Life on the shore


From Google Maps

There are many places along the shoreline of the world’s oceans where when you look over the water to the horizon, all you can see is more water. The view from our little bay is quite different. Even though we are on the west coast of the United States, when we look out from our little bay, the entire horizon consists of land. What we are looking at are a lot of islands. We can see a few of the San Juan Islands, which are part of the United States, most notably Orcas Island, which is fairly large and has a high mountain with a lot of antennas at the top that make it easy to identify. To see the San Juans, however, we have to be looking to the Southwest.

Straight west of us is a series of Canadian Islands in the Straight of Georgia known as the Gulf Islands. And behind them, stretching for as far as we can see north or south is Vancouver Island, on which are many cities and towns including Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, which is actually south of where we live.

There are many days when we can’t see the high mountains of Vancouver Island because of clouds and fog. And there are days when we can’t see any of the islands because of clouds and fog. Sometimes when we stand on the beach the Salish Sea seems small, like a lake, with land on the other side, even though it is, in reality, connected with the vastness of the Pacific Ocean - the largest ocean on our planet.

The Pacific got the name by which we call it from Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. In 1520, after a treacherous journey to find the “Spice Islands”, now known as the Malaku Islands in eastern Indonesia. He and his crew had sailed across the Pacific for a huge distance for a long time. They sailed from Spain to South America and around the tip of the continent. Then they sailed west across the south Pacific to Southeast Asia where he gave the body of water its name. Their journey continued from that point across the Indian Ocean to Africa, around the souther tip of Africa and up its west coast to return to Spain.

The name Magellan gave to the ocean is a misnomer. The huge body of water is not peaceful despite the name he gave it. Magellan never saw the North Pacific up to the Gulf of Alaska, where powerful winter storms raise huge waves and the weather patterns that affect the countries of Canada and the United States form the clouds that distribute winter snows. The ocean is vast and varied, full of currents. Beneath the waters the ocean floor is varied with trenches and underwater mountains. A few of the tallest mountains appear above the surface as islands such as Hawaii. The deepest part of the Mariana Trench, called Challenger Deep, is nearly 36,000 feet below the surface of the water.

Compared to the open ocean, the Straight of Georgia, which got its modern name from Captain George Vancouver, who sailed into it in 1792. Vancouver wasn’t the first European explorer to enter the waters near our bay. A year earlier Francisco de Eliza explored the coast and gave Spanish names to many of the geographical features. Among the features that retained their Spanish names is the Eliza Island, near Lummi Island. Many other features, including our Birch Bay, received their names from the Vancouver Expedition as the English were the dominant colonizers for a long time in this region.

Of course all of the features we call by the names on the map had different names before European explorers arrived. People have lived in this region since time immemorial. There are many different Salish tribes. Our bay was a food gathering area for the Lummi People and was often visited by Nooksack who lived in the mountains to the east. They had their own names for the various places where they fished and paddled and camped. They had their own names for the majestic mountains that rise east of where we live. The Nooksack called the mountain we call Baker, Kollia-Kulshan, which can be translated “white mountain.” The name makes sense because it is covered in snow all year around and it shines in the evening light when the skies are clear.

All of this is new learning for me. Having lived most of my life nearly a thousand miles from any ocean, I learned that the United States stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean between Canada and Mexico. I knew that the 49th parallel was the boundary between the United States and Canada, which is the case in Montana, North Dakota, and Idaho, the border states where I lived. That is also true out here when it comes to the mainland. But in the ocean the border dips south and wanders through the islands so that where we live Canada is our neighbor to the west as well as our neighbor to the north. Instead of thinking of our place as where the corner of Washington meets Canada to the north and the Pacific to the west, in reality, we are a corner tucked into Canada which wraps around us.

Pacific is a good name for the relationships between us and our Canadian neighbors. Our countries have enjoyed peaceful relations for most of our history. There are a lot of cross border families in our county, whose members live on both sides of the border. We know couples with one partner born in Canada and the other in the US. We have friends whose children live on the other side of the border. I know a man who drives his truck across the border multiple times nearly every day.

And our waters, being protected by the islands to the west, are peaceful. Often the water in our by is so calm that there is no surf. We are shielded from the worst of the storms of the North Pacific. And we are treated to glorious sunsets whenever we take the short walk to the beach.


Advent preaching 2023

As far as I know, I will not be preaching any sermons during Advent this year. But that has not kept me from thinking about the challenges that are being faced by preachers this season. The unique confluence of history and scripture present challenges for preachers that are more intense than anytime in my career as a minister.

Advent always begins with the texts of the prophets and Isaiah is the featured prophet of Advent. In the revised common lectionary, Isaiah is the dominant Hebrew text. Texts from Isaiah are read all four Sundays of Advent in Year A, and three of the four Sundays in Year B. In year C other prophets are featured, but Isaiah 12:2-6 is read as the song on the third Sunday. In congregations where all of the lectionary texts are read, Isaiah is read every Advent, including the first three weeks of Advent this year. Sunday’s reading is from chapter 64, verses 1 - 9. The text speaks of the people of God as clay in the hands of a potter: “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (64:8) It also contains a blanket communal confession: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (64:6) Further, it speaks of a sense of despair at the conditions faced by Israel in the time of the prophet: “There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.” (64:7)

The job of a preacher in interpreting Biblical texts is to enable worshipers to see connections between the historic texts of our people and the events of their lives in the world today. There is no mistaking Isaiah’s blunt criticism of Israel over its historic behavior. Isaiah goes on, chapter after chapter with harsh criticism of the ways in which Israel had drawn away from its calling from God, made deals with the political superpowers of the region, and was facing imminent threat. The book of Isaiah as it appears in our Bible, however, spans many generations of prophetic thinking. Chapter 64 comes from the third section of the book, which reminds Israel of the promises of God as it experienced exile and the beginnings of return from that exile.

A good preacher helps people to see the situation in biblical times as well as the contemporary situation and promotes understanding of the similarities and differences. It is the contemporary situation that provides a challenge to preachers that exceeds any that existed during my time of ministry.

I don’t have to remind you of the contemporary situation in Israel, but a thoughtful preacher cannot ignore it in addressing a congregation today. On October 7 of this year the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas, led a series of coordinated terror attacks against Israel. The attacks began on a Sabbath and a Jewish holiday and are referred to some as the Simchat Torah Massacre and others as Black Saturday. In a single day at least 859 Israeli civilians and 348 Israeli soldiers and police officers were killed. 250 civilians and soldiers were taken as hostages including about 30 children. Since that day the total death toll has risen to include 1,200 Israelis, including 368 soldiers, 10 security agents and 59 police officers. At least 5,132 Israelis have been wounded. The attacks were aimed at civilians. Over 100 civilians, including children, were massacred at a single kibbutz.

The government of Israel has responded forcefully. The Gaza Health Ministry reports 14,000 Palestinian casualties, including 5,000 children with thousands missing. The war that has followed the terror attacks is the bloodiest in the history of Gaza, exceeding the combined death toll of all of the Intifadas.

The casualties have not been limited to Israel and Palestine. Citizens of 38 other countries are among the war dead, with citizens of an additional four countries among the missing. Although exact numbers are difficult to discern among the confusion of war, with at least 33 citizens of the United States among the dead and another 13 missing, some of which may have been kidnapped by the terrorists.

In the midst of the tragedy and horror of war, it is difficult to speak with clarity. In my opinion it would be presumptive and arrogant for a preacher to take sides in the conflict. There are no winners in war. Innocents have been killed by both sides. As I write a fragile truce is holding and some of the hostages have been released. Promises of the release of additional hostages and prisoners continue.

The preaching challenge remains. How are we to be faithful to the historic prophet and the traditional words of our faith in the face of a contemporary war where innocents have been targeted. To read Isaiah’s criticism of Israel as judgement on the contemporary government of Israel is wrong. To assume that the actions of the government of Israel reflect the faith and ethics of individual citizens is wrong. To judge people based on their religious affiliation is wrong. However, in my judgment, ignoring the texts is also a mistake.

Were I preaching, I would go beyond the texts offered by the lectionary to additional texts of the prophet. I would remind worshipers of Isaiah’s promises of an end of warfare and a return of peace with justice. I would encourage people to refrain from taking sides and applying labels to innocent people on both sides of the conflict who have been swept up in war. I would remind people of the sacrifice of aid workers and journalists who have been killed in trying to bring comfort and accurately witness to the events of these troubled days. I would join with the prophet in a cry for justice and a prayer for peace.

It is not an easy task. I do not envy the preachers who honestly wrestle with what to say. Neither do I excuse those who fail to speak to the reality of these times in their Advent preaching. These are difficult days and our people deserve leaders who have the courage to tackle difficult subjects.

Grandpa's wandering thoughts

I remember a family vacation from around the time I was 10 or 12 years old. My parents were involved in aviation and farm service and summer vacations were relatively rare. It was easier for our father to take time away from work during the winter. However, with a household of school-age children, summer vacations did occur. This particular trip was not taken by airplane, but rather was a small road trip. We drove from Montana to Colorado, returning through South Dakota for a visit to the Black Hills. We had been to the Black Hills before and were familiar with some of the attractions, but there was something different about this particular trip: fog.

We tried twice on different days to see Mount Rushmore, but both days the fog was too thick to see the carved mountain from the visitor’s center. In my memory the high point of the trip was swimming at Evans Plunge in Hot Springs, but I also have a clear memory of being at the visitor’s center of the National Monument straining to make out some understanding of the giant faces that were so close, but remained unseen.

Now, having live in the hills for 25 years of my life, I know that there are foggy days in the hills. Because the hills rise significantly higher than the surrounding landscape, clouds are occasionally trapped by the rising land and remain for a short time. Fog can be quite variable in the hills. There were days when we rose to bright sunshine and blue skies at our house and drove through dense fog on our way to the church and arrived to a gloomy low overcast. There were other days when it was foggy at home but not so at the church.

In South Dakota, however, if you didn’t like the weather, all you had to do was wait. Although I remember multiple foggy days in a row during my childhood vacation, such weather is really very rare in the hills. It is more common for a foggy morning to yield to a sunny afternoon. A clam day can become blustery in a few hours. Rapid changes in temperatures and weather conditions are common.

The fog here is somehow different from what we experienced in South Dakota. This time of the year, when temperatures are low, banks of fog form over the ocean and a slight breeze will bring them over the adjacent land like a blanket. Many days the sunshine will heat the fog enough that it lifts and visibility returns. On other days, however, the fog acts like a bit of insulation and the temperature remains the same through the whole day.

We’ve had quite a bit of fog in the past couple of days. On Sunday the fog was so thick that I couldn’t see the pilings and dock as the ferry pulled up to our island destination, but our return a few hours later was made under bright sunny skies. Yesterday, however, the fog lingered all day. It would be thicker at times and thinner at others, but there was fog all day long.

I went to the farm in the afternoon to meet the school bus while our son was at work and our daughter in law was running a few errands. The bus pulled up on time, its bright flashing lights reflecting off the fog and lighting up the whole area. Meeting the school bus, especially on days when our granddaughters don’t expect us to be the ones waiting, is a treat for the soul of an old grandfather. I get a couple of warm hugs as the girls bound from the bus. The driver gives me a warm greeting.

The century-old farmhouse is a bright center on a foggy day. Although on sunny days the windows make the kitchen bright, on foggy days there are plenty of electric lights to make the whole farmhouse glow with an inviting warmth and light.

Yesterday the younger granddaughter headed for a snack first. I remember well the stage in the lives of our children when they were hungry and needed to eat as soon as the school day ended. The work of school consumes a lot of energy and a body needs fuel. I also think that some children are far more interested in the social aspects of school lunch than the food. When I ask what our grandchildren ate for lunch the answer is often a much lighter meal than my typical noontime repast. Out came pretzels and yogurt and some kind of crunchy cereal.

Only one of the granddaughters was hungry, however. The other sat at the same dining table, but quickly pulled out paper and colored pencils and pens and began to draw. She was intent on drawing a four frame cartoon. “Art that tells a story,” she declared. She worked on her art, not pausing for a snack until her mother and brothers arrived a little while later.

The simple joy of having time with our grandchildren is something that I don’t think I fully understood until I reached this phase of my life. It isn’t that I am bored. I have lots of activities to fill my days. I have a list of uncompleted projects that could clearly keep me busy for years to come. And it isn’t that I am starved for contact with other people. I had a two-hour meeting with colleagues from around the country yesterday. I exchanged meaningful email correspondence with several folks. I made a trip to town and had pleasant conversation with clerks in a couple of different stores. My wife is a delightful and very interesting conversation partner.

There is, however, something unique and wonderful about the gift of time with children. Their lives are quite different than my childhood experiences. It seems that there are always new things that I can learn from them.

Sometimes, in church meetings, we speak of the importance of intergenerational experiences as if they were programs that benefitted only children. In this time of fewer children in our churches, congregations are eager to seek programs that are meaningful for children. I know, however, that intergenerational experiences are just as vital and important to seniors as they are to children. Fortunately for me, I have grandchildren to prove the point.


A couple of events this past week have surprised me. Maybe it doesn’t take much to entertain me these days, but somehow these things seem worth remembering.

We have two remote devices for opening our garage door. One is in our car, which is stored in the garage. That one gets used a lot as we come and go from our house. The other one is in our truck. It doesn’t get used very often. Our truck is too tall for our garage door and it sits outside in the driveway when it is not being used. We drive our truck a lot less these days, as we often are traveling together or one of us is at home while the other is running errands. The two remote devices are not the same. One came with the house when we purchased it. The other was purchased from the Internet and is a different size and shape. The devices use different types of batteries. On Friday, we had both vehicles over at our son’s farm. I was at the farm cleaning up a couple of trees that we had cut in the orchard in preparation for new fruit trees that will be planted in the spring. Since I was using the chainsaw, Susan stopped by while I was felling the trees as a safety observer. She then returned home while I continued to pick up and haul branches and logs. When she got home, her remote device would not work to open the garage door. She got out of the car and used a keypad to enter a code that opened the door and put the car away. Later I returned with the truck. Because my clothes were covered with tree pitch and sawdust, I entered the house through the garage to shed my outer garments there rather than track dirt into the house. When I pushed the button on the remote in the truck the garage door didn’t open. I used the keypad to enter. I mentioned what had happened to Susan, who reported her experience to me.

I assumed that because both remotes were not working it must have something to do with the synchronization of the remotes. After all the opener was working when activated by the keypad or the inside switch. After trying several possible remedies and trying to diagnose the problem, I checked and I had a replacement battery on hand for one of the remotes. I replaced the battery and it worked perfectly. Later that day I stopped at the hardware store and picked up a replacement battery for the other remote. Problem solved! We are still wondering what the odds are of both batteries expiring on the same trip from the house. It seems like a highly unlikely event. Our son and his wife were entertained by the story when we reported it to them.

Then, yesterday, we had the fun experience of providing pulpit supply to a small congregation on an island not far from our home. We have visited the congregation a couple of times and enjoy the warmth of their fellowship. They have a wonderfully gifted pastor who is leading the congregation well. Part of the role of retired pastors is to support the ministries of active clergy, so when we were asked to supply the pulpit so the pastor could have a weekend off from work, we were glad to accept the invitation. It was a holiday weekend and the island community has many worshipers who have cottages on the island, and also have homes on the mainland. Attendance at the church was light yesterday. I think there were only 20 or 25 people total in the room including us. The congregation has an excellent pianist and they sing well together and worship was delightful. Although I’m a bit rusty, I think I delivered an acceptable sermon. I mentioned my home town and our school mascot during the sermon. It is something I frequently do when there are references to shepherds in the biblical texts chosen for worship. Yesterday being the festival of the reign of Christ, the gospel reading was about the separation of sheep from goats. After worship, congregation members served pie and coffee because they had hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for the community and there was leftover dessert. We stayed for quite a while after worship and were able to talk to most of the people who attended. One gentleman came up and introduced himself to me and commented that he enjoyed the sermon and could identify with my reference because he was born in the same small Montana town where I was born. His name was familiar to me and I knew his cousins and had often visited on the family homestead where his father had been working when he was born. He is a few years older than I and I don’t think we spent any time together as children, but it seems amazing that two people out of twenty attending worship on a small island in the Salish sea would have been born in the same small town of less than two thousand 850 miles away. I knew that he is older than I because he was born in a large private home a block away from our home that served as the community’s hospital and I was born in the “new” hospital behind our home that was built three years before my birth.

