway, as a result of that bear hunt, Old Scarface ended up at the taxidermist’s shop and eventually was mounted in a restaurant in my home town.

It took years for Yellowstone Park bears to resume more natural patterns and diets. For a long time you could take a drive through the park and not see a single bear. These days bears that are sighted are usually spotted from greater distances and move away from tourists with their cars and cameras. I haven’t read of a tourist injured by a bear for quite a while. The tourists seem to have taken their risky behavior in search of photos of buffalo - American bison. Most years there is at least one story of a tourist injured while engaging in risky behavior around the animals in Yellowstone Park or in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I guess park officials can only go so far in their attempts to protect people from their own stupidity.

I recently read an article on the BBC website about the reintroduction of bears into the Alps. Bears had been hunted to extinction in the Alps and about 20 years ago a project in Italy reintroduced the apex predators to the mountains. Bears from Slovenia were transported to the Italian alps and released. The project exceeded expectations and the population of bears in the region grew to around 100 individuals. A series of recent attacks by bears against people, however, has raised concern. Are some of the returned bears becoming too dependent upon humans and too aggressive in their feeding patterns.

Bears get really hungry and grumpy at the end of the summer. As the weather turns cold they are voracious eaters, preparing for hibernation. Then again in the spring, when they emerge from hibernation, they come out hungry and aggressive to get food. Females with cubs are particularly aggressive when humans come too close.

Humans and bears have an uneasy relationship. Bears are quick and strong and an unarmed human being is no match for the bear’s vicious claws and teeth. While naturally shy and quick to run away from humans, bears can become bold and more aggressive with repeated exposure to humans. People seeking solitude have built cabins and homes deep in bear country and there can be real fear when there is too much contact between the animals and people. Bears don’t really hunt humans as part of their diet. Attacks are generally defensive moves against a perceived threat. The problem is that some human behaviors, such as jogging or running in the woods can be seen as a threat to the bear when no threat was intended. European bears have made headlines recently after a few high profile attacks have resulted in injury and death.

A healthy dose of caution and common sense can go a long way in providing safety for people who travel in bear country. Public education is one key to insuring the survival of bears in the wild. Stories of predator attacks stirs ancient fear in humans, however, and some people advocate removing all of the bears from certain areas. The controversy will continue.

In the meantime, Alaska is a good place for humans to view bears. I hope to make that trip one day. I’ll be careful to avoid jogging or hiking alone in bear country. After all, I got to see Old Scarface before his career turned to burglary and his fate was sealed.

things you didn't know about me

As a community building exercise at a recent meeting, we were asked to introduce ourselves by telling one thing about ourselves that others probably don’t know. I’ve received that kind of instructions before and it is pretty easy for me to bring up things that are previously unknown about me in a group of people who have known me for only a couple of years. It is obviously a task that is easier when one is 70 than at age 17. I’ve had a lot of experiences.

I chose to report that I earned my private pilot’s license when I was 17. Since I quit flying as pilot in command in my forties, there have been a lot of years since I have done that activity. There was one slide in the pictures shown at our 50th anniversary of our family in front of an airplane, but unless you knew what you were looking for, it would be easy to assume that the plane was piloted by someone else. Had I not used that bit of information, there are a lot of other things that probably are not known by those who participated in the meeting.

My high school mascot was the Sheepherder.
My first car was an Opel Kadette.
My two youngest brothers are the biological children of my oldest sister
I used to have a hang glider
I have taught wind surfing at a water sports camp
I was a school bus driver
I worked as a radio DJ
I know how to re-cain and re-do rush bottom chairs
I used to be an emergency care technician and drove an ambulance
I never graduated from high school

I could probably come up with a much longer list if I spent some time thinking. I suspect that most readers of my journal can find at least one item on the list that they had not previously known. I write about a lot of things, but I certainly haven’t covered every possible topic of my life’s story. Personal essays are not memoirs.

It was fun to listen to the other participants in the meeting and learn small bits of information about them. I didn’t know this person had lived in Wales or that person had raised a godson. I think most of the people in the room came up with things that I did not know. All of the other participants are people that I have known for less than three years.

The exercise got me to thinking, however, about the list of things that I enjoy doing. I enjoy hanging out at airports and flying in airplanes. I enjoy making canoes and kayaks. I enjoy solo paddling. I enjoy sailing. I enjoy tinkering with repairs for our camper. I enjoy traveling on the airlines to distant locations. I enjoy road trips. I enjoy eating new foods and experiencing new cultures. That list, too, could go on and on. What struck me as I thought about that list, however, is that while I once thought that I would have time to do a lot of things in my life, the remaining years of my life are not long enough for some things. I probably won’t have another job that I retain for 25 years. I probably won’t live in any other place for as long as we lived in our Rapid City home. I’m unlikely to go back to flying airplanes as a pilot. I probably won’t have need of a commercial driver’s license again.

Turning 70 has meant for me that it is time to set some priorities. That doesn’t mean that I will stop dreaming. Nor will I easily slow down my activities. I’m still going to be a person who is usually juggling many different interests and ideas. I want to be a storyteller, boatbuilder, trumpet player, handbell ringer, fund-raiser, teacher, writer, preacher, habitat volunteer, library organizer. Still, I have to admit, if at least to myself, that there are some things that I am unlikely to accomplish in this lifetime.

I used to tell others that ministry is in part the art of leaving the office with your work undone. Being a minister involves so many different tasks that there is always a list of things to do. There is always one more call that could be made, one more book that could be read, one more person to whom communion could be taken, one more meeting for which to prepare, one more committee in need of leadership. Once, when I was a bit overwhelmed with a job that was fairly new to me, I asked my predecessor how he got all of the work done. He replied that he didn’t get all of the work done. That answer was reassuring to me over the next years as I tried hard and left work undone.

Now my life is like my career. I know that there are things that I won’t get done in this life. I am willing to accept those limitations, but I think it is unlikely to keep me from having a lot of projects. Like the unread books in my library, I find it a bit reassuring that I have more than enough projects to last a lifetime. From where I find myself now it seems highly unlikely that I will have an extended period of boredom in this life. I’ve got enough books that I won’t run out and I have enough things I want to try that I should still have a to do list when I come to the last day of my life.

I’ve met people who seemed to have all of the loose ends of their lives all tied up. I don’t expect to ever achieve that level of neatness. When I discover a dirty dish after I have started the dishwasher, I just think, “O well, there’s seed for the next crop.” I’m content to go to bed with almost all of the dishes done. It doesn’t bother me to have a glass in the skink that I’ll deal with the next morning.

I’m pretty sure that I will be able to come up with things about me that are unknown to other gatherings. I may even add a few new ones in the days to come.

The love of travel

My parents both loved to travel. My father was a pilot and he taught my mother to fly. She was the first pilot to earn her license by taking the check ride in Sweet Grass County. Prior to her earning of there private pilot’s license, students took their check rides in Billings or Bozeman. In her case an examiner pilot was visiting our home town and she was able to take her flying examination from our home airport. Together they traveled in their own airplanes. They also took a lot of trips on airlines. After my father died, my mother continued to travel, checking her bike as luggage to tour in China, the Philippines, Shri Lanka, New England and other places.

Susan and I share that love of travel. After we had been married for a year, we moved to Chicago. That move involved a three-day road trip in the days of 55 mile-per-hour speed limits. We celebrated our 5th anniversary in Europe, touring with my parents and a sister and her husband. We have had the good fortune to travel with our children to many places over the years, including family vacations in Chicago, Washington, DC, and San Francisco among other places. In 2006 a Lily Endowment grant enabled our entire family to spend time in Australia. Susan and I have had the good fortune to make trips to England and Japan to visit our daughter and son-in-law when they lived in those places. One of our priorities for our retirement is to travel some more.

We may, however, be at or even a bit past the end of the time when travel is easy and convenient. As prices rise and the world begins its turn away from fossil fuels airline travel will continue to become more expensive, less convenient, and less common. International trips may become beyond our financial reach in the coming years. Covid accelerated the replacement of business travel with Internet meetings.

While there are wonderful benefits of living in a time where travel is relatively inexpensive and readily available, our time has also brought out some of the negative effects of globalization. Languages that have been spoken for thousands of years are being lost as new generations learn to speak the languages of large countries. Cultural distinctions begin to fade in favor of global standards and norms.

Today marks the official end of one of the joyful and fun differences in how people in the world count their age. South Korea officially adopts the international standard method of counting a person’s age with legislation that goes into affect today. Korea has two age-counting methods that are different from the international standard. Traditional age-counting methods were also used by other East Asian countries, but South Korea has been slow to abandon those systems. Japan adopted the international standard in 1950. North Korea followed suit in the 1980’s. And now South Korea continues that trend.

Previously the most widely used method to calculate a person’s age in Korea was known as the “Korean age” system. In that system a person turns one at birth, acknowledging the development of a child in their mother’s womb. After birth each person gains a year on new year’s day. That means that a baby born on December 31 is considered to be two years old the next day.

A separate “counting age” system, shared with other Asian countries, considers a person zero at birth and adds a year on 1 January. A baby born on January 1 and a baby born on December 31 of the same year will be considered to be the same age under that system, even though the former is nearly a year older than the latter.

The system caused a lot of confusion over retirement dates, insurance pay-outs, eligibility for government assistance programs, and certain age-based activities such as alcohol consumption and age of consent.

It makes sense that South Korea is making the shift to the international standard. On the other hand, I’m glad I lived in a time when the differences still existed. We have a nephew who married a woman from South Korea and learned of the different age counting systems from her. Having her presence added to the diversity of our family in delightful ways and we learned a bit of her cultural history.

As we become more and more connected, some of the differences between people disappear.

Of course, we have not lost all cultural differences in the giant cultural melting pot of international travel, media, and connections. We will continue to enjoy learning about the differences of our siblings in other parts of the world, dancing with our African family members and picking up our chopsticks to eat the foods our Japanese family introduced to us.

As English continues to increase its spread across the globe as a common language, we persist in speaking it with an ever-widening range of accents. There are more English speakers whose first languages were Cantonese or Mandarin than those who speak English as a first language. Diversity is not disappearing.

In the years to come, however, we may be using our computers to immerse ourselves in other cultures in place of traveling to distant places as often. Of course decreasing travel will happen to us regardless of the world’s response to climate crisis. The natural limitations of aging will hold us closer to home. Travel will become increasingly difficult as we face the limitations of our energy and physical abilities.

For now, however, we still dream and talk of travel. There are a few more big trips we’d love to take. We still have energy for an epic road trip or two. Our grandchildren need to visit some of our wonderful national parks and we are eager to take them. They have passports and we live very close to an International boundary. Adventure is near at hand.

When we do travel, no one will be confused at our ages. We each add one year on the anniversary of our birth and use the same system of counting.

Gifts of our time

I had an aunt who had an eye disorder called keratoconus. Her symptoms included deteriorating vision and a sensitivity to bright light. The condition was diagnosed early in her life. As a young woman she traveled from Montana to Chicago where she was fitted with large, hard contact lenses that put pressure on the centers of her corneas in an attempt to slow the change in the shape of the surface of her eyes. The contacts were corrective lenses as well that improved her vision. As an adult she was an early recipient of corneal transplants. Each of those procedures required a multi-month trip out of state to a medical center where the surgery was performed and post operative care was provided. I remember stories of how her head was kept from moving by being surrounded by sand bags during and after the surgery.

I have a very mild form of the same condition. The misshaping of my corneas, however, stabilized when I was in my early 40’s and I haven’t had further issues. For a while I wore corrective hard contact lenses, but when those became too uncomfortable I returned to wearing glasses and so far doctors have been able to correct my vision with regular glasses. I’ve been fortunate to live in a time of plastic lenses, which makes my glasses lightweight and less awkward than those available years ago.

I was advised by an ophthalmologist that there was good cause to wait for any possible surgical correction to my condition because of the rate of advance in ocular surgical techniques. As time passes, doctors become better and better at making ocular corrections and procedures become less invasive. The doctor said the delay of a year or more would bring advances in technique. As it turned out, my condition has stabilized and I have not required any surgery.

I was thinking about my aunt and the challenges of having my own vision corrected 30 years ago yesterday. Susan went to her ophthalmologist for a routine check up yesterday. She had procedures to remove cataracts a few years ago and she receives regular check ups to make sure that all is well. During her examination the doctor observed a slight film on one of her eyes. This can be corrected with a laser surgical procedure and the doctor recommended that the procedure be performed. As it turned out, she was the first patient of the day and there was no backup of patients waiting for appointments so the procedure could be done after her examination. The procedure took about 5 minutes and she was given no restrictions on activities post procedure. Her eyes were dilated for the procedure, so she was very light sensitive for a while after it and it was a good think I was available to drive for the trip home from the visit. After a few hours her pupils were contracting normally and she enjoyed her regular activities for the rest of the day.

I realize that the procedures were very different, but the contrast between my aunt’s experience with eye surgery and Susan’s experience yesterday was dramatic. One patient traveled out of state to get to a research hospital, was an inpatient in restraints following the surgery, then had to remain nearby for follow-up care for a couple of months. The other’s surgery was a 5-minute outpatient procedure with no need for follow up care or restrictions.

What a difference a few decades have made in eye surgeries!

I haven’t seen the medicare explanation of benefits in regards to Susan’s procedure yet, but I’m fairly confident that the cost of that 5-minute procedure was well beyond the charges that came from my aunt’s corneal transplant surgeries. A few decades has also affected the cost of medical procedures.

Still, I think that the advance in patient care can definitely be labeled progress. As we were walking last evening we talked about how fortunate we are to live in this time and place, where access to such convenient vision enhancing procedures is so convenient. A few generation ago, people our age frequently saw their vision blur and fail due to cataracts. We live in a time when those are easily corrected, where lens implants are common, and where office procedures continue to make good vision available to aging patients. Had we lived in our grandparent’s time, our experience of aging would be much different.

So much of our quality of life is due to things that are beyond our control such as the time in which we are born and live. We have a tendency to think of our situation in life as the product of planning and hard work, but we haven’t worked any harder than those who have less fortunate outcomes. Where we are is the product of luck as well as of dedication. We were lucky to have met each other at young ages. We were lucky that our parents chose churches that shared the camp where we met. We were lucky that we lived in a time of relatively low tuition and easy student loan terms. We completed our undergraduate and graduate educations together and emerged with minimal debt that was repaid in just a few years. A similar educational pathway does not exist for couples married these days.

Sure, we have worked. And we have been blessed with meaningful work and benevolent employers. We have also benefited from the time and place of our births. Who we are and what we have experienced in life has been the result of unearned privilege. Others who have worked just as hard have not received the benefits that we have taken for granted.

Comparing our experience yesterday with that of my aunt and uncle makes us aware of how much different life will be for our children and grandchildren as they age. Some things will continue to improve. Other things will present challenges we aren’t able to imagine. It will be different. We cannot control the circumstances of their lives. What we can do is to be as generous as possible, sharing the love we have found and pray that they too will find love and care as they travel the journeys of this life.

Five epic years

The first five years of our marriage were filled with a lot of changes and activities for us. Here is a partial list. In those five years we:
  • got married
  • graduated from Rocky Mountain College
  • moved to Chicago
  • spent two summers as managers and cooks at Camp Mimanagish
  • met lifelong friends from Australia who traveled to meet our Montana families twice
  • made an epic mid-winter train trip from Illinois to Montana and back
  • hosted friends from South Africa during their visit to Montana
  • spent our first summer away from Montana in Chicago
  • had our first articles published in a professional journal
  • completed internships
  • completed Clinical Pastoral Education
  • graduated from Chicago Theological Seminary, Susan with a M.Div. degree me with a D.Min.
  • lived in nine different places, moving our household items each time
  • accepted the call to serve two churches in rural North Dakota and move our household to the parsonage in Hettinger
  • traveled to Europe

Those are just some of the highlights. During those years we camped on the shores of Lake Michigan and in the mountains of Montana. We made a couple of winter trips into Yellowstone National Park and swam in natural hot springs. We snowmobiled to the edge of the Beartooth-Absaroka National Wilderness. We climbed the Indiana sand dunes and watched the sunset over Lake Michigan. We backpacked into the wilderness and camped in the high country near the northern edge of Yellowstone. I’m sure that there are a lot more activities that I could list if I kept going.

