November 2019

Home place

These days I tell lots of stories about my home town. I think that I had a good time growing up in that community. If I am honest, however, I have to admit that from my early teen years, I invested a lot of energy in thinking and dreaming about how I would get out of that town. I never really had a vision of staying there. I had options for doing just that. My father would have worked hard to make room for me in his business and for me to one day take over for him, but that wasn’t my interest and he never pressured me. When I was 14, I spent the summer on my cousin’s and uncle’s ranches, 200 miles from home. It was an even smaller town, but it was an opportunity to get away from home. I repeated the process the next summer. When I was seventeen, I went to college 80 miles from home in the state’s largest city. I spent a few summers in my home town, but never lived there for longer than three months after I headed for college.

I retained my sense of home state for the four years we lived in Chicago. I thought of myself as a Montanan who was temporarily living in Chicago. We went home the first two summers and managed our church camp just up the river from the home of my birth and growing up years. There was, however, no job for us in Montana when we graduated from seminary. We received a call to serve in North Dakota. We stayed in North Dakota for seven years. It is the state where our children were born. I had more of a sense of belonging to that place. Although I would still refer to Montana as my home at times, I also referred to North Dakota as home. I remember distinctly a trip that I made to New York City, where I announced proudly at all of the meetings that I was from North Dakota. Although she lived in Montana for her school years, my wife was born in North Dakota. My father also was born in North Dakota. There were good reasons to claim that state as home. We loved the people and the community where we lived.

We stayed in Idaho for a decade. I think that both of our children developed quite a sense of belonging to that state. Our son lived there from age 4 to 14 and when we moved to South Dakota thought of Boise as home for quite a while. He was quick to move from South Dakota, going to college in Forest Grove, Oregon and then to graduate school in North Carolina. From there he moved to Washington, a state he has called home ever since. Our daughter was a bit slower to leave South Dakota, going to college in Wyoming and then Montana before returning to South Dakota for a while. She served a short term as a nanny in New Jersey and then returned to South Dakota again. Then, when she left, she really left, moving to England from there to Missouri and now lives in Japan.

I’ve been thinking about home and what home has to do with our identity. My wife and I have both lived in South Dakota and in this particular house in South Dakota longer than we have lived any other place in our lives. This is our 25th winter in this house. Today we will spend the entire day at home with a blizzard raging outside and travel limited. I could put the chains on the pickup and venture out, but I have no particular reason to do so. We are very comfortable in our home. We’ve weathered a lot of blizzards in this place. We know what to do if the electricity goes out. We have plenty of food. Yesterday I was in town for a little while. The roads were very slippery with freezing drizzle making getting around challenging. I stopped to talk to a friend through the windows of our cars and had to back down a block or so to get enough traction and momentum to make it up the hill. As soon as I had done the essential business of my day, I was back in my car and heading home. It felt good to get back home. The slippery roads didn’t matter when I didn’t need to go anyplace. I heard about and saw pictures of lots of cars in the ditch and lots of problems for the wreckers and felt blessed to be able to just be a home.

But this home will not be mine forever. We humans don’t go on forever. I watched the previous generation struggle with the sense of home. Both my mother and Susan’s father came to live in our town at the end of their lives. Susan’s parents stayed in their home as long as they could - all the way to the end of her mother’s life. That home became a bit of a burden for her father and he never did succeed in the process of cleaning it out and dealing with the possessions they had accumulated. That job was left to their daughters. My mother made a move to live near my sister when she was still healthy and active. She succeeded in emptying our family home. My brother was the next resident of that house. She did, however, keep her summer place. It worked well for her to spend a few months there every year for a while. That place remains in the family and there is still some sorting that needs to be done there.

We think it would be best for us to move from this house while we have our health and energy to deal with our accumulation of things. We’d like to be the ones to do the sorting and downsizing. It seems like a challenge at the moment.

So where will our next home be? That is yet to be discovered. I assume that the building will be smaller. I think it will be closer to the home of our son and his family. Whatever happens, I can no longer think of home as a single place. I’ve had many homes in many states. In a sense I belong to all of them.

The next time I am asked, “Where are you from?” I’ll have to think a bit before giving an answer. It hasn’t been a place, but rather a journey.

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!

Changing times

Perhaps every holiday invites some thinking about the past. We remember previous celebrations and notice the changes that occur in our lives. Change is a constant. We grow older. New people come into our lives. Loved ones come to the end of their lives. Holidays are filled with memories of firsts and lasts: the first Thanksgiving with the new baby; the last thanksgiving with Dad. Early in our marriage Thanksgiving was an occasion for us to start new traditions for our family. Our second Thanksgiving found us in Chicago - to far away from family to make the trip home for that particular holiday. We learned to gather with friends and enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal. One of the guests at our third Thanksgiving in Chicago had grown up in a family that operated a restaurant. I had carved a turkey before, but he taught me how to carve and bone a turkey the way professionals do it. I’ve remembered those lessons ever since.