I am delighted with the simple joy of surprising events and chance meetings. When I read the opening of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible about the author’s experience of boredom and the repetition of life, I sense the contrast of that author’s experience with my own. Indeed, it seems to me as I grow older that the world is still filled with wonder and surprise. Those surprises bring a lot of joy to me and make my life seem like a wonderful adventure. They make me eager to go new places, meet new people and have new experiences. Sometimes I even learn new things.

I even have a supply of two different types of spare batteries for garage door remotes. Checking the battery is going to be the first thing I check next time one fails.

Sorting files

I come from a long line of people who kept paper. They kept paper in files and boxes and cabinets. They saved newspaper clippings and programs from special events and notebooks. They wrote journals and on typewriters. It should come as no surprise to me that I have a digital file of journal entries that now includes over 5,000 essays. But there is a big difference between my journals and those of my forebears. I am not keeping paper copies. At least the digital files all fit on a solid state digital drive that smaller than a cell phone. They also exist online where it is difficult to compute the physical space involved. I keep thinking that I need to invest some time organizing and indexing all of those journal entries so that others could sort through them. Right now, the main organizing feature is date. You can pick any date between 2007 and today and find my journal entry for that date through the archives in this web site. And for some of those years, there are files that contain an entire year in a single document.

While I ponder the volume of my journals, I realize that I am unlikely to accomplish all of the digital organization that I can envision. Some of the decisions about what to keep and what to discard will fall to those who come after me. I suspect that much of what is important to me will be less important to my grandchildren, but some of the decisions about what to keep and what to discard will fall to them.

I think about these things from time to time because I am engaged in a monumental task of sorting paper. A lot of that paper comes from those who lived before me.

My mother’s grandfather Roy kept journals. He was a pioneer court reporter in the Montana Territory before the organization of the modern State of Montana. As a trained reporter, he knew how to transcribe conversations and interviews and court proceedings. He applied that skill to his everyday life recording everything from the day’s weather to the number of times one of his children made a bicycle trip to the sermons of their local pastor and some of the pioneer circuit riders. He recorded some important history of the territory, some of which appears to not be recorded elsewhere. But those important recordings, such as transcriptions of sermons by Brother Van and documentation of steamship operations on the Missouri River, are buried in volumes of hand-written notes about the weather, farm production, and everyday life. Reading through his journals is a task that my mother did not accomplish in her lifetime. It is a task that my sister abandoned after attempting it. I don’t think that I will even make the attempt. Somehow, through the complexities of family dynamics, however, I am in possession of those journals - boxes of those journals. I have found a couple of historical archives that are interested in having those journals, but only if they are digitized. They don’t want the paper, but would keep an archive of scanned files.

To get to those files, however, I have to wade through other files. My mother had two large chest freezers in which she kept banker’s boxes of files. She had read that old freezers were good places to keep old papers because of humidity control. It fell to me to deal with the contents of those freezers when a family property was sold. I made a trip to Montana last spring and retrieved the boxes that were in the freezers and arranged for the old appliances to be disposed. Now I’m sorting through those boxes, some of which contain the journals of my great grandfather. I have done enough to discover that those journals are not all that is in the boxes. Among the papers are things saved from my grandfather’s files. He was an attorney and State Senator who served on a number of prominent boards. One of the files that I have recently been sorting, scanning some documents, discarding others, is the record of his time serving on the board of Intermountain Union College. In the fall of 1935, when he was on that board, an earthquake of 6.2 magnitude struck Helena, Montana and destroyed the buildings of the college’s campus. The board made the decision to temporarily move the college to Great Falls. Later the college was moved to the campus of Billings Polytechnic College and eventually the two institutions were merged to form Rocky Mountain College. Both my grandfather and my father served on the Board of Trustees of Rocky Mountain College. I have copies of correspondence and official proceedings from the time of the earthquake that were kept by my grandfather.

My grandfather died before all of his papers were in order. He had files and files of papers, but documents that should have been transferred to places like the college archives never made the trip. Some of those papers can now be transferred to the college archives. Many of them are duplicates of documents that are already held by the college. The man who was president of the college just before I became a student did a masterful job of sifting through those documents and writing a two-volume history of the school and its predecessor institutions. But he did not have access to my grandfather’s files, because they were in boxes in freezers. I’ve been sorting through those papers, keeping a few and discarding a lot. Those that I keep are scanned and stored as digital files and slowly the volume of paper is being reduced. Our house produces over twice the paper for recycling of any other house in our neighborhood. Every two weeks, I carry boxes of paper to the curbside to be loaded into trucks for recycling. Slowly the volume is decreasing.

I realize that my forebears simply were unable to sift and sort through their papers. My mother’s journals are in steno notebooks, hand-written. In the manner of such pads, every other page is upside down which works when you flip through the pads, which are spiral bound at the top, but which defy an automatic document scanner. To prepare a digital file of those notebooks requires hours of editing documents to turn the pages right side up. And much of what is written on those pages has no value to future generations because no one will read through the sheer volume for the few treasures that they contain. However, I run into enough documents that are of great value to keep me engage in trying to organize as I sift and sort.

It remains to be seen whether or not I can get through the task, but I am determined to make a big effort and I am at least decreasing the volume of paper. I am determined not to leave boxes and boxes of papers for my children and grandchildren to sort.

In the meanwhile, I keep writing more and more words. The megabytes of storage have turned into gigabytes. At least future generations won’t have to physically move boxes and boxes of paper if I am diligent and complete my task.


I was a 20 year old college student when I got my first job as a regular preacher. I had led a few worship services in our college chapel and I had participated in a team of students that traveled to area churches to lead worship, but I had not been a preacher prior to that job. Suddenly I was responsible for a sermon every Sunday. I was a student and I had gained confidence in my ability to write, and I had achieved modest success as an orator on our high school speech team, but I didn’t really know much about preaching. I wrote a manuscript every week and I delivered them. Looking back, I am grateful that the small congregation I was serving was so tolerant of my beginner’s mistakes. I got nervous every week. Sometimes I was so glued to my manuscript that I barely looked up at the congregation. Some weeks my ideas were vague and unfocused. Often I addressed the anxieties of a college student more than the lives of the folks in that rural Montana town.

I was nervous about the task every week. I didn’t get over the butterflies in my stomach during that experience. I was, however, headed for theological seminary. I had already decided that I wanted to become a minister and during my time in that position I was accepted as a student in care of my Association and I applied to theological seminaries, choosing Chicago Theological Seminary as the destination for the next phase of my education.

From time to time during my seminary years I had opportunities to preach a sermon. I prepared sermons for preaching classes. I preached at student chapel. I was unsure, however, about pursuing a career as a preacher. I managed to complete two internships without preaching. My first internship was as a youth pastor in a church with seven clergy on staff. When the senior pastor was not in the pulpit there were five other ministers in line ahead of me eager to preach. My second internship was as a pastoral counselor. There was no preaching in the nearly two years I did that work.

My advisor in the clinic where I served as a counselor as well as the director of the series of church-based health clinics, encouraged me to seek a position serving a local congregation for two or three years before returning to full-time health care ministry. I took their advice and Susan and I sought a position we could share as co-pastors. Later I would joke that I didn’t realize that it would take me thirty or forty years to get two or three years’ experience as a pastor. The truth is that I quickly fell in love with parish ministry. It wasn’t the preaching, at least in the early years, that was most attractive. I was drawn to the people I was serving. I loved to hear their stories. I enjoyed visiting their homes. I looked forward to hospital and nursing home visits. I got joy from facilitating local church meetings and organizing the congregation’s work. I loved the challenge of crafting liturgy including writing prayers and responses and even choosing hymns.

I still got nervous about the preaching task. Initially, we rotated that task so I was preaching only every-other week. During the summers the two congregations we served met at the same time so we alternated churches, switching each week. That meant that I was able to use the same sermon two weeks in a row, preaching at different churches. Occasionally members would “catch” me by attending the other congregation, but it was a source of jokes, not complaints from the congregations.

We continued the pattern of sharing the preaching task for the first seventeen years of our careers. When I accepted the call to the Rapid City congregation, however, I became responsible for preaching every week. I remember my nervousness in the early years of that responsibility. I would have an upset stomach every Sunday morning. I took to hiding in my office before worship, simply saying that I needed the time to be ready for worship. I visited with church members after the service, but tried to avoid them before worship. As the years passed, I became more comfortable with the preaching task. In addition to weekly worship, I preached at weddings and funerals. I became active in the work of the conference and national settings of the church and occasionally had the opportunity to preach in other settings. I preached the opening worship at a Conference annual meeting. I preached to a congregation composed mostly of national staff persons at the Amistad Chapel in the building where those who served in our church’s national setting worshiped. Among the congregation at that service was the general minister and president of the denomination.

I worked hard at preaching. I studied other preachers. I listened to a lot of recordings. I made a conscious practice of distinguishing between oral and written language. I developed a small reputation as a good preacher. I started to enjoy the challenge of the task. I became less nervous about delivering a sermon.

Then, in the summer of 2020, 47 years after I took that first preaching position, I retired. I delivered my last sermon and stopped preaching. I accepted one invitation to preach, on Palm Sunday 2021. It was a sermon delivered over Zoom from my living room, without facing a congregation. That is it. Even though I served two years as an Interim Minister of Faith Formation, I did not deliver a single sermon in those years. I missed preaching, but reminded myself that it was time for new leadership to emerge in the church.

Tomorrow I step into the pulpit to deliver a sermon once again. It is a single opportunity, to fill the pulpit while the pastor takes a week off. The congregation is small, similar in size to the one where I began my preaching ministry as a student. It is also rural. This church is located on an island.

And I am as nervous as I used to be. Yesterday I delivered my sermon to the chickens and cat at the farm. I’ve been going over it again and again, making changes every time, wondering if it is relevant and contains words that will connect with the congregation. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to preach once again. I think I would like to do it more often. Still, I am very nervous. Perhaps I have become too old. Maybe I’ve lost the touch. Certainly I’m out of practice. I can’t remember how I learned to relax about preaching. I guess it isn’t like riding a bicycle.

I’ve written an entire essay on preaching and I haven’t even delivered my second post-retirement sermon yet. As eager as I am, I know I’ll be relieved when the service ends tomorrow.


When I was a child, we celebrated Thanksgiving with a mid-day meal. Supper that night had a predictable menu. We took homemade rolls, split them open, added cold turkey meat, cranberries, and other trimmings and had sandwiches. A couple of days later we would have homemade turkey soup for a meal or two. Leftovers are a part of the thanksgiving feast and I have memories of those meals that are as treasured as memories of the original feast.

We are a little bit more restrained in our Thanksgiving menus these days. Yesterday we had a quiet celebration with just the two of us. However, our menu was traditional with turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries and, of course, homemade rolls. We ate our dinner in the evening, so we haven’t gotten to the leftovers yet, but I’m looking forward to lunch today.

I have fond memories of what our mother called smorgasbord. It was a meal, usually supper in the evening as our family had its big meal at noon, that featured small amounts of leftover food. There was plenty to eat, but not everyone could have the same menu, as there might not be enough of any one dish to feed the whole family. It always seemed special to me to be the one to finish up a dish without feeling the obligation to pass it to the next person.

Not everyone has the same feelings about leftovers as I. Our country, in general, has a huge problem with food waste. There is a lot of good food that is simply thrown out. There are some people who confuse “sell by” dates with a deadline to consume food. They read the dates stamped on packages rather than using their senses of sight and smell to determine the freshness of food.

We learned a different practice. In our second and third years of marriage, Susan and I spent our summers as managers and cooks at a church camp that was more than an hour’s drive from the nearest grocery store. One of the things that we learned early in that experience was to serve an abundant and special meal on the evening when the campers arrived. If everyone is raving about the first meal they eat, they find it harder to complain about the menu later in the week. We often would serve a turkey dinner with all of the trimmings on a Sunday evening as new campers were settling into the camp routine. It is remarkably easy to roast several turkeys in an oven while potatoes are boiling on the stovetop. We had a large commercial mixer that could mash huge batches of potatoes. We learned to make gravy. Pies were a bit challenging for dessert, so we generally followed up with another choice. We always made sure that there was enough quantity so that no one felt shorted on food, especially at their first meal in camp.

The rest of the week, we worked leftovers into the menu while making sure that no menus were repeated. The following week, with a new group of campers we might retreat an entire week’s menu. We learned a lot about portions and other ways to minimize food waste during those summers. Learning to prepare meals for large groups of people with only one trip to the grocery store each week taught us a lot about planning and safe food storage. We’ve used things we learned in the decades since.

Our refrigerator in our current home is probably the largest we have ever owned. With just two of us, it would be possible to get by with a smaller appliance, but our kitchen was designed with space for a large refrigerator/freezer unit. In addition we have a chest freezer in the garage for additional food storage. Some leftovers can be frozen and consumed weeks after the meal in which they were the featured menu.

Putting food away after dinner last night got me to thinking about how leftovers can be meaningful parts of giving thanks. Whenever we gathered with our Lakota neighbors during our South Dakota years, there were opportunities to share generous meals. Those providing the meals were careful to prepare more food than would be consumed by the crowd. Whether it was a funeral dinner or a mission gathering, paper plates and aluminum foil were provided and participants were encouraged to take meals home to be consumed later in addition to the meal being shared. The feast always extended beyond the original occasion. Sometimes the meals carried out of the gathering place fed people who could not attend the meeting. Food was taken to elders and other family members who might not have been present at the occasion. Counting the number of people in attendance yielded a much smaller number than the actual count of people served with the meal.

One of the ways of celebrating Thanksgiving is with abundance. We certainly put more food on our table last night than two people could consume. We got out some of our good dishes and nicer napkins and made a celebration of the meal that was visual as well as smelling and tasting good. But we also celebrate Thanksgiving by being careful with the extra food. We have been careful to pay attention to the leftovers as they are put into the refrigerator and we will make a plan to be as careful as possible to avoid wasting any of the food. Turkey bones and scraps of meat will be cooked into soup. There will be sandwiches and re-heated meals from the food. There might even be enough turkey to make a pot pie. Being thoughtful and careful with the bounty of food we enjoy extends our expression of gratitude.

Food scraps that are not consumed are kept out of the garbage that goes to the landfill. We have access to convenient composting at the farm and are careful to separate our waste so that we recycle what we can, compost what we can, and keep the amount that goes to the landfill to a minimum. It is all part of being careful stewards of the resources we have.

You won’t find me complaining about leftovers. They are a treat.


I am aware that there are some problems with the traditional ways in which we have celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States:
  • We have not been accurate in the telling of the story of the Pilgrims of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the devastation experienced by the indigenous people from illnesses introduced by settlers, and the ways in which colonialism continues to oppress and denigrate American Natives.
  • The crass over commercialism of the holiday and its association with a post-holiday shopping spree detract from the meaning of the day.
  • The emphasis on a feast and over eating has not been kind to the overall health of celebrants.

In some ways our Canadian neighbors recognition of an annual day of national thanksgiving holds appeal:
  • After being recognized on several different dates, the date now has landed on the second Monday of October, coinciding with the US recognition of Native American Day, formerly known as Columbus Day. The combination of recognition of the gifts and contributions of Indigenous People with a day of Thanksgiving is appropriate.
  • The day is observed more as a general harvest festival, celebrating the bounty of the land rather than focusing on a narrow group of travelers and explorers who colonized this continent.
  • Canadians are a bit more laid-back in their recognition, without the massive feasts, football, and parades.
  • There is no huge post-Thanksgiving spending season in Canada.

That being said, we will recognize Thanksgiving today. Although I learned from my Lakota Neighbors in South Dakota that every day should be a day of giving thanks, there is something appealing to me about this day which is settled in month that begins with All Saints Day and includes the celebration of the Reign of Christ. Recognition of those holidays help to counter the traditional emphasis on colonialists that has been part of Thanksgiving celebrations. All Saints Day recognizes the contributions of all of our forebears, not just some of them. And Reign of Christ is a repudiation of all colonial powers. Prevailing governments and dominating politicians are not sovereign in God’s realm, where the suffering servant who sacrificed for all is the example of how to live a life of service to others.

I am filled with gratitude for so many things.

I have been amazed and grateful for more than a half a century to be graced with living with a remarkable, beautiful, brilliant partner. I did not earn this relationship through any merit of my own. I continue to be surprised that somehow she took notice of me and fell in love with me. I was not a good student when she met me. She had to teach me how to study. She, on the other hand was smart, witty, and well read. I have relied on her intelligence as a colleague and a partner for all of our life together. I am fortunate beyond words.

I am grateful for the gift of to children who continue to be the best of friends to each other and to their parents. They are accomplished and wonderful. They have navigated their life journeys into adulthood without suffering crippling addictions, life-altering accidents, or severe illnesses that have shaped the lives of so many families. They are bringing forth futures with stable marriages, the gifts of grandchildren, and their incredible abilities to form community.

