Friday, September 21, 2018

Ford vs Kavanaugh


I am a guy. I have been a guy for a while. I think it started in utero, but it could have also started with the Big Bang some eons back. Who knows when such things start, how, or why. All I know is: I'm a guy.

I do not live in women's skin. I don't know what it would have been like to have been a girl in high school in the 1960s (when I went to HS), nor in the 1980s (when Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh) attended, nor in our current millenium. How could I know? All I know is I am a guy.

I was a cop in Spokane in the 1970s. As a patrolman, I took rape reports and to the best of my recollection, they were all of the "stranger" variety - the stranger who mugged and/or raped girls or women. My primary task was taking the initial reports and, due to the nature of the crime, those were followed up by detectives who did the lion's share of investigating those cases.

In nearly five years on the department, I do not recall ever having taken a report of any sexual assaults between acquaintances or high schoolers. I did break up the occasional backseat love-fest out by Joe Albi Stadium on a Friday night. I do recall searching for a naked lad who'd been chased out of his girl-friend's house when her dad came home for lunch one day. But I never got called on a "report of an assault" involving youth, drugs, booze, or parties.

Does that mean they didn't occur? Of course not. I have no doubt they happened, but I also understand the reluctance a young woman would have in making the report. Being at a party with boys and booze would not look good to family. Questions of what she was doing, what was she wearing, how much had she been drinking, what "signals" was she sending, etc. ad nauseum would easily stand in the way of her making a report.

"Boys will be boys" also stands as a sickening rationale for the beastly behavior of boys. I know that young men, especially when in a group (or "pack") will often do things they would never do alone, especially when fueled or emboldened by booze (which conveniently dismantles inhibitions quite nicely). All it takes for them to "get away with it" is to threaten their victim with telling the school wild tales and lies - which (tragically) people tend to believe far more than the truth. Even the victims will believe it. Easier to believe they deserved what they got than to believe they deserved far better behavior from their peers (whatever age and gender).

Dr. Ford has apparently made a good life for herself and gotten over the assault about as well as one can get over the abuse of trust and of their body. Kavanaugh has also done quite well. Many women have come gushing to his defense, and his wife has even gone out and given newsmen/women cupcakes during this terrible ordeal the world is putting her poor hubby through. Dr. Ford has had to hire security, endure death threats, and leave her home, while #45 (the pussy grabber in chief) sings the praises of his SCOTUS nominee and slams the temerity of Dr. Ford to share what happened so many years ago (and add all this crap to her PTSD).

As a cop in Spokane, I have no doubt I would have been sensitive to any young lady reporting an acquaintanceship-rape, and yet I also know I would have had all those other questions in the back of my mind - blaming her for what she got, even if I didn't want to, mean to, or intend to. Why?

All I know is: I'm a guy.

That's not an excuse. It is just a statement of fact. I will add, however, that I have learned a lot more about women, assaults, and the #MeToo movement. I have made efforts to grow up, to be kinder, to be more thoughtful, less arrogant, and less abusive. I'm not there yet, of course. I'm still a guy. I'm still human - not as God designed or intended, but as happened after the Fall in the Garden.

I have no doubt that Dr. Ford was assaulted as a high school girl, and that among her assailants was Kavanaugh. His quick denial of doing anything wrong before he even knew who was making what accusations speaks volumes. Informed of an accusation, people immediately want to know who said what. The child who pipes up, "I didn't do it," before hearing any details is always, always, always guilty. Kavanaugh has lied during several of his confirmation hearings (now, as well as last decade), and I believe he is lying now. Kavanaugh has riffed off the Las Vegas ad campaign: "What happen(s) at (his school) stays at (his school)." His high school buddy has written books alluding to their antics in high school. Kavanaugh lies and has no place serving on the Supreme Court and, in my opinion, should be impeached for lying under oath during his hearings when he was made a federal judge.

I do know there are and have been false accusations made against men from time to time. Men are not the world's only liars. But I have no reason to believe this situation is one of those. Everything Dr. Ford has spoken of reeks of the gawd-awful truth that she was in high school, and attended a party where there was drinking and swimming and where one of the two young men she knew drunkenly tried to rape her while the other watched and possibly tried to help his buddy and not her. That event is seared in her memory only as traumatic events can be.

I stand with Dr. Ford. Why? Because I'm not a guy. I'm a man, a child of God, and we men have been called to love justice, do mercy, and to walk humbly with God. It's time for us to grow up, take responsibility for our attitudes and actions, make amends as best we can (with amendment of life) and giving all people - but especially women - their due (respect, dignity, and genuine listening).

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Life is Full of Disappointments



He brought me out into an open place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. Psalm 18:19

Life is full of disappointments.

I was enjoying a few moments of peace and quiet on our deck, reclining on what purports to be a zero gravity lounger. While it is quite comfortable, I’m afraid my body has always been able to detect the existence of gravity and, in fact, would no doubt attract space clutter at twice the speed it normally does on earth – but that’s beside the point.

I was lying there on the lounge and spied a marvelous spider web shining off in the distance across the yard. I was amazed I could see something so light and wispy from so far away, and then realized that perhaps it wasn’t as fragile as I’d thought – that perhaps it had been created by some gigantic mutant Shelob – that perhaps the reason I could see it was because the spider WANTED me to see it, WANTED me to come explore it, check it out and … SNAP! That would be the end of your dearly-beloved-now-departed columnist.

Well, my fear of spiders goes back a long way, and so I wasn’t going to fall for that, but I had decided to go check it out and was impressed with what I had found.

The fact is it was a common, ordinary garden variety spider who had been quite busy in our – yes, you guessed it – garden. I don’t think she would have rated a 10 in the Miss Spider Beauty Pageant, but still, she was of a freckled variety, and the web stretched from the roof of the house down to the shrubs below, and across the pathway to another shrub entirely. It was quite a feat of engineering and most intriguing.

I decided against disturbing the little beastie, even though the abode had closed off an entire pathway. Instead, I decided to leave it until morning and capture some brilliant shots with my camera. With any luck, the web would glisten with dew in the morning sunlight and I could come away with photos of prize-winning caliber for National Geographic or something.

The next morning, while it was still dark, I got up and, as is my custom, got the coffee going and while the nectar of life dripped slowly into the carafe from which I would draw the life-sustaining go-go juice, I got out my camera, set the dials, and mounted it on a tripod for a photo-shoot with the aforementioned sure-to-win-a-trophy arachnid. 

I stepped out onto the deck as the sun made its ascent, breaking over the trees to the east. I crept up to the spider’s lair and … nothing! She was gone. The web was gone. A single strand of webbing hung from the soffit, waving good-bye in the faint morning breeze.

Life is full of disappointments. My dreams of a Pulitzer – dashed. My dreams of a cover shot for the National Geographic – slashed. However …

My coffee was ready, so I gathered up my equipment and drank away my disappointments.

Life happens. Maybe a bat swooped in during the night and made off with my little spider friend. Maybe he or she found someone else with whom to pal around or make baby spiders with. Maybe she found the neighborhood too active with paparazzi – who wants to live where there’s no sense of privacy?

So, I abandoned my quest for the perfect picture.

I wonder why I didn’t get all my stuff together and take some photographs when I had the daylight and the shot the day before? Why did I think the future would be better than the present?