Yesterday was a wonderful day for us and we enjoyed close friends and a wonderful meal. We spent the entire afternoon sitting around the table, talking and enjoying one another. I couldn’t help but speculate on some of the changes that are a part of our life. We know that it is likely that we won’t be celebrating our next Thanksgiving here. What has become a family tradition will need to change. But we’ve had lots of changes. We’ve celebrated in a lot of different places and ways.

Thanksgiving is a special holiday for clergy because we aren’t used to the concept of weekends. Because we work on Sundays, our sabbath needs to be a different day of the week and often doesn’t line up with what the rest of the world is doing. But Thanksgiving weekend usually offers a three day weekend for pastors. Our children were out of school and we had time to enjoy one another. Thanksgiving weekend often included opportunities to go sledding or take a hike. For a few years we were given the opportunity to use another family’s mountain cabin and get away from the phone and the worries of everyday life.

I remember a few years ago when I noticed that people were wanting to stretch Thanksgiving weekend. Our tradition had been to gather for a community Thanksgiving-Eve celebration in one of the downtown churches. A colleague suggested that we move that service from Wednesday to Tuesday because people want to travel on Wednesday to be with family on Thursday. The concept made sense and the time of the service was changed. It is now our tradition to hold that service on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. But this year the public schools in our town took the entire week off from school. Attendance at the service was light. There was some speculation that perhaps the service needs to be a week before Thanksgiving because so many people are not available Thanksgiving week. I don’t know what shape the service will take in the future, but I know that things will change.

Because of the extended week from school, we noticed that a lot of families in our church were celebrating Thanksgiving on days other than Thursday. “We’re having our Thanksgiving on Wednesday.” “We’ had ours last Saturday.” It is a funny conversation in a way. I grew up with holidays occurring on a specific day, not with the concept of a moveable holiday. The changing days of celebration combined with a forecast blizzard for tonight meant that we had staff working at the church yesterday. It seemed really strange to me to be taking a day off when others were working. I exchanged several text messages while sitting at the table with a staff member who was getting ready to print the bulletin for Sunday. Thanksgiving weekend used to be a time when we had the bulletins printed on Wednesday so everyone could take the same days off, but flexibility to accommodate the needs of various families necessitated the change. And I can remember when my cell phone didn’t work in the location where we were celebrating Thanksgiving. Those days are past.

Another changed is the accuracy of weather forecasts. I grew up paying attention to the weather because my parents were pilots. My father taught me how to read weather maps at an early age and we would go together to the Flight Service Station to get the latest forecasts when planning trips. These days I can view the doppler radar from my cell phone. Forecasts are updated minute by minute and they are remarkably accurate. We’ve lots a bit of the sense of “we’ll take the weather whatever comes.” I still threw a parka in the back seat of the car yesterday and made sure that I had tire chains before heading into the hills to our friends’ house, but I’m pretty confident that blizzard conditions won’t be coming until tonight. And we can plan ahead to deal with the weather. I’m confident that we will need to reschedule tomorrow’s hanging of the greens in our sanctuary. We might even have the first Sunday of Advent without the Christmas Tree up. We didn’t used to know ahead of time what conditions we’d be finding 24 hours in the future.

So we’ll gat a few chores done today and make sure we’re ready to hunker down when the snow and winds are raging outdoors. We can make a few plans and we should be dug out in time for worship on Sunday morning. Folks heading out to the hills to cut their Christmas Trees are probably OK this morning, but should plan to get home by there early afternoon. Snow probably won’t start accumulating until mid-afternoon. The full-bore blizzard won’t arrive until after dark. Tomorrow will be a good day to stay inside. It could snow most of the day, which means we may need to get up early on Sunday to dig out.

We live in a constantly changing world. Some things have improved. Some things we miss terribly. I don’t mind accurate weather forecasts, but I don’t want to have every moment of my life planned in advance. A few surprises now and then spice things up nicely.

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!

Thanksgiving, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving! It is a greeting that will be exchanged a lot today - even by those whose travel plans have been stymied by inclement weather. It is a national holiday and one of the few national holidays that comes with extra time off from work for many. Of course the shopping frenzy of the day after Thanksgiving means that those engaged in retail sales will be doubly busy on that day. And some stores will be open today to capture whatever of that market they are able. So it isn’t a holiday for everyone.

