The 2018 Journal is Complete

2018 has been completed and this journal now contains all of my entries. If you are a regular reader and want to check out my 2019 journal, you can do so by going directly to that page. If you read daily and have bookmarked my 2018 journal, now is the time to bookmark my 2019 journal. You can find it by clicking on the menu at the upper right hand corner of any page in my web site and selecting Journal 2019 or by following this link.

Savoring Christmas

There is a relationship between the ways we celebrate Christmas and where we live. That seems obvious, but one of the gifts of my life has been a career-long friendship with a colleague who lives in Australia, where the seasons are reversed from ours. Christianity developed and expanded in the northern hemisphere and our celebrations reflect the changes of season that go with particular times of the year here in the north. Lent, the season which occurs in the spring gets its name from the lengthening days. In the southern hemisphere, the days are getting shorter at that time of the year. Epiphany, the celebration of the visit of the Magi, is filled with images of light and life and reflects ancient ceremonies and traditions celebrating the period that follows the shortest days of the year. On the other side of the globe, the shortest nights of the year are starting to give way to a period of shorter days and longer nights. This phenomenon hasn’t stoped Christianity from being relevant and meaningful in the southern hemisphere. In fact there are areas in Africa and South America where Christianity is growing at a much faster pace than many northern locations such as Europe and the United States.

While I understand these concepts in my mind, my experience is so firmly rooted in the place where I live that I have a hard time thinking of the world in a different way. I don’t really know what it feels like to live the cycle of the seasons in the southern hemisphere. The only substantial time I’ve spent in the other hemisphere was a month in Australia in 2016 during the winter in that place, while it was summer here. Our visit included a trip to the south of Tasmania and a trip to see the tiny penguins south of Melbourne, so we experienced a bit of Australian winter and felt a little cold during the season that was summer at home, but our trip also included a visit to Uluru and Alice Springs, where the weather was warm and similar to our summer temperatures. And a month is too short to get the feeling of the flow of seasons.

It is hard for me to distinguish my feelings about living through the cycle of the Christian Calendar with Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost following one another in a cycle that repeats every year from my feelings about the cycle and flow of the seasons with their changes in weather.

I have loved living in a place where we have four seasons. Having recently traveled to the West Coast where the weather was a little chilly, with some skim ice forming on shallow water to our home, where just a few days ago a major blizzard shut down travel reminds me that I like the winter. I didn’t mind having to get out the snow blower to clear out the driveway. I like seeing the artful curves of the snow drifts that show evidence of the strong winds that moved around the snow during the storm that we missed. I’m comfortable with t being winter where I live. I know that the snow isn’t forever. I get a reprieve from weekly lawn mowing at this time of the year and I am grateful for that break. The garden is resting under the snow and doesn’t need my care and attention. It is a gift, just as it will be a gift when spring invites me to return to the soil and do some planting.

This year Easter lands on one of its later dates. The date of Easter can vary by more than a month, landing between March 22 and April 25. It will fall on April 21 this year. It will be a bit earlier in 2020, landing on April 12. Since Pentecost is 50 days after Easter, its date moves around the calendar as well, so it lands on June 9 this year and on May 31 in 2020.

Just as each year’s weather is unique, so is the experience of the season of Epiphany, which is a different length each year. This year we get 104 days between Epiphany Day and Easter, which seems like a good amount and allows for a slightly slower pace for all of our celebrations than in years when we cram the same number of events into a season that can be nearly a month shorter.

I know, however, that the time will seem to fly by. Here at the beginning of the calendar year, when it is traditional to make resolutions and set goals, I am, as usual, ambitious in thinking about what I can accomplish. There are a lot of things that I want to occur in the coming seasons and I know that it is likely that I will succeed in some of my goals and fail in others. I’ve gotten to the place in my life where i do not expect radical changes in my personality or appearance. I know that meaningful change takes time and that slow changes are often the most lasting ones.

So here we are as we celebrate the final days of Christmas. It is neat that Epiphany Day, which is always January 6, lands on a Sunday this year. We’ll celebrate worship in the morning with the Christmas Tree and then take it down, the final of the Christmas Decorations to be put away for another year. We have just a few delicious days to enjoy it and to revel in the season before moving on.

In some ways Christmas has been defined by our travels in the last two years. Spending a week of Christmas with our grandchildren has been a delightful experience both years. Coming back home after the visit is a bit like ending a season even though there are still a few days of Christmas left. My emotions are tuning to what is coming and I am looking forward.

