Rev. Ted Huffman


We’ve never had much of an art collection. Our home mostly is decorated with the artwork of friends, a few photographs that we have taken, and reprints that have meaning for us. But I have seen great art. I remember standing mesmerized by paintings of Claude Monet at the Art Institute of Chicago. I have been awed at the sight of stained glass by Marc Chagall when traveling in Europe. The list of wonderful art that I have witnessed in my life is long and there are so many memories of great beauty expressed in the artwork of human beings.

But I don’t have to travel to be immersed in beauty. Our home has a daylight basement. The basement is buried on the west end, but open on the east end as the hill slopes away from the house. On the east end of the basement are the kitchen and living room of a small apartment that was designed into our home. The living room has become my library with shelves on all of the walls except the East, which has a beautiful window matching the one in the kitchen. It is in this room that I do much of my writing and thinking and preparing for my days. And it is out of those windows that I am gifted with panoramic sunrises day after day.

I know a little bit about photography and I have a very good camera. I can control aperture and shutter speed, thus controlling my depth of field. I know a little bit about filters and reducing glare. But I know that I can’t capture the sunrises that I witness.

Not that the knowledge keeps me from trying.

As I look through the images of the past year it is remarkable how many are taken at sunrise.

The beauty in which I am immersed, however, isn’t reserved for sunrise only. The hills are prone to spectacular sunsets. And the creeks that flow around us have some stunning waterfalls. A few steps into the forest reveals a stunning vista of shadows and light in the midst of the trees.

And the beauty isn’t limited to what the eyes can see.

Yesterday I was holding a six-week old baby. He was calm and quiet in my arms. His black hair and dark eyes were absolutely gorgeous. But there is more beauty to holding a baby than what your eyes see. It is the feel of new life in your arms, the soft breathing against your chest, and the knowledge of the joy of new life in your heart.

I have witnessed the beauty of the glances a couple exchange after decades of marriage and shared life. I have been with teens at the moment of confirmation and commitment. I have sat at a bedside as death is experienced with grace and courage.

I have lived immersed in beauty.

I know that there are good and faithful people who long for a distant and different heaven. I have read the descriptions of streets paved in gold. cities of gleaming white and the majesty and splendor of the throne of God. And I have no direct knowledge of what lies beyond death for people of faith. I know that it is beyond imagination. In Corinthians, Paul quotes the prophet, “But, as it is written,
“no eye has seen, nor ear heard,     nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

So I am content to wait for what will be revealed in its own time.

But I don’t have to wait to have witnessed paradise.

I have already been invited to sit at the table with angels.

I will never forget the taste of eating Gallo Pinto with Pastor Dorotea while sitting on a homemade bench in front of a homemade table on the bare concrete floors of a little church in Costa Rica. The years have passed. The floors have been tiled. The tables and benches have so many coats of paint on them that they seem to be made of paint alone. But the food has never been better than it was on that day as we struggled to understand each other’s language, but knew each other’s struggles and tasted the genuine hospitality of colleagues.

I have feasted on wohanpi and fry bread and wojapi with friends from the Dakota Association. We have a long and mixed history and earning trust is a slow process. There is no better food and when it is offered with love there is no finer meal ever served.

I am willing to wait for the glories of heaven because I have already been invited to feast with angels in paradise.

I am looking forward to this week with great anticipation. We have invited colleagues from neighboring churches and people from the community to share in a community thanksgiving service on Tuesday evening. It will be a great celebration of the faith we hold in common and the ministries in which we share in our town.

The next day we will drive to Missouri to our daughter’s home to share a holiday weekend with her. We get to play the role of host and guest in the same week and to celebrate Thanksgiving in different ways and different places.

It is appropriate to offer thanks and praise multiple times because we have been so blessed.

The horizon is still dark as I look out my window, but I know that there is another brilliant sunrise just over the horizon. I think I can see a bit of pre-dawn glow starting to creep into the scene outside my window. I love this time of day as I anticipate the beauty that is about to burst forth. It is good to live on the border between the glory of the night sky with all of its stars and the brilliance of sunrise. Immersed in beauty there is yet still more to be revealed.

Thanksgiving is every day.


Copyright © 2013 by Ted Huffman. I wrote this. If you want to copy it, please ask for permission. There is a contact me button at the bottom of this page. If you want to share my blog a friend, please direct your friend to my web site.

