Friday, June 30, 2017

The Vagabond Life

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten. Neil Gaiman, Caroline

I looked out the window as the truck pulled away from the house. The lion’s share of our worldly belongings were in that truck, and while the driver had a bill of lading, he was really leaving without a genuine destination in hand. For the short term, our goods were going into storage. From there, God only knows.

We have our suspicions, my wife and I. We know we will be relocating in about a month (that we are technically homeless). We still have a Post Office Box, but it isn’t really spacious enough for the two of us. By God’s grace, we have friends and they have taken us in for the month until my retirement from active ministry takes effect. For that, I am eternally grateful.

A month! Can you imagine that? There is an ancient document called the Didache (The Teaching) that instructs Christians to receive prophets, apostles, and teachers into their home – if they are “true” prophets. How can one know if they are false? If they outstay their welcome, of course! One day; two at most. “If they stay three days, they are a false prophet!”


The Didache even provides a remedy for guests who overstay their welcome. On the third day, hand the vagabond a loaf of bread, show them the door, and wish them well. It’s such a handy little treatise, that Didache document. I’ll have to show it to my friends (after we leave).

Anyway, retirement is finally upon us, which is a good thing. I’ve worked all my life to get to this point (using the word “work” quite loosely, of course) and am actually looking forward to it. A friend recently mentioned how the other day he sat down and was dog-tired. “Come to think of it,” he said, “I always wondered what it would feel like to get old, and now I know!”

That’s so true. Some months back I hurt my shoulder. I have no idea what I did. I’d love to say it was from carrying the weight of the world while Atlas was off getting a massage, but in reality, I suspect I did nothing more than shrug when someone asked me a question. I went several months suffering with shoulder pain, a joint so sore it was hard putting on a coat or reaching for a conclusion.

I’d never had an injury that wouldn’t heal after a few days, so after a couple months (I never claimed to be a fast learner) I went over to the Clinic (for another malady, by the way) and before I was released back into the wild, my PA asked me if that was all. I hesitated a moment and told him about my shoulder. I was embarrassed to admit I had no idea how I had injured it – possibly flipping a page on my Prayer Book, scribbling a thought down on paper, or splitting an infinitive – but the healer nodded knowingly and told me it was my Rotator Cuff.

“That’s a really wimpy spot,” he said matter-of-factly, “It doesn’t take much to hurt it.” He then ordered up a little physical therapy for me and, voila, it’s much better. I figure I should be able to start cooking meals again within the next year or so, but I don’t want to rush it and risk a fresh injury.

Retirement, as they say, is not for the faint of heart, but I’m going to retire anyway. I have things to do I’ve always wanted to try – like sleeping in past sun-up. But more than that (and more seriously), retirement is not a time to stop working, but to engage life and ministry more fully, to take one’s benefits and serve God more freely. That will be my goal.

I will continue writing columns as long as anyone is willing to publish them and you feel they are worth reading. I will continue to reflect on matters that affect us until the streetlights come on, the fireflies dance, and some higher power should call me home.

Until then, know that I will always be your friend in this, our valley (but keep a loaf of bread handy, just in case).

Friday, June 9, 2017


Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. Behold, I am doing a new thing! Isaiah

Every once in a while I see things I’ve not seen before. I know, at my age, that may shock and surprise many, but it’s true. One can have lived through the Jurassic and Triassic periods and still have experiences that surprise and (on occasion) delight.

This week I’ve been watching robins building a nest under the awning that covers a portion of our back deck. Since birds tend to look alike to me, I don’t know if it has been the work of a single bird or a couple, but it has been a weird process. For one thing, they didn’t choose a spot I would have chosen. That makes sense; I’m not a bird, so I don’t know what they look for when they decide it’s time to build a new home.

They chose a spot atop a ledge that didn’t seem to give much support for their nesting materials. They flew in and out regularly with their twigs, lengths of grass and weeds, and bits of material that would never pass muster for most Nest Inspectors – of that I’m sure. They seemed to lose as much building material falling to the space beneath the nest as ever made it into the structure, and yet, instead of dropping down to retrieve the detritus, they would fly off and come back with something else they’d found on their journey.

Consequently, there is almost enough material on our deck beneath the nest as there is in the nest itself. They could have built several nests from all the material they’d gathered. What gives?

Now, if I were going to assign wisdom to our feathered friends, I would presume they looked at the hard wood of the deck and decided they needed to prepare a soft landing zone for their loved ones should they fall out or fail to ascend when the time came for the fledglings to take flight.

I suspect the reality is less reasoned, but more profound. As twigs and grasses fell away, the robins no doubt considered them unworthy nesting materials. They let them go and simply found ingredients that would stick around and hold on more effectively – and it worked!

In life, we call this process “regrouping.” In football, when your offence is going nowhere or marching backwards with bad plays and/or penalties, they will drop back and punt. That’s a form of regrouping. They don’t give up on the game; they give up possession and, while the defense is out doing their part, the offense huddles up on the sidelines to figure out what to do next time they have the ball.

If there is one thing in life that never changes, it is the fact that life is always changing. The fresh air we took in has gone stale; the oxygen has been removed and absorbed into the bloodstream; the time comes we need to exhale and draw fresh breath. That’s a very natural process of regrouping.

Regrouping isn’t failure. It’s actually a healthy form of living. People who can’t or won’t regroup tend to let life’s droppings define them – and usually to their own detriment.

A couple who lost their jobs due to health and the downturn in the economy eight years ago had to move. They lost their home, their insurance, their savings – almost everything.

They didn’t allow those circumstances to define them. They regrouped, found a place to rent, eked out a living, and reluctantly accepted government food benefits to which they were entitled. That saw them through a year or so until they found new employment.

When sick, they visited the local government-funded clinic, paid a pittance and got the care they needed. That held them until the new job provided health benefits as part of its employment package.

The couple didn’t grow fat off the government larder. They survived. The benefits gave them the time they needed to regroup and rebuild their lives. They had faith in God; they also had a well-founded faith in a system that was designed to help its citizenry during times of crisis.

I think that’s some of what made this country great – at least as I see it from our nest here in this, our valley.