Those were five momentous years - between my ages of 20 and 25.

Now I am seventy, but there have been other times in our lives that seem to me to have been nearly as momentous. The activities of the past week have got me to thinking about those five years, but also the past five years - between my ages of 65 and 70. In the past five years we:
  • made two trips to Japan.
  • navigated a pandemic without becoming infected with Covid
  • experienced both of us having heart arrhythmias including Susan arresting twice and both of us having ablation procedures in cardiac cath labs
  • retired after 42 years of pastoral ministry - 25 of which had been in Rapid City, South Dakota
  • sold the house we had lived in for 25 years
  • moved our possessions and household from South Dakota to Washington by ourselves making trips with our pickup and trailer and a trip with a large U-Haul box truck
  • made an epic 6.000-mile road trip pulling our camping trailer from Washington to South Carolina and back
  • bought a house
  • moved again from Mount Vernon Washington to Birch Bay Washington
  • greeted two new grandchildren
  • accepted the call to an interim ministry position and nearly completed that job
  • hosted friends from Australia and from across the United States
  • celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary

I’m sure that that list could be much longer as well.

Five years ago today we were in Japan meeting the family of our exchange daughter, Masami, for the first time. We traveled to the home she grew up in accompanied by her, our daughter Rachel and son-in-law Mike where we were hosted by her parents and other family members. They treated us to a wonderful evening complete with a noodle slide. (Google it! It is a wonderful entertainment.) The next day they gave us a tour of the surrounding area, including a visit to the Nikko shrine and lunch at the home of another Japanese exchange student.

It was the experience of a lifetime. 20 years after we had hosted Masami for an entire year in our home - watched her complete a year of American High School speaking English in place of her native Japanese, taking her on an epic American road trip vacation that included visiting Yellowstone National Park, camping across Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington and a list to Seattle and Whidby Island, not far from where we now live - 20 years later we finally met her “other” parents and her extended family. Although we did not speak the same language, and although 20 years had passed since Masami lived with us, our connection was instant. We realized that even though we had not met face to face we had shared a common bond. We loved and participated in the raising of the same daughter - a wonderful daughter who now brought us together.

It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that we will never forget. It seems like we have always been linked, but it has only been five years since we had our first conversation with Masami’s parents. And now we have a common granddaughter as well.

Sometimes it seems like so much has changed in such a short time. That is certainly how the last five years have seemed to me. Still, there are some things that are the same. We have been married for both of those epic five year periods and eight more which were also pretty momentous. As I write I can hear the ticking of the same clock that has been in three of our homes and was in Susan’s parents home before that. The clock is now in its fourth or fifth generation of her family and it continues to be mechanically sound and fairly accurate, faithfully ringing on each hour for more than 150 years. We are still deeply involved in the ministries of the United Church of Christ where we have many lifelong friends. We still occasionally think of ourselves as Monanans even though we haven’t lived there since our first two seminary summers. Our home is still filled with book and we both enjoy reading every day - ending most days with a quiet time of reading and relaxing. We still love going outdoors and going on big adventures. Travel is still a priority for us.

I think I’m pretty much the same person. I think that I would recognize some people that we knew 45 or 50 years ago but haven’t seen in the interim. I think they might also recognize me, especially if they saw me with Susan. Her hair hasn’t turned white like mine.

Bob Dylan’s song, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” is a good description of our lives. On the other hand, however, there are a lot of things that haven’t changed. Most days it seems like we are just a couple of kids in love out to see the world. How blessed we are.

The lessons of war

I am no expert on military operations. I have no background in warfare. I have been and remain a pacifist. But I have a bit of perspective to observe military operations. My father was a pilot in the US Army Air Corps during World War II. I have his uniforms and his lieutenants bars among the possessions that I don’t know quite what to do with. I also have the reserve parachute that he carried when he was forced to bail from a Bell P-39 Airacobra over California. The P-39 was the first fighter aircraft in the US fleet to have a tricycle landing gear configuration. It also had a unique design, with the engine amidships, right over the wing. the pilot sat in front of the engine with a long driveshaft running between his legs to power the propellor at the front of the plane. It also had a door for the pilot to enter in place of the sliding canopies that were common on other fighter airplanes. This design meant that when the engine of the plane he was flying failed, he was in a big problem. The location of the engine meant that the plane was not as nose heavy as some other designs. That meant a shorter glide ratio and the need for quick decisions. The location of the pilot in front of the engine made the pilot much more vulnerable in landing accidents. The door instead of a canopy made exiting for a parachutes landing difficult and risky. He did exit. He did parachute. He was hit by the tail of the plane as it went by. He survived. The experience, however, earned him a purple heart for his injuries. He suffered back pain for the rest of his life.

After his discharge, he left the army and military operations behind him. His experiences with war shaped his response to the subsequent wars of his life. He was skeptical about war in general and especially critical of wars fought without clear defensive reasons. I grew up with his sense of skepticism and his ability to question the decisions of leaders when it came to war.

My middle sister was an Air Force wife during the Vietnam War. We visited them when the lived on base at Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois when it was the maintenance base for the Air Force One planes. Her husband served two one-year tours of duty in Vietnam.

I served 25 years in Rapid City, SD, home of Ellsworth Air Force Base. During those years I had opportunities to tour the base and see some of its operations. For a while I was friends with the commander of the base fire department and visited his work on occasion. Once, during a Leadership Rapid City class, I got 15 minutes at the controls of one of the base’s B-1 Lancer flight simulators.

When I grew up, our daughter married a career Air Force member. Our son in law has served for more than 20 years in the Air Force and his decisions about retirement from the service will be based on possible promotions in rank. He could serve nearly 4 more years and perhaps longer if he makes two more ranks. We have visited them and toured Whiteman AFB in Missouri, RAF Lakenheath Air Force in England, JASDF Misawa Air Base in Japan, and Shaw AFB in South Carolina. I have learned from my son in law and daughter a deep respect for the people of the US military, their dedication, training, competence, professionalism, and patriotism.

So, while I don’t understand all of the dynamics of military service, preparation for war, and the actual fighting of a war, there are some things I do understand. I am also an amateur student of history and history can teach a lot about many different subjects.

From my vantage point, it seems to me that Russian President Vladimir Putin is now learning something that other strongman dictators have learned in the past. When you unleash the dogs of war, especially a war of aggression trying to capture the territory of another country, those dogs can come back to bite you. I’m guessing Putin never thought that sending the Wagner mercenary group to fight in Ukraine might result in those same troops marching on Moscow.

Then again, Napoleon didn’t think invading Russia would lead to his exile and the restoration of the French monarchy. Hitler didn’t imagine invading Poland would lead to his suicide and the partitioning of Germany. Saddam Hussein didn’t think that invading Kuwait would lead, eventually, to the overthrow of his regime and his death.

War is unpredictable and risky. The consequences of war can never be seen fully in advance. This is one of many lessons from the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Being a superpower does not decrease the risk or make the outcome of war more predictable. Wealth, power, and a massive military-industrial complex do not make war more predictable. A dictator’s illusion of control can disappear in the chaos of war. A prolonged war, with a lot of bloodshed and death, like the war in Ukraine, has consequences that reach decades into the future. Like many dictatorships, Putin’s regime has turned out to be more brittle than it first appeared. He has maintained power by pitting oligarchs and various branches of government against each other, which makes him the arbitrator and final decision maker. That model has worked for two decades, but it is breaking down under the pressure of a losing war that is grinding up and destroying the Russian military.

2,000 tanks lost. 900 armored fighting vehicles destroyed, 35,000 soldiers killed, 154,000 wounded. These are the biggest losses since World War II for Russia. The the Russian populace has never seen this as a defensive war as was the case of World War II. Putin tried to sell it to his people as a civil war, but that image is wearing thin in the face of the devastating losses. Failures of the Russian military have forced Putin to rely on the Wagner mercenary group, which used convicts from Russian prisons in human wave attacks. Troops were kept in line by severe tactics, including being shown a movie of a supposed deserter being executed by sledgehammer blows to the head. It was a brutal business with little regard for the value of human life.

What Putin failed to see was that the head of the Wagner group, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, himself a convicted criminal, was building power in the private military group to take on the head of the Russian Defense, aiming at Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov, chief of general staff. His power play within the Russian government was his true aim, not the war in Ukraine. He was willing to risk the lives of his troops in order to gain power in the Russian government. And he nearly pulled off his coup attempt.

He may have backed off for now, but Putin is learning a difficult lesson and the rest of the world is understanding how vulnerable he is and how tentative is his hold on the control of his position.

I may not know much about the military, but I’m keeping my eyes on Russia as history unfolds before us.

New Potatoes

Both my father and my father-in-law were eager to taste new potatoes in early summer. If you have a good crop of potatoes, you can afford to harvest a few new potatoes even though they are small. There will be plenty of other potatoes left in the ground to mature and grow big. If the garden is producing just right there can be some fresh peas to harvest as well. Creamed peas and new potatoes was a kind of luxury meal for both of these men who came of age during the Great Depression. I didn’t really understand their passion for new potatoes until once, when I was visiting with my father-in-law he told me of a time when he was caring for the family’s turkey farm while his parents were away. He said that he had potatoes for every meal during that time and he described how he would sort through the potatoes in the root cellar to find the ones that weren’t too sprouted and that hadn’t gone soft. through his story, the image of having the end of last year’s potatoes and the anticipation of new potatoes made sense to me.

Many cultures have early harvest festivals. In addition to the celebrations held at the end of harvest that focused on thanksgiving for the bounty of nature, early harvest festivals celebrate the first cutting of hay, the harvest of early berries, and other late spring and early summer activities. Early harvest festivals often are combines with solstice observances. Especially in northern locations, the long days encourage a wide variety of activities and celebrations.

Food figures big in many of our celebrations. Special table settings, adorned with flowers, are common. Perhaps the abundance of food at solstice celebrations is a nod to the simple fact that in earlier times there were shortages of food in the early summer. Early summer is a long time away from the previous fall’s harvest and food shortages were common.

These days, we don’t really pay much attention to eating in tune with the seasons. Our diet doesn’t vary much around the calendar. Our pantry is stocked with similar foods year round. There are, however, some seasonal variations in or diet. We tend to barbecue more during the summer than during the winter. Part of the reason is that it gets dark early in the winter and looking outdoors in the dark just isn’t the same as cooking on the barbecue during the summer.

Watermelon is still a seasonal food around here. It is available in the stores from mid June through the summer and we associate it with July 4 picnics and other outdoor feasts.

There are, however, so many foods that are available year round in our system of stores filled with produce that has traveled a lot of miles. Avocados and tomatoes from Mexico are on the shelves in the supermarket year round. Oranges and apples can be purchased any day of the year. We have become so used to being able to access food year round that we have forgotten the simple pleasure of seasonal flavors and eating in touch with the cycles of the year.

When we got married, the choice of the date was made in part with regard to the school year. We were both students and getting married during the summer break made sense in terms of our schedules. We were eager to get married and so early summer made sense to us. I don’t remember thinking consciously about the solstice when choosing the date. There were a few jokes about our choice to get married on the shortest night of the year. However, we are not farmers and we have lived our lives a bit separated from the natural cycles of food production, planting and harvest. We have lived in northern locations where winter is a significant season and where previous generations didn’t havre access to fresh produce during much of the year. We have, however, lost that sense of connection between what we eat and the changing of seasons.

Yesterday we picked the first cherries from our cherry tree. The juicy fruit promise a bountiful yield. It has only been a month or so since we finished the last of the cherries in the freezer from last summer’s harvest. We have to balance the pricing of our cherries with the birds who come to harvest the fruit. If we wait too long, the birds will eat the cherries before we get them. We also had the first strawberry from our plant, but we don’t have many plants. Over at the farm, the children know that they can harvest strawberries to their hearts’ content. The strawberries lining the path to the back door are covered with bright red fruit. I’m a bit like the children and can’t resist bending down to sample a few whenever I’m over at the farm. The farm has helped me to regain a sense of seasonal food and the cycles of the year. We have a few garden crops including peas, lettuce, carrots and tomatoes. The season is a bit earlier here than it was in South Dakota. We already have tomatoes on our plants, though they are not yet ripe. I’m eager for the first tomatoes from our own plants. Fresh ripe garden tomatoes have a flavor that is far better than anything you can purchase in the store.

This year, however, our summer solstice celebrations are marked by another kind of abundant harvest. We have a refrigerator and a freezer that are full of leftovers from our family gathering last weekend. We over shopped and over prepared for every meal. The good news is that we hosted a large gathering and we never ran short of food at any meal. The bad news is that we have a lot of leftovers that need to be carefully stored and eaten. Tacos, sloppy Joes, hamburgers and hot dogs are available for any meal we want them. And we have a lot of ice cream and cake in our freezer. We definitely are not experiencing any food shortages around here this year. Perhaps it is an opportunity to pay attention to the cycles of our lives and the seasons of the year as we purchase groceries and stock our pantry going forward. We don’t however, have any potatoes in the round at our house. New potatoes in early summer is a delicacy that seems to belong to a previous generation. The memory and the story, however, remain.

Another celebration

When we had been married for ten years, I could recite what we did to celebrate our anniversary each year. We didn’t always get the celebration on the exact day of our anniversary, but we tried to do something special to recognize the occasion each year. Somewhere along the line, I lost track of the list. After all last night was the day of our 50 year celebration. Susan put on a lovely dress. I put on a suit and tie and we went out to dinner at a local seafood restaurant that is a bit of a splurge for us.

Our 50th has afforded us some opportunities for intimate conversation, but the restaurant last night was noisy enough that it was hard for us to talk. Mostly we just looked at each other and remembered a lifetime of celebrations. At one point in the evening a woman came over to our table and said, ‘I just love to see a man in a bow tie!” I took the compliment, but didn’t know exactly how to respond. I just felt that the occasion warranted a bit of special attire. The restaurant had excellent food and we enjoyed our dinner. The water was curious and efficient. We were in no rush anyway. No one asked us what the occasion that brought us to the restaurant was. We didn’t need to tell anyone. We knew. That was enough.

I know that when we were newly wed, I wouldn’t have had the courage to wear a pink shirt and tie. And I didn’t have a white linen summer suit until just a few years ago. Not that it matters. I did’t dress for the approval of others. I simply wanted to celebrate a milestone with Susan. I don’t care what others thought.

Of course, we made up stories about the other patrons of the restaurant. The couple across the way from us were showing lots of affection. I’m pretty sure that the two girls with them were daughters of the woman but not the man. They weren’t wearing wedding rings. Of course not all couples wear rings, but it is a pretty common symbol. I wonder if there girls were being introduced to the man for the first time. I wonder if they had mixed feelings about the relationship. Of course it could have been a birthday celebration, or a celebration of the end of the school year.

Two couples sat at a table near ours. They obviously had been friends for some time. They greeted each other with hugs. One of the men was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. The other was dressed in a suit and tie. The meeting was likely at the end of a work day for the man who was dressed up. Perhaps he is a lawyer or judge. I don’t think he is a doctor. Doctors tend to wear short sleeve shirts. Then again I don’t know what his shirt was like under the jacket. The other couple were likely retired and came to the meeting from more leisurely activities.

A family group a ways from us was making a fuss of toasting one another. I think it must have been a special occasion - perhaps a graduation.

Over the years I’ve been in restaurants for a wide variety of occasions. We’ve celebrated graduations. We went out to dinner to celebrate my sister’s engagement. We’ve had special dinners for weddings and anniversaries and a lot of other occasions. Maybe other restaurant patrons were making up stories about us, though I suspect that few actually noticed us.

We said to one another after our family had departed to their regular lives that perhaps this is the last big family gathering that we will host. Next time around perhaps it will be our children who make the arrangements and decide the menus. Maybe they won’t over shoot the grocery shopping as dramatically as we did. We’ve got a freezer full of leftovers and our pantry is well stocked.