The Reign of Christ

We’ve come to the end of another year in the Christian Calendar. Next Sunday, we start all over again with the First Sunday of Advent. The traditional name for the last Sunday of the year is “Christ the King.” In recent years, many congregations have shifted the language to call the day “Reign of Christ.” The shift in language is a reaction to what some perceive to be an overuse of English titles and hierarchy that might lead believers to have misperceptions about the ways God works in our world.

The roots of the holiday are deep. In Roman Times as people felt the burden of the oppression of the empire, believers reminded each other that there was an authority that was higher than the Emperor. Similar language was used among the faithful living under the oppression of the European feudal system in the middle ages. During the years of the slavery of Africans in the United States, the concept found expression in song and powerful preaching.

There have been, however, times when the same notion has been twisted into a kind of triumphalism expressed by those who have power. There is a kind of “our religion is better than your religion” attitude that forms.

In the church, we need constant reminders that although God is in charge of this world and Jesus reigns over all, the way that God participates in human life and the way that Jesus leads is not the way of earthly politicians and rulers. It is a tradition to read the story of Jesus’ crucifixion on this day as a reminder that temporal concepts such as winning and losing and even life and death are redefined in the the encounter with the divine.

Jesus’ first disciples struggled with the concept. Mark reports that Jesus said to the twelve, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mk 9:35). A parallel text reads, “Not so with you. Instead, however wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mt 20:26). The idea is repeated several times in the Gospels. Christ’s way in this world is not the way of earthly rulers and decision makers. The dynamics of power are not as they are in human politics.

The greatest role for a human is to serve and to sacrifice for others.

We have a fascination with royalty. Even in the United States members of the the British Royalty are the subjects of news stories and countless conversations. We seem to enjoy speculating about what it might be like to be a member of a royal family. Articles and stories about the rich and powerful in our country are the stuff of our tabloids and many blogs because people seem to be fascinated with those lifestyles.

It is as if each one of us carries within us a bit of Tevye, the father in the play Fiddler on the Roof, as he sings and dances his dream about what it would be like to be a rich man. What is a lottery ticket if not a dream of becoming wealthy.

Christians, however, follow a different kind of leader. Jesus was never rich in the goods of this world. He never accumulated a lot of possessions. He didn’t serve with acts of philanthropy. As he was dying, some mocked him calling out for him to save himself by coming down from the cross. He submitted to the authority of earthly rulers and powers. He suffered and died under Roman rule. We know that the story doesn’t end at this point, but we also know that the path of following Jesus is not a path that leads to earthly recognition, fame or fortune.

Ours is a road of service. Jesus warned, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23). The path of a disciple is not an easy path, nor does it lead to recognition, wealth or power.

It has been called the great reversal.

Meaning and faithfulness don’t necessarily lead to places of honor in this life. For the faithful, however, there is always more to the story.

Still, we don’t really know how to celebrate this day in the contemporary church. A message reminding people that they are called to serve and suffer doesn’t sell very well in the marketplace. Churches have succumbed to the pressures of this world. They want to succeed. People are attracted to churches that have large buildings and full parking lots. And the places that draw the crowd aren’t doing so by promising people pain and suffering and a life of service. I have yet to see a television ad for a church that promises that those who attend that church will become servants of all. What we celebrate today doesn’t sell well in the marketplace.

So many congregations have turned to a kind of triumphalism on this day. They preach about power and about Jesus reigning over all the world. They talk about some imagined future day when Christ will come in the form of an earthly ruler and sit on a throne and lord it over all the others. I guess the presumed, but unspoken, message of such a vision is that somehow those who believe, or perhaps those who participate in the right church, will somehow have a place of privilege in the new hierarchy that will be established by Jesus.

Not being an expert in predicting the future, I prefer to look at the traditions and stories of our people for clues about what I am called to do and to be. And there I discover a path of quiet service that doesn’t lead to fame or wealth or any other things that might be seen to be rewards by the standards of this world.

So we cut and split and haul firewood. It is a dirty job. We come home with our pockets filled with wood chips and bark. There are cold days when the wind bites at our cheeks and dusty days when our eyes sting. And in the midst of it all we find the joy of service. It is a path worth following.

Copyright © 2013 by Ted Huffman. I wrote this. If you want to copy it, please ask for permission. There is a contact me button at the bottom of this page. If you want to share my blog a friend, please direct your friend to my web site.

Inspiring Generosity

The good news is that the forecast is calling for light or no winds throughout the day - winds under 5 mph all day at Eagle Butte. Still, it will be cold. It’s only 7 degrees up there as I write with a forecast high of 23. We should be working outside during the warmest part of the day. And, as I said, there isn’t supposed to be much wind.