Perhaps life is full of disappointments when we try to live in either past or future, and not in the now. I’d made a decision based upon a dream. I could have taken a picture when I first saw the web and its fascinating occupant/architect, but I didn’t. Shall I regret that choice? Or is it wiser to reflect on what I did (and why), and decide to seize the moment next time I have it?

There may or may not be a next time, but there is always a now, and that’s where I think God would have us live here in this, our valley.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

9/11: An Essay

9/11 was a terrible day. My wife woke me up to tell me we (America) were under attack. Like many, I got up, turned on the telly, and watched as the broadcast cut back and forth from live feeds to replays. I was disoriented as I never knew which was which (live or replay).
Every year on 9/11, those clips are played over and over ad nauseum, and social media feeds are filled with American Flags, the Twin Towers, the Statue of Liberty, and all that and I, for one, am tired of it all. So tired.
For 17 years we have re-lived the tale. Nearly 3,000 died. True. Also true? Not all who died were Americans. About 10% (300 +/-) were from other countries. Since then, how many men and women have given their lives overseas in a “response” that shows no signs of ever ending?
Each year, 30,000 people (in this country alone) die from gun-related violence. More than half are suicides, some are accidents, and the rest homicides. That figure includes first responders, men, women, children, transgender (and all the other parts of the alphabet), people of color, white people, legals and illegals, rich and poor, sick and healthy, the smart and the stupids.
What have we done as a result? Hunkered down and wrapped ourselves in a flag, making of it our golden calf. We close our eyes to the violence around us and see an enemy (that consists largely in our collective minds) moving in the shadows, while ignoring the enemy that is destroying us from within - Fear and Hate.
We point fingers, preferring to fix blame than to fix problems. We build walls that divide rather than mending relationships, addressing grievances, correcting injustices, or developing courage through love and sacrifice.
Shortly after 9/11, the commitment was made to rebuild the Twin Towers one way or another. An early design or Meme was created where a tower would be built looking like a fist raised in defiance, with a single finger raised in an even higher “Fuck You” to the terrorists. Well, while the sentiment could be understood in the anger and anguish of 9/11, it has been transformed by our current administration - the logical consequence of a nation moored to fear and hate - where the Fuck You Finger has been shown to any and all who dare frustrate the Tard-in-Chief and all his handlers and enablers.
The smoke from the Twin Towers hung over New York like a pall over a casket. That smoke has dissipated, but the pall remains and shall remain until the people of this nation rise from their slumber and cast off the miscreants who have slithered into their various offices and work to replace them with men and women who can place national-interest above self-interest, and international justice above Fear, Hate, and vengeance.
My take from 9/11? It is time for America to grow up.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

On a Clear Day, You Can't See Anything!




Blessed are those whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way … Psalm 84

My wife and I had the pleasure of getting away for a week to enjoy a bit of vacation. As everyone knows, vacations are ever so restful and relaxing, so I suspect we might have done it wrong. We came home all tired and tuckered out and I am hoping we don’t have to do that again for a while.

As our readers may recall, we decided to head west and spend some time on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. We left home with our little RV (making our maiden voyage with it). We drove to Coupeville on Whidbey Island and caught the ferry to Port Townsend. The ferry didn’t hit an iceberg and sink, so one maiden voyage will miss the history books. That’s a good thing.

As soon as we got to Port Townsend we made our way past Port Angeles along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to our destination – a little RV park near Snug Harbor. They only had back-in spots for trailers, so Barb and I got to practice our communication skills. The maneuver was less than routine as I had virtually no experience backing trailers, and our little road had a small cliff running alongside it, making wrong turns quite hazardous. We actually got settled quite nicely, and neither of us checked search engines for divorce lawyers, so by the end of day one, all was good. We were happy campers (literally).

The next morning we took an excursion to Neah Bay and, after enjoying a fine lunch at the Warmhouse Restaurant, ventured off to find Cape Flattery and the northwestern most corner of the “Lower 48” (states). We managed to find a parking space and hiked the mile or so downhill to an overlook. The view was magnificent, in theory. In reality, the coast was quite foggy and the sky so cloudy that I wasn’t able to capture any memorable photographs.

But the hike was invigorating, the forest was lush, and we did manage to see some wildlife along the trail. True, our wildlife encounter was with a couple of slugs (each ranging about a half-foot in length). As tempted as I was to capture their image for posterity, the aforementioned temptation was overpowered by the one-two punch of sloth and indifference, so we satisfied ourselves with watching creatures slower than us for a few minutes before moving on with our trek back up the hill to our vehicle.

The next day we drove up to Hurricane Ridge to see the magnificent Olympic Mountains. Sadly, the air was so smoky from all the fires up and down the west coast there was nothing to actually see. I tried a number of different filters on my camera to see if any of them would clear away the haze so that I could get some decent photographs but, again, I was thwarted in my efforts. It was enough to make the trip and enjoy our time away however, and we did manage to see a young deer or elk on the slopes just below the visitor center. It was close enough we knew it wasn’t a slug, but far enough away we couldn’t positively identify its make or model. Never-the-less, it was a more pleasant sight than the terrestrial gastropods we had seen the day before, so the day was not lost.

All in all, although the smoke and weather were less than ideal, I found myself enjoying the outing anyway. I took a fair number of photographs while we perambulated some of the peninsula’s many trails. None of the photos was of prize-winning caliber. Although I know the camera was set to take color pictures, they mostly came out in various shades of gray, whether due to the smoke or the fog, it didn’t seem to matter. Even colored clothing came out in shades of gray, so that was an interesting observation.

I could go on and on about our holiday, but suffice it to say we did more than what is reported here. I don’t want this column to become a home-movie-in-print (as exciting as that prospect might sound), so I will close it out with one last observation:

We had fun, and that’s what vacations are for in this, God’s valley.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Wash Your Hands, for Heaven's Sake!


Some years ago I was asked to take services for a small church out in the sticks. I led the service, preached, and served communion. After the service, people thanked me for coming; thanked me for my sermon; thanked me for being there; invited me to stick around for coffee. They did all the right things; they said all the right things.

But there was this one woman who came, looked me in the eye, and said, “You didn’t wash your hands after the peace! You didn’t use the sanitizer!” And like Moses heading home to Mt. Sinai, she turned and left. (I had done the ablutions, but that wasn't enough for her). She left, so I couldn't apologize, and we couldn't have a conversation - because I really did appreciate her concern!

In this day and age of aids, zika virus, flesh-eating bacteria and all the rest, we’re learning to take sanitation and hygiene more seriously, aren’t we? We need to!

It’s actually hard not to be clean, when you think about it. We’ve got hot and cold running water in our homes and shops. Our laundry soap tells us we can wash our clothes in cold water, and while there might be science behind that claim, my gut tells me clothes need to be washed in hot water to be really clean.

I KNOW the water isn’t hot enough to kill germs, and clean clothes isn’t about killing germs (but removing dirt and stains), and yet my gut tells me – use the hot water (or at least warm), because warm water feels better when I wash my hands. Hot water feels better when I wash dishes. Sanitizer may work scientifically, but I hate the feel of it! Give me soap and water any day!