I am grateful to be surrounded by genuine nurturing communities. Each time we have moved we have been received by loving and supporting congregations who engage us in mission and service, celebrate worship in meaningful ways, engage in the work of justice, and practice radical hospitality to those who have been marginalized.

I am grateful for the gift of health. While I realize that this gift is in some ways temporary and that any person can suffer any kind of illness, we have been extremely fortunate to enjoy excellent health. So far our life journeys have been free from addiction, severe mental illness, and life-threatening disease. We have benefitted from scientific medicine and skilled, caring practitioners. The congregations we have served have provided us with insurance that gives us access to health care that is denied to so many of the world’s citizens. We have been able to obtain health care without the crippling debt that has visited too many of our neighbors.

I am grateful for meaningful work. I had a career of work that I loved and was even able to find a wonderful two-year break from retirement to do work that contributed to others. I have volunteer possibilities that serve others and add meaning to my life. Yesterday I spent the day working at our son’s farm while they traveled for the holiday. There is no shortage of good work on a farm. Caring for chickens and working in the orchard are parts of providing food for our family and others. I have access to a shop filled with tools where I can work at restoring furniture, building boats, and making repairs.

My gratitude list is far more extensive than can be reported in a single journal entry. Thanksgiving is more than a single day. In recognition of that reality, we will be modest in our celebration. Although we have planned a special dinner with some traditional foods, we will avoid over eating. In a little while I’ll start baking rolls, a family tradition. We’ll have turkey and dressing and cranberries. There will be sweet potatoes. And we’ll have leftovers to enjoy for a few days.

As has been our tradition, I will be able to avoid shopping on Black Friday and will refrain from placing online orders on Cyber Monday. I have no need of a television set and I’m far more interested in the things I want to buy rather than the things retailers want to sell. We have been careful in planning our giving that we can be generous all year long and have no need to make Giving Tuesday a single day of generosity.

However you recognize the day, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! May it be a day of expressing the gratitude you feel and dedicating yourself to seeking justice and serving others.

The sounds of words

I grew up in Montana and believed that I didn’t have an accent. It seemed to me that I spoke the way everyone else around me spoke. There is an upper midwestern accent that is sometimes recognized because it can be easily understood by English speakers around the world. Although Montana is on the Western end of that region, the regional accent applies to most people who grew up there.

Before the breakup of the Bell companies, they often sought out operators who were from the upper midwest. The accent aided in communication, whether the person on the other end of the line was from New England or the deep south. In those days, most phone systems had a number that you could call to get the official time. The voice that reported the time was always female with a midwestern accent. It wasn’t by accident. It was part of the system’s attempt to make the service understood by as many people as possible.

Brown College in Minnesota became well-known as a place for students to study to become professional broadcasters. Students in their 5th quarter operated the student radio station and got lots of on-air experience.

I further developed my upper midwestern accent during my time serving as a pastor in Hettinger and Reeder North Dakota. Since I was employed half time as a pastor, I had time to pursue other interests and to support my family, I always had a job on the side. One of the jobs that worked well with my main vocation was as the early morning on-air radio host of a small, 1000 watt local radio station. Each morning, I’d turn on the transmitter and the first thing that was broadcast was my voice: “Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen. You are listening to radio station KNDC broadcasting from Hettinger, North Dakota at a power of 1,000 daytime watts under the authority of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington DC. We now begin our broadcast day.” I read the national and local news from the teletype machine. I played records. I read the markets. I recorded advertisements to be played by all of our on air personalities. I was live for three hours each morning. I was also refining my midwestern accent.

A few years ago a friend in South Dakota told me that I had a North Dakota accent. When I asked him what that was he had me say North Dakota and South Dakota. I had to admit that I pronounced Dakota differently depending on which state I was addressing. Of course, I never became a full-time professional broadcaster and I have preached in many different locations, but I’ve delivered more sermons in South Dakota than any other state. I guess I have an upper midwest accent.

As we travel around, I am aware that there are certain words that don’t always communicate the intended meaning when I say them in particular places. Once Susan and I were someplace in the south, perhaps North Carolina and she ordered a pecan waffle in a waffle house. The waitress couldn’t understand what she was saying. We say pecan this way: “puh-kaan.” Knowing that we were in the south, we tried, “pug-can,” but that didn’t work. Finally the waitress understood what she wanted and said, “O honey, you mean pee-kan!” We’ve laughed about it ever since and each time we travel in the south, we say we’ve got to go back to a waffle house just to order a pee-kan waffle.

Another word that I have noticed is pronounced differently in different parts of the world is caramel. We say it in two syllables:
ˈkɑːr.məl/ caramel
/k/ as in cat
/ɑː/ as in father
/r/ as in run
/m/ as in moon
/əl/ as in label

Our daughter who lives in South Carolina says the same word with an additional syllable:
ˈkær.ə.məl/ caramel
/k/ as in cat
/æ/ as in hat
/r/ as in run
/ə/ as in above
/m/ as in moon
/əl/ as in label

I joke about the fact that my name sounds like it has two syllables in the deep south. I say “Ted.” In the south, I’m often called “Tay-ed.”

The number of syllables can make a difference in poetry. Add or subtract a syllable and the rhythm of the verse can be all wrong. I noticed that the other night at our poetry group. I had written a poem with the word coyote in it. I spent 25 years of my life in South Dakota where the team name of the University of South Dakota is Coyotes. In South Dakota, we say the word with two syllables:
/k/ as in cat
/aɪ/ as in eye
/oʊ/ as in nose
/t̬/ as in cutting

Out here in Washington, most people say the word with three syllables:
kaɪˈoʊ.t̬i/ coyote
/k/ as in cat
/aɪ/ as in eye
/oʊ/ as in nose
/t̬/ as in cutting
/i/ as in happy

If my poem is submitted in writing, some readers will feel that the rhythm is all off and that there are too many syllables in one of the lines, but when I read it, it seems just right. I said to the poetry group, “I’m from South Dakota. We don’t have any coyotes there that can speak Spanish, so we end the word with a ’t’ and don’t add the final ‘i’.” There are some words and some pronunciations that I’m unlikely to learn. One of the things about having passed 70 years is that I can be a bit dogmatic about a few things and get away with it. I guess how to pronounce coyote is one of the things about which I’ve gotten dogmatic. One of my teachers and mentors once responded to a student who accused him of being dogmatic by saying, “Damn right I’m dogmatic, and when you are 74, you can be dogmatic, too!”

Whether or not it has anything to do with dogma, I do have certain ways of saying certain words. After all, I spend seven winters in Nordakota. I’ve earned the right to say the word the way the locals do.

The craft of writing

So much of my life has revolved around the use of language. As a child, I was a voracious reader. I used to check out the maximum number of books our community library allowed on each visit. I read books in my bedroom, in my treehouse, and wherever else I went. As a student, I learned to write. I can’t say I enjoyed all of the exercises in diagramming sentences, but I did learn how to do it with enough accuracy to please my teachers. As a college and graduate student, I earned grades by writing essays and research papers. I managed to be published in a professional journal during my graduate school education. I also succeeded ion publishing a poem in a church magazine that was translated into several different languages including braille. I wrote and defended a position paper and a professional paper to earn my degrees.

As a pastor I wrote and wrote. I wrote prayers, I wrote liturgies. I wrote sermons. Early in my career I made a study of the difference between oral language and written language. I experimented with pitch and rhythm in my speaking. I made recordings of myself speaking and listened to those recordings in attempt to improve my language communication skills. I listened to other preachers and storytellers and imitated their styles as I developed my own style.

While on sabbatical in 2006, I began to write personal essays. in 2007 I started to publish my essays as a blog that evolved into this journal. I’ve written every day without exception since I started to publish my journal on my website. I told myself that I might become a writer if I developed a discipline of writing. I’m not sure that the volumes of words that I have written have improved my skill as a writer, but they have opened the door to more writing.

I have become a critic of some forms of contemporary communication. Last week I visited my sister, who lives in a planned community. There are gates at the entrance to her community. There are signs near the gates that say, “Automatic Gate Ahead, Drive Slow.” On the streets of the community are painted the words, “Drive Slow.” I know that language is constantly evolving. I know that the rules of grammar are changing. But I am not ready to accept a world without adverbs. I was tempted to paint graffiti in her neighborhood to add “ly” to the signs and street painting.

Signs, of course are a unique form of communication. I learned early in my life that the signs near our elementary school that read “Slow School Ahead” were erected to get traffic to slow to protect children, not an announcement of the pace of education. That knowledge didn’t prevent me from making fun of the signs.

I am not good with the language of instant messaging. I send text messages that are complete sentences with punctuation. I eschew repeating exclamation points ad infinitum. I don’t find the need to use more than one per sentence. I’ve been known to write text messages on my computer where I can use a keyboard to write as opposed to the futile exercise of thumbs on a phone keyboard. My thumbs are a bit too wide for the keyboard and I’ve had procedures to treat trigger thumb on both hands. I’m stuck using a single forefinger to “type” on my phone. Still, I take the time to add punctuation and write in complete sentences.

I have little interest in learning the language of emojis. Thousands of years ago, alphabetic languages developed in the midst of dominant cultures that employed pictographic writing. The people of Israel spent many years in close contact with Egypt. The written Hebrew Language developed around an alphabet that allowed writers to express more complex philosophical and theological ideas than could be easily depicted using pictographs. I see emoji as a form of pictographic language. There are ideas that can be communicated with all of the little drawings, but when it comes to exploring complex ideas, using a language that employs an alphabet works far better than creating additional emojis. The pictures will always be imprecise.

Having said all of that, I am not completely lost in trying to enforce rules of grammar. I love to read authors who push the limits of language. Lately, I’ve been reading several different books by Brian Doyle. He is a master storyteller. He is also a master of the run-on sentence. I find myself reading some of his one sentence paragraphs out loud just for the musicality of the words. He pushes the limits of what I have discovered about the distinction between written and oral expression. Some of his writings almost beg to be read out loud - to be spoken and not just viewed. Although primarily known for his novels, I find great delight in his collection of prayers titled “A Book of Uncommon Prayer.” It reads almost like poetry to me. I find myself reading the prayers out loud. I suppose a career in public prayer has given me a propensity to speak prayers, but like Doyle, I continue to write prayers. When I teach, I try to craft a unique prayer for each class session as a discipline of bringing my spirituality to teaching and remind myself that I am as much of a learner as the students in my class.

I belong to a poetry group. We meet over Zoom twice a month and share poems written to prompts. Each meeting begins with our responses to a prompt given at the previous meeting. Then we receive new prompts and write the beginnings of poems in a short amount of time during the meeting. I’m not good at those short five-minute sessions. It seems to take a week of mulling ideas for me to produce a poem. Even then I don’t know enough about poetry to be sure that what I am writing is a poem. Often I think I lack the discipline to become a poet. Lately my poems have resembled Brian Doyle run-on sentences.

Perhaps the future includes new forms of writing that I cannot yet imagine. In the meantime, I intend to continue to use the alphabet, adverbs and punctuation - sometimes all three deftly in the same sentence.

Caring for officers

For many years I served as a member of our community’s LOSS team. The Local Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS) team was a group of volunteers who responded to situations where a suicide had occurred to offer support, information, and follow-up services to family members left behind. In addition to providing first response services, we offered support groups, memorials, and a wide variety of ongoing support for survivors as they navigated the recovery from trauma and adjustment to their new lives of grief and loss. Part of the process was serving as a liaison between family members and law enforcement at the scene of a death. Because we were dispatched by the 911 call center, we often arrived on scene while the investigation was in progress. We worked with survivors and often explained to them the process of investigation and why there might be a delay in viewing their loved one. We sat with family members while they waited for their turn to be interviewed by investigators. As we did so we were careful not to speculate or offer any opinions about what happened. It was important that we did not influence anything that a person might say as the investigation proceeded.

Our training for the work included classes led by coroners in investigation procedures. Some of those classes involved dramatic photographs of death scenes. Over the years as I worked, I became familiar with many deputy coroners and other law enforcement officers. Often I would arrive at the scene and conduct a brief conversation with a law enforcement officer before meeting with survivors. It was common for me to receive graphic reports of what the officers had seen upon their arrival. After we had provided services to survivors, it was common for me to have follow-up conversations with officers that frequently included listening again to the officers’ stories and diffusing some of their emotional reactions to what they had witnessed.

After many years of this process, I became aware that many law enforcement officers were themselves survivors of suicide. Although they may not have lost a family member to suicide, they had been witness to the immediate effects of suicide. Like other survivors they needed a forum to tell their stories and process their emotions. In addition, I attended a number of suicide deaths where the victim was a law enforcement officer, a fire fighter, or another first responder. I became aware of the heavy emotional toll of service in such roles.

As a result of these observations, I eventually became a Sheriff’s Chaplain to serve law enforcement officers in their roles. I served seven years as a chaplain and in some ways became a law enforcement insider. I became friends with many officers, prosecutors, and court officials in the process. When I retired from the parish, I also retired from the LOSS team and from my position as a chaplain.

I continue to reflect on my experiences and even though I have been retired for a little more than three years, I am deeply aware of the psychological effects of law enforcement work. I am especially aware of the process of dealign with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This disorder develops when a person has experienced or witnessed a scary, shocking, terrifying, or dangerous event. All survivors of suicide experience some level of PTSD. The experience of losing a loved one is traumatic and there will be some psychological effects of that experience.

I have personal experiences of PTSD that arose after witnessing a particularly challenging aftermath of a death by suicide and later witnessing a cardiac arrest and the resulting CPR that my wife suffered. Although she has completely recovered from the incident, I experienced flash backs, inability to sleep, and other PTSD symptoms. Fortunately for me, because I was a Sheriff’s Chaplain, I had access to the department psychologist who was a specialist in PTSD and I was able to receive prompt and effective treatment for my experiences.

What I now know is something that I hope can be communicated with all law enforcement officers, their families, and the general public. I know that this is a blanket statement, and some might think it overboard, but I believe that ALL law enforcement officers suffer PTSD to some degree. It is not a matter of whether an officer will suffer PTSD, but rather when.

Despite how we imagine the work of law enforcement, it is not often a process of driving cars fast, facing the threat of injury or death in the actions of a criminal, and saving lives. The job can involve hours of boredom, responding to calls about stolen bicycles, parking violations, and neighbor disputes. There can be long periods of routine patrols, searches for evidence without finding any, and piles and piles of paperwork writing reports. Many officers serve for decades without ever pulling their duty weapons from their holsters except in training exercises. All officers, however, occasionally find themselves in the position of witnessing trauma. Perhaps their role is directing traffic while paramedics perform their duties, and as they do so they recall what they first witnessed upon arriving on scene of the accident. Perhaps they are assigned to deliver news of death in an automobile accident and they witness the reaction of family members to the unexpected loss. Perhaps they arrive at the scene of a domestic dispute and suffer a barrage of angry cursing and shouting. Interspersed with the hours of boring duty are moments of witnessing trauma.

I’ve accompanied officers on hundreds of death notification calls. There are officers with whom I’ve been on multiple such calls. I know how difficult this necessary task is. I’ve had people literally collapse onto the floor in tears upon hearing the news. We learned to invite people to sit down before we delivered the news just so they would have a shorter distance to fall.

Too often the PTSD of an officer goes unnoticed. The officer is not aware of the meaning of their symptoms and does not know how to seek treatment. There is a fear that a session with a psychiatrist might affect the course of one’s career. And like other psychological disorders, symptoms do not go away on their own. Officers can fall into depression and all too often begin to have suicidal ideation. And they are issued and daily carry the means of suicide on their belts. The tragedy that can follow creates yet another round of loss and trauma.

Our county has just elected a new Sheriff and I have already had one conversation with him about care of officers. I found him responsive to the concerns I raised. I am confident that he will respond with additional support services for officers. There is much work that needs to be done. Maybe an old retired preacher can be of help from time to time.

Stewardship Sunday

Over the span of many years, I have raised a lot of money for nonprofits. Of course the largest portion of my time and energy for fund-raising was focused on the churches I served. Along the way, I also raised funds for arts agencies, suicide prevention and response, housing and food services for those who are in need, and a lot of other causes and organizations. I learned a bit about raising money - at least about what worked and didn’t work in the places where I lived.

One of the most important aspects of fund-raising is honesty and openness. People are generous, but they want to have some sense that their donations will be well used. A large part of fund-raising involves telling people exactly why an institution or agency needs donations and exactly what is being done with the money that is being raised. That process, of course, requires open talk about finances. There are a lot of well-meaning and engaged volunteers who shy away from talking about money. That reluctance can make it more difficult to raise funds.