There are ten parking slots in the northwest corner of our church parking lot. Each is occupied by a trailer filled with firewood. Around town most of the tow vehicles are filled with firewood. And there are a few pickup trucks that won’t be towing trailers that are also filled. Add to that the SUV that will be hauling more than 50 frozen turkeys and the four boxes of books that are in the back seat of our pickup truck, and the boxes of knitted hats and scarves, and we’re ready for our annual run to Eagle Butte.

It is a pretty good run - a little over 180 miles one way. And we’ll make an impressive caravan with 14 or 15 vehicles, ten of which are pulling trailers. Wherever we stop along the way, the first question will be, “Where are you heading with all of that firewood?”

One of the things that is most surprising about it is that this is the third Saturday in a row of firewood deliveries. We’ve delivered over 32 cords of firewood to other locations already. That’s pretty impressive for a project that started with a few trees from a family’s project of thinning trees on their property, a borrowed pickup and horse trailer and a handful of volunteers.

From those humble beginnings our church’s firewood project has grown to over 100 cords to be delivered this year without any meetings, without any budget, and with a basic principle of “What people give us we will use, what they don’t give us we will get along without.”

To get a picture of the scale of the operation, today’s delivery will consume over $1,500 of fuel. All of that fuel will be donated by the owners of the vehicles. Each person will pay for her or his own fuel as we make the trip. Add to that the fuel for the splitters and chainsaws, the wear and tear on tires and equipment, and the generosity of the congregation is truly impressive.

I have written about the Woodchuck Society many times over the years and there isn’t much additional that needs to be said and these days talking about the Society sounds mostly like bragging to my ears. And I don’t mean to devote space in this blog to self aggrandizement.

It is important to say that while I have participated in a lot of Woodchuck work days and deliveries, the idea wasn’t mine and has grown through the leadership of lay members not through some extraordinary pastoral leadership.

I believe that projects like the Woodchuck society are an important expression of the faith of our people. They want to help others. They want to serve. They want to be connected with our neighbors. The ministry sprung from the grass roots and the positive intentions of the people of the church.

Hands on mission isn’t the the only aspect of ministry in our congregation. We budget tens of thousands of dollars a year for benevolences, including major support of Our Church’s Wider Mission, an important source of funds for our church’s state and national ministries. We receive special elections for Neighbors in Need, One Great Hour of Sharing, The Christmas Fund and Strengthen the Church. We support Church World’s Service’s Blanket Fund. Our youth group’s two biggest fund drives each year are for mission projects: Souper Bowl Sunday and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

And our congregation is quick to respond to emergencies. Last week, in addition to our annual pledge drive for our operating budget, there were announcements about Blanket Sunday and we were preparing for this week’s turkey delivery. In addition we ran a otter from Jim Moos, our church’s minister for Wider Church Ministries, appealing for support for a special fund for Hurricane Relief in the Philippines. That letter in the bulletin produced over $800 on Sunday and people have been bringing in checks all week.

People are generous. They want to be connected. They want to serve.

Having said that I finally am getting around to the story I want to tell. We have a freezer in the church, so we can receive some of the turkeys that are donated to be distributed by the pastors of the Dakota Association can be dropped off during the week by those who are unable to meet us at the church this morning. Working in the building, I get to visit with people as they drop off their donations. I received a turkey from a successful doctor with a thriving practice and a very busy lifestyle. It probably would have been easier for him to make a cash donation. He was scrambling because he has to leave early this morning for an out of state trip. He works long days because his practice is growing. But somehow he found time to go to a store, buy a turkey and make a special trip to the church to deliver it.

Another member is a widow who lives on very limited means. She was born in another country and her primary connection to our city was her husband. When he died, she was left alone. With no family and little means to return to her homeland, she stuggles to survive in our community. Sometimes she needs to ask for help with home repairs and other tasks that overwhelm her. She drives a 25-year-old car that seems to always be on its last legs. She dropped by the church with a turkey that was so heavy that she struggled to cary it by herself.

There is something right about a ministry in which a struggling widow and a successful physician are able to make the same sized donation.

There is something right about a church that inspires such generosity.

Copyright © 2013 by Ted Huffman. I wrote this. If you want to copy it, please ask for permission. There is a contact me button at the bottom of this page. If you want to share my blog a friend, please direct your friend to my web site.