In the gospel, Jesus has his critics. Folks have come from Jerusalem to check him out. They haven’t come to talk about the cripple he restored to wholeness. They’re not there to talk about the little girl who’s life he’s saved, or the woman who’s 12 years of miserable bleeding he stopped, or the demons he has cast out of synagogue or the guy down by the graveyard. They’re not there to talk about his feeding 5,000 men over here, or feeding 4,000 over there, or helping the blind to see or the deaf to hear.

No, they’ve come to see what kind of teacher he is (must have been Labor Day – right before school is set to start).

They see his disciples – his students – eating without first washing their hands, and they’re shocked!

(Mark even makes an aside and says, “No one does clean like the Jewish people; they wash their hands before every meal; they wash their pots and pans; and they even wash their fruits and vegetables when they bring them home from market!”)

But we do a dis-service to the story if we think they’re just talking about hygiene here.

These are the People of God. It’s not about washing fruits and vegetables, pots and pans, or face and hands.

Water is precious. Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, had a town well. It was not unusual for the well to go dry in the summertime, and folks would have to go into the hills, find a spring, and carry home their water each day – not just for cooking and drinking, but for their ablutions, as well.

Water is precious. Water is heavy (pint/pound). Water is scarce.

“But this is who we are,” say the Jewish leaders. “Washing our hands, we remember God brought us across the sea to freedom. Washing our faces, we remember God gave us to drink from the rock in the desert. Washing our fruits and vegetables, we remember God brought us across the Jordan into the Land of Promise.”

Water reminds us we are God’s people – separate, and holy. We’re not talking about hygiene. We’re not talking about best practices. We’re not talking about good habits to get into. We’re talking about our identity as the People of God.

Now, it’s interesting. Jesus doesn’t apologize for being a bad teacher. He doesn’t rationalize his actions – although it look like that’s what he’s doing. Mark (or a redactor) says, “Yea, we don’t have to follow these man-made rules. We’re free to eat what we want.”

But Jesus isn’t rationalizing his behavior or making excuses for his disciples (who really were slobs).

I wonder if, deep down inside, Jesus wasn’t just a little bit embarrassed by his disciples. They didn’t seem to be very good at following the rules – picking grain on the Sabbath, eating meals without washing their hands. They walked with him and talked with him but they never seemed to “get it” – whatever he was talking about.

But instead of excusing their behavior, or dealing with it right then and there, Jesus went in a different direction.

“What you can see is important, but it seems what goes in is LESS important than what comes out.”

Now, our lesson skips a bunch of verses (and I hate it when they do that), but Jesus goes on to talk about – well, let’s call it what it is – manure!

Has anyone here ever stepped in doggie-do, or a big ol’ cow-pie out in the middle of a pasture?
Jesus looked around. This was sheep land. This was goat land. This was the land of ox-teams who plowed the fields. Jesus and his disciples went everywhere on foot. Undoubtedly, they were all-too-familiar with landmines along the way.

“Oh John!” “Oh Judas!” “Oh Peter!”

Jesus says, “You know, it’s not what goes in that’s the problem. It’s what comes out; THAT’s the problem!”

The same way, Torah goes in and tells us we are God’s people; good people; loving people; holy people. All that good stuff comes in, but what comes out?

“All those wonderful sins come out of us. They stink to high heaven. We don’t know how. We don’t know why. We wish it wasn’t true, but it is.”

Have you ever gotten a whiff of something and blamed it on the dog or the cat, or one of the other people in the room?

Not that I ever do that, but don’t you find yourself trying to pass off responsibility to someone else. If there’s 2 people in the room, you go, “Was that you?” People will try to look innocent, won’t they?

Jesus says, “That’s the human condition. The problem isn’t that we’re human. The problem isn’t that we’re fallible. It’s that we try to pretend we’re innocent when we’re not – that we’re better than those around us.”

In our collect for day, we pray for God to graft in our hearts love of his Name. What is God’s name? YHWH – I am who I am.

We ask God to increase in us TRUE RELIGION.

I get a kick out of people who say, “I’m not a religious person; I’m a spiritual person” as if that makes them superior. That’s as silly as saying “I go to church, so I’m better than you” or “I pray in the woods so I’m better than you.”

The root of the word spiritual is “spiritu” wind – breath – life. In Hebrew it is Ruah; in Greek it is Pneuma. If you are alive; if you draw breath, you are a spiritual being. You’re not superior to anyone or anything.

The root of the word religion is “liga” – connection. In music, when you see a smile or a frown over some notes, it is called a “ligature” – it means the songwriter wants those notes connected as a unit. True religion is that which connects us with God AND with one another.

Jesus says to the folks from Jerusalem, “Washing is important, but if you don’t see the connection between the act and God, then there’s a problem. If it divides us into ‘we and they,’ or ‘us and them,’ or ‘in and out,’ then there’s a problem.”

As Helen has said often, “Life is complicated.”

We ask God to bring us together – not to remove us from the world, not to wrap us up in bubble-wrap to keep us safe, but to bring us together so that, together, we can see the wonderful things God is doing in our midst, identify them, tell one another about them (and share them with the world around us – our friends and neighbors and family members and maybe even our enemies), and find ways to build one another up, rather than tearing one another down.

Instead of pointing out faults like the professionals from Jerusalem, our task is to share our vulnerabilities with one another; to confess our faults, identify our weaknesses and failings, and to look one another in the eye, not to say, “Oh look, a speck!” but rather, “Oh goodness, I’ve got this log stuck in my face, but I can’t see it to pull it out. Would you help me?”

That’s the point of the Gospel. “Graft in our hearts a love of your name (which is I AM ALL THAT THERE IS), increase in us TRUE CONNECTIONS, nourish us with GOOD STUFF, and let only SWEET THINGS pour out of our lives (and our mouth); on those occasions we find ourselves really ‘stepping in it,’ help us to laugh, clean up, and move on, and for heaven’s sake, help us remember to wash our hands, in Jesus’ Name.”

Amen.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Vacating Life


We did not all come over on the same ship, but we were all in the same boat.  – Bernard M. Baruch

It is something of an oxymoron to confess that while I have been retired about a year now, my wife and I haven’t really taken time off to enjoy a vacation.

Unless you are desperate for some sleep, I don’t need to bore you with the details of what we’ve been up to this past year, but suffice it to say it has involved moving to our new house, settling in, and doing everything we could and can to make it into a home. I am pleased to report that while it is still a work in progress, we seem to have moved forward far enough to risk taking some time away to simply enjoy days that, in the short term, won’t involve mowing lawns, weeding gardens, unpacking boxes, or vacuuming floors.

Our plan is to head over to the Olympic Peninsula to visit some beaches and historic sites, do some hiking to see some of the waterfalls for which the Olympics are noted (assuming the rivers and creeks haven’t all dried up; they are reputedly most impressive in early summer), and otherwise relaxing in the shade of old growth forests.

Vacations aren’t something I do well, however.

I suppose some of my reluctance to enjoy summer holidays stems from my youth, where vacations meant piling into the back of the family sedan, four kids smooshed into a space designed for three, driving for several days straight from our home in Seattle to visit relatives out near Chicago, and having little to do upon arriving except to sit in the sweltering heat of summer while the adults sat in the shade shooting the breeze and enjoying their adult beverages.