Today is a good day to take a breath, relax, and enjoy the glory of this season before I push forward toward all that is coming.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Standing in line

A delay in our travel has meant a delay in setting up my website. I’ll get things sorted out soon In the meantime, I hope most people have been able to find my journal entries.

Most of the times our plans go smoothly. Sometimes they do not. Yesterday didn’t go according to plans when our flight from Denver to Rapid City was cancelled. It is a long story and I’m too mad at United Airlines to tell it fairly right now, so the basic outlines are that we are in a motel in Denver with a rental car outside and we have a 400 mile car trip to get home. Needless to say our arrival at home will be delayed and the day will be long. There is work that must be done.

It is simply the case that things don’t always go according to plan and sometimes it takes a Plan B, C, D, or E or even more to figure out what to do. The trick is not losing your cool and learning to adapt as you go. The important thing is that we are safe. We have not experienced any injuries. We are only delayed and we will catch up with our work when we get home. And we’ll go on adventures in the future. This experience is not going to sour us on traveling, visiting our family or other adventures.

I was once told that we Americans aren’t very good at standing in line. Actually the person with whom I was speaking was British, so he said we aren’t good at standing in queue. Since I did a bit of that yesterday, I’m wondering whether or not he is right. The reality is that we don’t have to stand in line very often. Most of the time we are able to get what we need without much of that. There are queue areas in some fast food restaurants, but we don’t tend to go to those places very often. The place where we are used to standing in line is the airport. Most airports have stanchions with tapes to indicate the pattern in which people are supposed to line up as they wait for attention at service counters and at the security checkpoints.

Yesterday we had checked in to our airline online, so there was no line for us at the ticket counter. We did, however, wait in line for about 10 minutes at the security check point. Seattle-Tacoma airport was clearly set up for much longer lines at that point. A huge amount of area in the terminal is consumed with stanchions and tapes to indicate where the lines are to form. We stood in line about the same amount of time while we waited to board the airline. It always surprises me how aggressive some people are when it is time to board the airline. We all have reserved seats. The plane isn’t going to leave without us. But people will be fairly rude about standing in line, trying to gain advantage and get onto the plane before other people who are also trying to board. For my part, I’ve learned to simply let those who are pushy go ahead. I don’t think they get much of a prize. They have to wait while the rest of us board.

While I was waiting in line, it was also interesting to see how many people seem to have trouble with the airlines’ rather simple guidelines about the size of luggage. I too don’t think that the surcharge for checking bags is a reasonable fee, but I’ve learned the rules and am willing to comply in order to reach my destination. I’ve gotten used to limiting myself to a bag that will fit under the seat in front of me because the overhead bins are so crammed with luggage that it is awkward to use them.

Upon arriving in Denver and finding that our flight to Rapid City had been cancelled, we got to wait in line for just over an hour and a half at the customer service counter. It was long enough for me to call the airline’s customer service phone number and receive very bad and very expensive advice from the ticket agent who answered my call. Part of the advice was to stay in line to get a voucher for a room and meals and talk with the agent about possible restitution for the cancelled ticket. Of course when we finally got to speak to an agent the first thing that happened was that we were given a card with a number to call to request compensation for the disruption of our flight, but that is a story for another day.

Standing in line for over an hour meant that we struck up conversations with some of the other people standing in line. We know about the nursing student from Ontario, Canada, who missed her connection to Los Angeles where she was to board a flight to New Zealand. We know a bit of the story of the grandmother trying to get to Alaska to visit her 2 year old grandson and be with her daughter for the birth of a new granddaughter.

We learned that some people really don’t want to talk when they are tired and hassled and have been standing in line for a long time. Others become quite chatty. It was also easy to observe that there are rules people observe when standing in line. Someone who tries to get ahead and cut in front of others is not appreciated. Those who stand in the premier line when they belong in the regular line are turned away from service and forced to stand in the other line.

There was another line in the lobby of the hotel as we waited with others who would have been on our flight to check in. The line there was the size of the number of people who would fit in the shuttle van to the hotel. It was in that line where I invited a mother who was caring for a baby in her arms and two toddlers to go in front of me. She was tired and needed a break. It was there that I noticed that no one else would yield their place in line to her, though it would cause only a very short delay.

I think my British friend is right. We Americans don’t know how to stand in queue. I sure wish others had let the tired mother go ahead of them.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

New Years Swan Song

Friends, I am experiencing a few problems getting my web site up and running with all of the proper links for a new year. So I will continue to post my journal entries to the 2018 page for a few days until I can get things sorted out. I return home today, so may be able to get the posts on the right page soon. I will also add photographs to this post when I get it moved to Journal 2019. In the meantime, thank you for your patience.