One of the easiest causes for which I raised funds was Habitat for Humanity. People can easily understand what it costs to build a house with no profit and volunteer labor. The money is spent on building materials and the cost of building materials is easy to obtain. Of course the materials to build a Habitat for Humanity home were paid for in a variety of methods. Part of the process was raising dollars that were spent at building supply stores. Part of the process was soliciting and receiving in-kind donations of goods and services. In general, however, it was easy to explain how much money was needed for a specific home’s construction. Millard Fuller, an early leader of Habitat for Humanity, often said, “There are two simple jobs in Habitat for Humanity: building homes and raising funds. If a group doesn’t have funds to build, their primary job is raising money. If they have funds, their primary job is building homes. A board builds until they run out of money. Then they fund raise until they are able to resume building.”

Of course it isn’t quite that simple. Habitat for Humanity does not give away homes. They are built with donated funds and volunteer labor and they sold, at cost, to homeowners who generally have a 20 year mortgage. The funds that are received from mortgage payments are invested in building more homes. A properly run Habitat for Humanity affiliate has growth built into its economic picture. The more homes built, the more money received in mortgage payments and the more homes that can be built. So you have to add to the two jobs of fund raising and construction the job of managing mortgages. And being a mortgage lender is a complex job.

Still, over the years I found it easy to solicit and raise funds for Habitat for Humanity. It was easy to explain why the affiliate needed donations and what happened with the donations received.

Churches should be as simple, in my opinion. Church budgets, at least those of the denomination in which I served, are public. Our congregation’s budget was approved at a congregational meeting each year. It isn’t hard for a church member to find out how church funds are spent. The costs of salaries and benefits are pretty clear. The costs of building maintenance and utilities can be clearly stated. The costs of various programs can be detailed. The congregations with which I have been associated have had personnel and buildings as their largest expenses each year. I used to say fairly frequently that the church budget’s largest item was salaries and that its most expensive salary way mine. I wasn’t afraid to point out what it cost the congregation to have me working for it.

I know pastors who are more reluctant in that area, however. I’ve read a lot of church budgets that lump together all of the salaries and don’t disclose the differences in compensation packages between individual employees. Everyone knows that the church secretary and janitor don’t earn what the lead pastor earns, but the exact breakdown isn’t made clear in the published budgets. Another thing that regularly occurs is that benefits are not listed in the section of the budget where salaries are listed. I’ve seen items such as mileage reimbursement, continuing education, and sabbatical leave placed in program areas of the budget.

In my experience, obfuscation doesn’t aid fund raising. Simple honesty and transparency work better. The people we serve are intelligent and deserve honest answers to simple questions such as “how much does it cost to have a full-time pastor?”

Today is pledge dedication at the church where we belong. This year’s stewardship campaign consisted of a single letter mailed to all members, a series of reminders about pledging that were offered during worship, and today’s service which instead of being held in the sanctuary will be held in the fellowship hall over a breakfast. There have been no meetings to explain the budget yet. We won’t vote on the budget for the coming year until January. It is as if church leaders are being intention about separating income from expense in the minds of congregational members.

I understand that we all need generosity in our lives. It is a blessing to be able to give. We have filled out and returned our pledge card and we will honor that pledge as well as give additional money to special appeals. At the same time, I question whether or not the church will be successful at raising the needed money without being a bit more frank about its needs. In our short time with this congregation, there has never been a second appeal. There has never been an opportunity to make up a shortfall in the church budget. The pledges are totaled, an estimate of additional income is made and the budget is balanced by cutting expenses.

I miss the simplicity of Habitat for Humanity’s simple approach. Determine what God calls us to do. Raise the money to do it. Do the work. It is quite different from “We’ll tell you how much ministry we will do after we see how much money you will donate.” But I am just one church member. And retired ministers should not be the ones in charge of local church decisions. So I’ll be at the breakfast worship and try to participate fully. I’ll attend the meetings and vote on the budget. And I’ll trust the process and leadership of others.

And even though part of me is happy to sit back and not be the one responsible for raising the money, part of me misses that part of my life’s work. I keep having lots of ideas about better ways to fund the ministries of the church. I pray for the grace to keep those ideas to myself and allow others to emerge as leaders.

Telling stories

In the area where I grew up there are a lot of legends about a man who was said to have been named John Jeremiah Garrison, who changed his name to Johnson during the Mexican-American War in he 1840s. After the war he came to Montana territory where he had a variety of different jobs including hunter, trapper, firewood seller, whiskey peddler, cabin builder, and even law enforcement officer. He was briefly the town marshal in Red Lodge, the town where my grandparents lived and he traveled and worked all around the area. There is a cabin where he lived in the 1880s that has been moved next to the tourism office in Red Lodge.

Among the stories about Johnson is that the woman he married was a member of the Blackfoot tribe who was killed by a Crow brave who was a member of a group of hunters. Johnson is said to have engaged in a personal vendetta against members of the Crow tribe. One legend says he personally killed and scalped over 300 Crow men. It is said that he removed and ate the livers of the men he killed. As a result of this story he gained the nickname “Liver-Eating Johnson.”

One version of the story of Liver-Eating Johnson was printed on the menu of a cafe in my home town called Crazy Jane’s. The cafe wasn’t there when I was growing up, but after I became an adult and had moved away from town, the Interstate Highway was built around the town and at the western exit a gas station and cafe were built to serve travelers. When I would return home to visit my mother we would occasionally have lunch or dinner at the cafe.

One noon I went to the cafe with my mother. I don’t remember who all was present at the dinner, but I do remember that my mother’s sister and her husband were there. As we sat around the table waiting for our server to take our meal orders, we read and talked about the menu. Conversation was had about the appropriateness of having the story of Liver-Eating Johnson on the cover of a menu. It may have been at that meal or another time of eating at that cafe that someone asked, “I wonder if they have liver and onions on the menu?” At least I had that question on my mind as I opened the menu that day.

I scanned the Menu and my eyes landed on a Reuben Sandwich. I like sauerkraut and enjoy a good Ruben Sandwich, but I couldn’t bring myself to order one from that menu on that day because my Aunt’s husband’s name was Reuben. I kept trying to suppress a giggle at the thought of ordering a Reuben sandwich while dining with Reuben when the menu featured the story of a man reported to engage in cannibalism.

It is all silliness. If the cafe had featured liver and onions, the liver would have been from beef. That part of the world is cattle country and a lot of beef is served in area cafes and restaurants, most of it coming from local sources. Furthermore, the stories of Liver-Eating Johnson are a mixture of historical fact and more than a small amount of fiction. Legends grow up and thrive on exaggeration. I know almost nothing of the true historical facts of his life - only the stories that were told. And Reuben sandwiches are a combination of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing served on rye bread.

For what it is worth, I somehow associate Reuben sandwiches with kosher delis. I don’t know much about Kosher law, but I’m pretty sure that there is no way that the sandwich as served in popular cafes can be kosher. Combining meat and cheese in the same dish is not kosher.

The story of eating at the cafe with Reuben got told again during my recent visit with my sister. We enjoy remembering past times and experiences. The cafe is no longer named Crazy Janes and I’m sure that the menus with the story of Liver-Eating Johnson are long gone, and that there aren’t very many people who remember them. My mother, my aunt, and her husband have all died. We enjoy visiting with his son Rick and his wife when we are in that part of Montana, but we aren’t very likely to go to a cafe for lunch when we are with them. I still enjoy a good Ruben sandwich from time to time and I can order one in a cafe with a straight face. I can even order one without telling the story of Liver-Eating Johnson. I am not, however, inclined to order liver and onions in a cafe, even if it is featured on the menu.

What is delicious to me these day are the stories.

I think it is possible that the story of the meal in the cafe has been embellished and exaggerated over the years, just as the reputation of Liver-Eating Johnson was embellished and exaggerated in the telling. I’ve told that story a lot of times. I wonder if any of the other people who were at the table even remembered the incident. I think it is possible that it was a bit of personal humor that went unnoticed by my table companions. But it makes a good story to tell decades later. And some of my best stories are combinations of a bit of reality and a bit of fiction.

One of the deep joys of getting together with family and friends is telling stories and as I grow older I’ve become a collector of stories. I’ve got a story for any gathering of folks and I’ve got plenty of them for times when I get together with people I’ve known for a long time. I suspect that my sister has heard most of my stories multiple times, but she politely listens again when we are together.

I enjoy her stories as well.

Sharing Memories

One of the fun things about visiting with my siblings is that we each have unique memories of our childhood and events that occurred in our lives when we were living together. Of course we have lots of shared memories. There were a lot of things that happened that we all remember and it can be fun to recall those memories and tell those stories. But there are also things that I remember that my sister or brother do not remember and things they remember that I do not. In some ways those unique individual memories are the most fun because when I hear one of those it is as if my story is enhanced. There is more to my story than I remember.

One of those memories that is unique to me is of our grandmother, our father’s mother, cooking breakfast for a group of people. It is possible that one of the reasons I have this memory and my siblings do not is that I probably ate breakfast at our grandmother’s home more often. Our father would occasionally stop by his parent’s home on his way home after flying fire patrol over Yellowstone National Park. The airplane that he used for fire patrol was a Piper Super Cub that had only two seats. I got to go with him more often than my siblings. It may be because I am the oldest son and had a privileged position in the family. It may be because I so loved going with my father that I was eager to get out of bed at 4 or 4:15 in the morning while some of my siblings preferred to sleep in. It may be because he was flying more patrols when I was just the right age to go along. Whatever the reason, I did get to go on those trips more often and I did get to go to grandma’s house for breakfast more often.

The memory is simple. There would be a group of five or more people in the kitchen of their house and grandma would ask each of us how we liked our eggs cooked. Some would say, “Over easy.” Others would say, “Sunny side up.” I would say, “Over hard,” or “Stomped on.” Grandma would then proceed to fry a bunch of eggs, at least two per person, in a very large cast iron frying pan. She’d crack the eggs into the pan that was generously greased, usually with bacon grease, and then put a bit of water into the cover and put it onto the pan, broasting the eggs. They were served with the yoke slightly runny. As far as I could tell every egg that was served was the same as each other egg. All were put onto a platter and passed around the table and each person took what he or she wanted. I remember thinking that grandma’s eggs tasted good. I would sop up the yoke with a piece of toast and enjoy the egg. But I’ve always told the story that she would take orders for all kinds of eggs, but deliver only one kind of egg to the table.

As far as I know, however, I am the only person who remembers that story. And none of the other people who were there for those particular breakfasts are alive these days so I have no one with whom to consult. My siblings don’t remember ever having landed at the Red Lodge airport and walking down the hill to our grandparents’ house. I think that I did it multiple times, though I don’t remember how often for sure.

My siblings have their own memories of adventures, events, or family members that I do not share. I know that memory is a very strange thing. In one study of which I have read it was discovered that memories that were repeated more often were less accurate to an objective record of an event than memories the were not common stories, but simply recalled a single time. The more we tell stories, the more we embellish them with details that might not have been part of the original memory. If that study is correct, and if I am remembering it accurately, the memories that we share when we are together that we have not previously shared are perhaps more likely to reveal elements of our past with more accuracy than the stories that we have told over and over again.

I like the possibility that I am developing a more accurate picture of my past through the process of sharing memories with my siblings. Then again, the new discoveries often become stories that I repeat after hearing them and it is possible that each repetition leads me a bit farther from the objective truth behind the story. And many stories in our shared memory bank are ones for which there is no source of objective truth. The only glimpses we have of particular events and activities are our memories. It seems possible that we have some stories where we don’t have memories of the real event, only memories of the stories we have told.

I think I can remember the Christmas when our brother was born. I would have been 2 1/2, and that is pretty young for a memory that persists into adulthood. And my memories closely match the photographs of that event. My sister, who is a little less than two years older than I likely has more memory of the real event as opposed to my memories of family stories that were told over and over again. But I haven’t learned anything particularly new about that event from her. Her memories have blended with the other stories I have been told about the event and make it seem like I can remember at least part of that time in our lives.

Some philosophers have written that the only time we have is the present. Memory is inaccurate and incomplete. We cannot know the future. All we can really know is the present moment and that moment keeps changing as time passes. In real world experience, however, our pasts are our companions and we gain great meaning from recalling them. I feel as if my past is a wonderful part of my present experience even though I acknowledge that my memories are incomplete and in some cases inaccurate.

We are, each of us, a bit of mystery and I love a good mystery.

City time

It is safe to say that I am not a city person. I grew up in a small town, attended a small college and an even smaller graduate school, and served congregations in rural and isolated areas. I also served a congregation in Boise, Idaho, which at the time was a city of about 120,000 people and another in Rapid City, South Dakota, while not one of the world’s large cities, is certainly a regional hub. We have retired to a home in what is called a census designated place. Our community has a name, but is not incorporated. We have to drive for all of our services such as groceries, health care, and such.

I have, however, had to gain a modest amount of urban skills over the years. We went to graduate school in Chicago and for two years I served an internship in the suburbs while living in the city. That meant I had to commute. Granted I was commuting in the opposite direction of the bulk of the traffic, but I did get a taste of urban freeway driving. Then, over the years, we have visited a lot of cities. For a decade, when we lived in Boise, our Conference Office was located in Portland, Oregon. Although those two cities are 430 miles apart, the work of the church often took me to Portland. At the time my sister was living in Portland, so I learned my way around the city and knew how to drive on its various freeways and city streets.

By nature, however, I’ve always felt a bit more at home in rural areas than in cities. I know how to behave on a farm and help out on a ranch and I don’t feel threatened by driving in isolated locations. I prefer back roads and two lane highways and often seek them out even though they are what my family refers to as “another one of Dad’s long cuts.”

Yesterday was a city day for us. We drove from our home to Portland Oregon, which meant driving directly through Seattle and Tacoma Washington. The I-5 corridor through Seattle is a long stretch of city freeway driving. It can take 3 hours to get from our home through the city to SeaTac Airport. Although we live not far from two cities, Seattle and Vancouver BC, we don’t spend much time in either one. We don’t seem to need city entertainments or shopping. But we have family in Portland and the surrounding area and now is a good time for some visiting.

We were lucky with traffic on the way down. We made the trip in about 6 hours including a good stop for lunch along the way. Traffic was light through Seattle and Tacoma and not bad coming through Portland. We went around Portland on a beltway connector which can be very busy at certain times of the day, but weren’t delayed by traffic.

In the late afternoon, however, things were different when we headed into the city to meet a couple of nephews for dinner. A drive that used to take about a half hour in the days when we lived in Boise took us an hour and a half. We traveled most of the way to downtown on a freeway that was going less than 20 mph in stop and go traffic. The highway was full of cars going both directions. There were simply more vehicles than the road could handle. Every ramp was a mess of congestion. Cars were having difficulty changing lanes. We were a half hour late to our appointed meeting place. When we got there, the line for seating at the restaurant was out in the street. Fortunately for us, our nephews had arrived before us and at least we were able to sit inside while we waited for our table. The restaurant was crowded and noisy, but when we finally were escorted to our table in a back room, it was a very good place to enjoy a delicious dinner and share conversation. The noise of the entryway was muted and we could enjoy a dinner in peace.

The changes win Portland in the decades since we used to come here regularly are dramatic. There are encampments of homeless people along the freeways. There are a lot more housing developments in the suburbs which stretch even farther from the urban core. There are a lot more people and a lot more cars in a confined space. And several of our relatives are part of that population explosion. Our families have grown with the addition of children and grandchildren. We now have four nieces and nephews in the area.

My sisters and the two nephews we met for dinner last night all grew up in small towns in Montana. However, small towns in Montana, and small towns in other inland states as well, do not offer many jobs for young people. They have all drifted to an urban center to make their lives. And they are not alone. As the farming and ranching country of the midwest and west decrease in population, urban centers have continued to grow. Most of the world’s people live in cities. Our nephews grew up in a town of a couple thousand people where everyone knew everyone else. Now they live in a city of 650,000 people. Our little adventure of being in traffic was not a surprise to them. It is a way of life. Meeting someone for dinner can often involve a wait of half hour for traffic. Both boys have all kinds of urban skills, including the ability to find places to park cars, the ability to navigate through the city on public transportation, and the skills of finding a place to eat when there are crowds of people filling up every restaurant in an area. I have a few skills in that area, but they are a bit rusty. I managed to park our car in a very tight parallel parking space after cruising around several blocks looking from someone vacating a parking place. We navigated the city without getting lost and returned to my sister’s home with the aid of our GPS device and a few recognized landmarks.