We had dreams of expanding our annual community Thanksgiving service to make it a truly interfaith event. We did succeed in adding the Synagogue of the Hills and Rapid City Seventh Day Adventist Church to our list of celebrants, but support from the downtown churches was a bit lukewarm and attendance was light, not aided by the weather or the fact that the public schools have taken the entire week off.

Much attention has been given to cooking and eating a feast, a tradition in which we will take part later today. I have been up for an hour and a half before sitting down to write this morning. I like to rise early on holidays and make fresh buns. It is something that I remember from my days of growing up. My mother would rise early on Thanksgiving and set to work preparing the meal. If we were traveling to share the meal with relatives, she’d be up early baking bread to accompany the meal. Leftover turkey sandwiches in fresh baked rolls are a long-standing tradition in our family.

My father used to tease my mother about her cooking from time to time. The truth was that she was an excellent cook. She grew up with four sisters in a household where her mother took seriously her work as a homemaker and trained her daughters in those skills. My father’s mother was busy with a family of mostly boys and had only one daughter. The game at their house was volume. Prepare food in large batches - all those boys working on the farm meant a lot of food was consumed. But when my dad would tease my mom, she would double down working harder, gathering fresh recipes and making lots of food from scratch. We used flour directly from her family’s farm, ground in a small home mill. Fresh ingredients and lots of hard work were a part of our diet.

One of our family stories is about my father asking mother to make chicken and dumplings. She complied. He said it was very good, but the dumplings weren’t quite like the ones his mother made. She tried new recipes. Each time the response was the same. It’s not quite like my mothers. Finally our mother asked our grandmother what the secret to her dumplings was. She replied, “I’ve never made dumplings in my life.” Caught in his joke, my father was served Bisquick dumplings for the rest of his life. I grew up liking Bissquick and use it all the time.

There will be plenty of family stories this weekend and a few heartfelt prayers. Certainly we have a lot for which to be grateful in our house. Susan’s close call with a reaction to medicine has made us much more aware of our mortality and the blessing of every day we have together. The love and support that our family, church and community demonstrated during her illness is another blessing for which we will be eternally grateful.

Coming from a Congregational heritage, we know the stories of the Pilgrims and what is sometimes called the first Thanksgiving. Of course thanksgiving is a tradition that dates back to the earlier of Biblical times, but there was something new about the shared meal celebrated the support that indigenous people offered to the Pilgrims who arrived seriously short of basic survival skills. The heritage of that event is mixed, of course. the subsequent history of abuse of indigenous people, land seizures, forced relocations and much more gives us pause as we celebrate an event that some people see as a dark moment in our history.

As we have been thinking about Thanksgiving this year, our conversations have reached deeper than those things. For the most part, Thanksgiving is described in popular culture as a passive event. We eat a meal. We say a prayer. We make lists of things for which we are grateful. The discipline of keeping a gratitude journal is a useful exercise and I don’t want to discount its value in spiritual growth, but in the Bible, Thanksgiving is not a passive activity. It is a real, physical event and the focus is as much on the giving as it is on the thanks. In multiple places the Bible commands thanksgiving. It reminds us of our heritage of being led from slavery to freedom and then it gives specific instructions about the nature and the manner of the gifts we are to bring. We are to offer the first fruits of our labor - the freshest and most precious of our livestock and garden. And it is to be given away. God is generous. Our response ought to be equally generous.

Picking up on the tradition of black Friday - the day in which sales move a typical retail business into the profit side of the ledger for the year - we now have all sorts of other events on the calendar: Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and finally Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday is a recent attempt at capitalizing on the frenzy of consumers and the outward flow of cash.

The Bible, however, doesn’t tell us to relegate giving to the money we have left after we’ve been on a buying frenzy. It says to make the gift first - before consuming any of the bounty for ourselves.

It is a thought to which I intend to give more attention and focus as I think through the meaning of this season. For now, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving. May this season bring you both the joys of expressing thanks and the joys of giving.

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!

A personal anniversary

Yesterday was a special day in the story of our family. On November 26, 1917, a baby girl was born in Isabel, South Dakota. Her father was the community druggist, and undertaker, and jeweler, and casket maker. It was a small town. One had to scramble to earn a living. Surrounding the town were homesteaders who were quickly learning that the plots awarded by the government were too small to support a family and the abundant crops promised in the advertisements were not possible with the drought that was sweeping the nation. Times were hard for folks in Grant County. Then things got worse. The nation slipped into a depression. Her father died. Just surviving became an intense challenge for mother and daughter.

That all happened before I was born and before I met the daughter. But I did meet her. She grew up to become the mother of three daughters. I married the eldest. She was the best mother-in-law anyone could hope to meet. She treated me with all of the love and respect and care that she showed to her daughters.