2018 was a momentous year for us. We were able to travel to Japan, tour with our daughter and son-in-law, reunite with our exchanged daughter of 20 years ago and meet her family. We took what is likely the last sabbatical of our working career. We were able to spend more time with our grandchildren than has been possible in other years. And yesterday, on the last day of the year, we were able to witness one of nature’s most spectacular displays.

Every winter, Skagit County, Washington is a short-term home for migrating trumpeter swans, their smaller cousins, tundra swans as well as their cousins, snow geese. I had seen pictures of farm fields filled with the swans and previously had seen groups of hundreds of the birds as they were feeding in the day. Yesterday, we went to a place that is known as a nighttime resting place for the birds. We arrived in the late afternoon as the sun was sinking off to the west, giving the mountains to the east a wonderful warm glow.

The field was filled with the birds. It was impossible for me to estimate the number. There were thousands. About 11,000 trumpeter swans and as many as 55,000 snow geese have been counted in fields around the one we visited. We walked along the road, photographing the birds, being careful to not disturb them as they came in to rest for the night. Added to the fact that it was a sight I had never before seen was the sound of the birds. It was amazing to hear so many calling out to one another. The riot of sound was entertainment in itself.

Then a few birds took to the air. I was trying to get good photographs of flying birds when something caused a huge number of them to take off. The air was filled with birds. There were so many that I wondered how they could fly in such numbers and not run into one another. The huge mass of birds circled for a while before returning to the same field. The shutter on my camera was going as fast as possible as I tried to capture the moment.

We saw occasional migrating trumpeter swans and snow geese when I was growing up in Montana. The trumpeters are spectacular birds. They are the largest of North American swans and can stand 4’ high. But in those days they were rare. They were thought to be on the brink of extinction before conservation efforts began to support a rise in their numbers.

What we saw yesterday was something nearer to the way the birds used to populate this area, when they numbered in the tens of thousands instead of hundreds. It was one of nature’s miracles and something that I will remember as long as I live. It was a spectacular moment.

As I study the pictures of the evening’s phenomena, I realize that most of the flying birds I captured on film are snow geese. I do, however, have some wonderful pictures of trumpeter swans on the ground.

As I rise on the first day of a new year, I am filled with gratitude at the way that 2018 ended for me. I am grateful that my grandchildren could see such a spectacular natural display. I’m glad that they live in a place where the performance is repeated each year. I’m glad that their parents are appreciative enough of it to take their children to see it. I’m glad I got to see it with them.

I know little of the perception of birds, but it seems quite possible that the ability to see, process and appreciate the beauty of the event is unique to human witnesses. The birds may not understand how unusual and truly glorious their gathering is. It seems likely that it is one of the events of this creation that requires human witnesses to be fully appreciated.

I realize as I write this morning that like many of my experiences, words are inadequate to describe what I have witnessed. Still, it seems to me that the attempt to describe the event is a uniquely human characteristic. The desire to share the experience and publish it for others to be included is something that we humans seem to do in ways that are different from other creatures.

Of all that has been created and all that has come to life throughout the millions of years of this planet’s history, the glory of creation has come together with a witness who is able to recognize it and who tries to put it into words. It seems to me that this is a form of worship.

I know that my spirit is renewed by close encounters with the natural world. I know that my spirits are lifted by experiences with other creatures. The delight of my 18-month-old granddaughter at the sights and sounds of the birds is something that is as impressive and unforgettable as the birds themselves. And somehow, through no merit or earning on my part, I have been allowed to witness such an exuberance of birds and delight and awe and wonder. With the magnificent Cascade mountains rising in the background, the scene was so incredible, so wonderful, that I am just glad that I was there to see it.

And so we start a new year. 2019 holds wonders. I am waking to the world in a location that is not far from where we went to witness the swans and geese as they bedded down for the night. In a little while, when the sun creeps over the mountains, the birds will once again take to wing, searching for water and food and the essentials of their lives. All are available in abundance in this location. Then, following ancient patterns, they will sense the changing of the seasons in the lengthening of days and when the time is right, begin to migrate back to British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska. The years go round. The cycle continues. And every once in a while, we are fortunate enough to see what is happening.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

The last day of 2018

The end of the year brings challenges for publishing my journal. My website needs to have big changes to accommodate the new year. Starting tomorrow, my journal will post to a new URL because of the starting of a new journal. You’ll still be able to navigate around my web site, but things will look a bit different. For those who have set a bookmark on Journal 2018, a new bookmark will need to be set for Journal 2019. To make matters worse, the number of files that need to be published to accomplish all of the changes is huge and requires a high speed internet connection. Since I am traveling, I suspect that there will be some disruption until I get home and get everything straightened out. I apologize for any inconvenience this is causing. Please be patient. I’ll get things running smoothly soon.