Not all vacations were hot and boring, though. I remember a trip the family took one time to a nearby lake when I was just a wee lad of seven or eight. We stayed in a small travel trailer, which I presume was a rental as we didn’t own one. My dad bought my brother and me a kid’s fishing rod, which had about five feet of string attached. I presume it had a kid-friendly hook, but don’t recall for sure. It didn’t matter as I knew, even at that tender age, that I would never catch fish a foot or so from shore – and didn’t. On a positive note, it wasn’t hot. On the flip side, it was boring.

Another time our family took a trip to the very same Olympic National Forest we will soon be visiting. We were a family of four at the time, and it was summer (I’m sure it was before I was in school yet – the memories are very faint). My dad, ever the soldier, set up the tent in quick and efficient fashion and even went to the trouble of digging out a small drainage trench around it “just in case.” Well, that night it poured. To be more accurate, a tsunami came down from the darkened sky and nearly washed us away into the River Hoh (or whatever creek we had camped beside). The next morning we poured the campsite back into our rusted ’49 Plymouth and drove home. I’ll be honest; I don’t remember much fun happening on that trip, either.

These incidents, though, do bring to mind the one thing I enjoy doing more than pretty much anything else. I love to complain! I am never so happy as when I’ve got something to criticize. I resonate with Saint Paul who says at one place in one of his early columns, “Oh, who will deliver me from this body of death?”

Now there’s a saint after my own heart!

The answer, of course, is one who took the ultimate trip from paradise, set up his tent in our world, and went to the grave that we might live. Keeping that in mind, I find it helpful to pause from my carping and to be simply thankful. When I let go and let God, so to speak, life becomes much more bearable – even vacation-life!

Furthermore, not everyone gets to go on vacation, and with any luck, I’ll have more stories to share with you when I get back here in this, God’s valley. Until then, I’m outa here!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Things to Do Whilst Your Summer Sails Along

I am running away, but I prefer to call it a strategic retreat – Tennessee Williams

I was scanning the internet the other day. Sometimes this activity is known as killing time, although, to be honest, time has been killing me for years. If you don’t believe me, come on over and take a look. So I found myself tumbling through some random spots online and found a gif (a brief moving picture or clip that runs for about 1 or 2 seconds). It was the picture of a sailboat where the sail was adjusted for the wind, and as the canvass swung from one side to the other, it caught and tossed a sailor into the sea.

That’s all there was to the image, and I found myself briefly wondering, hoping (and presuming) the sailor was retrieved by his fellow yachtsmen. Beyond that, though, I found it quite comical and entertaining – not unlike some Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin bit.

As we head into the dog days of summer, it occurs to me that some folks may be struggling with bouts of boredom and looking for ways to stay busy. As a service to my readers, then, I thought I would provide you with my top ten list of things to do when the mosquitos are biting and the fish aren’t – and you’re looking for some sort of reprieve from those flaccid days of summer. In no particular order, here goes:

Coming in at #10, go inside, close the drapes and blinds, select a decade, and binge watch your favorite TV show. Bonanza will probably take you almost to Halloween!

At #9, do a search on Tumblr, select a topic of interest, and follow the Links, Likes, and Followings until you get back to where you started – or Christmas (whichever comes first).

At #8, hop in the car or truck and see how far into the mountains you can get. Then hop out and see how long it takes for anyone to notice you’re missing. Remember, your local Search and Rescue team needs practice, so this would be a genuine community service. And for all those times your better half has asked you to Get Lost, you can show them how much you really DO listen!

At #7, when telemarketers call, ask them to hang on; then go water your lawn, wash your dishes, plan a deck party, or run to the store and do some grocery shopping. Warning: Do this only with your landline. Charges may apply against your cellular plan, so check with your attorney first.

At #6, sit down and address your Christmas cards. Begin your annual Christmas letter, starting each paragraph with a succeeding letter of the alphabet. Your friends and family will LOVE it!

Coming in at #5, close your windows, turn off your lights, climb into bed with flannel sheets and turn on your electric blanket and pretend it is winter. You may not get much rest, but you’ll quickly drop a few pounds and fit into those clothes you’ve been storing since 1977.

At #4, head over to your favorite community service organization and ask them how you can (gasp) be of service. Offer them the gift of your time, talent, or treasure (whichever works best for them). Make a commitment and stick with it.

At #3, take a stroll downtown, block the sidewalk and talk with visitors and friends. Grab a soft drink or water, look at traffic on the main drag through town, take a deep breath, and remember that’s what folks in big cities deal with all year long. Exhale, and offer God a note of thanks.

At #2, call a friend or family member you haven’t seen or talked to in a long time, and catch up. Note: Hang up on the telemarketer first.

And finally, coming in at #1: Go outside and when the first star appears, don’t make a wish. Just be thankful, and enjoy the view, for you’re closer to heaven than you can possibly know.

There you are. Enjoy these waning days of summer, don’t play with fire and, for heaven’s sake, watch out for pranksters in this, God’s valley.



Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Trimming Life

We’re all only fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make – Jerry Ellis

Ah, the joys of retirement.

I held my a trusty tape measure against a piece of wood, made a magical mark, measured a second time (as any wood-working professional would), confirmed the measurement was true and accurate, then proceeded to cut the door trim with my miter saw at an angle set for the proper number of degrees. When finished, I carried and tested the finished product against the door frame and – voila! It was too short. It seems I mitered the board in the wrong direction from my mark. Uff-da!

It’s ironic being a man who worked some thirty three years for a Jewish Carpenter from Nazareth (the carpenter – not me) and finding myself with all that experience still being able to make that sort of mistake. What a life! The double irony is that I don’t recall ever cutting a sermon too short!

But life moves on. One can’t stop trying just because things don’t work out as planned the first time and, to be honest, I know my skills with wood and saws well enough to confess I actually figured something like that would happen, so I made sure I had extra wood on hand!

Hah! Take that, o ye Fates!!!

I don’t mind admitting failure. Oh sure, there was a time I would have swept the sawdust under the rug and denied ever making an error like that, but that was so long ago the Allosauruses who might have tattled on me have gone the way of all the rest of the dinosaurs. And besides, it’s possible I’ve grown wiser. What’s the fun in hiding the funny things we mortals do, anyway?

I’m sure it isn’t funny to the tree that gave it’s all so I could trim the doorway in our home, but I managed to put the scrap lumber to use for smaller trim pieces that were also needed, so all was not lost. I have come to realize that life is too short to sweat the petty stuff. As someone once said, “Those who’ve never made a mistake have never done anything.”

The fact is there was nothing wrong with the door trim or baseboards in our house – or the spare bedrooms, to be more precise – but they don’t match the rest of the trim in the house which was updated prior to our buying it. We thought it would be nice to finish the update. Note: I use the term “we” quite loosely, but let’s not quibble over details. The fact is that left to my own devices, I would prefer to lean on my Lazy Gene (but misplaced it during the move).

So anyway, there’s work to do, although it is work of a different sort. I now have the time to practice doing things I’ve not done much of, and that is a nice change of pace, although the pace is quite glacial and needs to be timed with a calendar rather than a stop watch (and I slow down even more if anyone stops to watch me – I’m not fond of having an audience when playing with sharp objects like saws and drills, nails and hammers, and the like).