I know us, however, a few years will go by and we will regain our enthusiasm for hosting a major family event. It really isn’t that much work, and we’ve taken the rest of this week off from work to recover. All we have to do is prepare a children’s message for worship on Sunday, which is something that doesn’t require major effort after years of experience. After all, in five years we will celebrate 50 years of ordained ministry - another milestone that we didn’t think about much as the years were going by.

We turned in pretty early last night. We didn’t have a reason to stay out late and we were pretty tired. I got in a nap yesterday and I’m thinking that prospects look good for another nap today. I make a show of sitting in my recliner with a book, but soon the words run together and my eyes close and the book falls into my lap. It is pretty quiet at our house now that family members have left for their own lives and activities.

Our daughter, always thoughtful, sent us a bowl of African violets for our celebration. They are the centerpiece of our dining table at the moment. We’ll have to think about where they will find a more permanent home amid the collection of house plants. I’ve never been much at caring for house plants. In recent years, however, I have taken to growing dahlias in addition to the tomatoes, carrots, sunflowers and strawberries in our back yard. I’ve managed to keep a geranium alive so far this summer, something that wasn’t my forte a few years ago. The reality is that we are a lot less busy than was the case a few years ago before we retired to part-time work. Our current job seems to suit us just right, but it will come to an end at the end of July and we haven’t yet discerned what is next for us.

Last night, we were happy not to worry about the future, and to dwell in layer upon layer of memory. We’ve been blessed and we are aware of our privilege. By the way the pink shirt and tie are brand new - I’ve got a lot of years of wearing them ahead of me.

Aunts on a log


We make a treat for our grandchildren that we used to make for our children. It is a treat that I can remember my folks making for me when I was a child. It is called “Ants on a log.” I’m pretty sure that the recipe for Ants on a Log appears in an old Girl Scout cookbook, but you don’t need a recipe to make the treat. Our version is simple: Spread peanut butter on a stalk of celery and press a row of raisins into the peanut butter. When our grandchildren make the treat, they like to use a lot of raisins. Of course, like all good recipes, there are variations. I’ve had the same treat made with cream cheese instead of peanut butter and it had the same name. My aunt once made the treat with currants instead of raisins and called it “Gnats on a log.” We also eat peanut butter and celery without the raisins. I think that is called “Ants on vacation.” Chocolate lovers can substitute chocolate chips for the raisins.

I’ve been thinking of ants on a log since we received the photo that appears at the top of this journal entry. It was taken by our friend Eva Bareis. I think it should be called “Aunts on a Log.”

Of course there are also uncles on the log. There are moms and dads on the log, as well as grandmas and grandpas. There are kids on the log and cousins on the log too. On Sunday, after our friends left from the open house we held to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, Eva took family portraits. We have some really lovely pictures of our family and individual family groups have pictures to remember the day. I’m sure that some of the pictures will end up in the display on the wall in our family room, including aunts on a log. The pictures invoke wonderful memories of a really fun day.

The celebration was held on the weekend to make it possible for everyone to gather. It was slightly premature as today is the actual day of our 50th wedding anniversary. We were married at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ on the evening of Friday, June 22, 1973. It was a fairly small wedding, an intimate gathering of family and friends. At the end of the ceremony those in attendance gathered in a circle as our pastor friends pronounced us married. Susan’s father made homemade ice cream for the reception. My siblings wrapped our car in black plastic and put a bow on the top. They went light on the decorations because the car had just come out of the body shop with new paint after some dents caused by accident when my brother was driving it were repaired. The words “just married” were carefully painted on the inside of the fuel door, which prompted a bit of teasing when we stopped for gas, which was generally pumped by attendants in those days. We didn’t leave for our honeymoon until the morning after our wedding and our honeymoon trip was just 60 miles to a cabin owned by Susan’s parents for two nights. I had to be at work early Tuesday morning, so the trip was a short one.

The glow of being the center of attention of our families and friends remained for a long time. We were very happy in our tiny efficiency apartment. Folding up our sofa bed each day so that our bedroom was transformed into our living room didn’t seem like a burden. Our repertoire of recipes was rather limited, so meals that summer were probably repetitive. It didn’t matter to us. I was working at a bakery, so we had a ready supply of bread and occasional pastries. The father of the manager of the building where we were living was a generous spirit who kept sending us food treats. We received cherries and other goodies from him on several occasions during our first year of life together.

By our first wedding anniversary we had moved out of our little apartment and were preparing to make the move to Chicago for graduate school. Moving to the city three days away was a huge adventure. The 55 mile per hour speed limit was a good match for our little car that was frequently over loaded and always under powered. We were in love, we were together, and had a lot of adventures ahead of us.

We are still in love. We are still together. And we still have a lot of adventures ahead of us.

All along the journey of the past half century we have been surrounded by loving family and friends. Aunts on a Log is another image in a long line of pictures of joyous occasions. Of course, over the years the characters in our photos have changed. Elders have come to the end of their lives, children have been born. Friends have moved to new communities and new friends have been made. There are six couples in that picture whose weddings took place after ours. We made it to five of those weddings. As the years go by there will be more new people added to our family pictures as family members form new relationships and invite new folk to join our crew.

One thing that is remarkable about the picture is that Emmy Lou is the only dog in this particular photo. There are other dogs who are loved by the folks in the photo. I’m fairly certain that had Cody been there, he would have been wet. All of that water would have been too much for him to resist. George would have had to be in the center of everything. Sitting at the end of the row just isn’t his style. If we included all of the animals, there could have been a guinea pig, some chickens, a couple of colonies of bees, a pair of cows, some barn cats, and more. As far as I know there weren’t any ants on the log, or if there were, they didn’t bother us as we sat.

This is our tribe. We love them all and know their stories. Still, it isn’t the whole picture. There are so many more whom we love. But the picture is a real treasure - one of the many gifts we have received on our 50-year journey. We’ll be enjoying it for years to come. Life has been good to us. And even the giant trees that wash up on the beach are not long enough for all of the aunts in our family. What a blessing!

Maybe the old days weren't as good as we think

The events of the past week have got me to thinking about the past. Last Thursday I turned seventy. Over the weekend we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. The actual day of our wedding was June 22, so tomorrow will be the anniversary. We adjusted the celebration of our anniversary so that our daughter and son-in-law could attend our celebration and also be present at his parent’s 50th. They were married the day after we were and live in Virginia, so having the two celebrations on the same weekend wouldn’t have worked. We get along well and the adjustment in the time of the celebration was not difficult to negotiate.

Being 70 years old and having been married 50 years does give me a bit of perspective on the passage of time. I have become one of the elders of our family.

Although we have a number of friends who are in our age range, we were among the elders at the celebrations of the past week. We were not, however, the oldest participants. My sister, who is nearly two years older than I was there. A brother-in-law is eight years older than I. Some of our friends are a few years older as well. Still, I think it is reasonable for me to claim a bit of perspective on time, especially when compared with our children’s generation. I observed our children in conversations with their cousins and others their age. They are active in their careers and are in positions of decision-making in several arenas of life. The pastors of our church are the generation of our children.

Still, I am younger than the President of the United States. There are a lot of senators and members of the House of Representatives who are older than I.

From my point of view, however, I find that one of the most common political assertions to be inaccurate. I disagree with those who claim that the past was somehow better than the present, that the culture is undergoing a moral decline, and that there is some kind of a mythical golden age to which we ought to return. Unlike the rhetoric of many politicians, I am not convinced that the present is somehow worse than the past. I’m not sure that there is a golden age that needs to be restored.

I know that I have no desire to go back to some other period in my own life. I like being the age that I am. I enjoy having been married for 50 years. Sure there are things about the past that I miss, primarily people who I have known and loved who have died. But I would not wish for a time before my grandchildren were born. I do not want to go back to the 1950’s when I was a child or the 1970’s when I was a newlywed. I’m not eager to return to the 1980s when we lost a lot of sleep caring for our children when they were very young. I like those memories. I enjoy remembering those times, but I am quite content living in the present.

Politicians have use a promise of a return to an imagined golden age through history. From Caesar Augustus to the Medicis and Adolph Hitler, leaders have gained power by vowing a return to the good old days. President Xi Jinping of China, and President “Bongbong Marcos of the Philippines have spearheaded campaigns that promise to restore the past. Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Joe Biden’s “America is Back” both include promises to return to an imagined better era of the past. Religious leaders have often touted forms of “original sin” that imagine people to be somehow morally worse than they were before some ancient fall from grace.

As the old joke goes, the thing that makes the good old days seem good is that we weren’t so old.

I need to say that I am not convinced that things are getting worse. Sure there are some consequences of past overconsumption and injustice that have come to light. The pace of environmental destruction has sped up. The peril of life on this planet is evident. I am not pleased with the violence in American schools and the frequency of mass shootings in our country. But it seems to me that there have been threats of destruction for all of my life. Today’s children have active shooter drills in school. When I was a student, we were taught to crawl under our desks in case of a nuclear war. The thread of violence has hung over the heads of children for a long time.

I think that we are prone to believe that things have gotten worse because of several cognitive biases. While polls and studies have shown that the majority of people believe that humans are less kind, honest, ethical, and moral today than they were in the past, there is little evidence that this conclusion is objectively accurate. In fact there are some studies that demonstrate that humans have become less violent and more cooperative. Some of the most heinous forms of human immorality such as genocide and child abuse are declining. Social scientists have been measuring cooperation rates between strangers in lab-based economic games for decades. A recent analysis of these results found that cooperation has increased 8 percentage points over the last 61 years. There is hard evidence that our children and grandchildren are not less moral than we.

Rather than imagining that we need to go back to the golden age, I choose to believe that there is evidence that the future is bright precisely because we are moving ahead, not backwards. I find less racial bias and the promise of a decrease in racial injustice as our society moves forward. My grandchildren are growing up with more capacity to accept those who are different from themselves than was the case with my generation. Leadership for climate justice has come from people who are a lot younger than I.

As I look back, I am aware that my brain sorts my memories. I am far more able to remember pleasant experiences than painful ones. The pain of loss and grief fade with time while the joys of faith and love grow stronger. Looking at my wife I can easily remember the joy of our first date. It is harder for me to remember the feeling of tiredness when we were getting up multiple times in the night to care for infants. Just because I am better at remembering positive experiences than pain does not mean that things are getting worse with time, however. It is simply a cognitive bias of which I need to be aware.

So I choose hope in this world. I choose to believe that people are getting better. And I believe that I have a lot of evidence on my side. I probably would be a horrible politician. I would not promise to bring back the past. I would challenge us to build a better future. And I’d love to support a politician who issued that challenge.

Taking a nap

Yesterday we hosted a brunch at our home. Afterward, we visited with out of town guests and some of us, who had eaten early in the morning had lunch. In the afternoon Susan and I gave rides to the train station to four guests to meet their south-bound ride. They were heading to Portland where two of them live and the other two will be visiting before flying from Portland home to Montana. When we got home from giving the ride, we laid down on the bed for a nap. After a very busy and very fun weekend, it felt good to snooze for a little while before continuing the activities of the day.

I’ve been quite a napper for much of my adult life. I tend to sleep a little bit less at night than some of my peers and I got quite good at catching a few winks in the afternoon. Of course there have been times when my work schedule didn’t allow napping. Some days, I have meetings or duties that need to be accomplished in the middle of the day. I’ve found that I am quite able to benefit from a short nap when it fits into my schedule.

Recently I read about a study conducted by researchers at University College of London that daytime napping is good for our brain and helps keep it bigger for longer. The team showed nappers’ brains were 15 cubic centimeters, or a bit less than an inch larger. The effect is the equivalent of delaying aging by between three and six years. Of course the results are based on averages of a group of people and not predictors of the effect on any individual, but if I am typical, perhaps my brain is a bit more capable than if I had skipped all of those naps.

“We are suggesting that everybody could potentially experience some benefit from napping,” said Dr. Victoria Garfield. She described the findings as “quite novel and quite exciting.”

Human brains naturally shrink with age, but this process is a bit slower in those who regularly nap. Of course scientists have long known of the benefits of daytime sleep for infants. The practice, however, becomes less common as children grow through their school years. When I was in kindergarten, we had a short rest time in the mid morning and our classes were ended by noon. Most days I had a nap after lunch. When I became a first grader, school lasted through the afternoon and I stopped napping. These days our grandchildren have attended all-day kindergartens and have stopped daytime napping at age 5. However, there is a common increase in napping among retired persons. Around 27% of people over 65 report having a daytime nap.

There have been some studies that link disturbed sleep with dementia. Those who are able to get adequate sleep on a regular basis are less likely to develop various forms of dementia. While the University College study does not indicate whether naps could help prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s, researchers are interested in further study about the benefits of napping. It has been shown that poor sleep damages the brain over time by causing inflammation and affecting the connections between brain cells. Researcher Valentina Paz concluded, “Thus, regular napping could protect against neurodegeneration by compensating for deficient sleep.”

The results of the study published in the journal Sleep Health, described a connection between DNA - the genetic code that determines development. Differences in DNA coding makes people either more likely to be nappers or to power though the day. I’ve never had my DNA analyzed for those genetic markers, but I’m fairly certain that I’m one of those who is naturally predisposed to napping. My wife, on the other hand usually does not take naps, preferring to sleep through the night and get her sleep all in one stretch.

So I stand with Professor Tara Spires-Jones from the University of Edinburgh and president of the British Neuroscience Association, who, according to a BBC article on the study said, “I enjoy short naps on the weekends and this study has convinced me that i shouldn’t feel lazy napping. It may even be protecting my brain.” She has inspired me to change how I think and talk about my tendency to sit down in my recliner to read and 30 to 40 minutes later wake having read very little of the book in my hands. I’m not being lazy. I stopped thinking of my naps as laziness years ago, preferring the term “power nap” in response to the feeling of being re-energized and ready to return to work after a nap. Now I guess I can say that I am protecting my brain health.

Researchers did not include studies of longer daytime naps, focusing their research on naps of about a half hour. Generally that is about the length of my daytime naps, but I’ve been known to nod off for a bit longer, especially these days when I am working part time. Since I only go to the office three days a week, there are many days when a short nap on the other days has become common. I am not opposed, however, to a longer nap on occasion. Perhaps I should volunteer to be a part of a follow-up study. I’m pretty sure I could manage a 45-minute nap for the sake of science.

I suspect that like many other things in life there is no single form of napping that is right for every person. We are unique individuals with differing sleep patterns. I tend to wake up in the middle of the night for periods that sometimes match the naps I take during the day. I haven’t kept records, but suspect that my overall sleep is fairly similar to that of my wife who often sleeps the whole night through and doesn’t nap. It is likely that care of our brains is more directly related to overall sleep gained rather than to the practice of taking naps.

However, for the sake of science I may take another nap today.

Thank you!


Yesterday was one of those days that we will never forget. It is also hard to sum up all that happened. In the morning we stopped by Birch Bay State Park, near our home, and picked up the key to the Heron Center, a community building at the park. Then we headed in to church, where we did some of our usual chores getting ready for children and families. Soon it was time for worship to begin. During the time with children, I didn’t bring any props for my story, because there were nine children present who are members of my family. I told all of the children that what I brought for the story was my friends - the nine children who are my grandchildren and great nieces and nephew. At the end of the service, Susan and I repeated our wedding vows to each other in front of the congregation as witnesses. When we did so, family members stood with us in the chancel. I think I may have been as emotional at that moment as I was when we exchanged vows for the first time fifty years ago.

After church, we rushed to a local store to pick up the cakes for our celebration, stopped by our house to pick up some other items, and headed down to the Heron Center. When we got there we set up and soon guests began to arrive for our open house.

I told one of our guests that my family is rarely calm or quiet and that statement was proven by the arrival and set up of a group of African drummers and dancers who performed as part of our anniversary gift from my brother and his wife. Everyone got into the spirt of the day, dancing and clapping along.

That was followed by family pictures, taken by a friend of ours who drove up from Long Beach to share in our celebration. We had supper at the Heron Center. Clean up was a breeze with family members helping to put away tables and chairs, sweep floors, and load items into our pickup truck. There were lots of hands to help unload and clean up at the house as well. By the time we slipped into bed all was in place for a brunch that we will serve this morning.