I’m not a city person, but it seems that I need to keep honing my city skills. More and more of the people I love are moving to the cities.

A time for listening

The union that formed the United Church of Christ occurred in 1957. It took a while for the actions of church leaders to have much impact on the activities of local congregations. I was a child at the time and the area where we lived did not have any Evangelical and Reformed congregations, so I don’t have many memories of what became an important part of the history of our denomination and the definition of my career as a pastor. I am a minister of the United Church of Christ and have lived my life in service to its congregations. My service as a pastor, however, was always in congregations with a Congregational background. Although I have many valued colleagues whose roots were in Evangelical and Reformed congregations, the formation of the United Church of Christ is something that I simply took for granted throughout my career.

My mother, however, had a slightly different perspective. My parents were very active in the Congregational Church prior to the union. My mother was particularly involved in religious education circles. After the merger the newly formed denomination understood the development of a major curriculum for Christian Education. The new resources included many hard back books written by prominent educators. The denomination had a significant staff of professional educators and writers who were involved in producing that curriculum. I learned more about the process of producing those resources and met many of the authors and creators involved in the project later as I became very involved in curricula development in our denomination including writing and editing for several major curricula projects.

My mother, however, spoke of the union as a step backwards in educational theory. She felt that some of the values and cutting edge educational theories of the Congregational Christian church were compromised in order to accommodate the somewhat more conservative positions of Evangelical and Reformed church members. From an objective point of view and a later perspective, I am not sure that her assessment was entirely correct, but I do acknowledge that some educators in our denomination did experience a sort of time shift as if progress required a few steps backward before it could resume.

I was thinking of that perspective last night as I sat with a group of church and community members in a forum listening to indigenous youth speak about their experiences. They told stories of their experiences with racism as they grew up in communities near our adopted home here in Washington. I have been in many other situations where we have faced the ugly reality of racism in our communities. Part of the seven years I served in North Dakota and the twenty-five years I served in South Dakota was a long-term listening project with indigenous leaders. On Lakota elder once told me, “When trust is broken, it takes time for it to be recovered. Demonstrate your commitment by working with us for 20 years or more and spend those years listening.” I tried to be faithful to that commitment, and invested more than three decades listening as carefully as I knew how to listen.

After moving here, however, I feel sometimes like those conversations are just beginning. I now live among different tribes and different circumstances. The years of listening and learning under Lakota leadership are not totally relevant to the process of earning trust with our Nooksack and Lummi neighbors. The stories of racism that we were hearing last night need to be told to us not because we are ignorant of the tragic effects of racism on indigenous culture, but because the experiences of each individual are unique and worthy of our attention.

It seemed, however, a bit like taking a giant twenty-year step backwards. For many participants the process of listening to indigenous leaders is just beginning. To live in my new home and be a member of my new congregation means walking with that congregation as it begins a long process of listening and earning trust. Some of the major steps in the direction of reconciliation that have been taken in the Dakotas still lie ahead for communities here. Some of what I experienced as progress in relationships during my time there lies in the future for communities here. Some of the healing cannot be completed in the span of my lifetime. The injuries inflicted are too deep for healing to be rushed. Once again patience and careful listening is a role to which I am called.

Despite my urge to tell stories of experiences with Lakota people, last night’s forum was not the time for me to speak. My stories may never be completely relevant to the conversations that need to take place here. I have much to learn about Lummi and Nooksack traditions and culture.

Sometimes the road ahead is traveled by taking steps backward as well as taking steps forward. I find myself comparing my experiences with those of church leaders who walked the journey of church union in the 1950s and 1960s. My patience is strengthened by the stories told me by my mother and others who lived through the sometimes frustrating process of earning trust and forming new community. Recalling their stories and remembering their experiences gives me energy for some of the tasks that lie ahead.

Through it all, I am reminded of how much more patience has been required of the indigenous people of this continent. They have had to endure generations of attempts at cultural genocide at the hands of colonizers. They have suffered boarding schools and discrimination and distrust. They have inherited stories of pandemic and warfare and massacre. Indigenous youth have experienced communities burdened with generational poverty and addiction. They have known the effects of broken social systems, dysfunctional foster care, and culture-denying adoptions. Our conversations must defer to their sense of pacing and timing even if it sometimes seems to some of us that we are taking a few steps backwards.

Once again I commit myself to giving whatever time I have to the process of listening and learning. I will continue to go to the forums and avail myself of opportunities to witness and participate in cultural events. I will form new relationships and allow them to grow at their own pace. My role is small in a much bigger picture of reconciliation, but listening is good and faithful work. It is work to which I continue to be called. I am grateful for those who have found the courage and commitment to speak.

Code of Ethics

In the United Church of Christ all persons with ministerial standing are expected to abide by the UCC Ministerial Code. The Code is a living document that has been revised over the course of my ministry. Copies of the current version of the code are supplied to every authorized minister, often as part of regular boundary training. In our current setting, we are required to undergo boundary training every three years as part of maintaining our standing within the church as ordained ministers. In our church, ordination is a covenant that is undertaken for life, but is subject to the discernment of the community. Through a system of Committees on the Ministry, the United Church of Christ maintains relationship with all ordained ministers. Standing as a minister involves submitting to the discipline of the church and the Committee on Ministry.

The Ordained Ministerial Code addresses specific commitments to spiritual practices, growth in faith, attending to physical and mental health, accepting responsibility for debts, refraining from abusive behavior, honoring family commitments, participating in the wider church, minister impartially, steward church funds and property, and behaving honorably in relationship with other ordained ministers. The document covers ethical issues such as sexual behavior, acceptance of gifts, maintaining boundaries with individuals and communities, attributing the sources of words and ideas and the use of technology and social media.

Like all professional codes of ethics, the emphasis of the code is upon responsible behavior. It does not specify specific responses to breaches of the code. Discipline of ministers is undertaken by Committees on the Ministry in consultation with representatives of the wider church.

For several years I served as the chair of a sexual misconduct task force that investigated allegations of abuse by ministers in our denomination. The work was challenging and sometimes daunting. There were time when our investigations involved receiving testimony from persons who had been seriously injured by the behavior of clergy. There were occasions when we recommended the suspension of ministerial standing for clergy persons. Over the course of our careers, both Susan and I served on Committees on the Ministry and were involved in disciplinary behavior in regards to our colleagues. These assignments were very difficult and while we sought to be fair and responsible to our duties, we felt a sense of relief when we completed our terms of service and were happy to turn those responsibilities over to others. It is tough work.

I have been reflecting on the Ministerial Code recently for a couple of reasons. The first is that I recently completed another round of boundary training that involved a review of the code and its requirements of ordained ministers. The second reason is not related to ordination or ministry, but rather to the legal profession. The United States Supreme Court yesterday released its first ever set of ethics rules governing its nine justices. The “code of conduct” is the first time in the history of the court that there has been a written set of rules about the behavior of justices. Justices in lower courts have been governed by ethics codes since at least 1973, and the Supreme Court issued a “statement on ethics principles and practices” earlier this year.

The introduction to the code of conduct refers to long-standing unwritten ethical rules. The problem with unwritten rules, however, is that they are impossible to enforce. Actually the new code has no mention of how rules might be enforced. It is clear that the release of the statement on ethics principles and practices and the ethical code are in response to public outcry over the behavior of the justices. The justices are at least aware that their ethics are a matter of public concern.

Among the rules outlined are circumstances under which justices should disqualify themselves from participation in a case including bias or prejudices as well as financial or other interest affected by the outcome of the proceedings.

The code raises significant issues in relationship to sitting Justice Clarence Thomas who has received significant undisclosed financial benefits from his relationship with conservative activist Harlan Cow including annual expensive holidays, private jet transport, payment for private schooling of a relative, the purchase of a home for a family member, and the forgiveness of a loan for the purchase of an expensive recreational vehicle. The Senate Judiciary Committee has considered issuing subpoenas for Mr Crowe and another judicial activist, Leonard Leo, for a list of benefits they have provided to Supreme Court justices and their relatives.

The Code of Conduct will not quell the criticism directed at the Supreme Court and it will not restore the public trust, which according to polls is at an all-time low.

I am aware of how difficult it is to restore trust when ethical violations have resulted in injury to people. When a minister violates the trust of a congregation, the pain and distrust can last for generations. This is especially evident in the case of clergy sexual misconduct which for generations was covered up in the church and only recently has been brought to public awareness. Even though many church organizations have been required to pay substantial financial claims to victims of abuse, the exchange of money does not undo the wrongs that have been committed. There is no substitute for the prevention of abuse. Once abuse has occurred, the pain and distrust remains and after the fact responses cannot restore trust.

It remains to be seen whether or not the damage to the public trust caused by unethical behavior on the part of Supreme Court justices can be restored, but I am certain that it will take more than the publication of a code of ethics. I doubt that trust can be restored as long as there is no disciplinary action in regards to breaches of ethics. The erosion of public trust is a threat to the stability of our democracy which is based on a system of checks and balances between different branches of government. When one of those branches erodes public trust, the entire system is weakened.

I am not a legal expert. I do not have solutions for the problems of trust of the Supreme Court. What I do know is that I have a deep obligation to the ethical standards of my vocation. I take those standards very seriously. A regular review of the Ministerial Code is a part of my life as a minister and will remain so for the rest of my life. I hope that justices of the Supreme Court treat their ethical code with similar respect.

Still wanting to travel

The Covid-19 Pandemic has taught us some things about safety in regards to communicable diseases. Before the pandemic, I thought nothing of going to work with a sinus infection, a slight cough, or a sore throat. It was just something that one did. Yes, it can be uncomfortable, but work needs to get done. I used to think, “I can be sick and miserable at home, or I can be sick and miserable at work.” Now, however, I am retired, so going to work isn’t the same thing and I am much more aware of the possibility of sharing an illness with others.

One precaution is the presence of face masks. I have learned to carry a face mask with me wherever I go. When I am in crowded situations, such as airports, train stations, and some stores, I simply put on a mask. When I am experiencing symptoms of any kind, I am sure to put on a mask to protect others. Before Covid, we traveled in Japan where, at the time, it was common for people to wear face masks in public. We thought the courtesy of doing so was admirable and so we are very comfortable with face masks. As when we traveled in Japan, it doesn’t bother us at all to be in a place where some people are wearing masks and others are not. We choose to pay attention to ourselves and choose to wear a mask when we think we might be at risk for sharing an infection with others.

Another change in our behavior is to simply stay at home more often. Both Susan and I have stayed home from church in recent weeks when we were coughing. It seems awkward for us to be coughing in public at all, so when we are doing so, we try to keep away from close contact with others.

The result is that planning travel is a bit more complex than it was before Covid. When I envisioned retirement before I actually retired, I thought that retirement travel would be simple. We would simply go where we wanted when we wanted. If there was a family member we wanted to visit, we’d just get in the car and go visit that person. Having moved to the West Coast, I have a brother and a sister and Susan has a sister, who are less than a day’s drive away. I imagined that we’d see those siblings often and keep up with our relationships by frequent in person visits. That has not, however, proven to be the case.

In some ways, planning a short trip or a day visit has become more complex. If someone is having symptoms of any kind, we are likely to reschedule. And, surprisingly, our schedules seem to be almost as complex in retirement as they were when we were working. We have volunteer obligations. I am playing in a bell choir and singing in a vocal choir. I try to avoid missing rehearsals and performances. I know that others are counting on me. An ensemble relies on consistent participation of all of its members. Susan volunteers at our grandchildren’s school. I serve as our church’s librarian. I have projects at the farm. The list of tasks and activities seems to be nearly as full as when we were working.

Then there is the added complexity of an increased awareness of our impact on the environment. Living in a place where we are dependent upon private automobiles, we are trying to be careful not to be wasteful in our travel decisions. We try to combine as many errands as possible when we go to town rather than making multiple trips.

We had planned to leave today for a short trip to Oregon to visit relatives. Our trip was a bit in question because Susan and I have had a few cold symptoms, but we seem to be getting over them. Then a relative in Oregon began to feel ill and has been rearranging schedules, so we have been trying to be flexible. We have been exchanging text messages and talking with various family members in hopes of rescheduling our trip and the process has become complex. We aren’t the only ones with complex schedules and commitments.

In confess that we have had the luxury of easy travel for most of our lives. We have had personal automobiles and access to roads. Even when we were first married, we thought nothing of getting in the car and traveling a couple of hundred miles to visit friends and family. Compared to many people around the world, and compared to family members in other generations, we have always had an easy time with travel. Having to think and plan a bit more really isn’t a huge inconvenience.

The reality is that we are getting older. As we age, we will naturally need to be more careful about caring for our health and the health of others. We also will need to develop additional flexibility about travel. There may be times when we have to be dependent upon others to get to the places we want to visit. I’ve already learned that I need to be a bit more patient and be willing to do a bit more waiting in order to accommodate the busy schedules of friends and family.

I suspect, moreover, that I will always want to travel a bit more than is practical. One of the things I enjoyed when my mother lived with us near the end of her life, was that she continued to imagine grand trips. After she was no longer able to endure long airline trips, she would imagine what it would be like to visit distant places. She always had a list of adventures that she would someday like to take. Imagining new adventures was a valuable way of investing in the future. I want to be like her. I want to retain my sense of adventure and my desire to travel to new places and have new experiences. If planning is complex, I plan to continue developing the flexibility and investing the energy to continue traveling.

If you are planning to visit, check with us. We may not always be home when you get here.

Veterans Day Reflections


Eagles on the roof of our son's barn on Veteran's Day, 2023.

Last week, I stopped by a table in front of the grocery store and greeted a couple of veterans who were selling poppies. I slipped a few dollars into their donation canister and thanked them for their service. They gave me a paper poppy to wear. At the time I wondered about the poppy. Having a place to donate to support veterans organizations seemed to be in place during the week before Veterans’ Day, but somehow I have associated poppies with Memorial Day in the spring.

I remember a time when our cub scout den made poppies for veterans to sell. The “poppies” were small strips of crepe paper, about an inch long, tied in the middle with a thin piece of wire. I think that we made them for Memorial Day. Our town had a parade for Memorial Day and I remember people wearing poppies in their lapels. At the meeting where we made the poppies a veteran of World War I came to talk to our den. I don’t remember a lot about him, though we lived in a small town and we all knew him before he came to the meeting. He was old - the age of our grandparents. My father had served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. My best friend’s father was in the US Navy in the years after the war. But a World War I veteran was of a different generation. I can’t remember if that was the first time I heard the poem, “In Flanders Fields.” Somehow in my mind the World War I veteran either told us the story of Flanders Fields, or read or recited the poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
scares heard amid the guns below.

My memory is quite fuzzy on the session, and I may not have all of the details correct. After all, it was more than 60 years ago. I think that the poppies were given out in exchange for donations to either the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Right now the Veterans of Foreign Wars is one of the organizations that did not receive a donation in response to their most recent appeal I received in the mail. I get a lot of solicitations in the mail. I guess that there is some marketing firm somewhere that specializes in soliciting donations that doesn’t know that I already have a pile of address labels that contains more than I can possibly use in the rest of my life. We do make donations to various nonprofit groups from time to time and I’ve been known to read all of the solicitations.

Our major charitable gifts, however, are planned. We pledge to our church each year and in previous years we have paid our pledge through monthly automatic deductions from our checking account. Today we will be returning our pledge card to our church for next year’s ministries and for the first time will pledge an annual amount to be paid from the distribution from Susan’s IRA. She is a little older than I and will have to take a mandatory withdrawal this year. As a result, it is to our tax advantage to pay our pledge directly from the IRA.

We also have been making an annual gift to the Mount Vernon Library Foundation in support of their building project. It is a truly amazing project and we are more than a little proud that our son is the director of the Mount Vernon Library.

We make other gifts. We support special offerings at our church. We respond to local nonprofits who have special projects. We participate in national groups whose causes align with our values and beliefs. Most of those gifts are fairly small. But the word has gotten out that we do make donations. At least I think it has. Because we receive a lot of appeals.

One of the things that makes my shy away from giving to organizations is the success of their fundraising. One children’s hospital, for example, has more income from their endowment than their annual operating budget. It could literally operate without any additional donations. And yet its endowment continues to grow at a more rapid pace than the services offered by the hospital. I have nothing against the hospital. I just feel that they can get along without my support and I will direct my limited funds elsewhere.