One of the pleasant things about doing my own honey-do woodwork is I can admire the greater skills of genuine carpenters. The good news is it was professionals who did the public spaces in our home, and the areas upon which I have been toiling away are and will be hidden away from the rest of the world (except maybe horror house movie makers – here’s a shout out to Hollywood).

That’s as it should be. While I know I shall improve over time (gaining experience along the way), I also know I will never be perfect. That job, thankfully, belongs to God.

In the meantime, I continued to measure multiple times and by the time I got to the last bit of trim, I had gotten the angle on doing miters a mite better and faster. And where my splices are sloppy, I have discovered the joy of wood putty (but I’ll save that story for another time).

Until then, enjoy your summer. May you never be board (sic) here in this, God’s valley. I know I won’t be!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

When the Bough Breaks



People are what they believe – Anton Chekhov

I was outside watering my tomatoes when I heard what I was sure was a rabid grizzly bear beating the bushes in my neighbor’s yard. It’s hard to describe a sound, but suffice it to say that if you have seen any wild grizzly movies on the silver screen (Night of the Grizzly and The Edge come immediately to mind) you will know the ominous sound of a beast single-mindedly wanting to have you for breakfast – or dinner.

Well, that was the sound I heard over in the corner of the yard as I was tending to my veggies (which are doing very nicely, I should add). I looked up from my hydrating duties to see what was causing such a crunchy commotion just in time to see a mighty bough break off from the neighbor’s fir tree and come crashing down onto the fence separating our two properties.

The good news is that the bough was crib-less, so no “rock-a-bye” babies fell as the incident unfolded. Also, while it had been my intention to water plants and bushes where the tree limb fell, I hadn’t gotten that far, so this baby did not have his noggin cracked by the aforementioned falling bough.

After confirming that I was still in one piece and whole in both life and limb (and heart continued beating within my own trunk – although it wasn’t beating about the bush), I went and got my wife to tell her what had happened (after all, she is the branch manager of our home) and the two of us trundled over to our neighbors to let them know about the damage to the fence we shared.

I thought the tree belonged to him, but as it turns out, it belongs to yet another neighbor who, while friendly enough, declined any responsibility. “The tree is on my side of the fence,” he said, “but it was planted by someone else and is actually on the property line, so it’s not mine.”

Ah, who says good fences (or walls) make for good neighbors? Some knot-head, no doubt.

Anyway, it didn’t matter to me who the tree belonged to and, the fact is, the damage to the fence was minimal. My neighbor and I took a couple of saws and loppers to the offending yard waste and laid waste to the trespassing vegetation. We chopped and lopped everything down to size in about an hour, and then loaded everything into my pickup, hauled it to the landfill and dumped it. A few days later we replaced the broken stringer and reinstalled the fence boards and, voila, all was made whole once again.

I do worry the tree will continue to shed limbs, for it does not appear to be a healthy tree. It has a number of dead branches holding on for no good reason except to keep the world in suspense. There hadn’t been any wind the day that one big bough broke, but I give gravity credit for its fall. It had no choice; it was the Law (of gravity).

I won’t lose any sleep over the matter. No one was injured. The incident gave me a chance to get to know my next-door neighbor a lot better as we worked together. I got to at least meet another neighbor I had not known at all, and I suspect I will get to know him and his wife better as the law of gravity continues to be rigorously enforced in our neighborhood. He may deal with his tree; he may not. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. The tree is sick, to be sure, but it is also short enough it is highly unlikely it will convert our home into a tree-house any time soon.

I will admit that fences help delineate property lines, but I wonder if they truly do promote neighborliness. It took a broken fence to discover who my true neighbor is.

A fence may give the illusion of security, but I dare say it’s only an illusion. Not only did a mindless fir crush it, but squirrels cross it all the time as they plunder Nature’s Market for their daily bread!

I’m glad God broke the fence. I’m especially glad it was God and not a grizzly here in this, God’s valley.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Naught, Knot, and Not


Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip. Will Rogers

In the Bible, we are called to be truthful.  I have always found it interesting that the commandment addressing honesty is couched in the negative: “Thou shalt not bear false witness”.

Why not put a positive spin on it?  Why not say, “Thou shalt bear true witness”?

Perhaps it is this focus on negatives – the THOU SHALT NOTs – that causes some people to see religion in a negative light – seeing religion as a culture of NOTs.

Thou shalt NOT bear false witness; thou shalt NOT have any other gods before me; thou shalt NOT covet thy neighbor’s wife, livestock, or other precious commodities; etc.

It is the NOTs, I suspect, that gets us all knotted up, and yet it seems to me that there is a value in the negatives. Is it the “nots” that make us “naughty?”

Many of us go through life thinking of ourselves as honest men and women.  When the clerk at the store gives us back too much change, most of us will point it out and correct them.  There are those who don’t, of course. Some will rationalize their dishonesty and their misbehavior – blaming the stores for short-changing them in the past, or making too high a profit, or more than able to “eat” the mistake. But a lie is a lie, and theft is theft, and a mistake should be corrected whenever possible.

For the most part, most of us are honest and will do the right thing if we notice an error, whether the mistake is in our favor or not.  We “do unto others as we would have others do unto us.”  That’s the Golden Rule; it is known and expressed in any number of world religions and philosophies; and it is a rule that makes our world a better place to live when practiced.

Ironically, it is our basic honesty that often blinds us to the complete truth about ourselves.  We are basically good (and I really do believe that), but in our very goodness arises a certain complacency about our true condition. We are good, but not perfect. Our motives may be good, but our results are sometimes flawed.

A while back I was driving out along Ennis Lake and saw a woman walking her bicycle on the gravel road. I slowed down and asked if she needed help (thinking she might have a flat tire or some other issue). She assured me she was fine, so I continued on my way.

Now, I would love to say I offered help out of the complete goodness of my heart, but the fact is the parable of the Good Samaritan was the listed reading for the upcoming Sunday, and I did NOT want to be identified as the “priest who passed by on the other side.” I genuinely wanted to help (if needed), but I was also protecting my fragile ego!

Isaiah tells us that all our righteousness is as filthy rags when compared to God.  Is it possible that we are content to think of ourselves as good, rest on our laurels, and not dig deeper out of fear of what we will find?

Is it possible that the commandments are put in the negative form precisely because our temptation is to bear false witness?  Not just about what we have seen or heard, but in what we have done or thought in the secrecy of our own heart?

Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

It is often out of fear and shame that we hide the truth from our friends, our neighbors, and ourselves, but there is no hiding the truth from God.  Further, I have learned over the years that being honest with our friends (at least with those who are trustworthy) – removing the masks of hypocrisy we wear – allows us the freedom to be more honest, and greater opportunity to be the kind of people that put a smile on God’s face.

To be human is to be flawed. True. But we are loved by God, just the same – and called to love one another, quirks and all.

That’s the truth – at least as I see it here in this, God’s valley.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Scale of Life



I waited patiently upon the LORD; he stooped to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay ... he put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” (Psalm 40)


I sometimes lose things.

In a world where people have lost their lives; in a world where people have lost their jobs or health insurance; in a world where people have lost children to drugs, or marriages to infidelity, or health to bad genes, bad decisions, or bad luck; in a world where people have lost so much that is of true and enduring value, the loss of a trinket or misplaced doodad is pretty low on the scale of things.