This short summary of the day doesn’t begin to tell the story of all of the love and support and good wishes we received. It doesn’t begin to tell the story of the emotions we experienced. Some things are simply to wonderful to express in words.

As I lay in bed after the long and wonderful day, I remembered another late evening when I was very exhausted. On that evening I sat in a chair next to a hospital bed in the ICU of Rapid City Regional Hospital. That day had not gone at all the way I had expected. I had gotten up early to prepare for a visit to the hospital before officiating at a funeral service. After the service, my plan was to catch up with some desk work, including writing another funeral service for later that week. I was tired because I had officiated at a large funeral a couple of days earlier, led worship the day before, and had been spending as much time as possible at the hospital. In the bed next to where I was sitting, my wife was resting with a ventilator tube down her throat. Under her shoulder was a port with the tubes from a dozen IV pumps transporting medicines to her. Near the bed was a monitor displaying heart and respiration rates. Outside the room the nurses station was buzzing with activity. I could hear periodic announcements over the PA system about activities and needs in other parts of the hospital. I recalled the love and prayers that had been given by colleagues, friends and family throughout the day. I knew that our son would soon arrive at the airport and join me at the hospital.

I prayed, “Dear God, please let me have another hour, another day with her. I would trade anything for one more conversation.”

I got that hour and that day and that conversation. I got to watch as she recovered and was released from ICU, from the hospital, and little by little gained her strength back. I felt the love of family and friends as she and I were blessed to be able to go on walks every day. We returned to our work and a little more than a year later retired and moved to be closer to where our son lives. There is a lot more to the story. As I remembered last night, I was deeply aware that my prayers were answered beyond my wildest expectations.

I know that there are others with different stories. I know that the prayers of those whose loved ones die are as fervent and genuine as mine. I know that the blessings I received are not the product of anything that I did.

It isn’t possible for me to adequately express my deep gratitude for the blessings of my life. At our celebration yesterday no one had the opportunity to ask me, “What is the secret of success of your marriage?” I wouldn’t have been able to answer if they had. What I do know is that we didn’t get to this place in our lives by ourselves. We have been surrounded by love and care every step of the way. As I stood in front of the church, surrounded by family, looking out at friends, remembering so many other times, I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. The glow of that feeling continues as I write this morning.

50 years of marriage is the product of so many people who have done so much to express love and show support. From a compassionate nurse who sat with me in the hospital waiting room to the grandsons who helped carry items to our pickup yesterday, to you who read my words, there are thousands and thousands who have invested in our marriage. We could not have done it alone. We never had to do it alone.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Words cannot express my gratitude.

Father's Day worship

I used to say that church attendance always went up on Mother’s Day and down on Father’s Day. My theory was that when children asked their mother what she wanted for her special day she might say, “Lets all go to church together.” When those same children asked their father what he wanted for his special day, he might say, “Lets all go to the lake (or fishing, or some other activity.) However, today, I think that our family will make a bit of an impression at our church. I also suspect that attendance won’t be don at our church today because in addition to our family, there is a baptism. Baptisms usually bring out extended family groups.

Even with the baptism, I’ve got a pretty good shot at having one of the biggest family groups at church today. We had more than twenty for supper last night. We’ve got a pretty good gang assembled. And we have a story about why our family is gathering this weekend instead of next weekend.

The occasion for our family gathering is the celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary. It seems like those 50 years went by pretty quickly. At least that’s how it feels from this point of view. 50 years hasn’t always seemed like a short time, however. Shortly after we were married we attended a 50th wedding anniversary celebration at our church. I remember thinking what a long time 50 years is and wondering what it might be like to be that old.

Today is not the actual day of our anniversary, however. That comes on Thursday. We were married one week after my 20th birthday on June 22, 1973. It was a Friday evening and there ceremony was at the church of Susan’s family: Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ in Billings, Montana. The next day, Saturday, June 23, 1973, Dave and Karen Calabrese were married across the country. We didn’t know them at the time and knew nothing of their celebration. We met on the occasion of another wedding celebration - the wedding of our daughter to their son. Since our daughter and her husband have two 50th wedding anniversary celebrations to attend this month, we were glad to work with Karen and Dave so that they could attend both celebrations. Our daughter and her family drove from their home in North Carolina to his parent’s home in Virginia last week. They flew from there to our home and are celebrating with us this weekend. Then, next week, they will fly back to Washington, DC to be in Virginia for the celebration of his parent’s 50th anniversary. So this weekend is the time we invited family and friends to gather.

This morning we will stand up in front of our church and repeat our marriage vows. Although I’ve officiated at marriage vow renewal ceremonies for couples celebrating different anniversaries, we have never formally renewed our vows. It didn’t seem necessary. The vows we took at our wedding seemed sufficient to bind us together for all of these years. I am, however, looking forward to standing in front of our family and friends and the whole church and once again saying, “Susan, I give myself to you to be your husband. I promise to love and sustain you in the covenant of marriage, from this day forward, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, as long as we both shall live.” I’ve officiated at enough weddings, and said those words after saying, “please repeat after me” enough times that I have the vows memorized. They aren’t the exact words we said to each other at our wedding. We had worked with our minister to create a slightly customized version of the traditional vows for the occasion. I do remember being nervous about memorizing the vows. A wedding and the exchange of vows is a pretty emotional time. At least it was for me. I had trouble saying the words while looking into the face of my beloved.

I expect this morning’s exchange of vows to be equally emotional for me. When I stop to think about it, the whole thing of being married is a pretty incredible stroke of good luck for me. Being married has been just the right thing for me. I have truly been “loved and sustained” in that covenant.

I do remember thinking, when we got married, that I would like to be a father one day. I wasn’t in a hurry at the time. I was, after all, only 20 years old. Almost eight years later, when I did become a father, it was an equally emotional time. Now our son is 42 years old and a father. Our daughter is just a couple of years younger and his a son of her own.

One of the great joys of my life is seeing our children in loving marriages and seeing them as parents. It has been such a good thing for me to be a father that being parents is something I wanted for both of our children. And both of them are very good parents.

A bit of historical trivia adds a bit of depth to our family’s celebrations this weekend. We are in Washington state, the first state to officially recognize Father’s Day as a holiday. In July of 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored a father’s day recognition. The next year, Spokane, Washington, celebrated a Father’s Day event. One year later, in 1910, our state held its first statewide Father’s day on June 19, 1910. 113 years later, we’re still celebrating the occasion. It somehow seems fitting that our family is gathering in Washington state for our celebration.

Our church’s sanctuary is arranged with a central chancel with three aisles radiating to the corners of the room. As a result the pews are shortest in the front rows and get longer each row that is father from the chancel. I think we have enough family to fill a pew that is not far from the back of the church. Even if we sit in several different rows, which is likely for a family as diverse as ours, we’re likely to have enough folks to be recognized.

It’s going to be a good day. And, after 50 years, I have no hesitation about renewing the promises that have added so much to my life thus far. I wouldn’t hesitate to sign up for another 50. Being a father makes it even more fun.


This weekend is a time of larger gatherings for meals at our house. Last night we had a taco bar for 20. This evening we expect at least ten more. We’re at a point where we aren’t quite sure who is and who isn’t coming. That’s not a problem. We have been planning for quite some time. In addition to the grocery lists we’ve made for numerous trips to various places to pick up ingredients, there are lists of what foods we’ll prepare and when to prepare them. We made a lot of lists as we were thinking about a special weekend with family and friends. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “If we run our of food, we run out of food,” or “When we run out of food, there are restaurants and stores. No one is going to starve.”

As we were cleaning up and doing dishes last night it was obvious that we had over prepared. The meal would have been a success with half of the chopped tomatoes and half the rice and half the refried beans. We had leftover food in every category that we prepared. It wasn’t just that we generated enough dirty dishes for two loads in the dishwasher plus a number of items we washed by hand. It is also that we have three major meals with lots of people in the next three days and the refrigerator is full of leftover food, the freezer is full of food for the next meals, and we are running out of containers for extra food.

We’ve been doing this for a lot of years.

When we had been married for two years we became managers at our church camp. We were responsible for meal planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation for the campers who came. The camp was 42 miles from the nearest grocery store, and we purchased large quantity pantry items such as flour, sugar, cereals, canned goods and more at stores that were an additional 80 miles away. Needless to say we had to plan ahead because there was no time to make a run to the store once the campers arrived. We had to be ready for a week’s worth of meals. And we learned to be good at improvising. When we planned a taco bar and the tortillas didn’t arrive with our food order, we made tortillas from scratch by the hundreds. It was a good thing we were buying 100 pounds of flour at a time. When we ran out of syrup for pancakes, we made our own with sugar, water, and maple flavoring. We did a lot of making things from scratch. We learned a lot of life lessons. We learned to work together. We learned not to panic. We learned to have a really big first dinner when campers arrived. If they rave about the first meal at camp, it is harder for them to complain later in the week.

We didn’t learn how to cook for smaller groups.

In our regular lives, we learned how to cook for ourselves when we were just a couple. We can still make a meal that produces very few leftovers. And we can plan a week so that the leftovers are consumed in the next couple of days. When our children were at home, and when we had elders of our family living with us the challenge was bigger, but we adjusted quite well.

However, when we have 20 or 30 for a meal, we overshoot every time. We seem to be able to imagine running out of food. We’ve awakened in the night and decided to rise early to get to the store before breakfast just in case. But we don’t actually run out of food. We over purchase groceries and we over prepare every time.

I’m a bit nervous about tonight’s barbecue. I’ve got all of the groceries. I’ve got two grills ready to go. I’ve got the coolers ready to ice down the beverages. I’m wondering what I’ve forgotten. I’m trying to imagine our “Plan B” in case it rains.

But I haven’t really made a plan for what to do with the leftovers. Leftover barbecue isn’t quite the right fare for tomorrow’s open house where we’ll be serving cake and ice cream. And the leftovers from that aren’t the same things we’ll want to have on hand for Monday’s brunch. The refrigerator is nearly full of leftovers from last night’s taco bar. I think there is leftover sloppy joe in there somewhere as well. At least we have enough buns for the barbecue. And I know I said to someone last night, “Well, if we run out of hot dogs or burgers, we’ll just run out.” I’ve got chicken patties and black bean burgers and salmon burgers as well, and I’m pretty sure I’ll have leftovers of all of those items. We aren’t going to run out of hot dogs or burgers.

In our time as camp managers and cooks, we learned to repurpose leftovers. Some items can go into soups. Some things can be frozen and make another appearance as part of a different meal. A main course can become an appetizer or a side dish with a bit of creative thinking. This weekend is different. A few of the leftovers can be given away. The rest will be appearing on our regular menus for the rest of the summer. After all, because of unrelated items, the farm is not going to raise meat chickens this summer. That means more freezer space will be available in the early fall. And we surely will be through the leftovers before we really need the freezer space. I’m not even worried about the monotony of repeated menus. We’ll have plenty of time to think of some new variations on old themes.

I’m sure I’ll be at the grocery store sometime today. I’ve already got three items on the list, and the grocery store is not far away. I suppose, if we have to, I could always make a quick trip to Home Depot or Lowe’s and pick up another chest freezer. (Just joking!)

A perfect party


When I was a kid, I had a friend whose birthday was a little less than a month before mine. Davy’s birthday sometimes happened during the school year and sometimes right after. At least once it landed on the last day of school. Mine was in the middle of June after school was out in our town in the years I was a student there. Sometime before Davy’s birthday each year a conversation would arise between us:

“How many kids are you going to have at your birthday party?” one of us would ask. Neither of us had families that were really into birthday parties like some of our classmates. Both of us had a supply of brothers and sisters. However, I had more than Davy and usually I could count on having a few more children at my party than he. Besides, we had a trampoline, which assured that there was a constant supply of kids who weren’t in our family in our yard and they counted when assessing the number of people at a party.

The conversation usually led to other comparisons. “What are you gonna get?” The year I turned six, I was pretty sure I had Davy bested. In our family, the tradition was that each child received a two-wheeled bicycle for their sixth birthday. I also knew that there would be no training wheels on mine. I had already learned to ride my sister’s bicycle, so there would be no need. As it turned out Davy got a bike for his birthday that year. That was a very good deal because we rode our bikes all around town all summer long. Davy’s electric train, a Christmas present, was Lionel. Mine was American Flyer. The two sets weren’t compatible. His trains wouldn’t run on my track and my trains wouldn’t run on his.

After speculating about presents, we might go a bit farther to talk about what kind of cake we would have and how big. That might be followed by conversation about what we would have for birthday dinner. My favorite dinner was fried chicken with mashed potatoes. Davy was a fan of tater tot casserole. My mother liked to cut up a sheet cake and rearrange the parts to make an animal figure or another shape. One year my cake was in the shape of an airplane. Cake was fine, but I always thought that ice cream was the real treat. And Davy’s father worked at the creamery, so he always had ice cream. Besides, our family got ice cream in a big three-gallon bucket, always vanilla. His family got ice cream in half-gallon cartons and often had two or three flavors on hand. There was almost always chocolate, which I liked a lot. Since we both ate a lot of meals at both houses, I got a pretty good chance to compare the ice cream fare at his house with ours. Theirs won hands down.

Although I keep a loose track of Davy, I haven’t spoken to him in at least 25 years. I think the last time I spoke with him was around the time I moved to Rapid City. I am Facebook friends with his mother, who is a remarkable woman and in many ways the matriarch of the town where we grew up. She will sometimes post something about Davy on her page, but not often. I know that Davy moved to a university town and that his wife had a major illness a few years ago. But I simply haven’t kept up. I don’t know how many children, nieces and nephews he has.

If I were to have the opportunity for a conversation with him, however, I think I might lead with the fact that I had eight kids at my 70th birthday party. We had lunch in a park that featured pizza as the main course. There were big bowls of cherries, grapes, and strawberries. And we had four - count ‘em - four cakes. One big angel food cake and three smaller ones of the same kind baked in bread loaf pans. We only have one angel food cake pan after our recent downsizing. Maybe we’ve only ever had one angel food cake pan.

But eight kids at my party! That surely has to be some kind of a record among my friends. Like the days when my brothers and sisters added to the number of kids at my birthday parties, I have the good fortune of family for this year’s celebration. All five of our grandchildren were there plus two great nieces and one great nephew. In fact those eight children constitute all of Susan’s parents’ great grandchildren. And the cousins get along. And the park was a perfect venue with big fields for running, two playgrounds, and an observation tower that you can climb up and look out at Mount Baker beyond the water lily-filled lake at the edge of the park. We lucked out finding several tables under a shelter that were not reserved for the day and were available for us to use. the park was not crowded on a weekday. Our son has taken a couple of days off from work to enjoy the rush of family.

The guests are beginning to arrive for our anniversary celebration this weekend. Yesterday afternoon and evening we drove down to Seattle to meet a flight with one of Susan’s sisters and her husband. This evening a couple of nephews arrive on the bus. My sister and her two children, their spouses, and her granddaughter arrive tomorrow. That means that our family group will have nine children for the children’s sermon in church on Sunday. I’m pretty sure that no other family will be able to top that number. And, as the one who will be leading the time with children in church, I’m guaranteed at least nine children will be up front for the story.

As birthdays go, 70 is turning out to be especially memorable. I couldn’t imagine a better birthday party. I hope that Davy - and all the others who are turning 70 this year have such good fortune. A lot of children at your birthday party is indeed a special blessing.


I once commented to a friend that I was 50 years old before I found out that I grew up in a dysfunctional family. It was a joke. I grew up in a wonderful family. We have become very different as adults and have had very different life experiences. There have been times when we disagreed on a lot of different things. At the time I made the comment, there was conflict in my family due in part of misunderstandings about the nature and size of our mother’s estate. Our mother was widowed at a young age and lived 35 years afterward. Our father had left behind the means for her to have a very good life, but decades of not having much income did reduce the amount of assets remaining compared to what our father had left behind. It wasn’t a problem for us. Our parents were wonderfully generous with us during their lives and supported each of their children in unique ways that met the different needs of different children. I received educational support that enabled me to go from college directly to graduate school. Eight years of post-secondary education took time and financial resources and I am grateful for the support I received. Another brother and a sister received help with home ownership. Other siblings benefitted in different ways as their needs required. In the end, after our mother died, there was no large estate to be distributed. Some of my siblings thought that there would be more and persisted in trying to figure out what happened. It seemed at the time that no amount of explaining would satisfy them.