She didn’t like to make a big deal of her birthday. I suspect that some of her childhood and teenage birthdays were perhaps disappointing to her during the hard times. Or perhaps she was just by nature more comfortable focusing attention on others and deflecting it from herself. Whatever the reason, we never had a big birthday party for her. But the anniversary of her birth is still a significant date in my personal story. If not for her and her superb skills at homemaking, child raising, and home management, my life would have been so much different that i cannot imagine it.

That, however, isn’t the only anniversary associated with that date. It was on November 26, 2018, one century and one year after the birth of that woman that our daughter announced to us that she was expecting. It was very early in her pregnancy, and we didn’t have permission to share the good news for some time, but that led to the birth of our grandson. Our daughter and son-in-law had been hoping and trying to have a baby for several years. For what it is worth 2018 was the lowest birth rate in the history of keeping that kind of record in the United States. They weren’t the only couple struggling to have a baby, but their struggle was known to us because she is our daughter. Our results, however, were amazingly wonderful. We have this incredible baby boy in our family whose presence has already given us so much joy.

Over the months of his life, we have had several conversations with our daughter that have been salted with questions like, “Who does he look like more - Mike or me?” or “Do you think he looks like me?” or “Does he look like I did when I was a baby?” The questions have prompted us to bring out baby pictures and make our observations. In a sense, it doesn’t matter who he looks like. He is a healthy and happy baby. In another sense, it is fun to compare his appearance with the baby pictures of his mother and father.

I grew up immersed in family. I have brothers and sisters and we lived close enough to know dozens of cousins. We had aunts and uncles and grandparents around at holidays every year. There were many Thanksgivings that we celebrated surrounded by extended family. I married into another family. I had met the sisters and brother of my mother-in-law before we married. I knew her in-laws. I knew the cousins. We had shared Thanksgiving with extended family with her.

rachel patrick
Our daughter also grew up surrounded by family. She knew here grandparents and her aunts and uncles and cousins. She sat at table many, many times with our extended family. But there is a small difference. Being adopted, the family in which she was immersed was not made up of her biological relatives. I could look at cousins and imagine our shared genetics. I could look at members of my wife’s extended family and imagine some of the traits that she possessed that were also possessed by other family members. I could see similarities between her and an aunt. For our daughter in all of the world she has only knowingly met one person with whom she has shared biology. That person is her son.

That truth has not left her lonely. She is a happy and well-adjusted person. The stories of our people are filled with examples of family being much more than biology and genetics. Our people have long adopted family members and incorporated them into our stories. She knows the stories of grandmothers of our faith who were welcomed into our family and became a part of our people. She has know the love and acceptance of an extended family that is delighted to have her as a member.

Still, there is something unique to the relationship she has with her son. He does, by the way, look both like his mother and his father. And his father, being adopted, has a story similar to our daughter’s.

Maybe each of us carries a bit of mystery. There are things about my past that I do not know. There are stories of our people that I have not been taught. My father’s side of the family were people who moved often. We have some genealogy, but there are plenty of past generations whose stories we have not discovered. In our city there are quite a few people who have the same last name as I, but whose relationship I do not know. We might be relatives, but if we are the connections are unknown.

So we learn to live with mysteries. Another mystery is that of birth itself. The newest baby in our family has a story that is just beginning to unfold. He will go places and see and do things that we cannot imagine. For now, it is a joy to simply look into his face and imagine the stories that lie in his history and his future and know there are more questions and more mystery.

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!

Of science and religion

I am not a scientist. I did not study science in college or graduate school. My passion became philosophy and religion. Both of those topics require a healthy respect for history. You have to understand that there is an evolution of thought. The ideas with which we wrestle are bigger than ourselves. We did not come up with the concepts upon which our religious beliefs are based in a single generation. If you read the Bible, you discover that even basic ideas such as the existence of one God, took generations of struggle to emerge from a wide range of different ideas and notions about the world.

Although I am not a scientist, I have deep respect for scientific method. I have no doubt that the quality of life that we enjoy is directly enhanced by the discoveries of scientists and their ability to maintain a discipline of consistent observation and careful testing of theories. In many ways science and religion are deeply connected, which explains why the church has been so involved in science and science education through much of its history. The contemporary notion that religion and science are somehow opposed has only been around for about a century and seems to thrive in places where education and history are not the focus of thought and conversation. So, as a pastor, I often hear complaints about religion from some of my scientist friends that come from misperceptions about the nature of religious thought. And I also hear criticisms of science from religious friends that are based in a lack of knowledge of scientific method.