Another thing that affects my donations - the thing that has the Veterans of Foreign Wars on my list at present - is when an organization sends me unsolicited gifts that exceed the value of my donation. I don’t need any more address labels, but I understand how they can be produced at low cost. But the last appeal I received from the Veterans of Foreign Wars included three pens, a pocket multitool, a letter opener, a small stack of greeting cards with envelopes and, of course, address labels. I have no idea how many of those packages they sent out and I have no idea how much it cost to send each one. I suspect, however, that they received a net gain on the investment. Enough people send enough donations that exceeded the value of the items sent out to make it a net gain. I get that. On the other hand, if the things they sent me cost them three or four dollars, that is three or four dollars less they have to operate their organization. Instead of inspiring me to give, the extravagance makes me want to direct my money elsewhere.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars isn’t the only organization that sends me appeals that contain “gifts” of things I don’t want or need. I’ve received similar appeals from other organizations.

It is appropriate for me to honor the memories of veterans, their sacrifices and service, on Veterans Day weekend. I’m just not doing it with a donation to the Veterans of Foreign Wars this year. I have my poppy. That is enough. I don’t need all of the other stuff.

More importantly, I have my memories of veterans whose lives have touched and inspired mine. My gratitude is real even when I don’t return a check in the postage paid envelope.

A windy night

The town where I grew up has a reputation for being one of the windiest places in Montana. It was common knowledge that if the wind gauge on the local public access television channel was reading 0 mph, it meant that the wind gauge was broken. The best anemometers available at the time would record wind gusts up to about 100 mph, but speeds above that often heated up the fans or bearings causing failure. My father had a hand held device that didn’t use a fan, but rather the suction caused by the wind blowing across a tube. The device was a bit less accurate, but it had no apparent failure point and we once saw gusts that were in the 120 mph range.

When I moved to Chicago, I would get occasional comments from friends about living in the windy city, but frankly, I didn’t experience Chicago as being any more windy than other places I had lived. But when we moved to Boise, Idaho, I did notice the wind, or rather the lack of wind. I discovered that it was possible to miss the wind. We lived in Boise for ten years and during that time there were many days when the air was so quiet that it became stale and I wished for a breeze of any kind. When there was an occasional gust of wind during a thunderstorm or other weather event, the trees would lose branches at the slightest puff. They simply weren’t used to any wind at all.

Here on the coast we do get some wind. I’ve been a bit surprised at some of the storms. The wind has been howling all night long. According to the weather reports there are sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts to 55. A new part of the weather reports for us are the gale warnings and small craft advisories. Having lived almost all of my life a thousand miles or more from the ocean, I don’t naturally think about the effects of the wind on waves and the operation of small boats. There are plenty of boats that don’t go 30 to 40 mph. Operating them safely means learning when to seek shelter in safe harbor. I can pretty much make decisions about when to paddle by kayak based on direct observation. If the winds or the surf are too high, I simply don’t launch the boat, but there are a lot of boats out on the water that aren’t easily removed and so need safe mooring locations.

Another fascinating thing for me about where we now live is that the winds seem to come from all different locations. In my going up years the winds always blew from the west or perhaps the northwest if conditions were right. The flow of air was directed by mountains that were always in the same place. Out here, however, we can experience winds from all four directions. Right now the winds are primarily out of the south which means that the temperate is mild, around 50 degrees for an overnight low. But there are days when the wind comes directly from the west and other days when it blows from the east. Although the primary flow of air is off of the ocean towards the mountains to the east, the biggest waves in our little bay come when the winds are blowing the opposite direction.

I remember when I first moved to North Dakota. I would wander downtown and have coffee in the local cafe that was generally filled with farmers and local business persons at mid morning. I found it to be a good way to connect with the members of the congregation I was serving. In those days the most popular topic was the weather. I wanted to be a caring and connected pastor, but I found constant conversation about the weather to be a bit boring. I would occasionally complain to my colleagues stating the the weather is always unusual around here. I could go to the cafe on any day in any weather and hear someone say how unusual the weather was. In the winter it was colder than usual, though the blizzards weren’t as severe as they were years ago. Everyone in North Dakota has to have a wild blizzard story. We lived there for 7 years. I’ve got a few good stories of my own now.

The years have passed. I’m now seventy and retired. I could hang out at a local cafe and sip coffee in the mornings. I don’t happen to do that. I’m less likely to be found in such a place than I was when I was actively working. Sitting around and talking about the weather isn’t any more interesting to me than it was when I was younger. I do, however, find myself writing about the weather in my journal more than I expected would be the case. One of the barriers to reading some of the old family journals that are now in my custody is that while I come from a long line of journal writers, I also come from a long line of people who recorded the weather. Day after day, my relatives recorded the weather in the places they found themselves. I think I have a pretty accurate record of the weather in Fort Benton, Montana for the turn of the 20th century if anyone is interested, but I doubt that even a weather historian would find all of those entries reporting the weather to be very interesting. Of course they lack specificity. “Frigid temperatures” isn’t a specific term any more than “the wind howled all night long.”

I’m not sure that I would describe the wind as howling. Mostly it is notable because it is coming in gusts. There will be calm moments followed by a blast of wind that makes a roar. The gusts are irregular and I’m sure the conditions would be unsettling for someone trying to wait out the storm out on the open ocean.

There are all kinds of important things going on in the world, but right now the thing that comes to mind is the wind. Even so, I don’t miss the calm quiet of Boise the way I missed the wind when I lived there.

A Milk Carton Shortage

Our home congregation has a tradition during Advent of hosting a time for families to construct ginger bread houses. The project doesn’t really involve ginger bread, but rather graham crackers. I don’t know the origins of the project, but it is popular enough that when we began working as Ministers of Faith Formation during the pandemic, there was enough talk about the tradition at meetings of the Faith Formation Board that the group decided to make kits for families to make and decorate the ginger bread houses at home. We then set up a zoom session for families to share their creations. We added a bit of Advent education to the home packets and tried to build additional information into the Zoom session.

The following year, the Faith Formation Board hosted a face to face event at the church for making and decorating the structures.

Part of the tradition was the use of half pint milk cartons as a bit of structure. Frosting was used to adhere the graham crackers to the sides and tops of the cartons in the shape of tiny houses. However, in the years we were involved, the Faith Formation Board decided that it was not a good idea to use cartons that had been used for food distribution. The possibility that they might have been poorly rinsed and that some sour milk might remain in the cartons seemed ill advised when we were being conscious of health and surface contamination during the national pandemic. Although the creations are not usually eaten, they are made of food and some of the decorations are eaten in the process of creating the houses. No cartons were distributed the first year although the instructions advised that families could use cartons if they had their own source.

Last year, when the Faith Formation Board was discussing what resources to assemble for the event, I suggested that I could make some simple structures out of foam core held together with hot glue. The group liked the idea and I made a supply of the tiny houses scaled to the size of graham crackers that were used at the event. This year, however, we are no longer serving as Interim Ministers of Faith Formation and are not involved in the Faith Formation Board. In casual conversation with a Faith Formation Board member, I was asked about how I made the houses. This member of the board has decided to use some cardboard that has been stored in the supply room to create simple templates for houses that can be constructed with a bit of tape or glue. It sounds to me like a good solution.

Ever since I was a child, milk has been mandated as part of school lunch programs. For a while when I was an elementary student we were served an additional half pint carton of milk in our classrooms during the afternoon. The health benefits of milk for children was taught in our classes and we were given a choice of chocolate or plain milk. I remember choosing chocolate.

However, schools are facing a shortfalls of the tiny cartons. The problem is not the supply of milk itself, but a shortage of the tiny cartons. One of the nation’s leading manufacturers of the packages, Pactiv Evergreen of Lake Forest, IL, has issued a statement that it “continues to face significantly higher than projected demand” for milk cartons. Apparently it isn’t only the half pint sizes of cartons that are in short supply. I have noticed in increase in the number of plastic bottles replacing paper cartons in the grocery store.

I’m not sure what has created the increased demand, but wonder if it is the increased use of the cartons for distributing water. For our anniversary party last summer, we purchased water in paper cartons as an alternative to the plastic waste of bottled water. The cartons are compostable and recyclable. The water we purchased has plastic spouts, but those are made of plant-based composite material that is compostable. I am not sure, however, how common water in paper cartons is and I do not know if that accounts for the shortage.

Whatever the cause, school officials in our state have been warned of coming shortages of milk in the tiny cartons. School officials have been instructed to become flexible in how they offer milk to children including providing milk using bulk dispensers in place of the cartons. The shortage of cartons would also affect the distribution of milk in hospitals, nursing homes and prisons. Those institutions have also been advised to make back-up plans.

I realized that the situation was at a crisis point when I read online that the Lake Stevens school district, down near Seattle, received no chocolate milk in last weeks delivery. The thought of schools with no chocolate milk changes how I think about school lunches entirely. In the article reporting about the lack of chocolate milk it was noted that the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has issued a memo allowing districts to skip serving milk during the supply shortage. In Everett, school officials have warned parents that the disruption in cafeteria milk supply could “range up to several months.”

I guess the use of empty cartons for the construction of gingerbread houses is soon to become a thing of the past.

I confess that I don’t understand the adherence to the tradition of making gingerbread houses in the first place. It isn’t part of my personal Advent preparations. I know that gingerbread houses are part of Christmas in popular culture, but I am unaware of any connection to the traditions of the church. Were it not a fully entrenched tradition in the church, I could easily forgo the creation of gingerbread houses in favor of a variety of other Advent crafts. Making Advent wreaths, for example, affords an opportunity to teach about the weeks of advent and gives families a resource for home observances. Making gifts for others is another way to celebrate Advent.

I am certain, however, that there will be an event to make Gingerbread houses at our church this Advent. I plan to use the fact that I am no longer an Interim Minister of Faith Formation as an excuse to skip the event. I can always point to the shortage of cartons as a reason to form new traditions.

Humans in bear country

I grew up north of Yellowstone National Park in the days when there was a set of grandstands at the garbage dump behind Old Faithful Lodge where people would gather to watch the bears come to the dump to feed. It was common, in those days, for people to feed bears from their cars. The bears, mostly black bears, would line up near the roads waiting for handouts from tourists. On Saturday mornings we would watch The Adventures of Yogi Bear on the cartoons. Yogi and his side kick, Boo Boo would seal picnic baskets from tourists in Jellystone Park. We got the reference. We had seen plenty of bears feasting on human food with our own eyes.

After a handful of tourists were injured by bears, mostly from doing really stupid things like trying to photograph their children with bears, the National Park Service began to move the bears away from the places where there were people. A program of trapping and relocating bears was initiated. In the process, some of the bears were fitted with radio collars and one of my father’s Super Cub airplanes was fitted with a tracking antenna. The system wasn’t terribly effective. The pilot had to search for the bear from the air because the signals from the collars didn’t travel very far. But it didn’t take long to see a pattern. We learned where the bears would be. They’d be trucked up near the Slough Creek Divide and unloaded. From there they would slowly make their way back into the park toward the tourist areas.

Black bears that have been trapped learn to avoid culvert traps. After being trapped a few times, the bears would sniff around the traps, but wouldn’t go in even when they were baited with fresh food. The dump at Old Faithful was shut down. The Yellowstone Park Company began trucking garbage out of the park to landfills in other areas. The bleachers were removed. After several years people stopped seeing so many bears in the park. Towns outside of the park began to sell t-shirts with slogans like, “Montana scoreboard: Bears 6, Humans 0.” We thought it was funny. We enjoyed making fun of tourists.

I’ve been thinking about those days a bit. I was young and I really didn’t understand all of the dynamics. I thought we knew how to deal with bears. We knew about keeping food away from our campsites, raising food in bear safe hanging containers, making noise on the trail, and avoiding close contact with bears in the wild. The truth, however, was that we lived in a place with very few people where there was room for the bears. The world has changed. There are a lot more people who live in close proximity to bears these days.

About a year ago a bear was euthanized by State Fish and Game officials not far from Bellingham. The bear had injured a man who was running on a trail near a popular lake where we have walked. The images of the bear after it had been killed were run on a local news web site. Human-bear encounters are still relatively rare in the North Cascades near our home, but if you go north a bit they are very common.

Officials in British Columbia, the province just north of our home, have received over 6,000 calls concerning human-bear encounters this year. More than 150 black bears have been killed by BC Conservations Officer Service so far this year. According to one report I read, B.C. Conservation Service killed 4,279 black bears between 2015 and 2022. Black bears are often killed when they begin spending time in human-dense areas seeking unnatural food sources. People often leave garbage in areas that are easily accessible to bears and when the bears learn about the easy food sources they return over and over to the same places. After all, they are on a mission to consume as many calories as possible in the fall before they settle in for hibernation. Bears don’t eat all winter long and have to live on fat stores from summer’s eating binges. Access to garbage for black bears is far too easy in many areas.

Human bear encounters are not the result of a spike in bear populations, but rather increasing expansion of human communities into the bears’ natural habitat.

As the National Park Service learned at Yellowstone National Park in the 1950s an 1960s, when it comes to human-bear encounters it is easier to decrease bear populations and move them away from areas frequented by humans than to teach humans common sense rules about bears. Those rules are fairly simple:
Do not feed bears.
Do not run or climb a tree. Do not scream, turn your back on a bear, kneel or make eye contact.
Keep away from bears. Make sure they have a clear escape route.
Stick together. Hike in groups. Make lots of noise to announce your presence in bear country.

Story after story, however, report humans who simply don’t know or follow those simple rules. Food and food smells are left out around camp sites. Runners continue to exercise alone in areas where bears have been sighted. People try to capture pictures and video of bears on their cell phones when they could simply go indoors for safety.

I enjoy living in places where there are plenty of non human neighbors. I enjoy the occasional opportunity to watch a black bear from the safety of our car on an isolated mountain road. I live in a dense neighborhood where bears don’t venture and we feel safe in our back yard. It makes me sad each time I read of another human-bear encounter that ends up with another bear killed. I wish we could learn better how to live with our wild neighbors. But I’ve lived in bear country enough to expect that humans will continue to behave in ways that are dangerous for bears.

I wonder if it would work to use old ineffective bear traps as temporary storage areas for garbage. I’ve never heard of anyone trying that. The truth is that I don’t have any ideas that are better than those employed by conservation officers and I suspect that they will continue to be forced to euthanize bears at a high rate.

Images inspire awe



When I studied photography in Chicago the standard camera for professional photographers was a 35mm single lens reflex camera. Several different manufacturers made quality cameras and lenses, but the leading favorite of the photo journalists at Look and Life Magazines were the Nikon F series with a bayonet mount for changing lenses. A strong competitor for Nikon were Canon cameras. A good friend of ours who is left handed preferred the Canon cameras because the Nikon bodies were designed in such a way that it was nearly impossible to hold the camera so that the shutter could be operated by the left hand. I was able to purchase a used Nikon camera body. My budget allowed for only four lenses and only two of the four were manufactured by Nikon. The four lenses covered a range of focal distances from 28 mm to 200 mm. The standard length for a single lens reflex camera was 50 mm, but my go to lens was a 105 mm portrait lens.

One of the strength of a single lens reflex camera is that a mirror which retracts as the shutter is triggered, allows the photographer to look directly through the lens to fine tune the focus and observe the depth of field. Depth of field is an aspect of photographs that adds to the quality of an image. Images made by cameras are different from what our eyes see. Our eyes have an incredible ability to simultaneously focus on near and far away subjects. I can look toward distant mountains and see them sharply defined while at the same time have a nearby tree focused. A camera doesn’t share that much depth of field. Photographic images almost always have some areas that are not crisply focused because the depth of field is limited. Depth of field, however, can be adjusted by allowing more or less light into the lens by adjusting the size of the aperture. The size of the area through which light passes can be controlled through an adjustable aperture. In order to properly expose film, a wider aperture requires a faster shutter speed and a narrower aperture requires a slower shutter speed for he same about of light to reach the film.

Photography, then, is a balance of shutter speed, aperture, and focus. Mastering the adjustment of all three elements is key to the art of photography. Keeping track of all three, using a light meter to determine exposure, is a mental challenge. I learned to take several exposures, bracketing them for time and sometimes for aperture and then select a single image from a proof sheet to print.

A lot has changed in the years that I have been operating cameras. One of the first changes was the development of cameras that automatically changed either the shutter speed or the aperture when the other element was adjusted. My first automatic camera allowed me to set either the shutter speed or the aperture and have the other element adjusted. By setting the camera to aperture preference for nature photography, I could control the shutter speed to blur moving water or control the depth of field for a close-up of an insect or flower. I could change to shutter preference to freeze motion for sports events and other types of photography.