As family fights go, it wasn’t very dramatic. We had a few sessions where tempers flared. We were provided with an accurate record of our mother’s financial condition. We figured out how to continue the management of a family trust after she died.

We were seven children. Three of my siblings have now died. Two of them predeceased our mother. The four who remain live in Montana, Oregon, and Washington. We have all moved in recent years, though we moved a greater distance than other siblings.

Among my siblings there have been thirteen weddings and eight divorces. Another brother and I have never been divorced. Others experienced divorce twice. One brother has had four weddings and three divorces, though only three wives. His current wife and he were married for a decade, divorced for a decade, then married again. I officiated at three weddings of my siblings, all of which ended in divorce. Maybe I wasn’t that good at remarriage counseling. The divorce rate of weddings I officiated at is considerably better, if you consider weddings that involved people who weren’t members of my immediate family.

And that isn’t all that is confusing about my family. Two of my brothers started out their lives as my nephews and were adopted by our parents before I knew of other grandparent adoptions. When I was studying marriage and family therapy, I hand an assignment to diagram my family with a set of symbols that had been given to our group. My diagram confused my instructor, who was sure I had not understand how to use the symbols. When I explained the circumstances of my family, we agreed that it could not be diagramed. Perhaps that is where I obtained the notion that when it comes to an organization, if you can diagram it, it probably won’t work.

Despite all of that, I am extremely grateful to have been raised in a wonderful family by wonderful parents. I grew up thinking that all families were blended, large, confusing, and very diverse. Our family certainly is. And it has been a gift to be part of such a gathering.

I haven’t even begun to explain about cousins. That would take several journal posts.

One brother and one sister will be with us this weekend as we celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. The brother was one of my attendants at our wedding. My other attendant was the first husband of the sister. That means that they appear in our wedding photos. It happens, however, that the collection of family photos that we will be sharing with our guests in a slide show includes phots of both with former spouses. I plan to enjoy the party with family and friends and don’t feel a need to explain the full history of our complex family.

The church is full of complex families of every size and shape. It seems appropriate because the bible is full of complex families of every size and shape. There are plenty of stories of unique family configurations including marriage and separation, monogamy and polygamy, birth and adoption. There are single parents and surrogate parents and foster parents. Children are raised by parents and grandparents and people who are not genetic relatives.

I may not be able to diagram my family using the symbols of conjoint family therapy, but I’m sure I cannot digram some of the families of the bible that way, either. Like my brother, Jacob was married four times, but he had four wives and didn’t marry any of them more than once. Unlike my brother had had multiple children with each of his wives. 12 sons are reported, but an accurate count of the daughters isn’t part of the narrative.

From that perspective, I don’t think I was accurate in reporting that my family is dysfunctional. We are, rather, creative. We are also occasionally confused and confounded. We are definitely loud. But there is a lot of love in this family.

We were up later than usual last night, trying to figure out some of the dynamics of a family gathering. We ended up laughing and realizing that we will be having a wonderful celebration. It won’t be perfect. It won’t even be the way we imagined when we were planning it. It is already clear that our interpretation of “no gifts please” that was included in the invitations, has received a variety of interpretations from those we invited. One dear friend simply said, “I read that but I ignored it.” It is also clear that even though the weekend is just a couple of days away, we have no idea how many people will show up. Our celebration won’t be the kind of event that some families seem able to pull off without a hitch. But it will be joyous and fun.

And we will be tired when it is all over. We’ve taken a few days of vacation for our time with family. Returning to work will give us time to catch up on our rest. It is a kind of reverse vacation.

No worries, we’ll be laughing a lot this weekend. Let the party begin.

Sunset photos

For several years, the photograph on the home page of my website has been one of a sunrise. I took that photo during an early morning paddle on Sheridan Lake in South Dakota. Over the years I have taken a lot of photographs of sunrises. That particular photograph was taken by a digital point and shoot camera that has a sealed case to protect it from water. It can be used for underwater photography as well as photos taken above the water. The camera has a number of preset settings including one specifically for taking photographs of sunrises and sunsets. I still have that camera and it works well. I keep it handy for paddling and other activities where another camera might get wet.

I obtained that camera after having made a costly mistake with another digital camera that I once owned. The other camera was not designed to get wet. I had that camera in the pocket of a life jacket one morning as I slipped a kayak into the lake. I was boarding the kayak from the dock. This particular kayak is long and narrow and I had made it to be light weight and to perform well in rough water. It is a fun boat to paddle and I’ve paddled it in the Salish Sea off the coast of Washington on many occasions. That particular morning as I transferred my weight from the dock to the small cockpit of the kayak, before securing my skirt around the cockpit, I got off balance and the boat rolled over on its side. I had a paddle in my arms and quickly recovered, but not before having laid myself in the water. It might have been amusing to watch. The inadvertent roll was not a graceful move like an intentional rolling of a boat. In the process I immersed the digital camera in the lake. It didn’t survive the drenching. I carefully dried out the camera when I returned home, but he water had created a short that damaged a circuit in the camera. I ended up going for several weeks without a digital camera as I saved up to replace it with one that is waterproof.

Even though I own a camera that works well for making photographs of sunrises and sunsets, I find that I frequently am out walking or engaging in other activities without having taken the camera with me. One reason that I have gotten in the habit of heading out without a camera is that the digital camera in my cell phone is fairly sophisticated. It isn’t quite as good at capturing images as another camera, but it has the advantage of the simple fact that I almost always have it in my pocket. My cell phone camera, however, is not optimal for taking pictures directly at the sun. I often take pictures in what is called a live mode. The camera automatically takes a short burst of several images and a digital processor in the device merges those images into a single still picture. The mode allows the image to freeze action without blurring. However, when aimed directly at the sun, it over exposes the sensors in the camera resulting in an area of the photograph being burned out. In the picture the sun looks like it is a different shape than it appears to the eye. The sun hasn’t changed shape, the light has overwhelmed the digital sensors.

I suppose that such pictures might one day cause damage to the sensors in the phone camera, but it is unlikely. The end result is that I get some images with a kind of surreal beauty. I keep some of those images because I like them, but they are not accurate depictions of what I have seen with my eye. You can see the difference by comparing that image with the one at the top of today’s journal entry. In the first photograph, I used the correct setting for a sunset picture. In the other one, I used the live mode.

Neither photograph, however, has the quality that I could have achieved had I used a dedicated camera instead of my phone. Alas, I didn’t have another camera with me when we went for our walk last evening. It had been a busy day and we walked late in the evening as the light was fading. The sunset was gorgeous, enhanced by the smoke in the air from Canadian wildfires. We have escaped the oppressive smoke that has afflicted some other parts of the country. Our skies have been refreshed with winds blowing across the Pacific, but a bit of smoke can be seen between us and the islands. The smoke filtered the sunlight into a beautiful orange glow over the calm waters last evening.

When I came home and looked at the photographs on my computer, I paused to reflect on the fact that I take a lot more sunset pictures these days than was the case for the rest of my life. In retirement I am a bit less likely to venture out into the predawn light, sleeping in a bit and rarely paddling first thing. However, the real reason I take fewer pictures of sunrises these days is that our sunsets are much more dramatic. Sunrises are not over the water in our west coast location. The sun rises over the Cascade mountains to our east. The sunrises are beautiful, but the sunsets over the bay have the added feature of the reflections on the surface of the water.

A quick scan of a couple of decades of photographs reveals that I have shifted from sunrise to sunset photographs. It is, I think, a bit of a symbol of the subtle changes in my lifestyle. I live in a place that is new to me. My days have shifted so that I rise a bit later in the morning and stay up a bit later in the evening. The days are long during the summer up here in the north, so I tend to linger in the evening. it is not uncommon for us to take walks later in the evening. Remaining awake a bit later, savoring the time a bit before sleep is a pretty good symbol for my life phase. I’m semi-retired, taking things a bit slower. I’m savoring the time that I have these days. I might even remember to take the right camera to capture a few more images of the sunset during the sunset of my life. It appears that I will have many more opportunities.

An exciting day

The day after tomorrow will be my 70th birthday. I am not yet sure how I feel about that. Yesterday morning, after discovering the frustration that a couple of businesses I wanted to visit didn’t open as early as I like, and facing a long list of tasks, I was feeling that 70 might not be as much fun as 60 or 50 or 40.

Things haven’t turned out exactly the way I envisioned. When I turned 65 my plan was to continue working as pastor of the congregation I was then serving until I turned 70, at which point I would retire. My plans, however, weren’t exactly how things worked out. It has been the case for most of my life that I have confused what I want with what God wants for me. The dynamics of congregations and the events of life are often unpredictable. As it turned out, I retired shortly after my 67th birthday. I retired in the midst of a global pandemic as face-to-face meetings were being discouraged. Churches were going completely online with no in-person worship. It was a strange time for the church.

My first year of retirement brought quite a few worries. We chose to retire close to where our son lives, but rents in that area were higher than we anticipated. We found a home to rent, but had to pay more than I expected. An error was made in the amount of our Social Security benefits that put on a bit more financial pressure. The error was eventually corrected, but with everything shut down because of the pandemic, it took the Social Security Administration two years to discover and correct the error.

Then, when I was 68 we received a call to serve 24 months as interim Ministers of Faith Formation at First Congregational Church in Bellingham. It has been a wonderful opportunity for us. Going back to work and being allowed to work until I turned 70 has been a real blessing. In addition to the paychecks adding to our retirement savings, having meaningful work to do is such a blessing. I worry a lot less when I’m not sitting at home stewing. I know that there are plenty of opportunities for volunteer work and other meaningful tasks in retirement, but having weathered the pandemic and getting settled in a home we own rather than the rental have made the options for my second retirement seem better than things looked the first time around.

Still, I’m not sure how to feel about turning 70. On the plus side, every birthday is a celebration. We have been blessed with good health and even though we’ve faced a few health scares, we have assembled strong teams of medical care providers and our overall health is good - probably better than it was a couple of years ago. I’m more fit and more energetic than was the case in my early retirement.

I am, however, head-over-heels excited about today. Even though it is not my birthday, it is a day I have anticipated for some time. In a little while Susan and I will drive down to Seattle to be there when our daughter and her family arrive on a flight. At dinner time this evening, we will have both of our children and all of our grandchildren together in one place again. I can think of nothing more joyful. And there will be even more, because our niece is already here, visiting with her family. With her three children and our five grandchildren, there will be eight children from one year old to 12 years old for dinner tonight. Add in the eight adults and we will fill our dining room table and the picnic table on the deck all at once. Our super will be simple - we’re cooking for a lot of people. We know how to feed crowds, however. We’ve been grocery shopping. I commented to Susan that our pantry and freezer have never been more full than they currently are.

And there are more people coming. My sister will be here with her whole family. She only has one granddaughter, but she’ll fit right in. Susan’s sister arrives on Thursday and her other other children come on Friday. We’ve got a big enough crowd to be noticed in church on Sunday. And we’ll have enough kids to make up a sizable percentage of the time with children.

When we became parents, I was not able to anticipate how deep my feelings about them would be all of these years later. Having both of our children together is every bit as exciting and wonderful to me as it was the day we brought them home. My birthday, whatever age, seems inconsequential in the light of the joy of having our children together.

I wasn’t there to see it, but I got a report from my niece that our two granddaughters, after getting off of the school bus yesterday, came running down the driveway yelling, “Fay and Eddie, we’re here! We’re here!” Our grandkids still have school this week. Wednesday will be a short day with an early release and the last day of school. Our niece’s children are from Montana and out of school for the summer. The children have been having so much fun playing together. When we stopped by the farm after an evening meeting last night, there were two girls, one from each family, inside the chicken tractor with four hens. When I commented on that, I heard the report that the girls had been crawling through the chicken door into the pen where the pullets live. Our youngest grandson was having a great time crawling through the grass on the lawn and we could see some of the kids running across the yard. It is a good thing they have a farm with plenty of room for the kids to run. I’m pretty sure that they all are sleeping soundly right now after all of the energy they expended playing.

I’ll be sleeping soundly tonight, too. After the excitement there is joy, joy, joy. I know I’m not going to mind being 70 at all.

Our camper

Several years ago we bought a camp trailer. It is a bunkhouse model with four bunk beds at one end and a double bed at the other. Between the two areas is a compact kitchen, dinette, and a bathroom with a shower. When we bought it we had only one grandchild, but we already had visions of camping trips with him. That grandchild lived 800 miles from our home, and having the camper also gave us a place to prepare meals and sleep as we traveled between our home and theirs. It also served as a guest room when we visited them. We stayed in our camper, while visiting their home each day.

Over the years, we’ve pulled that camper a lot of miles. Two years ago we pulled it to South Carolina and back - a trip of over 6,000 miles.

Prior to owning the camp trailer, we had a pop-up pickup camper and before that a pop-up tent trailer. We got our first RV, the tent trailer when our kids were teenagers. It got pulled a lot of miles as well. The pickup camper was heavily used during the years that our kids were getting established in their adult lives. During the summer of 2006, we lived in the camper for a month at a time during a sabbatical.

A RV is not the same as a home. There are all kinds of compromises to make the vehicle light weight and to manage the space. The RVs we have owned have all been short of floor space. Our current camper is the most luxurious. There is a center aisle in the camper that is almost 25 feet long. That means that there is over 50 square feet of open floor. That is a luxury when compared to our pickup camper which had a strip of linoleum that was two feet by eight feet as its only open floor. If one of us was cooking, the other had to be sitting at the dinette or lying in bed. The only other alternative was to go outside, which we did a lot. After all it was a camper.

Prior to owning a RV, we had a lot of camping trips using a backpack tent. It was small enough to fit into our car along with enough camping gear to provide a place to sleep and prepare meals. We’ve taken some epic camping trips and stayed in some very beautiful places. I admit however, that the urge to sleep on the ground, even with a good camping mat, has eluded me in recent years. One thing that I like about our current camping trailer is that the bed can remain set up with bedding as we travel.

Last week I pulled the camper out of storage at our son’s barn and set it up on the farm. It had been winterized, so I needed to connect it to water and flush the antifreeze out of the system. The hot water heater and refrigerator had to be started and we went through the camper giving it a thorough cleaning. Bedding was washed, towels were placed in the cupboard and the camper was even stocked with a few groceries. Our son has a great place to park the camper that even has a convenient place to hook up to their septic system to drain the holding tanks.

We prepared the camper for the visit of our niece and her family. They have three children and have come to help us celebrate our wedding anniversary next weekend. Traveling from Red Lodge, Montana is a big trip for their family and they decided to make the trip into a family vacation, so arrived early to take advantage of all of the tourist activities in our area. Our niece’s husband works remotely, so he will set up with his computer some of the days of their trip to work.

Their arrival means that there are now seven children over at the farm. That is more than the number of children in church school on some Sundays. The farm kids still have school for two and a half more days, so they have to get up and get going while their guests are on school vacation.

Having our camper filled with children is one of the joys of owning a camper. From the time we purchased it there has been a cabinet, between the bunk beds, that is reserved for toys. Our grandchildren all know about that cabinet, and now our great nieces and nephew know about it too. Susan is very good about selecting toys that are appropriate for the ages of the children who visit us. The cupboard is stocked from the toys that we have at our house.

We are finishing our Interim position at the end of July and one of the things we are looking forward to is taking a trip with our grandchildren. We’ll probably go somewhere relatively close. North Cascades National Park and Olympic National Park are both within an easy day’s drive.

I’m well aware that the camper is part of one phase of our life. I probably won’t be driving a pickup truck pulling a 25’ trailer a decade from now. There is a bit of work involved in caring for the camper and I know that each year I’m a bit less capable at accomplishing work. Our friends who own RVs all agree with us that the people who enjoy RVs the most are ones who don’t mind making repairs. There are always small things that go wrong when your living space is also a vehicle. I’ve learned quite a bit about trouble shooting plumbing and electrical systems. I’ve even replaced a sewer valve during a trip. It wasn’t my favorite job, but when I got done, the camper has a shower.