If I have lost some “thing” and have time to look for it, I’m blessed, for I’ve lost so much more over the years – and I know it. Thank God! Without loss, how would we appreciate what we have?

I cannot speak for the rest of creation, of course, as the only things of which I have any knowledge are my own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. But what I do know is that when I have a problem of any sort – major, minor, or something in between – I can almost always trace its genesis back to one spot: me.

It’s always possible someone took off with what’s missing, but highly unlikely. Like most inanimate objects, it did not walk off on its own. But the odds are good it got moved around in some mysterious shuffle and will almost certainly be found – because it has been my experience that I’ll find the errant object and cry, “Ah, that’s right; I put it there. Now I remember!”

None of that is important, of course. The reason this grates on me is because it violates an image I have of myself of being a relatively competent, careful, and attentive person. I want to scream to the rafters, “I do not lose things,” and yet if I pause before shouting, I can recall countless times I have misplaced items, or forgotten where I was going, what I was doing, or what I had intended to say in a conversation.

It is called “being human.” I don’t want to be human, of course; I want to have what God has: a perfect memory and complete power (and maybe an adoring fan-base). Sadly, I am not God; no one is.

When I get into a pickle, it is of my own doing. I may have help along the way, but I’m generally able to get stuck in the muck and mire of life without anyone else’s help.

So the first thing I must do is acknowledge and accept my very human limitations. They do not excuse lapses of good judgment or carelessness, but they go a long ways towards explaining what it is that’s happening. As neat and tidy as I want life to be, it is messy and unmanageable, I’m stuck with it, and there is nothing I can do about it.

I am, in a sense, powerless, but I am not alone. There is a God to whom I cry out when I am in despair.

I don’t mean when I’ve misplaced my glasses or bookmarks; that would be a perfectly silly waste of God’s time. God is with us, in us, and around us a hundred percent of the time. The Bible is clear enough that there is no hole deep enough or deed dark enough that God cannot find us, hold us, or hear us; so to beg God’s intervention for a “thing” just seems irreverent to me.

I believe God is with us in the pit, and that God not only knows the way out of the pit; I believe God IS the way out of the pit. Greater is the One who sticks to us than is the schmuck who’s stuck to the muck!

Psalm 40 reminds us that while we may be good at walking “eyes wide open” into desolate pits and slimy sludge, God is good at seeing, hearing, and patiently rescuing us.

That’s why I look to God; he is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen in this, God’s valley; and I think God’s worth singing about – don’t you?

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Truth: Stranger Than Friction

There’s no need to talk about it, because the truth of what one says lies in what one does. Bernhard Schlink, The Reader

Our yard is full of rocks. Not just any old rocks, though. They’re red lava rocks; leftovers from an era where someone thought they would make a grand landscaping material.

“You never have to weed rocks,” I’m sure the person said to themselves. I doubt they would have said it to anyone else as that is about the dumbest thing one could say in a world as seedy as our own.

They tried to turn their opinion into a reality by laying out landscaping fabric first – to keep the weeds down – and then applying a layer of rocks atop the fabric. The goal was to create an environment that would be fun to look at and require little to no maintenance.

“Oh what fools these mortals be,” said Shakespeare’s Puck.

Weeds have no trouble working their way up through the fabric – far easier than fingers working their way down through the rocks to get to the roots – which are well-protected by both the rocks and fabric (through which fingers cannot penetrate, unless said fingers have a poking device to tear the fabric open to get to the roots which then results in an easier assault of new roots coming up through new chinks in the armor).

Because our house sits on a hill, I find our rocks don’t like to stay in place. One would think lava rocks, which are quite rough and frictional on the outside, would stay put, but they’d be wrong. These stones are constantly shifting (presumably to get a better view of the hills across the valley – maybe looking for the quarry which gave them birth). They have an instinct where, like lemmings, they seek some cliff off of which they may hurl themselves to oblivion.

Our “cliff” is a scalloped wall of bricks that line the flower beds, protecting the lawn from the incursion of a basalt army seeking greener pastures. Most rocks stay put (I’d say those are the gneiss ones), but there are a few hardy souls that make the leap each night. So before I mow the lawn each week, I must explore the verge looking for those runaway rapscallions and putting them back to bed.

It’s strange how we humans are always trying to make life easier and end up complicating it beyond all reason. We plant grass for reasons which elude me – devoting time and energy to watering, fertilizing, and mowing it ad nauseam. We Americans seem to be addicted to work, don’t we?

I recall learning from my college Anthropology classes that ancient peoples often spent up to ten hours per week laboring (hunting, fishing, and gathering), and it was to these kinds of people God said, “You need to take a day off each week – let’s call it the Sabbath.” At that rate, we should be Sabbathing every other day according to my estimations! Where on earth did we get to thinking a forty hour work week was normal (let alone healthy)?

I may wish life were simpler and less demanding. However, as a neighbor once said in response to my wishful thinking: “Spit in one hand, wish in the other, and see which fills up first.”

Life is what it is, so we do what is necessary to make as pleasant an experience of it as we can. We water, fertilize, mow, and move rocks. Is that such a bad thing?

Maybe our love of labor is genetic. Maybe we don’t believe we have value unless we are producing something.

I know that I would rather be up and doing something rather than sitting in front of the television all day long. I find it isn’t the labor, per se, that attracts me, or the productivity, strictly speaking, but being creative. I may complain about yardwork, but in reality, I enjoy creating a pleasant space and doing what I can to beautify our neighborhood.

There’s something soothing in hearing the sound of gasoline engines popping up all over the city after I’ve put my mower away – creative juices flowing freely everywhere, inspired by one man doing what he must: Mowing (after moving rocks) for a clean slate here in this, God’s valley. Truth is stranger than friction. Rock on!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

When Vegetables Run Riot


Nature is not a place to visit. It is home. Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild

I went down to a local nursery a week or two ago and bought a couple of tomato plants for my vegetable garden. Well, actually, it isn’t a vegetable garden yet. Our back yard has many plants in it, but none of them are edible. If I want to eat, I have to steal blackberries from my neighbor to the north, or grapes from my neighbor to the south. Fortunately, their vines grow along the fence, so the law of the jungle permits me the luxury of claiming whatever grows on my side of the fence as mine. Or, as a child might put it: “Mine, mine, mine, all mine!”

The law of neighborliness, on the other hand, compelled me to chat with my neighbors and discern that neither is concerned with me meeting my nutritional needs through fence-line gleaning (a grace also known as permission). That works for me, too!

Meanwhile, I bought these cute little tomato plants, the varieties of which I have no knowledge (my natural state with most matters, come to think of it), hoping that they would (a) not die, and (b) produce fruit in due season.

For the past two weeks they have sat in the kitchen window awaiting the day I would release them back into the wild. Miraculously, they have (a) not died, and (b) already borne flowers which will (cross your fingers) become actual tomatoes! Through the miracle of me not having killed them (yet), they have also grown from three inch beasties to monstrous plants, both over a foot tall, and one branching out (apparently more bush than vine).