Over the years, lens technology evolved to allow for quality zoom lenses. This gave me the ability to adjust another element of the photograph. As I transitioned from a wider angle to a more telephoto lens, I could make far away items appear closer. By controlling the depth of field, I could make distant objects appear to be much closer. The use of long lenses became common in television news coverage and we became used to this particular photographic distortion. I was most aware of this during the news coverage of the 1987 and 1988 Yellowstone Park fires, when it appeared on the news that flames were much closer to iconic park venues than was the actual case. When I visited after the fires, I realized that the distances had been compressed in the news coverage.

Perhaps the biggest revolution in photography in my lifetime has been the switch from film to digital images. My first digital cameras were all “point and shoot” cameras that used range finders that had the photographer looking through a different lens than was used to capture the image. Soon, however, I was able to obtain a digital single lens reflex camera that used a mirror in much the same way as a film camera. In more modern cameras, the mirror is no longer necessary as the photographer is able to view a digital image before the photograph is taken.

The precise technology is of interest mostly to camera geeks like myself. People are able to make stunning photographs with cell phones that employ multiple lenses and combine digital images with high speed processors without knowledge of depth of field, aperture and shutter speed.

All of this evolution in image making has been going through my mind since the release of the first stunning images made by the European Euclid Space Telescope. There have been many incredible images from several different space telescopes. The fantastically expensive imaging tools are adding to our understanding of the nature of the universe while revealing beauty beyond our imaginations. In contrast to other space telescopes, such as the Webb, Hubble, and Kepler, the Euclid telescope is revealing images with incredible depth of field. The combination of several technologies including the ability to capture light beyond the range of human vision, the use of filters to eliminate the effects of cosmic dust and other particles between the scope and the objects photographed, and the optics of the lens itself allows for a wide angle of view with incredible depth across the entire photograph. We can at once see more distant objects in the context of nearer objects.

The images are stunning for the photographic breakthrough of the particular technologies of the device. Beyond that, they are simply beautiful. I keep returning to the image of the Horsehead Nebula. I’ve seen other images of this taken by other space telescopes, but the sharpness and depth of this image is beyond anything I’ve ever before seen.

I think we make photographs in an attempt to return to the beauty we have witnessed. At least my favorite photographs all capture beauty that is revealed each time I look at them. These new images from the Euclid Space Telescope once again reveal the incredible beauty of this universe. How fortunate we are to be able to behold and appreciate this beauty. Technology aside, the gift of the images is awe.


I had a brief conversation with friends yesterday about teaching children how to read a clock. Although a couple of those friends are retired teachers, none of us knew whether or not learning to read a clock is part of formal school curricula these days. One retired teacher recalled when learning to tell time from a clock with hands that rotated around the face was part of the state curriculum for fourth graders. “I never learned the key for teaching the concepts,” the teacher stated. In a world of digital clocks with readouts in numerals, the concept of translating 12 numbers into the passage of hours consisting of 60 minutes and days of 24 hours was an educational challenge.

Another retired teacher recalled using money as an equivalent to drive the concept home. Children learn to count by fives in part by thinking of the value of a nickel. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, and on up to sixty, makes it fairly easy to learn the number of minutes in each hour.

The whole conversation was sparked by my comments about our beloved mantle clock that has been passed down in our family for generations. The clock runs for just over 24 hours on a winding, has to be wound with a key, and makes a loud “tick tock” sound that an be heard throughout our house. It also rings on the hour counting off the hours with a chime. I know that our grandchildren have learned to count the chimes before they have learned to read the hands on the face of the clock.

All of the participants in the conversation had some memory of paintings by Salvador Dali depicting melting clocks. Limp clocks draped across branches and furniture bring to mind the arbitrary nature of time. You have to admit that there is something surrealistic about the ways we measure time with 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, and 60 seconds in a minute.

I’ve written multiple times about how time assumes different qualities at different moments of our lives. An hour spent waiting in a hospital waiting room has a different feel than an hour spent playing with grandchildren. An hour sleeping feels different than an hour trying to go to sleep. Some periods of time seem to pass quickly, others seem to drag.

Modern scientific method requires precise measurement of the passage of time. Digital displays of time are used in situations where mechanical clocks are not accurate enough to distinguish the nuances of very small amounts of time. While particle physicists speak of nanoseconds, geologists speak of eons and millennia. Different disciplines focus on different measurements of time.

The flow of the hours and the passage of time is a fascination for me in my retirement. There are days when my schedule is as full as was the case when I was working for a salary. I have lists of tasks that must be accomplished and appointments that require me to pay attention to the passage of time. I still need to be in the right place at the right time for a variety of activities. My passion for punctuality has not waned with my aging. My ability to keep track of a complex schedule, however, is not what it once was. I used to be able to look at a day’s schedule and keep all of its elements in my memory throughout the day. Now, I need to set alarms at time to remind myself of what I have planned to do. I find that I can get caught up in activities such as gardening or working in the shop and fail to keep track of the passage of time.

I wear a fairly sophisticated electronic watch that connects to my computer with bluetooth and syncs with the calendar in my phone, but I am careful to make sure that the display on the watch resembles a clock with hands that rotate around a dial with 12 numerals. I have found that my brain is better at anticipating my schedule when I glance at the hands on a face rather than interpreting a digital readout. I can see 2:58 and think to myself, “Good, it is not yet 3 o’clock!” When I see the minute hand nearing the top of the dial I am more aware of how much time remains.

Of course we have no real knowledge of one of the biggest issues of time for every human being. Even if we have a fairly realistic understanding of our age and how long we have lived, none of us know for sure how much time we have left in our lives. We acknowledge that we are mortal, but we don’t really know what that means. Having been with numerous people at the time of their dying, I am aware that the end of life is not governed by clocks. Although doctors and hospitals try to record an accurate account of the time of death, it is something that cannot be known in advance. Part of the process of dying is releasing concern for the passage of time.

In some ways the passage of the seasons is as important to my understanding of the meaning of life as is the passage of seconds and minutes. But part of the passage of seasons for most of my life has been the adjustment of our clocks that accompanies daylight savings time. We spring forward as the days lengthen and fall back to mark autumn. I get all of the clocks adjusted, including the mantle clock with hands that cannot be turned backwards. When we fall back, I stop the clock for an hour or more before setting it to the correct time. Each autumn is marked by an hour of quiet in our house when the tick tock is silenced. And yet time passes even though the clock has stopped.

Time continues to be an interesting concept for me even though I am not sure I understand its passage. Perhaps like a child who has not yet learned to tell time from the hands of a clock, I still have much to learn.

Complaints of an old pastor

I suppose, after 45 years as an ordained minister, I shouldn’t be surprised that my seminary experience belongs to a different generation that those currently receiving theological education from seminaries. It was a different time.

When we were admitted to seminary, it was a requirement of the school that we be in residence, living in seminary housing, for the first year. All of our classmates lived at the seminary. And we had it different from previous generations. When we were students, Chicago Theological Seminary owned an apartment building that housed a cafeteria with meal service and a preschool. When the seminary first built its Chicago campus at 5757 South University in Chicago, a single building housed two chapels, classrooms, faculty offices, a library, administrative offices, housing for single students, a commons area, kitchen and dining. Students could go through their days without having to go outside. Of course, they did go outside, with access to the University of Chicago with its divinity school, theological library, bookstore, and more. By the time we arrived as students, it was common for students to be married and married student housing included apartments large enough for students with children.

All the same, we lived and worked together with our classmates. Classroom discussions carried over to meal times and into the evenings. One of our professors was fond of saying, “No one should study Karl Barth alone.” Understanding complex theological thought requires multiple perspectives and the interplay of multiple minds. Seminary life for us involved a lot of community building. We shared chapel services and responsibilities for leading worship. We shared retreats and class travel. We visited churches together. We participated in the ownership and management of the seminary cooperative bookstore. We had study carrels in the library next to other students that allowed us to discuss our reading assignments as we worked on them. Community learning was built into our education.

That is a huge contrast with the state of graduate theological education these days. Our alma mater has sold its buildings and real estate holdings in Chicago. It is now housed in a building leased from the University of Chicago that was designed as a commuter campus. Gone are housing and meal services. Gone is the expectation that students live on campus. Living on campus is no longer an option. The majority of students in the institution don’t even live in the city of Chicago any more. They participate in classes online, traveling to the seminary buildings only on occasion for special seminars generally lasting for a few days. Students are encouraged to build virtual community through email, video conferencing, and other technology. The bulk of their education, however, is conducted in isolation from other students. They read their assignments in their own homes and react to them in private journals and online assignments.

We knew our professors in a different way. We were guests in their homes and regularly shared meals with them. We knew their families. We shared in their writing projects. We sought publication in the same journal. When the time came for us to defend our professional writing, we knew the panel we would face and they knew who we were. We had already discussed previous drafts of our papers and shared the process of revision.

I suppose that I am like other old people. I can go on and on about the way it was for us. I am out of touch with the way it is for the current generation of students. I can be critical of the current state of theological education. I am quick to point out what I see as deficiencies in the education of young clergy. And I know, from experience, that such observations are not helpful. I know that my criticisms do not play a vital role in developing the leadership of the church in this generation. I cannot, however, help myself. I find myself worrying about the leadership of the church. I look for opportunities to serve as a mentor and guide for young clergy even though they don’t seem to want that mentorship and guiding.

Whether or not we acknowledge it, whether or not we choose the role, pastors are the stewards of generations of tradition. We stand in a long lineage and it can be helpful to be aware of our history and tradition. From my point of view, such knowledge is essential. The forms of the liturgy we lead are not the product of a single generation. While brilliant writers and scholars have produced creative and meaningful liturgy, it rests on the experience of multiple generations of experience. We did not invent the use of music in worship and there is deep meaning in music that has served the church for hundreds of years. We are not the first to consider the flow of worship and elements such as Call to Worship, Invocation, and Benediction have form and function that support worship. Writing liturgy is an art that is distinct from assembling worship by picking and choosing from the huge supply of worship elements available on the Internet. There are different forms of prayer and communal prayer is more than a list of supplications and requests of the congregation. While an impromptu prayer composed as worshipers call out the things about which they worry for which they seek the support of others can be meaningful, placing the prayer concerns of the community in the context of the current situation in the world and the long succession of communal prayers throughout multiple generations can add depth and meaning for worshippers. Ours is not the first generation to face illness. We aren’t the only ones to know grief and loss. Our people have struggled with the roles of parenting and the nature of intimate relationships for generations and connections with our heritage can be life sustaining in times of struggle. A pastor who leads worship has responsibility for enabling people to make those connections.

Those connections, however, can only be made if they are known and understood. Sometimes they come by studying and becoming familiar with the prayers and songs and liturgies of previous generations.

I’m sure that sometimes it seems as if I am just an old guy who complains when I express my longing for familiar hymns and traditional liturgies. I do appreciate new and creative liturgy and music. Furthermore, I was educated in an environment of constant feedback and constructive criticism. My ideas were constantly tested and refined in a community of experienced teachers and peers. I wish such a community existed for the newest generation of church leaders. I fear it cannot be forged online.

The institution and its traditions, however, are strong. Faith forged in generation after generation will not be lost in a single decade or phase of the life of the church. Even when we don’t sing it in worship, I can still sing the hymn, “We Limit Not the Truth of God” and be inspired.

The beauty of this place


I used to joke that the state motto of South Dakota should be “All four seasons every day!” It certainly seemed like the weather could change in a matter of minutes, with bright sunshine and snow sharing the same hour. There were days when temperatures varied widely with sudden plunges or sudden increases in temperature. The Black Hills are home to some pretty impressive records for the amount of change in a given amount of time and for the amount of change in a relatively short distance. We lived ten miles from the church in South Dakota and often it seemed like the weather in the two locations was very different.

We were having one of those “All four seasons” days here yesterday. Actually the temperature variations weren’t very impressive. What was happening is that small rain squalls were rolling in from the sea. It would rain for a few minutes and then that small squall would pass and the sun would come out. At one point, we were helping our grandchildren get into their car to go on an adventure at their house. I was getting soaking wet as I fumbled with the seat belt for the youngest one. Then they headed out with their father in their car and we got into ours and headed home. By the time we got the couple of miles home, it was sunny at home and I decided to unload some compost that I had in the back of the truck. By the time I got the compost unloaded I was steaming. My clothes were wet and I was a bit overheated. It turned out to be a three pair of slacks day. I changed from those jeans to another pair and before the end of the day I had donned a third pair. I have good rain gear, but it doesn’t work if you don’t wear it and it feels silly to don rain gear when it is bright and sunny outside at the moment.

The surges in the weather gave us a few late afternoon glimpses at rainbows. The terrain and the angle of the sun is different here than it was in South Dakota. In South Dakota we often got dramatic full-sky rainbows as storms moved off to the east in the late afternoon. The sun in the west illuminated the water vapor in the air against the dark background of clouds moving off to the east. Here we are less likely to see the full bow. We will see one side of it, or part of it descending from the clouds. Yesterday we were seated to a bow that appeared to almost reach the waters of the bay. The angle of the sun varies a great deal from season to season around here and during the winter it appears to be in the south as it makes its arc across the sky. The partial rainbow was northeast instead of being directly east and it made a fun visual reference as we walked down to the beach yesterday afternoon. We were walking a bit later than usual due to other activities of the day.

As I gazed at our peaceful bay and relished in the beauty of the place life has take us, I couldn’t help but think about those whose lives are so terribly disrupted by war. I don’t know what the weather was in Ukraine or Israel yesterday. One rarely gets weather reports from war zones. I imagine that in the dust and rubble of war’s destruction days must all seem to be gray even if the sun is shining. I have never, however, lived in the midst of a war - at least I have never lived in the place of war.

Although winter can be rainy in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the forecast for the week to come is for sunny skies and high temperatures in the 70s and 80s. It would be ideal weather for tourist visits to the region, though tourism cannot be the focus of the locals who are caught up in a terrible war with far too many civilian casualties. Each day brings new policies and decisions by others that affect the lives of those living there. Residents of the West Bank who thought they might be able to leave yesterday encountered a closed gate. Those who were in line to leave today will likely be bumped by those who thought they could leave yesterday. Meanwhile convoys of trucks carrying medical supplies, food, and other relief get stalled at the border and the amount of goods traveling into Gaza is far less than what is needed. Basics like food and water are in short supply.

Temperatures are a bit cooler in Ukraine this week, with partly cloudy skies forecast for every day. Rain appears to be about a week out, but it is coming. Daytime highs should be in the upper 50s, which is warmer than typical for late fall. Fortunately for soldiers and civilians displaced by the war overnight temperatures remain above freezing. Warm temperatures are welcome when you are faced to sleep out of doors. Still, I imagine that gray days don’t do much to lift the spirits. Among other things, the war in Israel has drawn attention away from Ukraine in the world’s news. And the people of Ukraine have become dependent upon the constant stream of news from the region to keep their allies motivated to continue supporting them in their fight for freedom from Russian expansionism. Russia, on the other hand, likely appreciates the focus on another part of the globe.

Meanwhile, we are enjoying a peaceful life in a beautiful place. I have to remind myself that this great luxury is not something that we have earned. We are not somehow more moral or better than those who are swept up in violence and conflict. We are fortunate to live in a place without the constant threat.

I do not want to take the beauty and peace of the place where I live for granted. Taking time to smile at rainbows and feel the drops of rain on my head, looking at the beauty that surrounds me and giving thanks for my privilege, breathing deeply of the clean air and sea breeze - these are gifts of my time and place. May I never grow complacent.

Not investing in fantasy

“A pastor gives spiritual advice and counsel,” I used to say to people i was serving. “Don’t expect to receive medical, legal, or financial advice from me. I’m not qualified fo give it.” Part of my statement was a joking way of establishing healthy boundaries. I wanted to be clear about what I could and could not do as a pastor. I was careful to never draw the people I served away from their own sources of counsel and advice on subjects that are important to them. I also wanted to distinguish myself from people who claimed to be pastors, but who preached a “prosperity gospel.” “Follow me,” they say, “and you will become rich.”

To the extent that I led by example, I certainly did not amass wealth during my life. Before I go farther, however, let me be clear. The congregations I served treated me fairly. I received generous salaries, good health insurance, a retirement benefit, and ample support from the congregations I served. I didn’t become a pastor to become wealthy. I became a pastor to serve. I am content with that choice. I have no complaints about the way I have been treated.

I hope that I have been clear that I am no financial wizard. Over the course of my life, I have managed the resources I have more by ignoring them than by active management. I simply allowed my pension funds to be in the pool managed by the denomination and didn’t pay attention to them much at all. Then I followed denominational recommendations in terms of selecting a plan for withdrawal of annuity funds. Our family profited from the homes we purchased and sold and we invested those profits in the home we now have. We managed to save a bit of our income over the years and are trying to be prudent in managing those funds.