Where you were when

I was in the 5th grade. Our teacher, Mrs. Wolley, had a reputation for being a stern disciplinarian, but I never found her to be much of a problem. Far bigger as a problem in my mind was the gang of girls who seemed to dominate the class. The biggest was Debbie, who lived at the other end of the same block as I did. She had been held back and was older than the rest of us and she was not afraid to use her size to intimidate others. So I learned to get out of the building and head home quickly to stay ahead of Debbie and her pals. We always went home for lunch. Our school’s hot lunch program was held at the high school which was a block farther than our home. Besides family dinner was a big deal for our parents. We were on the lunch-dinner-supper plan. Dad closed his shop for an hour between noon and 1 pm and we all sat down together.

My sister, the seventh-grader, traveled with other girls and It wasn’t hard to beat her home. They had to talk. My little brother was in the second grade and he had yet to ever arrive anywhere on time. He’s 57 now and he is no less a slave to the clock than he was in those days. He knew the names of all of the cats and dogs that inhabited the block between the school and our home and he needed to check in on each of them. There was no problem with my being the first one home for lunch. The little boys would be home already. Kindergarten got out at 11:30 and the youngest wasn’t even old enough to go there. Some days I could get as much as five minutes upstairs with my train board before having to sit at the table with the family.

I knew when I entered the house that this wasn’t an ordinary day, however. The television was on and mom was paying intense attention to the news program that was running. Television was a rather recent addition to our house. Everyone else in the neighborhood had a television before our family got one. It was reserved for evenings, however. Our folks watched the news and there were a few programs that we got to watch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. I checked to see if anyone was home sick, which was the other reason the TV might be on, but there was no one convalescing on the daybed. We knew better than to fake sickness in our home anyway. Mom was a nurse. She could tell. And if you were truly sick, you’d be treated for whatever ailed you.

The only other reason for the television in our house to be on before the evening news was a space shot. We all watched together as Alan Shepherd blasted off when I was 7 and we had watched every space shot since. Aviation and space were a big deal in our family.

I asked Mom what was going on. She shushed me for a minute and then told me that the President had been shot. I watched the pictures of people in hallways and shots of police cars with flashing lights in some distant city. I have a clear memory of Walter Cronkite sitting at a desk in shirt and tie, but without the jacket that was normally worn for evening news, making the announcement of the death of President Kennedy. After the announcement he removed his glasses and wiped his eyes. I have watched the re-run so many times that now I don’t know whether or not I actually saw it on that day or only watched reruns later. In my memory I was at home for the announcement.

It was a somber lunch at our house, our folks talking in low tones. We kids were pretty subdued, thought I’m sure that I asked whether or not we had to go back to school. We’d never known the death of a President. I didn’t know if school would go on as usual when such an event happen or not. We did return to school, but the rest of the day wasn’t devoted to the regular schedule. The principal came to each class room and made an announcement about the death of the president. I don’t remember what he said, but he spoke in the same somber tone that he used at church and he said something about the assassination of President Lincoln as well as the death of President Kennedy.

It is one of the things that marks people my age and older. We can all remember where we were when we heard the news on that day. Those who are younger don’t have as clear memories of the day and those who are a decade or more younger weren’t alive when President Kennedy was shot. We didn’t know that it was the start of a tumultuous decade that was also marred by the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.

The scenes of the funeral still replay in my mind as if I were watching them on television. I remember the flag-draped casket in the horse drawn cortege, the shot of John John saluting the flag, the soldiers standing neatly at attention with tears on their cheeks. And I remember it all as we watched it: in black and white.

Everyone knew what the topic of conversation would be at the post office and grocery store and church for the next few weeks. We were going through a deep grief together. President Kennedy hadn’t garnered a majority in my county in the election, but there was more respect for the office than is demonstrated these days. There were no sick jokes or mean comments that I heard. We were a nation in mourning and we all participated without distinction of party or denomination.

So today, as our nation remembers what happened 50 years ago, some of us have clear memories of that time. Others struggle to understand how that event became such a turning point.

I remember my mother’s words on that day: “Pray for peace.”

I’m still praying for peace.

Copyright © 2013 by Ted Huffman. I wrote this. If you want to copy it, please ask for permission. There is a contact me button at the bottom of this page. If you want to share my blog a friend, please direct your friend to my web site.


Being an island nation, many of the people of the Philippines earn their living from the sea. The traditions of fishing go back for millennia. The traditional Filipino fishing boat is called a Banca. The boats are based on earlier designs. They usually have a deep v hull with outriggers on both sides for added stability. Hulls were hollowed out logs in some early forms, but in contemporary times, most Banca are made out of plywood. The outriggers, as in former times, are made of bamboo. Banca come in many different sizes. In modern times, they are often powered by engines. It is not uncommon to have a Banca with an automobile or truck engine and transmission. The propellor is mounted on the end of the driveshaft.