From time to time, I look at pictures of more compact campers. Perhaps we’ll downsize once before giving up camping. But for now having the camper with room for four grandchildren to sleep is a luxury that we intend to enjoy as much as we are able.

Maybe we’ll see you out on the road or tucked into a neighboring campsite. We’ll be the one with all of the kids who are eager to toast marshmallows over the campfire.

Making ice cream

My father-in-law was an amazing man. He was the eldest of two children raised on a North Dakota Farm. His mother was a school teacher and they walked together to the one room school house located near their farmhouse. He learned to drive a car when he was 11 years old and because he wanted to drive the car and his uncle didn’t want to go to church he assumed the role of driving his grandmother to church on Sundays. Perhaps it was that experience that led him to a lifetime of participation and volunteer leadership in the church. Coming into his teenage years during the Great Depression, times were tough. The family survived in part by hosting dances in a barn and selling sandwiches and other refreshments to those who came to the dances. When his father suffered a heart attack and was advised by a doctor to retire and move to someplace warm, he ran the family farm while his parents spent a winter in Arizona. They raised turkeys which could be shipped live on the train to Chicago for thanksgiving dinners. He lived on potatoes stored in the root cellar. Sorting through the potatoes that had been kept all winter long to find some that could be cooked for meals taught him an appreciation for new potatoes in early summer, a passion that he kept for the rest of his life.

He graduated from a two year vocational college and trained as an electrician. He helped bring electricity to rural North Dakota and with his father stared an appliance and home electricity repair business. He met his wife in his home town where she had come to earn a living after the death of her father. He used to say, “We were poor during the depression. Everyone was. But she was really poor.” The depression had been over for quite a while when they met, but they learned to live frugally. Soon there was a daughter and two more daughters followed.

I met the whole family at church camp and initially didn’t think much of them. They were church people like my family and we all enjoyed summer camp. A few years later, having continued to get to know their daughter at youth rallies and other church events, I was lucky to have her accept my invitation to attend the junior prom at my high school. I was also lucky that she had accepting parents who allowed their daughter to go on a date with a relatively unknown young man who lived 80 miles from their home. She took the bus to my town to attend the dance.

Susan was the oldest of the three daughters and ours was the first wedding in their family. We didn’t want things to be too formal or fancy, but knew we would marry in the church of her family. We were church camp kids and we were friends with a lot of ministers and in addition to the minister of their church, who had been my camp counselor the first year I attended camp by myself without my family, and another minister friend officiated. We joked that the wedding was ours, but the reception was Susan’s mother’s. She helped us plan a celebration that was fun and matched our style. We wanted to serve our guests home made ice cream. Susan’s father made all of that ice cream to serve our guests.

Keith was an electrician by trade but he was a teacher at heart. Perhaps it came from growing up as the teacher’s kid. He taught for many years in the apprenticeship program for electricians and was recognized for his service by his local union and his name is on a plaque at the United States Department of Labor recognizing his years of teaching young electricians. My father died when I was a young adult and I had the benefit of having my father-in-law as a mentor and teacher for many years.

He taught me to make homemade ice cream. It makes sense that when we and our children were planning our 50th wedding anniversary celebration to be held in a week that we wanted to serve home made ice cream. I’m going to be making a lot of ice cream this week. Fortunately I will have the support and help of family members, including my son-in-law who arrives with their family on Tuesday. Having him help me make ice cream is something I am anticipating greatly. We have two ice cream makers. One is electric and automatic. The other needs to be cranked by hand. I’m pretty sure the process will fascinate our grandchildren. They’ll be eager to lick the dasher when a batch is completed. I’m also pretty sure that they don’t have the stamina to turn the crank for multiple batches of ice cream.

I made a test batch a couple of days ago using the electric machine and the family recipe. It turned out like I remembered the ice cream my father-in-law used to make. I had a very good and patient teacher.

I suppose that every anniversary has elements of nostalgia. This week will be filled with a lot of good memories for us. We’ve been sorting through old photographs. We will be telling a lot of stories. After all we have 50 years of taking photos and gathering stories. Fortunately for us, we had our parents as part of those early years. Fortunately for me, I was as fortunate in the choice of in-laws as I was in the choice of my wife. A lot of what I have learned about how to be a husband, a father, and a grandfather came from lessons I learned from my father-in-law. He also taught me a lot of what it means to be a teacher. Teaching requires a lot more than knowledge. It requires a lot more than competence in your field. Teaching requires a genuine concern for your learners. I know because I had a lot of years with one of the world’s greatest teachers. He also was a really good electrician, a skill that saved me a lot in my years as a homeowner.

Besides, he taught me to make ice cream and we’re going to have a lot of ice cream this week. It not only gives me a week that my grandchildren will remember. It gives me an opportunity to teach them with the grace and skill with which I have been taught.


Dolly Parton’s 1980 song, 9 to 5, has a memorable tune and rhythm. It is one of hundreds of songs that I have portions memorized, but cannot recite or sing the entire song. The chorus, however, repeats enough times in the song and the song was played enough on the radio that I do know that much.

Workin' 9 to 5
What a way to make a livin'
Barely gettin' by
It's all takin' and no givin’

They just use your mind
And they never give you credit
It's enough to drive you
Crazy if you let it

I never really had a job where we worked 9 to 5. My first full-time work was farm work as a teenager. But before I worked on the farm during the summers, I was well aware of the general schedule of the shop at my father’s farm machinery dealership. The shop opened and work began at 8 am. At 10 am there was a 15-minute coffee break. The shop closed and work ceased from 12 - 1 for lunch. Another 15-minute break occurred at 3 pm and work stopped for the day and the shop closed at 5 pm. Of course, there were jobs that had to be completed for customers that caused workers to come in early and stay late. They were paid extra for overtime work and often were eager for the additional income. My father, however, never was constrained by the schedule. It was common for him to start his work day at 5 am and there were days when he didn’t get home from work until 6 or 7 pm. Often he was managing multiple businesses. He’d go to the airport early before the shop opened. He and my mother often did bookwork early in the morning as well. He was never a fan of those 15-minute coffee breaks. Although he supplied a break room and a coffee maker and often made the coffee himself, he thought the interruption disrupted productivity. Once he offered to trade employees two weeks’ additional vacation in exchange for them working through the break times. No employee took him up on that offer. Many of them were smokers and needed the breaks to smoke. Even those who weren’t were big fans fo the break. It was a time to socialize and tell stories. It was also a time to sit and relax.

At the farm our work day began when breakfast was over and continued until time for dinner. We either took a lunch with us or had lunch delivered to us in the field. During harvest, lunch and dinner were delivered in the field. The combines ran for as much of the day as grain moisture would allow. Machines had to be greased either at the end of the day or at the beginning and that was often done in the dark even on long summer days. I don’t remember minding the hours. Everyone else was working that hard. It wasn’t a topic of conversation, it was just the way life at the farm was. There were breaks when we would visit with others, if guests showed up at the farm. And we didn’t work on Sundays except during harvest. Although there were chores on Sundays as well. Animals needed to be fed and watered every day. The eggs had to be collected.

I worked and was paid by the hour at several jobs during my educational career, but they weren’t full-time jobs. I hd full-time hourly work during summers, however, so know a bit of the rhythm of a five-day, 40-hour work week. However, for most of my life I have worked at jobs where we didn’t count hours. I had significant control over my schedule and a good amount of flexibility. When there was work to be done, I worked. If there were multiple funerals in a week, I put in a lot of extra hours. If there was less going on, I had more time for personal projects and hobbies. There were plenty of days when I was at the office for 12 or more hours. Evening meetings have always been part of my work. Even now working part time an occasional 11-hour day is not uncommon.

It is also true that I have never fully known when I am working and when I am not. Because I have worked with my wife as a colleague as well as a home partner, we have never had a rigid barrier between work and home life. We talk about work and do planning at home, over meals, and when we are recreating. We take time out of a work day to run family errands on occasion. I frequently am thinking about a children’s sermon or planning a work strategy when I am at home and not in the office. That schedule has suited my style of ministry. I have often said that ministry is who I am and not just what I do. If I am visiting with a church member, I don’t keep track of the time it takes. If a church meeting runs long, I stay until it is concluded. I know lots of people who work outside of the church who have similar long days and don’t track work hours. Small business owners, like my father, put in whatever hours are required to keep the business going. I may have put in long days as a pastor, but I have always had members of the churches I served who put in similar long days. If a meeting ran long for me, it was equally long for the volunteers who served on the committee. Our church treasurer would participate in evening meetings even during tax season when her regular job involved 60 hours a week.

I am aware that there are times when I didn’t get the family time/work time balance right. There were times when our children wished we would spend less time at work. But I have always been grateful that I didn’t need to track hours our punch a time clock. I still get some of my best work ideas when showering and recreating out doors. I don’t know whether writing my journal is work or recreation. After all, I’ve invested quite a bit of time in the project without compensation. I guess it must be a hobby alongside other hobbies like mopping floors and doing the dishes.


Our son has a marvelously large barn. It has room for a large shop, with space for woodworking tools and storage for my canoes and kayaks. the space that once housed dairy stalls has room for a chicken brooder, storage and space for cattle when weather has them indoors. Above that area there is a large hay loft overlooking the next section which has feed stalls for cattle in one half and space to store our camp trailer in the other half. Beyond that is an area largely unused except for a bit of storage. On that end of the barn is a greenhouse and a small area that was the clean room when the farm had a diary. That room houses plumbing valves that control outside faucets and a faucet inside of the barn for watering livestock. It also has space for my beekeeping tools and some unused hive components.

It is an amazing thing for me to have access to the shop and storage space for my various projects. Being able to store our camp trailer indoors when it is not in use adds years to the life of its roof and other components. The area where the camper is stored has an open overhead door at one end for the cattle to enter and exit the barn. It is open to the hay loft as well. This means that I keep a tarp over the roof of the camper when indoors to keep the roof free from messes of the birds who come and go from the hay loft and often nest in the rafters.

When our son and his wife bought the farm they didn’t have specific plans for the barn. Now that they are keeping cattle, hay storage and an indoor area for the cattle on cold and rainy winter nights is a bonus. That still leaves a lot of space for my various projects.

The result of having access to the barn has eased the process of downsizing our house for me. While our house is significantly smaller than the one we lived in for the 25 years we served in Rapid City, I haven’t been forced to abandon my hobbies. In fact I have access to far more shop and storage space than I have at any other point in my life.

As a result, I haven’t done the kind of sorting and shedding of possessions that is required of most people my age. I’ve been able to keep my jumble of tools - even tools that I don’t use anymore. I’ve been able to retain more canoes and kayaks than I paddle. There are canoes and kayaks in the barn that haven’t been in the water since we moved from South Dakota nearly three years ago. I should be sorting. I should be getting rid of things. But access to copious storage space means that I haven’t been forced to do those tasks.

However, the time is coming when I need to get serious about that process. I’m not getting any younger. And it isn’t fair for me to leave the task of sorting to the next generation. I know that because I still have a half dozen storage boxes with items that my mother was unable to deal with and I had to move from her summer place before selling it this spring. I don’t want to leave a similar legacy to our children. That means I need to get to work with the process of sorting.

I have a colleague, who is much younger than I, who advises taking a “Marie Kondo” approach. Look at items individually and ask the question, “Does this inspire joy?” The answer to the question indicates whether an item should be kept and an appropriate storage place be found or discarded. I joke that after several generations of people focused on accumulating items, I have too many for individual decisions about each. In addition I need to make some of the decisions about what to keep and what to discard based not solely on my individual emotional reaction to that item. Some items need to be preserved for history - they came into my care from a previous generation and eventually will pass into the care of those younger than me. It is fairly easy to make decisions about my own personal property. But I need to make decisions that affect others as well. I’m encouraged by the simple fact that becoming a mother has shifted Kondo’s life focus. I suspect that my younger colleague will feel differently about their processes after they have become old enough to have attended to the death of parents and their child has grown old enough to be in charge of independent decisions about what to keep and what to discard.

I guess I find a strange sort of solace in knowing that my younger friends will age and that age will bring to them challenges similar to the ones I face. I know that for us moving from our graduate student efficiency apartment into a large parsonage offered by the parish where we began our pastoral careers didn’t require us to downsize. Things are different now.

After a wonderful career, we’ve accumulated a lot of things that inspire joy. Playing the cornet my mother played when she was in school brings me joy. But I don’t need to have that instrument plus my high school and college trumpet plus the newer instrument I now play. I only need to keep one. But I have three and when I ask of each, I discover that all three inspire joy. This is just one example of how decisions about what to keep and what to discard are more complex now than they were decades ago.

I am realizing that a major part of my life’s work at this stage is distribution. Some of the things in my possession should be recycled or donated to places that can distribute them to new owners. Some of the things need to be curated for future generations. Some of the things are important for my life right now. And those things are all mixed together, which means I need to do a lot of sorting.

I’m confident I won’t be bored even when I no longer am serving a congregation.

Still wearing masks

A while ago Susan and I went into town to receive booster injections of the bivalent vaccine for Covid-19. The injections made the total number of vaccinations against the virus enough that we received new CDC vaccination cards. We have kept up with the recommended vaccinations and, so far, have avoided becoming infected with the virus. The interesting thing that I noted about our short trip to the pharmacy and back was that I had forgotten to tuck a face mask into my pocket. Carrying a face mask everywhere I go has become a habit. On this particular day, I had changed my shirt to one without pockets in order to have short sleeves to make receiving the injection easier. In the process, I failed to pick up a mask from the supply on my dresser. It wasn’t a problem for us, because I realized my mistake as we pulled into the parking lot at the pharmacy and we keep extra masks in our car. I grabbed one and had one to wear when we went into the treatment room at the pharmacy.

Before the pandemic hit, we didn’t imagine that face masks would become part of our everyday lives. During the pandemic we became used to wearing face masks a lot. For many months our church required face masks for all in-person gatherings and we got used to wearing them to work, removing them only in our office when the door was closed and putting them back on each time we ventured out of the office.

It isn’t just at church, the use of face masks has decreased dramatically in recent months in the places we frequent. We still see persons wearing face masks at the grocery store and in other places and we have grown to accept that there are lots of reasons why people will continue to wear them. We would definitely wear masks whenever we experience any symptoms, including common colds and other illnesses. We also wear them when receiving medical care and when visiting health care facilities. I expect that face masks will continue to be a part of our lives and we will learn to carry them with us so that we always have access to one. If we encounter a person who is especially vulnerable or someone who has been feeling ill, the masks will come out. They have become much more accepted in our community since the pandemic.

All across the United States and Canada people are returning to regular mask use for a new reason in recent days. People have found them to be effective in protecting from discomfort caused by particulate-filled smoky skies. Conditions have brought heavy smoke from hundreds of Canadian wildfires to the entire norther tier of states. The smoke is so dense that hundreds of flights to and from New York City had to be cancelled due to poor visibility. News sources have been showing smoky skies in major cities across the US. Millions have been advised to mask up whenever they go outside to help alleviate danger from smoky skies. Just when people thought it was safe to go without masks, they are being advised to mask up once again.

So far we have not been affected by the smoke as much as other regions. Although we live just a few miles south of the border we have been experiencing winds from the west that bring fresh air from over the Pacific ocean to our skies. However, we can see the smoke. Our sunsets have been brilliantly colored due to smoke in the air and we notice the haze when looking to the mountains to the east or the islands to the west on our daily walks. Just a few miles east of our home friends commented that they could smell the smoke in the sky when they went outside yesterday.

If there is a question in any one’s mind that we are already experiencing the effects of climate change, the smoke should give them a clue. Extreme weather is becoming more frequent and more intense because of climate change. Heat waves are hotter and longer than used to be the case. A small increase in average temperatures has had a dramatic effect on the number of extremely hot days. When warm air builds up, high pressure holds the warmth closer to the surface of the air and the air next to the surface is compressed and gets even hotter. This phenomenon, known as a heat dome, is becoming more and more frequent and occurring earlier and later in the summer than was previously the case.