Now I have to find spot in the back yard in which to plant them. The weather here has warmed up enough that the danger of frost or dangerously cold weather has passed. Tomatoes, it turns out, are originally from Central America and not overly fond of the cold. That likely explains why my tomatoes didn’t do so well when I tried to grow them in the Madison Valley.

It’s funny, though; I don’t know where to plant them. Our yard is populated with a wide variety of trees, bushes, flowers, succulents and the like – so food-bearing plants simply look out of place no matter where I put them. It’s almost as if vegetable gardens are required to have their own space, surrounded by chicken wire (to keep out the rabbits) and segregated from species that are more pleasing to the eye than the gut. Oh my.

Never fear. If there is one thing I’m known for, it is my fearlessness in bucking trends, breaking rules, and ignoring anything resembling taste (unless it involves edibles), so I shall find a wide spot that works for me (and maybe for the veggies, too).

Life is too short to fret details like where to put something in the yard. Certainly, we want things to look nice. We need to ensure that plants which need a lot of sunlight will have a space where that need is met. We want to make sure they are properly hydrated – not too much and not too little water. We want to make sure to keep pests at bay. Blood is supposed to repel rabbits. Well, I may be a bleeding heart liberal, but I also find blood somewhat repellant. Still, there are alternative repellants we can buy at the local garden center, so I can minimize my personal blood-letting (aka shaving) for now.

I confess I am surprised at this sudden interest in growing things outside. I have always found yard-work more repellant than blood-letting. I suspect my distaste at such things hearkens back to the days where yard work was anything but fun.

Now that veggie-culture (aka farming) is a choice and not something compelled by a foreign power we referred to as “parents” – it is less onerous and a bit more pleasant. It is possible I might even come to (gasp) enjoy being out in that wilderness we call the back yard and watching the young tomatoes at play. I wonder if momma tomatoes are as protective as momma bears; I’ll let you know.

For now, it’s time to catch up with my tomatoes, so I’ll ketchup with you later in this, our valley.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Chains


It’s often safer to be in chains than to be free – Franz Kafka

In the early stages of retirement, I’m beginning to think that freedom is an over-rated concept.

I was hoping that retirement would allow us more time to do what we enjoy, although why anyone would want to spend more time sitting around doing nothing is quite a mystery. It has given me more time to count my pennies at the end of each month, but after about three and a half seconds I find myself wondering, what next?

It really isn’t that bad, however. I am still an early riser, so I get to go online and discover whether or not the world has survived the night without my leadership or input. The good news is that it is still safely in God’s hands, although there are enough greasy souls engaged in misbehavior that it’s no surprise that at times the good Lord’s fingers seem to be losing their grip on things.

Still, the universe at any given time is just as it should be, so I can concentrate on taking care of my side of the street and leaving the running of the universe to the Boss.

One reason I can get on with my day is I know from the get-go that everything will be OK. How do I know that? Well, for one thing, I have a friend who lives in the down under and I sometimes chat with him when I get up. The other day it was about 6 a.m. locally here and just past midnight for him there. If the world ended today, he couldn’t be there tomorrow, so all is well!

Much of our time, since retiring, has actually been devoted to working in and around the house to make it a home. The low-maintenance yard has been anything but. That promise was a complete fabrication by the seller (AKA LIE), but it is what it is and, although it takes more to keep it up than what I was wanting or envisioning, it really is a pleasant space for leisure living (which is what I call it when I collapse face-down on the lawn after mowing).

It is now in the sort of shape and condition where, if we wanted to, we could take time off to get away. It seems we humans always expect paradise to be somewhere else, and never where we are. On the other hand, if you knew what sorts of things go through my mind on a regular basis, you would know why I would want to get away – and the disappointment of discovering, wherever I get to, that there I am! Drats!!!

Freedom is a challenge, that’s for sure. It isn’t the money (although I wondered about that at first), but the sudden access to forty or fifty hours a week we never had before. The first thing I did to help compensate for the influx of time was learn to slow down. When I go grocery shopping, I may have a list with five items, but it takes me forever, because now I have time to read every label of every competing brand of the same thing I am wanting to buy (tough to read that small print, isn’t it?).

I move so slowly that I picked up a small bunch of green bananas the other day and by the time I got to the checkout, they were yellow!

Retirement, though, is a lot like coming up from scuba diving. You need to come to the surface slowly so you don’t get the bends. Ironically, I don’t bend as well as I did before, so maybe I should get going a little faster!

Retirement is also a lot like riding a bicycle. When I got my first bike as a kid, I discovered that as scary as it might be to go fast, it was also exhilarating. More than that, though, is if you stop, you fall over! The same goes for retirement. Don’t stop! And don’t let your pants leg get caught in the bike chain.

Beyond that, there’s not much to say. Keep moving. Use the wisdom you’ve accumulated over the decades. Be kind to one another. And remember, without links, a chain is useless, so stay connected, for it turns out that’s where true freedom lies in this, our valley.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Clouds and Security


If I stay in the tenderness given by / the silent sunlight coming down through the trees / surely everything comes into my eyes will be a message – Yumi Arai

I see on the news that almost everything in life we ever thought was safe and secure isn’t.

Financial institutions have been breached. Social Media sites have been drained. Retail outlets have been ravaged. Whatever hasn’t been pillaged has been shown to be vulnerable. All I can say is, “Ha! Welcome to my world.”

I take privacy very seriously. People who made confessions should be delighted to know that God blessed me with a wonderful “forgetter” – a capacity to forget everything I’ve ever seen or heard within minutes. I am that proverbial chap who dares not stop on the stairs lest I forget whether I was heading up or down – and for what?

I find it amusing that we are encouraged never to give our Social Security number to anyone, and yet every institution and employer requires it – the same organizations that have been breached, looted, ransacked, or rifled.

I am reminded of the early days of the internet where we were told the only way to secure the information on our computers would be to pull the telephone cord – and the power cord. If we really, honestly, and truly want our information secure, we need to write it in a book, stick it in a steel box with a good padlock, then stick the box into a massive blast-proof safe, and drop it off a ship as it passes over the Mariana Trench in the South Pacific.

I’m not so sure. The ocean isn’t as deep as we once thought, and no part of it is out of reach for those willing to go to great lengths to retrieve what’s down there. I notice investors will spend millions to search wrecks for gold doubloons and other valuables – but hardly a centavo to clean up the Texas-sized island of garbage that’s floating around out there over “them thar” wrecks. What’s wrong with this picture?

Garbage isn’t the most romantic of topics, and yet I find taking out the trash results in a more pleasant home. The air’s fresher when our wrappers, scraps, food waste, and floor sweepings are gathered up and placed in the gray bin outside. Now, if folks want to sniff that stuff to find out more about our family, they’re welcome to; just clean up the mess afterwards.

Getting back to security: we do the best we can. There is nothing fool-proof. There is no encryption system that can’t be beaten, and it is the fool who thinks they can develop a fool-proof system. If it is a system, it can be beat. Doors can be kicked in, windows can be broken out, locks can be picked, safes and codes can be cracked, files can be searched, and the list goes on.

I supposed what interests me most isn’t the security of life (or lack thereof), but that always-elusive thing we call the quality of life. Who wants to go through life scared to death someone’s going to break in and steal anything?