Both science and religion have their foundations in the simple observation of the world around us. The ancients looked at the world and tried to come up with ways of explaining what they observed. They perceived beauty and were awed at the grandeur of landscapes and vistas. They observed the ways of life and death and sought explanations of what they saw. Their observations led them to develop methods of measuring. This process of observing and measuring led to the basic techniques and tenants of science. It also led to the development, over centuries of observations, of a language to speak of what was observed. Mathematics Is a consistent language to describe observations and record measurements.

In this process, people became aware that there are forces and realities in nature that cannot be directly observed. This led to a mistaken notion that religion was the realm of things that cannot be measured. We sometimes call this “theology of the gaps.” When we come to something that science cannot explain, we relegate that area to religion. As science grows and expands in its capacity to observe, the areas left to religion get smaller and smaller. It is an interesting theory, but it is inaccurate. Religion is not just speculation about that which is not understood. And there is plenty of speculation that is not particularly religious in nature.

I have a friend who is a particle physicist. A phrase that I often hear from him is, “If the math is correct . . “ If the math is correct, scientists will some day be able to detect particles which are too small to be directly observed. If the math is correct, the distances between objects in the universe is getting greater and the universe is expanding. When he speaks this way, I am reminded of how much speculation is a part of science.

There is, in science, a concept that is known with the rather unexciting name of a theory of everything or T.O.E. In principle, a theory of everything would explain all of nature in terms of a single force, so to speak. In search of this theory the assumption is made that the essence of nature is mathematical. Einstein spend decades searching for a theory of everything, a unifying theory that would explain every part of nature.

From a human perspective, however, the search for a theory of everything will forever be an impossible quest. Even if we were able to come up with a theory that explains everything we now know, new discoveries are always being made. New observations bring awareness of things that were not previously known. As soon as we think we had explained everything, something new is observed. We humans are finite. It is not possible for us to know everything.

Despite our urge to observe and measure and explain all the we perceive, the nature of the universe is not static. The universe is constantly changing. Things don’t stay the same in one neat pattern. We grow in knowledge and understanding.

Practitioners of religion often make mistakes that are similar to those made by scientists. Faithful people have been known to act as if religious knowledge has somehow been fully received. They speak as if everything that can be known or needs to be known could be contained in the Bible, for example. They fail to study the history behind the Bible and the reasons why particular words were collected into the book that is foundational to our faith. Often people want to confine their understanding of the Bible to a single perspective as if it were some consistent, unified theory of everything. It is not. It is a collection of the stories of faithful people. It contains truth far beyond a single generation. And it is constantly subject to interpretation and application to new situations and circumstances.

In religion we teach the concept of humility. We humans are not God. We are not all knowing. We are not all seeing. We have limits. Being aware of our limits is essential to understanding our place in the vastness of the universe. But we have not always practiced the humility well. We sometimes assume the we understand more than we are able. We sometimes speak as if we possess truth that is beyond us.

In this ever-changing world, I find much joy at the intersection of science and religion, where mutual respect allows for continuing discovery of an ever-changing world. That, sprinkled with a dose of appreciation of beauty and a touch of awe, gives a place where we continue to learn and grow and open ourselves to new ways of seeing and thinking and understanding.

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 water is calling

I’ve often thought about my love for boats given that I’ve never lived where boating is a way of life. I grew up next to a river that until very recently was considered to be unnavigable. These days a few intrepid kayakers with creek boats have made short trips in sections of the river and I’ve even padded around a bit in an old creek boat not far from where my growing up years were spent. Two miles downriver the Boulder enters the Yellowstone which can be navigated in kayaks and canoes and rafts. We’ve floated in the Yellowstone in many different types of craft over the years. The name of my home town, Big Timber, comes not from some unusually impressive stand of trees, but rather from the return of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1806. As they crossed Montana, Lewis kept to the Missouri River, but Clark led a portion of the explorers overland to the Yellowstone River. Near my home town, they not only had found the river that would take them to the Missouri and a rendezvous with Lewis, they found trees that were big enough to create dugout canoes for the journey. After traveling with horse and on foot, the ability to float downstream was an appealing upgrade for the weary travelers and they dubbed the place Big Timber because of the trees they harvested there.

Since those days I have lived mostly in places without any big water. My boats have traveled more miles on the trailer or on the roof rack of my pickup than they have in the water. I have a hadn’t-built kayak that has criss-crossed the United Staes and Canada. I suspect that the boat has traveled at least 20,000 miles on the top of the truck and perhaps a couple of hundred miles on water. Most of its paddles have been short - less than 5 miles. I’m hardly the “Old Man and the Sea.” I don’t have a sea. My boats have visited the ocean, but it is a rare year when they are dipped in saltwater.