Banca are used to transport people and goods and there are Banca that hold more than 100 people. The fishermen, however, use small Banca and paddles to ply their trade. There are a few outboard motors and other small motors that have been improvised for propulsion on small Banca.

The livelihood of many fishermen, however, disappeared in the roar of Super Typhoon Hayian. The boats were crushed and ripped asunder. No one is counting the number of destroyed boats as rescue efforts continue to focus on providing help to injured persons and recovery and burial of the dead. But without boats the fishermen have no income. Without boats they have no food to feed their families.

People can be remarkably innovative when the need is great. That is what happened in Tanauan, a small coastal town 20 km south of Tacloban. Tanauan used to be a fishing village. The storm, however, destroyed virtually all of the boats in the village and with them the opportunities for people to earn a living.

In a BBC interview Jimmy Obaldo, a local fisherman, told of how his children asked him if they could use an old refrigerator as a boat for play. He decided that if it would work for play, it might just work for fishing. He devised a frame and outriggers of bamboo and succeeded in catching fish and crabs. His neighbors imitated and soon there were enough improvised refrigerator boats in Tanauan to catch the attention of reporters covering storm damage and recovery. More importantly, there were enough refrigerator boats to catch enough fish to begin to feed the families of the fishermen.

As you might imagine, the boats are hardly hydrodynamic and they are difficult to paddle and steer. It takes four men to carry a boat out into the surf and they are usable only when the seas are very calm. They cannot carry as large nets as were common for fishing before the storm, so the nets have been cut into smaller sizes to suit the situation.

They aren’t catching enough fish to sell yet, and there is no market should they have extra fish, but the refrigerator boats are providing a return to work for some of the fishermen.

It can take several months to build a proper Banca. And it requires plywood. There is not currently any source of plywood in the area and if there were, it would likely be used to build homes and improve shelter for the people who are living in improvised homes. No one knows yet how long it will be before proper boats can be built and the fishing industry revived.

In the meantime, you have to marvel at the ingenuity of refrigerator boats. I watched a bit of video of the boats in action and I have no idea how they came up with the idea. Sure a refrigerator is water tight and, with the door removed displaces enough water to carry the load of a fisherman. They even ride in the water with enough freeboard to demonstrate their ability to carry additional weight. But a refrigerator is essentially a box and a box is far from stable in the water. A box tries to tip over and fill with water. A box resists motion with its flat sides pushing large amounts of water. A box is a far cry from the elegant and time-tested shapes of traditional Baca.

But there are plenty of destroyed refrigerators in the rubble of the destroyed town. They are available and can be obtained without money. And the fishermen have time and some innate knowledge of the sea and boatbuilding. A small amount of experimentation provided information on where to attach the beams and at what level the outriggers should ride. I suspect that it won’t be long before a fisherman discovers some other rubble that can be crafted to form a bit of a v at the bow of the boat to improve stability and make the craft a bit easier to steer and paddle. Everything has to be made from salvage. Different builders will find different materials and new ideas will emerge.

For now there is fresh fish for some families some days as the people of Tanauan work to recover from the devastation of the storm. I can’t help but wish them smooth seas and happy paddling as they head out to fish the shallow coastal waters.

I’m thinking that refrigerator boats aren’t going to catch on in the waters where I paddle. But we have never faced anything like the typhoon that ripped through the Philippines.

Still, I have seen people use their imaginations here this week. We are in the midst of our fall stewardship campaign. We are also playing a bit of catch up with this year’s budget after a year of special appeals including a major capital improvements fund drive. This coming Sunday is Blanket Sunday at our church. We have been asking for donations of our members at every turn. Still, we felt that it was important to share with them the letter from Rev. James Moos, the minister for Wider Church Ministries of our denomination. So we included that letter in our bulletin on Sunday. The response was generous and significant. Over $800 came in designated for Typhoon recovery. Additional gifts have come in during the week. Others have said that they will be making gifts in the coming weeks.

When we thought we had pushed the limits of the generosity of the congregation, we discovered that additional generosity still exists. The graciousness of the people and their compassion for those living in the Philippines is amazing.

Copyright © 2013 by Ted Huffman. I wrote this. If you want to copy it, please ask for permission. There is a contact me button at the bottom of this page. If you want to share my blog a friend, please direct your friend to my web site.