I find it ironic how Jesus compares God with a burglar breaking into “a strong man’s house, tying him up, and stealing his valuables” (Mark 3). For God, it isn’t the gold, silver, or bearer-bonds that are valuable, but people like you and me: sinners – (gasp)!

We do what we can to be secure in our homes and persons, but I have long ago given up fretting about such matters. I have good locks on the home. They’re not impervious to great violence, but they’re good enough to keep honest folks honest. What we have at home is mostly stuff. It’s stuff we like and appreciate – but it’s all replaceable for the most part. We have smoke and CO2 detectors to keep us safe from fire or noxious fumes. We’ve got strong passwords on most of our internet connected sites – but we should change them more regularly – an area for improvement, but not for fretting.

While there are things in life that are vulnerable to malicious behavior and which could be considered insecure in matters of safekeeping, we can all be sure of one thing: God’s love for all people. We can be secure in that truth here in this, our valley.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Daffodils




There’s a lot of hope and a lot of faith and love mixed up in a miracle – MEINDERT DEJONG

My wife and I went out for a drive as we are wont to do from time to time. It was a weekday evening and, what with the time change and lengthening of days of early spring (and a nice day, to boot), I thought we’d go out and see the daffodils growing commercially in fields just west of us.

I wasn’t exactly sure where we would find them – I think the local farms are better known for their tulips (which don’t come into bloom for another month or two) – but I knew that if I drove around aimlessly for a while I would surely discover them.

We headed west towards Anacortes on the old Memorial Highway and sure enough, there they were: fields of bright yellow daffodils swaying in the breeze. I grabbed a few quick snaps from my phone for, alas, I had left my good camera at home. My brother-in-law’s words bounced around the cavern between my ears: “You can’t get pictures if you don’t take your camera.” He won’t read this so it’s safe to say this openly: He’s right!

While cell phone cameras have come a long way, and while some can take breath-taking photos, my phone isn’t one of those. So I got some decent shots, but nothing as spectacular as what we saw before us, but that’s OK. Perfection is God’s responsibility, not mine.

While I enjoy photography as a hobby (and I am really a beginner of a novice, and not really even a novice yet), the fact is I am finding joy in simply living. While it is nice taking pictures (and quite ego-stroking setting up the tripod, changing lenses, playing with focus, composition, f-stops, and the like – to the oos and the ahs of the local lookie-loos), I am coming to appreciate actually just being “in the moment” –  like looking at a field of flowers swaying ever so gently in the breeze. It was truly a “wow” moment.

Lifting up my eyes from the field of golden daffodils (do they come in any other color?), I gazed to the east and couldn’t help but notice the clouds billowing over the north Cascade Mountains. It wasn’t the usual flat gray slate that usually hangs over our part of the world. These were angry, well-defined and muscular storm clouds looking to put some serious water down on the hills to the east. Again, all I could do is let out an almost imperceptible “wow.”

Living in the moment. What a concept. I forget who it was who said, “There is no past; there is no future; there is only now – ever only now.” Incidentally, if no one actually ever said that, I’ll be happy to take credit. Please send royalties my way via the Madisonian.

It has been said that a miracle is an event that can’t be explained with the laws of science or nature, but I would disagree completely. Just the complexity of the universe in which we live is a miracle. Just the fact that a seed or bulb can be shoved into a bit of black or brown dirt and come up in bright green and yellows is a miracle.

The fact you and I can see that stuff – and knowing we don’t really see it, but an image of reflected light is caught by lenses that evolved over more millennia than we can count, hits a fleshy slate containing rods and cones at the back of our eyeballs (upside down, no less), is converted to chemical and electrical impulses that snap, crackle, and pop along an optic nerve to a patch of gray matter that lies between our ears, and is perceived (right side up) as something which then causes other parts of our body to secrete endorphins that eventually produces a smile upon one’s mug – that’s a miracle!

Miracles are everywhere. All we need to do is look around with eyes to see, and listen with ears to hear.

To appreciate what we have, and what we see, and what we hear, and what we feel, and what we experience – and that we can do it alone or in community – by golly, those are also miracles here now in this, our valley.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

On Track




Whatever you want to do, do it. There are only so many tomorrows. Anonymous

Life is sometimes likened to a train trip. It has a starting point and a destination. We’re on the journey, but we’re not driving the engine. As long as the train is sufficiently fueled, properly maintained, and stays on the track, the passenger need not worry or fret, for all is in good hands. So …

Winters here on the north end of the I-5 corridor are not nearly as rough, wet, or icy as they are in southwest Montana, but they can be quite gray and dreary. As much of a home-body as I am, it is nice getting out every now and then to do something new and different.

To help break up some of the monotony, I did a bit of research and discovered I could catch a train and visit Seattle for less than what it would cost to drive down and pay to park in the city, so that’s what we did.

What a pleasant way to travel! We got to the train station here in town (with free parking – how convenient is that!?). There were no crowds, no lines or queues, no baggage handlers or x-ray machines. There was just a handful of fellow sojourners hanging around making small talk and waiting for the arrival of the 9 o’clocker.

The passenger train glided into the station very quickly (and surprisingly quietly) about twenty minutes late, but no one seemed flustered, fretful, or bothered by the delay. We were directed to our cars by the friendly rail-crew and allowed to sit wherever we wanted. We were in the economy class, but our seats were very comfortable and spacious – nothing at all like airline seats!

As quickly as the train had arrived, it departed the station giving a long, cheerful wail of its air-horn. I was surprised at how swiftly it got up to speed, rolling down the track with a … What?

Where was the clickity-clack of the track? Somehow, the traditional sound of wheels rolling over track seams was gone! I hadn’t been on a train since the mid-1960s, and one of the true joys of train travel back then had been the simultaneous swaying of the train as it sped down the track, and the rhythmic clacking of the wheels as they rolled over each succeeding section of rail.

The iron ribbon has become seamless, it seems (no pun intended). For those who appreciate a quiet environment, it was certainly an improvement. In fact, the entire journey was tranquil. We didn’t have the constant roar of jet engines or the dings, pings, or intrusion of pilot-to-crew instructions. We travelers could actually have a normal conversation!

The only directives we received were given face-to-face by the conductor who pointed our way to the Bistro car, where we could go pick up refreshments (which we did). While standing in line awaiting our turn, one woman turned to my wife and said, “9 o’clock is too early to catch a train.” After a brief pause she added, “… but not for Bloody Mary!” which she ordered, received, and carried almost amorously back to her car.

The train made all of its stops along its route and yet we still made up for the late departure and reached the King Street Station in Seattle right on schedule.

There is something delightful to be found in letting someone else do the driving. I wasn’t worn out with a white-knuckle drive along a congested freeway. There were no potholes to avoid, lanes to change, or blue light specials to worry about.

We made our way from the heart of our town to the heart of the Emerald City in less than two hours. When we were finished for the day, having done our sight-seeing and visiting with our son, we caught the early evening train home and arrived exhausted from the day’s activities, but not from the day’s journey. What a blessing!

Life is sometimes likened to a train trip. I couldn’t agree more. Each of us had our own destinations, plans, and “stories,” but we journeyed peaceably together. For the crew, it was a milk run; for some passengers it was party-time; for others, coffee-on-the-go. For me? It was a rolling parable; kingdom living in this, our valley.