Generations of humans have had an attraction to and a fear of big water for as long as there have been humans who lived within sight of an ocean or mighty river. Living in the 5th century before Christ, Homer wrote of the attraction of the sea:

“And into the broad expanse, and into the bosom of ocean plunge, to behold the old man of the sea and the home of your father.” (Iliad)

He also concludes the epic Odyssey with the opposite advice:

“Go forth once more, you must . . . carry your well-planed oar until you come to a race of people who know nothing of the sea, whose food is never seasoned with salt, strangers all to ships with their crimson prows and long slim oars, wings that make ships fly. And here is your sign unmistakable, clear, so clear you cannot miss it: When another traveler fails in with your and calls the weight across your shoulder a fan to winnow grain, then plant your bladed, balanced oar in the earth and sacrifice fine beasts to the lord go of the sea. Poseidon.” (Odyssey)

I guess I’ve lived like a member of the “race of people who know nothing of the sea.” for most of my life. Most of the time I’ve lived more than a thousand miles from the sea. We did live in Boise Idaho for a decade, which is only about 500 miles from the coast, but just a short walk to the desert. We lived in Chicago for four years and there we were a short walk from Lake Michigan, a truly impressive body of water, but we had no boat in those days and I never went far enough from the shore to need a boat in those days.

Still, I am attracted by the water. I dream of paddling along the shore of the ocean, exploring the inlets and islands and places close to the shore. I’ve no need and no abilities that draw me to crossing oceans in a tiny boat, but the small amount of paddling in protected waters that I have done has led me to want more such experience. It is one of the things that is very attractive about the possibility of moving to the area where our son lives. They can be at the Salish Sea, formerly called the Puget Sound, within a half hour of leaving their home. It was from a place within a very short distance of their home where our family boarded a tourist boat for a whale watching tour a few years ago. The smell of salt water and the last of freshly caught fish have imprinted wonderful memories in my mind of that place.

I know that big waters can be dangerous. We’ve visited the Oregon Coast on days when the winds are fierce and the waves are threatening and the spray is freezing cold. I know there are days when one does not want to venture out into the storm. Living near the ocean will demand that I learn new skills of judgment and discretion. My boats are little and small boats do best in small bodies of water. Unlike larger boats, however, my boats enable me to sit on the water and feel the rise and fall of the swells and see the world from the perspective of the surface.

In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain wrote of life on the river and traveling by night on a raft: “We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.”

The big water continues to call me. I know that the years have passed and that i’ve become a sentimental old fool, but it does seem that perhaps I should heed that call.

There is a folk song that goes, “ . . .give me a boat that can carry two. And both shall row, my love and I.”

I’ve got the boat. I built it a few years back. Now I just need the water and we’ll go rowing, my love and I. Of course she doesn’t have to row. She can just ride. I don’t mind the rowing.

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!

Christ the Servant

Today is Reign of Christ, also known as Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the Christian Calendar. Next week we begin a new year in our cycle of readings with the first Sunday of Advent. I am not the only clergy person who is a bit nervous with all of the triumphalism that often accompanies this holiday. There have been generations of preaching about “King Jesus,” and the ways in which Jesus will reign over all of the earth. My discomfort with the occasion is not in the images of the way of Christ becoming the way of the world, or of Christians pledging loyalty to Jesus above loyalty to any other authority. It comes from the simple fact that there are a lot of faithful Christians who are envisioning Jesus as some kind of temporal political leader.

In contemporary America Christians who get involved in political matters all too frequently compromise their values in search of political power. I have written before of my distress with those who call themselves Christian while refusing to welcome refugees and strangers into our country. There’s no need to return to that topic today. But it isn’t the only way that people of faith compromise their faith and values when they become involved in politics. You don’t have to look beyond the seemingly unwavering support of President Trump by the so called religious right in our country. Here is a man who has been married three times, publicly committed adultery with a porn star, speaks of his son as if he were his wife’s but not his own, and lies without a second thought. Yet he has the backing of religious leaders because they believe he is advancing their political agenda. They are willing to overlook his personal life and his shortcomings because they believe that he is the key to their winning, whatever that may mean.

The reign of Christ does not look like the presidency of Donald Trump. Jesus spoke of it himself. The Gospels report that the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus and asked a favor of him: “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” She was envisioning a kind of royal court, with a hierarchy where those who are physically closest to the ruler have the most power. She was seeking glory and recognition and power for her sons. Jesus turns the topic to suffering and sacrifice. He tries to explain to them that the realm of God is not like a worldly political kingdom. The request becomes known to the other disciples, who are indigent and upset. They do not take kindly to the political maneuverings of the mother of their colleagues. Jesus called them to himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not e so among you.” The relationships of those who are close to Christ are not like the relationships of political leaders. The strong man, tyrant who appears to wield the most power in this world is not a model of relationships in God’s realm. Jesus goes on with is teaching: “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

If we were truly serious about the celebration of the reign of Christ, we might do so by imitating his behavior - by serving others and giving up our position and privilege and even our very lives for others.