I suppose that some kind of a retrospective on the year that is ending would be in order. It is probably going to be the most consumed media today. Newspapers and web sites and television programs will be filled with a look back at 2018. Perhaps there will be some observations from which some conclusions can be drawn, but I suspect that most of this coverage will reveal little about what really has happened.

I don’t mean to be too cynical, but the problem with much news coverage lately is that there has been too little to cover. We have become a culture of the 24-7 news cycle. We are addicted to continuous coverage. We check our cell phones and computers for the latest multiple times per day. What makes for good news is action. When there are things that are happening, such as wildfires or hurricanes, there is plenty of action and we follow the changes in the story.

Much of what is called news in our society, however, is really politics and, in a country as deeply divided as ours, politics is not about quick action. The real art of politics involves slow negotiation and compromise. People have to find small places where change can be made and discover the trade offs that allow for small bits of agreement in a world of disagreement. The result is that there are lots of words, but little real action. Words don’t make news. We have become lazy in our use and consumption of words. We find ourselves looking for “tweets” and short posts that are common in social media. Most of those platforms don’t allow for the kind of complex thought that is required to move the common culture forward.

So we get bored with the repetition. And we disengage, which is disaster for those whose incomes depend on consumption of the news.

The current stalemate in Washington D.C. that has resulted in a partial shutdown of the federal government is a good example. There really is very little action to cover. There news channels have long since exhausted the rhetoric about the disagreements that have brought about the situation. The major players may be having conversations and talks that will lead to incremental changes that can bring forward an end to the shutdown, but that process is not producing action. There is little that can be reported in a series of soundbites that hasn’t already been aired. The news becomes so repetitive that people tune out and when people tune out the advertisers try to follow the attention of the people. Consumption of news is down despite our desire to always be in the know and fear of being left out. The news channels are all experiencing a decline in viewers and facing declines in revenue.

In the midst of all of this, I am hesitant to say much about the year that has passed. As a pastor, I have noticed an increase in anxiety among those I serve. I have noted that many of the people in my congregation have physical ailments that are difficult to diagnose, have shifting and nonspecific symptoms and seem to present as chronic conditions. My experience is only anecdotal, but it certainly seems like there is a lot of general disease among the folks in the church that I serve. And it seems like 2018 was worse than 2017 which was worse than 2016. I’m used to being the bearer of hope and speaking of positive change and progress. It is harder to know how to deal with gradual decline and general malaise.

If I were to say that politics have gone crazy and that our leaders seem to all have become irrational, it would be an understatement. It also would involve portraying mental illness and the reality of depression and other serious diseases in a less than flattering light. From the symptoms, you might judge that we’ve fallen into a kind of corporate mental illness where the ability to discern the difference between unreality and reality has become so widespread that it is difficult to find stable points to check the difference. When the whole world has gone crazy, the word “crazy” no longer carries meaning.

Despite all of this, I am not discouraged or depressed. It is clear that there is much work to be done in the church and leadership is needed more than ever in my career as a pastor. I have work that is meaningful and people whose lives continue to be interesting and complex. There are new babies being born and new leaders emerging in the life of the church. Attendance patterns are shifting. Budgets are as challenging as they have ever been. I suspect that the church in general is facing some hard times, but hard times are not always bad in the life of the church. Facing hard times together can build community, restore a sense of purpose and restructure priorities.

I am no prophet and not good at predictions, but from my vantage point it seems like 2019 will be a monumental year in the pastoral ministry. There are big changes that need to occur and judgment and leadership will be needed in critical areas of church life. We have resources sufficient for the challenge, but the challenge is real.

The end of the year is a good time to take stock, look back and get a fresh perspective. I’m not sure that I’ve accomplished that task yet. Like many other things in life it takes special effort and energy. Time will tell if we’ve invested sufficiently for the road that lies ahead.

I don’t think I could have imagined how I would feel to reach the end of 2018 when the year began. I know I couldn’t have imagined it a couple of years ago. So I’m going to forego predictions about 2019 except to say that the times in which we live seem to us to be momentous and there is much work for us to do together.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

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