I have no clue whether my preparations for retirement are sufficient. I don’t know if we have enough funds to last for the rest of our lives. I do know that I have resources beyond myself in the event of hard times. Our family gives us tremendous support. The church cares about us. We will be fine.

I suppose I could have done better with the resources I have had. If, for example, I had purchased stock in Apple Computer when I first was aware of the company, that stock would be worth a whole lot more than any other investment I have made. The same would be true had I purchased Starbucks stock when I first became aware of that company. I did not. Hence another joke that I frequently have made: “It is a good thing that I am not wealthy. If I were wealthy I would have really gotten myself into trouble.”

So I have not invested in cryptocurrency. I don’t understand cryptocurrency. Then again I don’t think that many people do, including those who have invested heavily in the imaginary funds. I am convinced that part of what drives the crypto markets is a fantasy that wealth can be made from thin air. There are those who want wealth and who may even believe that they deserve wealth. They believe if the stars align properly they will have wealth. One of my younger brothers was that way. He believed that if he found the right scheme he would become rich. He bought lottery tickets and believed that he could win. He chased a number of get rich quick schemes. He never won the lottery and he never became rich, but he spent a lot of time imagining what he would do if that happened. A lot of what he imagined involved helping other people.

For a while a lot of people in our country held the fantasy of a wonder kid who would become rich by means they could not understand, but nonetheless got fabulously wealthy and didn’t spend the money on himself, but on acts of charity. For a while Sam Bankman-Fried seemed to be that wonder kid. He made public appearances wearing t-shirts and shorts. He didn’t buy fancy cars or huge houses. He claimed to be giving away a lot of money. And his cryptocurrency company allowed him to amass a fortune. He got rich faster than almost anyone in history, amassing an estimated $26 billion in personal wealth. He made the covers of magazines. He had friends in high places. He didn’t buy a yacht or a mansion.

It turned out, however, that the fantasy was just that: a fantasy. It turned out that much of the money Bankman-Fried gave away went to political causes rather than agencies that help people. Purchasing influence is not the same as providing food, shelter, and clothing. In the end his company lost more than $8 billion in customer funds - the result of his decisions took money away from others. In general that is how people become wealthy - on the back of the losses of others. Bankman-Fried was convicted of syphoning billions of dollars of customer money, believing that he would never get caught. He did get caught.

I suspect that people believed that he was a financial genius in part because they wanted him to be one. They wanted to believe in the myth of a self-made young genius billionaire. They wanted to believe that some of that wealth would some how rub off on them. They wanted to believe that there was someone who wanted great wealth for the purpose of accomplishing great good. And while it is true that some wealthy philanthropists have accomplished a great deal of good in the world, it remains to be seen if the good they have achieved offsets the losses of others and the lives destroyed on their path to wealth.

Unlike Bankman-Fried, I do have a yacht. It is a canoe. And I have not only one, but several. I have a very comfortable home. And I own some nice dress-up clothes. Along the way I have invested in the congregations I have served and the denomination that is my home. I have chosen charitable organizations that I believe are doing great good in the world and made the contributions I felt I could afford. My impact has been small. There’s nothing to attract the interest of those who make magazine covers or those who wield influence in political circles. Furthermore, I don’t believe in magical wealth or self-made genius billionaires.

And I haven’t got a clue how cryptocurrency works. Then again, I’m not sure I understand how regular money works, either.

Cowbells and change

On the top of my bookshelf is a row of musical instruments. There are two drums from Africa, two Lakota drums painted by Sonia Holy Eagle, a pair of click sticks from Australia, a wooden flute and a pair of maracas from Central America, and a cow bell from Switzerland. I’m pretty sure that there are lots of people who wouldn’t consider the cow bell to be a musical instrument. Then again, I don’t know how to properly play the wooden flute and I suspect that the beats I make on the djembe are far from traditional African sounds. The various instruments have taken various paths to end up on the top of these particular bookcases in northwest Washington.

The cow bell has a fairly harsh sound. I’d be pretty careful introducing it to a baby, and probably wouldn’t ring it close to a particularly young one. Older children get a kick out of it and like to make it clang, often to a bit of dismay of their parents. My mother brought that cow bell home on one of her trips to Switzerland. I think it came home on the trip that we took together with them in 1978 just after we graduated from seminary. It was on display in her cabin for years and when the time came to clean out that cabin the cow bell ended up at my house. For many years I had a photograph of a Swiss cow with a bell that was on the wall in one of our children’s rooms. Children grow, rooms change, and the picture went into storage. I don’t think it made the move to Washington with us, but there is quite a bit of framed art in storage still, so it may be there among other pictures that I have no idea where to display or how to move to new homes.

The cowbell, however, seems to have a home on the bookshelf for now.

In Switzerland, where the bell came from, rural communities are located not far from urban centers. Aarwangen is a small town that is less than a hour from Bern, Zurich, and Basel. As such it is an attractive place for urban workers to find homes in the rural setting. The town is on the banks of the river Aare, with the Bernese Alps in the distance. It has a medieval castle. There is a church and traditional farmhouses in the city center. A number of new houses and apartments extend out from the village center. It is from those new houses that a problem arose.

At least two families complained formally to village council and asked that the bells be removed from dairy cows at night. Those bells, it seemed, were disrupting the peace of the village for the new residents. Those complaints, however, raised a storm. Long-term residents and farmers were outraged at what they saw as an attack on their culture. The farmer who owned the herd in question viewed it as a personal insult to him and his cows. A petition was organized demanding a vote to keep the bells. Over a thousand signatures were gathered. One of those who complained has withdrawn that complaint. The other has moved away. Nonetheless, there will be a public meeting and a vote next month on the future of bells.

Cow bells are relics of the past. In modern farming they are no longer necessary. Years ago the bells helped farmers locate cattle that were grazing in the hillsides and mountains. In those days the farmers could identify individual animals by their distinct bells. There were no fences and the animals were allowed to roam freely until time for the farmer to gather them to milk twice each day. A lost or missing cow was a big problem, hence bells were tied around the animals to identify their locations.

I’m pretty sure no one asked the cows their opinions of the bells. The animals, however, are very adaptable and don’t show any signs of distress. Switzerland, however, has a modern high tech economy. Cows are chipped for identification. The bells are much more about tradition than about a necessary element of farming.

I don’t have an opinion on whether or not cow bells should be removed at night in Switzerland. I’ll allow the Swiss to make those decisions. What interests me about the story is how tensions arise between traditional communities and those who have recently arrived. I think about it in terms of our own living. We’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for a little over three years now. And we aren’t the only newcomers. Communities around here are rapidly growing with the influx of new residents. There is a housing shortage because of the number of new arrivals. The subdivision where we live is a new community, constructed on what once was pasture land. Our son’s farm was an active dairy in recent memory. This is not, however, a farming community. The farms have been subdivided into small acreages owned mostly by people who commute from urban areas or telecommute from jobs that allow remote working. While the land still has value for agricultural production, farming is not the main income for very many people around here. Our neighbors almost all drive to other places to work. A few work remotely. A few, like us, are retired. We don’t see ourselves as city folk and are happy living out in the country a bit.

But we have displaced the way things used to be. I know that change is inevitable and that things cannot remain the same, but I think of those who made their homes in Birch Bay when it was a tourist destination for those seeking to vacation away from Seattle or Vancouver. In those days the village pretty much shut down in the winter. And before those times it was the location of seasonal fishing and gathering of shell fish by Coast Salish people. Their ways of life have now been displaced.

I don’t want to be like the Swiss villagers who complained about the cow bells. I am careful not to complain when a tractor slows traffic. I try not to stand out as a newcomer. But I know that I am part of the change for better or for worse.

More stories

I tell a lot of stories. In reality, however, I start a lot of stories. I often tell stories before I know the ending. When I am telling a story, I may come to the point where I will stop telling the story, but there often is more to that story. Today, I’ll add a bit more to stories that I’ve told in recent journal entries.

Wax. Our first honey harvest has been a surprise and a success. The surprise was that the bees donated more honey than expected. Each time I thought I had all of the honey extracted, I would start to deal with what I thought was mostly just beeswax only to discover that there was more honey mixed in with the wax. That meant, among other things, that the honey harvest took longer than expected. I thought that I would have the honey harvesting equipment cleaned up several days before it was time to do so. And then I had all of that wax to deal with. I thought that the process would be simple. I had purchased a small silicone wax mould that forms five one ounce bars. I would just melt the wax in an old aluminum pie tin, bend the tin to form a spout, and pour the wax into the mould.

It wasn’t that simple. The wax wasn’t just wax, even after the honey had been extracted. It also contained propolis or bee glue. Propolis is a resinous mixture of wax with the sap and other natural ingredients gathered by the bees. They use it around the hive to seal gaps in the hive. In a natural hive, they use propolis to decrease the size of the entrance to make the hive more easily defensible. In the hives I use, the bees glue the different boxes together with propolis to seal any tiny gaps. I could leave the propolis in the wax, as it is harmless. It has some medicinal properties. In the hive propolis provides protection from pathogens for the bees. It has anti fungal and antibacterial properties. However, the propolis is dark brown and detracts from the visual appeal of pure beeswax. I used a slotted spoon to skim propolis from the wax. Soon I had quite a bit more wax mess than I intended. Next year I’ll make a trip to the Good Will Store and pick up a vessel such as an old stovetop coffee pot and a few spoons for dedicated wax separation and try to contain my mess better.

White Stones. When I headed out the front door yesterday I noticed that the white landscape stones had been spread all around the driveway and across the pavers. Apparently the stream of young visitors involved some displacement of the stones. It wasn’t a big deal. It took just a few minutes to sweep the stones back into their place. I just didn’t notice it as it was happening. I also picked up a few candy wrappers dropped by careless children. Picking up litter is important in our neighborhood. Our storm sewers drain to a settling pond a block from our home. When that pond is full, it drains directly into Terrell Creek, which is a tidal creek. The water in the creek is mixed with the water in the Salish Sea. Whatever is dropped on our streets ends up in the Pacific Ocean. Anything with plastic in it is dangerous to ocean wildlife. A little extra work was a small price to pay for the joy of the visiting children. I just hope my neighbors are also diligent in picking up the litter.

The Rabbit. The rabbit died. I found its body the next day on the other side of our driveway. I imagine that the creature crawled under a cedar bush at the corner of the garage and the next day crawled out into the sunlight to warm itself where its life came to an end. I scooped it up and took it to the farm where I prepared a grave in an area where fill dirt had been used to level a low area that used to become hopelessly muddy. As I laid the body of the rabbit in the ground, I apologized for having taken it away from its home. I thanked the rabbit for having entertained us with its antics. I thanked it for being our neighbor and for learning to live with the invasion of human neighbors many generations ago. I told the rabbit that I was burying it in a place that was safe from eagles and dogs and other predators. I thanked it for its babies and for the rabbits that will entertain us with their antics in the future. I know that the spirit of the rabbit was not in that tiny body. I know that none of its relatives were present to listen to my impromptu words at its burial. But I am a minister. I made a career of saying words at times of death and burial. I thought the tiny creature deserved my respect and attention for the few minutes it took to deliver it to its final resting place.

Dahlias. We’ve had our first hard frost and the dahlias are now finished with their blooms. We had a wonderful planter of dahlias to brighten our back yard this summer and early autumn. This is only our second year of growing dahlias at our home and the tubers were all from the previous year’s planting. Without adding any new tubers, we had roughly double the plants and blooms. So like many other gardeners flush with success, I’m building some additional beds so that we can expand our dahlia plantings next year. The tubers will be cleaned, dried, and stored in peat moss over the winter, ready to plant next spring. The new beds will also give us space to plant some strawberries, additional vegetables, and even a row of sunflowers. I’ve got plenty of sunflower seeds saved to plant next year. I did share a lot with the birds, but gathered a few heads before the birds got to them and kept the seeds for next year.

This is all is the space I have for my journal today. I’m sure that more stores will be continued in the future.


We live in a most amazing place! Last night, as was the case a year ago, and the year before that, we had a delightful evening on the last day of October. We closed on this house in the middle of October, 2021 and were barely moved in by the end of the month. Each year, on the last day of October, hundreds of lovely people dress up their children in fancy costumes and bring them to our front porch to say, “Hi!” to us. It is a very amusing and fun event for a couple of retired folks. Sometimes, in brief lulls between visits of groups of children, I will sit on our porch swing, rock back and forth with a cup of tea and listen to our neighborhood. The sounds are absolutely delightful. I can hear happy children, laughing and sharing excited stories. I can hear concerned parents, advising children about street safety and reminding them to say, “Thank you!” I can hear the excited sounds from down the street and around the block. I feel so luck to live where we do.

We have never before lived in one of the neighborhoods where people bring their kids for Halloween trick or treat. In our house in Rapid City at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, near the top of the hill, we rarely saw more than a dozen children, mostly from the homes of our immediate neighbors. There are more children who live on our street here than were in our entire subdivision in Rapid City.

Here is my advice to retired folks seeking a place to live. Consider a neighborhood with a lot of children. Such a neighborhood is a lot more interesting and fun than one of those “seniors only” communities.

One young wizard came onto my front porch, pulled out a wand, and and gave an incantation: “Bibbety, bibbety, bee! Your house belongs to me!” “Great!” I replied. “You need to mow the lawn tomorrow.”

There is a pathway alongside our driveway comprised of eight pavers surrounded by white landscape gravel. The good thing about the path is that it gives additional room for walking up to the house. Sometimes, when there are two cars parked in the driveway, walking alongside the parked cars is a bit tight. Most of the time our car is in our garage, but our pickup doesn’t fit in the garage, so it is in the drive when it isn’t being used. Last night our son’s family car was in our driveway, so having the pavers was nice for all of our guests. The bad thing about the path is that weeds love to grow among the white landscape rocks. To keep the path looking nice it seems like I have to pull weeds all the time. I keep a spray bottle with vinegar, dish soap, and salt in it. That mixture kills the weeds, especially if I spray them when it is hot and sunny. It does not work when it is raining. The rain just washes off the spray mixture.

I learned last night that there are many different ways to walk up that pathway. I don’t think I had thought about it much before. One child, about three years old, counted the pavers as they approached. Yes, there are eight. He got the count right. After greeting me and receiving a candy treat, he counted again on the way back and got the same result. Another, younger than the first carefully jumped from one paver to the next. When he leapt off of the last one onto the sidewalk leading to our porch, he yelled, “I did it!” He then came up onto the porch and greeted me and, after receiving a treat, said, “Thank you.” Both of those interchanges were much quieter and shy than his announcement upon completing his series of jumps up the paver pathway. Then he headed back towards the street, jumping from paver to paver. Again, at the end I could hear the cheery, “I did it!” I think he was way more excited about the pavers than he was about the small candy treats I was handing out. A younger elementary girl came up the pavers jumping on one foot then switching to the other, hopping with only one foot for landing through the series of pavers, hop scotch style. Another child yelled to their parents, “The rocks are lava!” and avoided stepping on any of the white rocks.

I made a mental note to trim the lilac bushes near our front porch early next spring. They’ve gotten too tall and bushy. I want to be able to see the fun on the street while sitting on the porch swing.

Our grandchildren decorated our front porch with cornstalks, gourds, pumpkins, and dried plants from the farm. Many children asked, “Where did you get the tiny pumpkins?” They seemed to be quite surprised that they grow that way. Others were a bit confused that we got them through a process that didn’t involve a store. When I explained to one child that our grandchildren brought them from their farm the response was, “No, I mean what STORE did they come from?” No store was involved in the gathering of those pumpkins.

Our grandchildren returned from walking around the neighborhood and greeting our neighbors with more candy than any child should eat, even if spread over a month’s time. That is except our 12-year-old grandson, who returned without any candy. He said it was a lot of fun walking up to random strangers and giving them candy. We teach our children not to accept candy from strangers, but that rule was suspended in our neighborhood last night. The candy was spread out on our dining room table and sorted, with a few precious items saved and placed in individual bags labeled for each child and each day of the next week. The remainder were placed in the large bowl of treats by the front door. Our youngest granddaughter helped me give them to other children as they came up on our porch to greet us.

Here is my advice to retired folks. Consider keeping a bowl of candy near the front door to offer treats to children who come to greet you. If possible, engage a grandchild (I think you could probably borrow one if yours aren’t handy). Having a young helper to hand out the treats makes the time even more fun.

Today is All Saints Day. As we remember with reverence those who have gone before, may we also give thanks for all of the tiny saints who visited our homes in the year just ended. They add so much to the joy of living.

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