Recently I spent some time visiting in jail. I visited a detainee who was grieving because of the death of her adopted father. I listened to her crying and I conveyed to her the love and care she needed at the moment. I read to her from Romans: “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I read to her from 1 Corinthians: “Love never dies.” I don’t know how much comfort I gave, but she thanked me for my visit. Later that same day, I spoke with a detective, who informed me that she had no legal relationship to the deceased man. He apologized for giving me inaccurate information that stemmed from his being told that she was an adopted daughter. Then he said something that seemed to me to be a bit strange. He apologized for wasting my time. I know this particular detective pretty well. It surprised me that he would think that comforting a grieving person would somehow be a waste of my time.

I am well aware that my title and position grant me some pretty big privileges in our society. I suppose it is no big deal, but I can walk into and out of the jail and visit detainees without taking permission. I have a key card that takes me around the metal detector in the jail. The same card opens a back door when the lobby is closed. The control room operators know my face and open doors for me. The booking sergeants answer my questions. The pod officers greet me and open interview rooms for me even when my visit is not scheduled. Not many people are able to do that. I am treated with deference and respect and often referred to by my title. I’m called “Chaplain,” and “Reverend.”

I squirm a bit at some of the formalities. Despite the privileges I enjoy, I am not somehow better than any other person in that institution. I am a human being, just like the detainees. I feel grief at loss and pain and sorrow and all of the other human emotions. I am not immune from mortality.

Perhaps our holiday needs a new name. Instead of Christ the King, how about Christ the Servant? Instead of fancy vestments and processions, how about a day of service for others? I suspect that it won’t catch on, but for me it seems like a better way to understand how Jesus Christ works in our world.

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!

Survivor Day, 2019

In 1999, Senator Harry Reid introduced a resolution to the United States Senate which led to the creation of National Survivors of Suicide Day. Reid is a survivor of his father’s suicide. The day is now observed world-wide on the Saturday before Thanksgiving is observed in the US. It has now been 20 years since that first Survivor Day and the event is now called International Survivors of Suicide loss Day.

I can’t remember exactly how long we have been holding an event here in Rapid City to honor survivors on Survivor Day, but we started somewhere close to the beginning. In the early years, we held our events at the hospital because the hospital had the technology for us to link up with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s national teleconference. The AFSP organized a panel of experts, some survivors, and some researchers and after the panel discussion, participants could call in questions. As the years went by, the technology changed and we were able to move to other venues for our gatherings. The number of people who participate has gone up and down with differences in publicity and promotion as well as with the ever changing lives of the people of our community.

I don’t expect that this year’s event will be large. There hasn’t been much advance registration. We haven’t received coverage in the news. It isn’t considered to be news any more. We do this every year and every year our message is the same. We gather to provide support for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. We speak openly about suicide and we seek to understand the causes of these tragic losses.

Each year the AFSP produces a documentary video that contains a message of hope, growth, resilience and connection. It is the connection that I find so important.

Because of my work with our community’s LOSS team, I know the stories of a lot of families. I’ve been to the scenes of many deaths. I’ve sat with family members as they confront the shock of sudden and traumatic loss. Every story and every situation is unique. There is nothing that is normal or usual about death from suicide. Even cluster events where there are multiple suicides with similar features and we can see the relationships between the deaths are uniquely traumatic for those who are left behind.

I don’t have the numbers for 2019 yet. The year is not yet finished and we often see an uptick in suicides around holidays. But I know the trends. We live in a community that is disproportionately affected by suicide loss. Our state has a high suicide rate and our county leads the state. It is not a distinction that we enjoy.

I am often challenged to speak of suicide prevention and I’ve invested a lot of time and energy learning what I can. I am trained as a suicide intervention specialist and I work with other professionals in our town to intervene when we have the opportunity. We have been successful on many occasions in assisting people who are thinking of suicide. This is in spite of a lack of resources in our community. It is challenging to arrange emergency care for those suffering from acute mental illnesses. There are often delays. We have been told that there are no beds in our hospital for those suffering from certain conditions. We have been told that someone has to wait weeks to be seen by a psychiatrist. We have worked to find other safe places for those who are suffering.