The result has been longer droughts in many places. This combined with increasing populations has stressed the global water supply. In parts of East Africa more than 20 million people are at risk of starvation caused by drought. Severe droughts are more than 100 times more likely than was the case a few years ago.

Wildfires, such as are raging across many provinces in Canada, are becoming more common. Global warming has made the weather conditions for large wildfires more likely. This has combined with the results of over extraction of timber from the world’s forests and stresses to forest health from a variety of causes to make wildfires more intense and more rapidly spreading than used to be the case. More fuel means bigger fires that spread at alarming rates.

Even though parts of the globe are suffering from more intense drought and the lack of rain helps fuel wildfire, other places are experiencing extreme rainfall. More heat means faster evaporation from oceans and lakes. More moisture in the sky forms larger cloud systems and some areas experience heavier rain. British Columbia, just to the north of our home, has experienced both extreme wildfires and flooding. The wildfires leave bear ground that is more prone to mudslides when the rains do come. Flooding has affected millions of people across the globe.

For now, we’re keeping a supply of face masks on hand and available for frequent use. It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to leave them behind anytime soon.

A surprising gift

My granddaughter might one day read some of my journal entries, but she just turned 9 years old and I’m pretty sure that she doesn’t read my journal at this phase of her life. That is an important bit of information to me as I write today because the story I am telling is her story in a way. I usually am pretty careful about telling others’ stories. I don’t have the write to tell someone else’s story and I try to avoid talking about other people. However, this story is also my story and I’ll tell it from my point of view.

We purchased a lego building set at a local store as a birthday gift for our granddaughter. She turned nine years old this week and she enjoys building lego sets. There are particular sets that she enjoys having and we’ve had plenty of conversations with her about which sets she already has and which sets she would like to have. Her birthday is just a few days after the birthday of her sister and we try to recognize each girl in her own way and celebrate both of them. Although they had a joint birthday party earlier, we had family dinners for each on the actual day of their birthday with gifts from family members.

On the day we bought the lego set, I carried it to the car myself. It had just the right weight and that distinctive rattle sound of lego bricks hitting one another inside of the box. Lego packages bricks in individual bags of sub assemblies in their larger kits. The present was wrapped and our granddaughter gently shook the box for the familiar sound before unwrapping it. After unwrapping her presents, she did not open the box, saving it for a bit later in the evening after eating her cake.

We headed home as the family settled in to their evening routines. It was a school night and the kids needed to be in bed on time. However, we knew that there was a bit of time for her to begin to assemble the set after we left.

Shortly after we got home we received a text message with a picture from our son. When our granddaughter opened her lego set, it didn’t contain the bricks for the set. It didn’t contain the instructions for the set. Instead, there were two shirts, with labels from the local good will store and a small inexpensive lego set to provide the sound of rattling lego bricks.

The disappointment sparked a lot of conversation in the family as her parents helped the 9-year-old deal with her disappointment. Her older brother commented that perhaps being affected by drugs would make a person do something as mean as stealing a lego set.

The next morning we took the set to the store where we purchased it and showed the contents to the clerk at the service desk. We received an immediate apology and a refund for our purchase. Unfortunately that store did not have another set matching our selection, but the clerk helped us find the set in the store’s online market and a replacement set has been ordered and will arrive later this week.

What surprised me was that the clerk at the service desk said that she had experienced similar things in the past. “If you work retail, you see this kind of thing,” she said. From my point of view, and I have never worked as a retail clerk, it was a pretty strange experience. We’ve bought a lot of lego sets as gifts for grandchildren over the years and nothing like that had happened before. I thought about the elaborate effort that was made to steal the contents of the box. The thief had to come up with the idea of replacing the contents of the box with something that had about the right weight that would fit in the box. Something flexible that would conform to the shape of the box would be required. Then that person had to think of the sound of legos shifting inside the box and compensate for that. The shirts had to be bought, or perhaps shoplifted from the Good Will store. Then the Lego set had to be taken to some place where the box could be carefully opened without damage, the contents removed, the shirts and small lego set inserted, and the box glued back shut. Next the box had to be placed back in its place on the shelf and the contents smuggled out of the store. All of this had to be accomplished without being caught by store personnel and security cameras.

The prize? A lego set. It hardly seems like it is worth the effort.

One theory is that the set was stolen from the store, the switch made in another location, and then the box was returned to the store for a refund. The result was cash in hand and the stolen contents was an added bonus. That theory doesn’t quite make sense as the thief would be more interested in cash than in the contents of the box. It seems like the thief was really interested in obtaining the lego bricks and instructions.

Our grandson’s theory that it was someone addicted to drugs who was willing to do something strange to raise cash for the next hit doesn’t quiet hold up because if the primary motivation was cash there would be no need to go through the motion of replacing the contents of the box. Shoplift the item, return it for a refund, and receive the cash.

I wondered if it might be a store employee who figured out how to obtain the lego set without the box, but that doesn’t make much sense with store supervision and security cameras.

I haven’t come up with an explanation. I guess I just don’t think like a thief, which is a good thing.

The best part of the experience so far is that my wife commented to our granddaughter that we were sorry that she had to wait for her gift, but at least she had a story to tell. Our granddaughter said, “Oh! I am so going to write that story!”

I can’t wait to read our granddaughter’s story and I hope she doesn’t read mine in the meantime. The gift of a story to write is a precious one - a gift this grandfather is pleased to give his granddaughter.


There is a kind of a joke in our family about my ability to sing fragments of songs from a variety of sources. I know bits of a lot of songs from musical theatre, a smattering of popular songs, and songs from a wide variety of sources. Once, when we went for a treat with our children and the children of friends, I sang a few lines of Little Richard’s Good Golly Miss Molly. The youngest of our friends’ children was named Molly. Fortunately I didn’t embarrass her and it became a bit of a family joke.

It turns out that I know quite a few lyrics to songs. Recently we we taking about astrological signs and noted that we have several family members who are born in the month of Aquarius. I started singing a bit from Age of Aquarius. I don’t know the whole song. I don’t know all of the lyrics to Good Golly Miss Molly either. But I know a bit - enough to sing a few lines.

I’m not sure, but I think that the first poetry I memorized was in the form of song lyrics. I have memorized a few poems from the Bible including Psalm 23 and Psalm 90, and know bits of other poems, including words of the prophet Isaiah and the prologue to the Gospel of John, but I think that I learned them after I had learned the words to quite a few songs.

Then there are hymns. I have memorized bits of a lot of hymns. Of course a lot of people know quite a few Christmas Carols, but most of us also know first verses of a lot of different hymns. And there are several hymns of which I know multiple verses.

I was thinking about the songs I knew recently in regards to a conversation I had with a woman in our church who writes a bit of poetry. She read one of her poems at an event at our church last Sunday. She said that sometimes when she is stressed or feeling overwhelmed she will make up a poem, usually fitting words to a song that she knows. The song gives her the rhythm and a format for her words. She hasn’t ever published a poem, but she finds comfort and focus from the process of creating poetry for her own use. I have also created a few poems by thinking of hymns of songs that I know and coming up with alternate words.

I used to say that I didn’t read much poetry until I reached middle adulthood, but I don’t think that is entirely true. Even when I didn’t own books of poetry and have poems ready at hand, I encountered a lot of poetry through the music I chose and he hymns we sang in church. During my college and graduate school years, when my reading was largely focused on my studies and I did less discretionary reading, I was still regular encountering poetry in the form of the music of worship and the poetry of the Bible.

These days I read a lot of poetry. I visit the poetry section of our favorite local bookstore every time I enter the building, and I often find a volume that I want to purchase. I keep a shelve of poetry books right next to my favorite recliner and pull out poems to read when I have a few extra moments. I belong to a poetry group and I try on occasion to write a bit of poetry, responding to the prompts given for us to write. I have a folder on my computer with poems that I have written.

I am aware, however, that even as I enjoy reading poetry, there is a part of me that needs more than just reading. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that I crave hearing poetry. So much of poetry is a lot more powerful when we hear it read out loud. Last night we missed a meeting of our poetry group because we were attending the birthday celebration of our granddaughter. It was a good choice. I love family time, family dinners, and family celebrations. We moved to this area after our retirement precisely because we wanted to be able to be close for birthday parties and family dinners and school events. I’m glad we made the choice to forge the poetry group. Still, when I was reflecting at the end of the day before crawling into bed, I realized that one of the things I missed was hearing the voice of one of the members of our poetry group. She is a published poet and I have a couple of her poetry books, but what I was missing was the sound of her voice. She has crisp, clear pronunciation and a special feel for the cadence of poetry. When she reads a poem, whether it be one she has written or the poem of another author, the words take on a new life in the tone and rhythm of her voice. It is a genuine gift. I know a lot of others who read in public, including a few preachers, who don’t seem to be able to get the rhythm of words. They pause in inappropriate places, break up the rhythm, and are a challenge for me to listen to. I can listen to them and understand their words, but they leave me longing for the sound of a poetic voice.

There are times when I read to discover the answer to questions. There are times I read to gain wisdom. But my encounters with poetry are different. There are many poems that don’t offer answers or wisdom. Some even leave you with more questions. My craving of hearing poems is even deeper than my quest for knowledge and wisdom. Poetry connects me with others across large expanses of time and space. Hearing poetry is transcendent.

Of course, not all encounters with poetry are transcendent. I’m pretty sure that no one experienced my off-key rendering of Good Golly Miss Molly in an ice cream shop to be transcendent. Still that bit of song created a memory that has survived for decades and would bring a smile to Molly even now that she has daughters of her own who are older than she was when she first heard me sing the song. That’s the way poetry is. It touches us at some place that is deeper than the surface. And it leaves us craving more.


Nathan Hale graduated from Yale College in 1773. After graduation he became a schoolmaster in East Haddam. The next year he got a better job at an academy in New London. A year later the American Revolution began. After the battles of Lexington and Concord, two of Hale’s brothers joined he Connecticut militia. Nathan enlisted a few weeks later on July 6, 1775, after the Battle of Bunker Hill which resulted in a stalemate, which lasted until the British evacuated Boston in March of 1776. He was transferred to New York with other troops. The battle of Brooklyn Heights at the end of August 1776 life the British in control of Long Island. Washington and his troops were holed up in Manhattan and badly in need of reliable information about the opposing forces. Washington began recruiting spies. Hale, who had been in the army for over a year and had yet to see any action, decided to volunteer.

It turned out that he wasn’t a very good spy. He traveled to Norwalk, Connecticut and crossed Long Island Sound, leaving his uniform, commission, and official papers behind. Dressed as a schoolmaster in a plain brown suit, he landed in Huntington, Long Island. Instead of gathering information and returning to Washington, however, he asked too many questions and soon aroused suspicion. In a conversation with a British agent posing as an American sympathizer, he revealed his mission and the British authorities arrested him. He was brought to General Howe’s headquarters and condemned to death. On September 22, he was taken to artillery park and was hanged from a tree. The British buried his body nearby.

We were taught that he met his death with great resolution and composure and that his last words were, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” The words are from Joseph Addison’s play “Cato,” and though the play was seen by Hale and his friends at Yale, there is no reason to think that he spoke them at his execution. Over the years, as his story was told and retold, history transformed Hale from an obscure and unsuccessful spy into a symbol of selfless sacrifice in service of his country. Statues were erected. Since there were no photographs, sculptors created idealized portraits of heroic young men.

So, for what it is worth, Nathan Hale never actually lived at the Hale Homestead, built by his parents in 1776, after he had left their home. He probably never actually said the famous quote now often attributed to him.

Now, molecular scientists are teaching us that even if he had made the famous quote, the notion that a human being has only life is not technically correct. I’m not talking here about reincarnation, or some mysterious cat-like ability to escape death, but rather about the fact that we humans are not actually singular beings. Our bodies are actually entire ecosystems of microorganisms. We have at least as many bacteria inside us as we have body cells. They are as much a part of us as our blood cells and nerve cells. Medical researchers have discovered that bacteria are very important in overall health. Our gut bacteria, for example, produce substances that communicate with our brains. Researchers now believe that the human nervous system arose not to give direction to different body parts, but rather so our bodies could communicate with microbes.

We are made of a lot of different species of bacteria. The average human being hosts over 150 different species of bacteria on our hands alone. In one study it was determined that the left and right hands of the same person had only 17 percent of identical species. Bacteria on the hands of different persons have bacteria that match only 13 percent of the time. In all researchers found 4,742 different species on the surfaces of their subjects’ hands. We could not survive without these bacteria. We are literally thousands of lives, and not just one.

Science has come up with a new classification for this ecosystem of microorganisms. According to a book by Peter Wohlleben, these complex systems of interdependent microbes and larger beings are referred to as holobionts (holo meaning “whole” and bios meaning “life”). I’m just beginning to wrap my head around Earth being populated by holobionts. It sounds like some kind of science-fiction fantasy, but in fact it is the nature of life itself. Humans are not unique in our hosting of communities of microbes. It is true of all other animals and it is also true of plants as well. Wohlleben is a forester and writes about trees, which are also multicellular species. Every multicellular organism - trees and farm animals and human beings - is a unique ecosystem containing thousands of species of microorganisms. We are not individuals, but rather systems of multiple life forms. We are holobionts.

Because the microorganisms that inhabit our bodies are dependent upon one another and because our lives are dependent on the microorganisms, we cannot survive without one another, but the lifespan of a microorganism is very short. During a human lifetime, the populations of microorganisms are born, live, and die over and over again. They reproduce quickly. Wash your hands with antibacterial soap and thousands of bacteria die, but they reproduce so quickly that it doesn’t take them long to go back to the way they were, according to a study by Noah Fierer, Micah Hamady, Christian Lauber, and Rob Knight.

It is a whole new way of thinking about human individuality. We are not one, but rather many, even when we consider ourselves independently from each other. And we know because of the work of other scientists that we cannot survive alone. We are dependent upon other humans and a network of relationships for survival. Human babies can’t live without the care and nurture of other humans. This is also true of human adults. We are interconnected with others.

I doubt that I will cease to think of myself as an individual. The concept of being a holobiont is a challenging one. But apparently, I don’t have “only one life” even if I learned a mistaken notion about an obscure unsuccessful spy who became an American icon. On the other hand, I can’t think of a quote that might be better. “I regret that I have so many lives,” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Playing taps dressed in orange

Last night was the Junior/Senior Prom at Sehome High School, one of the two public high schools in Bellingham. As has been the case of high school proms in the past, I was looking at pictures of one of the young women in our church who attended the dance with her friends and I was amazed at how grown up and sophisticated she seems. When I think back to my high school prom, I know I felt grown up and sophisticated, but I am also struck by my memories of that evening at how immature and unsophisticated I really was. Prom weekend brings back many different memories for me each year. One thing I remember is what a wonderful date I had. It was my first date with the woman who has become my wife. She made the dress that she wore. I have a picture of her on that night in that dress that I carry in my checkbook. I didn’t know much about love or romance in those days, but somehow I managed to make enough of an impression on her that she agreed to continue to see me. After that date, we were pretty much an item. We didn’t live in the same town or go to the same high school, but the following school year we both entered the same college and we’ve been hanging out together ever since. I know what a difference prom night made in my life.

Of course the world has changed a lot since that evening. The world is different. High school students have different experiences. What is more, I have no idea how typical my high school experience was. It is a long and complex story.

I didn’t stay up late last night. Our children are well past the stage of high school dates and dances and our grandchildren are not at that stage yet, though it won’t be long. Our twelve-year-old grandson is a sixth grader this year. He will be a high school student soon.

Another part of the story of this weekend is that I had to decide what to wear to church today. In a way that surprises me, figuring out what to wear to church has become a bigger problem for me in retirement than it was when I was working. When I was a pastor serving a local church, I always wore a dress shirt and a tie on Sundays. I didn’t have to think about what to wear. But that has all changed, too. Casual dress is the norm at the church of where we are members. Although I am serving as an interim minister of faith formation, it is not expected that I dress up for Sunday worship. I’ve worn a suit and tie twice this spring, once on Easter and again on the weekend we hosted the annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ. Both times I was the only person in the church who was wearing a suit and tie. I don’t see many men wearing ties these days. Casual dress is a bigger challenge for me. I don’t feel right wearing jeans or cargo pants to worship on Sunday, so I still wear dress slacks most weeks. I usually wear a long sleeved shirt with a collar, though there are plenty of polo and t shirts in the congregation.

Today is wear orange day. Fortunately I do own a couple of orange shirts. I like bright colors. Our church is observing Wear Orange Weekend, and there is a special program set for the church parking lot after worship for National Gun Violence Awareness Day and Wear Orange Weekend. It is a national observance that begins with a tragic story.

On January 21, 2013, Hadiya Pendleton marched in President Obama’s second inaugural parade. One week later, Hadiya was shot and killed on a playground in Chicago. Soon after this tragedy, Hadiya’s friends commemorated her life by wearing orange, the color hunters wear in the woods to protect themselves and others. Wear Orange is not observed every June. Thousands of people wear the color orange to honor Hadiya and the more than 43,000 Americans killed and approximately 76,000 others shot and wounded every year.

The students who attended prom last night have grown up in a world that expects gun violence. They have been through lock downs when threats of violence were detected at their schools. They have grown up with news of gun violence that can occur in all kinds of places: an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; a grocery store in Buffalo, New York; a party in San Bernardino, and graduation ceremonies. We mourn that our students have come to accept this threat as a normal part of their lives.

And I have a personal story of my own life that makes this observance important to me. I’ve told the story a lot of times and I don’t want to write all of the details in my journal today, but the short version of the story is that on that prom night - the night of my first date with the woman who now has been my wife for nearly 50 years - I was awakened a few hours after having gotten to bed with the news that my oldest sister had died. She had been shot while dancing with her husband.To say the least, my memories of that weekend are mixed. And it is a bit unsettling for me to have Wear Orange Weekend and prom weekend come together in our community.

I won’t be telling the story of my prom weekend today, though I did share the picture of Susan in her prom dress with the mom of a high school student who attended prom last night. All I said was that prom left me with life-long good memories. It is true, but that is only part of my story. What I will do today is to wear orange to church - a shirt that I would never wear with a suit and a tie. And, after church, as people gather in the parking lot to hear speakers including a state senator and the chief of police in the city where I live, the program will begin with a lone trumpeter playing taps. That will be my contribution to the program. That bugle call is always accompanied with a lot of memories for me. I’ve played it a lot of times. Today I add another layer of meaning to the song.

A.I. isn't intelligent

In March, after San Francisco start-up Open AI released a new version of Chat GPT, more than 1,000 technology leaders and researchers signed an open letter calling for a six-month moratorium on the development of new systems because artificial intelligence (A.I.) technologies pose “profound risks to society and humanity.” Several days later, 19 current and former leaders of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, a 40-year-old academic society, released their own letter warning of the risks of A.I. That group included Eric Horvitz, chief scientific officer at Microsoft, which has deployed Open AI’s technology across a wide range of products.

One person who didn’t sign either of those letters was Dr. Geoffrey Hinton, often called “the Godfather of A.I.” However, in late April, Dr. Hinton officially joined a growing chorus of critics who say that the tech industry’s biggest companies are racing toward danger with their aggressive campaign to create products based on generative artificial intelligence. He has said that he quit his job at Google, where he worked for more than a decade and became one of the most respected voices in the field, so that he can freely speak out about the risks of A.I. A part of him, he has said, now regrets his life’s work.

Generative A.I. can already be a tool for misinformation. Somewhere down the line, industry leaders say, it could be a risk to humanity. “It is hard to see how you can prevent the bad actors from using it for bad things,” Dr. Hinton said.

One of the things that has raised alarm in industry leaders is the astounding speed with which A.I. systems have developed. Progress that until recently was believed to take a half century or more has been accomplished in less than five years. “Look at how it was five years ago and how it is now,” Dr. Hinton said of A.I. technology. “Take the difference and propagate it forwards. That’s scary.” His immediate concern is that the internet will be flooded with false photos, videos and text, and the average person will “not be able to know what is true anymore.”

“The idea that this stuff could actually get smarter than people - a few people believed that,” he said. “But most people thought it was way off. And I thought it was way off. I thought it was 30 to 50 year or even longer away. Obviously, I no longer think that.” He is worried that future versions of the technology pose a threat to humanity because they often learn unexpected behavior from the vast amounts of data they analyze. As individuals and companies allow A.I. systems not only to generate their own computer code but actually run that code on their own, truly autonomous weapons become a reality.

I am not an engineer. I don’t think like an engineer. But as an educator, I can freely question these emerging technologies. Part of the problem is that as good as artificial intelligence is, it is not at all like human intelligence. It is good at a particular type of thinking. And it shouldn’t surprise us that what artificial intelligence does is logical mathematical thinking. That is the type of thinking that is required for the development of computers and related technologies. I have often told the story of a young man, who struggled with learning disabilities. He would be diagnosed as being somewhere on the Autism Spectrum these days. In his time he had the label “Asperger’s Syndrome.” After struggling to graduate from high school and finally obtaining an engineering degree he went to work for a technology company. His parents, inquiring about his well-being asked about his new job. He reported, “I love it. Everyone here has Asperger’s!” While that observation is not technically correct, it is true that those attracted to work in the industry do have similar patterns of thinking.

Human society, however, doesn’t operate from only one kind of intelligence. While computers may be becoming more and more competent at logical-mathematical intelligence, we writers who use computers understand that they are less competent at verbal-linguistic intelligence. It isn’t just that we are frustrated by the spelling and grammar checkers in our word processing programs. Computers are not good at understanding the order and meaning of words, especially oral language. They are not good at understanding the sociocultural nuances of language, including idioms, plays on words, and linguistically-based humor. Consider the artificial voices of our GPS units, robot calls, and other technologies. The oral language of computers is not sophisticated.

Technology has become advanced at the manipulation of visual images and designs, but it is not “art smart.” Computers can recognize patterns of shapes and colors in the environment. They can work jigsaw puzzles (or at least computer simulated jigsaw puzzles), but they are not good at forming mental images and imagination. Computer generated art tends to be repetitive and boring.

And computers suck at Intrapersonal intelligence. My computer spell checker thinks that “Intrapersonal” is the same as “interpersonal” and tries to replace my spelling, demonstrating its lack of verbal-linguistic nuance. Self-reflection is not a skill of computers. It shouldn’t surprise us as self-reflection is not a strength of the mathematical-logical thinkers who have led the development of computer technologies. To put it simply, computers do not have inner feelings, values, or beliefs. Human beings, however do, making us in general far more aware of our thinking processes than the machines. While I’m at it, computers are also not good at interpersonal intelligence. They do not work and relate to humans as parts of a team. They are incapable of understanding other points of view. Computers (along with many computer engineers) cannot demonstrate sensitivity to the feelings and ideas of others. Don’t expect them to provide leadership in conflict resolution, mediation, or finding compromise.

I can go on and on. While computers can be useful in locating places like GPS units, they do not exhibit abilities in the full range of recognition, appreciation, and understanding of the natural environment. They can be used to imitate music and rhythm, but lack the sophistication and teamwork of a symphony orchestra. They can reproduce melody and rhythmic patterns, but are not sophisticated with the whole realm of sound, tones, beats, and vibrational patterns.

I share the caution experts are voicing about artificial intelligence. My caution comes from the fact that it is not truly intelligence. It is, at best, capable of partial intelligence. I don’t mind using a computer, but I won’t be falling in love with one. No matter how good artificial intelligence becomes it cannot replace human relationships.

In the end, love is stronger than fear. If we fear artificial intelligence, we must continue to learn to love. And that, friends, is a capacity that computers do not possess.



Many years ago I had a conversation with a colleague of a very conservative, Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Church about some missionaries he either knew or at least knew of who had been arrested in China. I knew a little bit about Christian missions in China because of the work of churches related to our denomination and partnerships with our church and churches in China. Christianity arrived in China very early. There is an ancient tablet that reports accounts of Christian congregations established as early as 635 in China. My colleague, however, had believed that Christianity had been eliminated from China by the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s and 1970’s. While it is true that Christian ministers and lay leaders suffered persecution during the Cultural Revolution, Christian believers and Christian congregations continued to serve throughout that time. I have since met Christians who were born and raised in China and heard of the stories of their churches.

My colleague’s story was of people who had been arrested for smuggling bibles into China. I commented that smuggling bibles into China was a rather senseless activity for several reasons. I knew that proselytizing or attempting to change a person’s faith or religious beliefs was illegal in China at that time, that English language Bibles were of little use to Chinese Christians and that our church had partnerships with the Chinese Christian Council that were in the process of forming a press to print Bibles in China. The press was not underground, but rather being organized legally with full knowledge of the Chinese government. Amity printing has since gone on to print more that 200 million bibles. It has a modern, high production printing operation in Nanjing that is a world leader in thin paper printing.

It has been a long time since I heard the story of people who I thought at the time were associated with the Lutheran church who were arrested for smuggling bibles into China. I don’t remember the details and I think it is quite possible that those people weren’t Lutherans at all. In China there are no significant distinctions between protestant Christian groups. Catholics and protestants remain divided, but protestant churches work together through the Chinese Christian Council.

Over the years, I have made a few jokes about smuggling bibles into China as friends have visited and worked with Christian organizations in China. I led the curriculum development team for International Pilgrimages with Youth and helped produce educational resources for teens and young adults from the United States who made visits to China and were hosted by Chinese Christians and learned of the rapidly growing Christian movement in China. As we watched the growth of Amity Foundation and its bible printing operation, we understood that smuggling English language bibles into China was a futile effort when partnerships with Chinese Christians were making bibles available to Chinese Christians in quantities that no smuggling operation could ever match.

I haven’t though about bibles in China for many years. But this week, boxes of bibles arrived for this Sunday’s bible presentation at our church. We had ordered the bibles to present to families. Our church presents bibles to third-grade students and Bible story books to families of younger children. This year, after reviewing dozens of children’s bibles and bible story books, our Faith Formation Board chose Spark bibles. Spark bibles are produced by Augsburg Fortress, a publishing company organized to serve Lutheran churches with resources. The colorful books are printed with the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible accompanied by prompts for discussion and conversation. We have used Spark bibles in our educational programs for several years.

I was surprised to find labels on the cases of Spark Story Bibles that we will preset to families that said “Made in China.” It made me laugh. I announced to Susan, “Those crafty Lutherans! They’re smuggling Bibles out of China!”

Of course there is no smuggling involved. Our society, including suppliers of Christian faith formation resources, participates in a global economy. Church organizations, seeking to stretch limited budgets as far as possible, often find that it is less expensive to use resources that are produced in places with lower costs of production than those in the United States. While we hope and pray that these lower priced items are not produced at the expense of workers’ rights, we acknowledge that sometimes the best sources for resources lie outside of our national borders. The Christian church is truly an international movement and we have contacts and do business with people around the globe. It doesn’t surprise me that Augsburg Fortress has resources that are printed in China.

The juxtaposition of a remembered story about smuggling bibles into China and receiving bibles printed in China for use in our church here in the United States reminded me of the value of working with local partners in the church. So often well-meaning Christians have participated in exploitation and cultural exportation while meaning to share faith. Instead of working with local persons of faith, they have tried to impose cultural norms in inappropriate and damaging ways. Christians have participated in a lot of ventures including boarding schools that sought to suppress indigenous language and disrupt indigenous families. A great deal of damage has been done in the name of spreading religion. Our church has learned through a long history of Christian mission work to forge partnerships with local people of faith. Part of the International Pilgrimages with Youth program was to help young people become exposed to Christian leaders and other people of faith in other countries and other cultures. Our country and our language are not the only ways of expressing Christian faith. There is a long history of the church in places far from our home with very different traditions and cultures.

Still, those Lutherans can be very crafty, and I feel fortunate to have connections with them and to have access to faith formation resources that have been produced by Lutherans. We are partners in teaching faith and Spark Story Bibles are very helpful tools for families. We are happy to have Story Bibles to present to families in our church this Sunday even if they are “smuggled” from China.


I was six years old the first time I visited Washington, DC. We had an aunt who lived nearby in Maryland and family was the focus of our visit, but we did a lot of tourist activities on that visit. We went to the Capitol, and the monuments on the national Mall. We climbed the steps to the top of the Washington Memorial. We gazed at the giant Statue of Lincoln and read the quotes on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial. We stood in front of the bronze statue in the Thomas Jefferson memorial chamber. We visited several of the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, including the history museum where we saw the displays of dresses of First Ladies of the United States and walked by rows and rows of antique farm machines.

Our family returned to Washington, DC again when I was a teenager and we repeated visits to many of the places we had earlier visited. This time we had an extensive tour of the capitol building where my aunt was then a congressional secretary. The capitol was undergoing some remodeling that year and our personalized tour included a glimpse from afar of the plans for the building that were hand drawn on linen cloth.

On neither trip, however, did we visit the National Air and Space Museum. It isn’t that our family would ever pass up a display of airplanes. Both of my parents were pilots and we all were interested in aviation. Rather, the National Air and Space Museum had not yet opened. The first time I got to visit that museum was when we took our Children to Washington, DC many years later. On that same trip we got to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum which was fairly new at the time. We don’t get to Washington, DC very often, so we have not been to the National Museum of the American Indian. There always be more to see.

Museums have always been one of the things we have done as a family, both in the family in which I grew up and the family we formed after my wife and I were married. Susan and I continue to visit museums from time to time when we travel. We’ve been to museums in many different locations around the world. As a result, I pay attention to the opening of new museums and the changes in which museum displays and educational opportunities have changed over time.

With a daughter who lives in South Carolina, I’ve been considering a visit to one of our nation’s newest and long-awaited museums. The museum is located in Charleston, a little over 100 miles from where our daughter lives. We’ve never been to the coast of South Carolina so if we go, I think we’d plan a multi-day excursion from the home of our daughter and her family, but that isn’t out of the question. After all we are going to retire again this summer and we may well make a visit during the time between jobs.

There have been years of delays, but the International African American Museum has set its opening date for June 27, just after the Juneteenth holiday. The museum is situated in a $100 million building at Gladsden’s Wharf, which was once one of the most prolific slave-trading ports in the US. The building is constructed atop 18 stilts and is designed to not touch the ground as a sign of respect for the enslaved people who once walked the land below. The art and historic artifacts within the museum tell the story of the Middle Passage, in which millions of Africans were captured and forcibly brought across the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite the efforts of media personalities and politicians to stir up what has been labeled culture wars, and despite efforts to place limits on the teaching of the history of racism in this country, it is important for us as citizens to learn as much truth about our past as possible. The famous quote attributed to writer and philosopher Georg Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” rings true. And sometimes remembering the past involves being made uncomfortable by what is remembered. Learning to venture into areas of discomfort is part of developing critical thinking skills and developing true maturity. Discomfort, like pain, is an effective teacher.

I remember the dis-ease with which our family toured the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. For me personally it brought back memories of walking on the gravel pathways of Dachau Concentration Camp during a visit to Germany. Stepping out of comfort zones is a part of travel that results in growth in understanding and wisdom.

I expect that part of the process of visiting the International African American Museum will be to be made uncomfortable. As a white person who has enjoyed privilege that came in part from the history of exploitation of Africans, the museum may invoke feelings of guilt even though there is no recored of my family members having participated in slavery. Nonetheless I have needed to be educated about my own racism, often implicit racism. So while I don’t expect a visit to the museum to be comfortable, I do expect it to be a valuable education.

I am grateful for those who have preserved artifacts and curated collections and created museums where members of the public can come for learning and growing. I’ll continue to visit museums when the opportunity presents itself. Of course institutional museums are only one source of information and education, but they are an important source. They are accessible to all people. Museums are usually free or inexpensive to visit. And museums have come a long ways since the days of rows of glass cases of carefully labeled artifacts. Modern museums are filled with interactive experiences and multi-media and multi-sensory displays.

I’ll continue to pay attention to the opening of new museums and compile my own personal lists of museums visited and museums I hope to one day visit. I’ve still got a lot to learn.

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