The vast majority of suicides in our community, however, come with little or no warning. Survivors wake the the morning with no idea the trauma they will face that day. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “If I’d only known. . . “

In the midst of all of this, however, I want to be clear that the reason I participate in Survivor Day goes beyond a sense of loss and grief in our community. The loss is real. The pain of grief is real. I have, however, found survivor events to be among the most hopeful gatherings in our community. Sure we share our stories of tragedy. And yes, we share our despair at the lack of resources. But there is no group of people more committed to prevention, education and support than survivors of suicide loss. When I am with survivors, I feel energy around positive efforts to prevent future suicides, remove the stigma attached to mental illness and suicide, advocate for additional resources and make real changes in our community. Despite what you might expect, survivors are not inwardly focused. They are at various states in a journey of recovery and recovery involves reaching out to others with compassion and care.

The holidays are tough for a lot of people. They are especially tough for those who have experienced a recent death of a loved one. Along with the memories of past holidays is a sense of what might have been had things been different. The loneliness of grief is more intense around the holidays. Everyone is saying “Happy Holidays!” and “Merry Christmas” at a moment when some survivors are feeling anything but happy and merry.

So we will gather again today as we do each year. We may be less than a dozen. We probably won’t be more than 20 even though there are more than a hundred people whose lives have been directly affected by suicide loss this year. For some it is just too soon to get out with others. For others, it is a day for quiet introspection and not social gathering. But for some of us, it is a day to recommit ourselves to caring for our sisters and brothers in our community, to doing whatever we are able to prevent death from suicide, to remember those who have been lost and to advocate for additional services and care for those in need.

I know there are some who are made uncomfortable by talk of suicide. With all due respect, we won’t be silent. If making another uncomfortable saves a life, it is well worth it.

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!

Telling stories

I was sitting with a group of people prior to a meeting and the subject of speeding tickets came up. I have received three speeding tickets in my life, all before I reached the age of 30, so I didn’t have any recent stories to tell. he best I could come up with occurred in 1995, when I was pulled over by a highway patrol officer a few weeks after the state had lifted the 55mph limit on all of its roads. The place where I was traveling had a new limit of 65 mph. The officer reported that he had clocked me at 67 mph and although he wasn’t going to give me a ticket, he wanted me to know that there a new zero tolerance of exceeding the new speed limits. It isn’t much of a story, but it was what I had.

Later, I got to thinking about my desire to have a story to tell. In other similar occasions, I have told the story of when I was a teenager and my father was stopped for speeding. The officer, trying to make a joke, asked my father for his pilot’s license. My father, being a pilot, produced it. The surprised officer laughed, gave him a warning and we were on our way.

There are occasions when it seems that everyone has a story to tell. This time of year I hear a lot of blizzard stories. I have a few of my own to tell as well. Most folks who have lived around here have had some experience of driving on icy roads or a tale of the power being out for an extended period during a storm, or of a blizzard that downed trees and made things difficult for a while.

In our town, there are a select few who have flood stories. The 1972 flood in Rapid City created a lot of terrifying experiences. Many people experienced the loss of homes and vehicles. Many lost friends and loved ones in that dramatic event. Those who experienced the flood have a lot of stories to tell. I didn’t live in Rapid City at the time. I did visit after the event and saw first hand some of the destruction. My stories aren’t as dramatic as those of the survivors.

Telling our stories is one of our ways of connecting with other people. We do it naturally whenever we have an opportunity. There is storytelling around the table before meals or at the coffee shop. There is storytelling before and after meetings. It is common for me to go around the church turning off lights and locking doors after a meeting. Then I get into my car and pull around the building to find that there are multiple conversations going on in the parking lot between people who haven’t left for home yet.

We love to tell stories.

In recent weeks, we have discovered a new set of stories - ones that if we had heard them before have a fresh impact in the light of our own personal experiences. It seems as if a lot of my friends and acquaintances have stories of experiencing atrial fibrillation. Yesterday I had lunch with a church member who himself and his wife had been treated for AFib since Susan’s hospitalization. I don’t know how many cardio inversion procedures are done at our hospital each day, but it seems that there are multiple cases each day. According to the American Heart Association at least 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib. More than 200,000 cases are treated each year. There are a lot of AFib stories out there. I suppose that one of the features of our lives is that we will be hearing and telling those stories from now on.

Occasionally, when I am with my sister or one of my brothers we will get to telling stories and I will be surprised by the stories that I hear. With one brother, especially, I hear stories that don’t connect with my memories. It seems that we have very different memories of similar events and times in our lives. I joke that either we didn’t grow up in the same house, or he is a liar, I don’t know which.

Studies have shown that the stories that we tell the most often are more likely to have drifted from the actual events than ones that are told less frequently. It appears that when we tell stories frequently, we develop memories of the storytelling. When an exaggeration or deviation from the actual events occurs, we develop false memories that lead us away from the actual events.

It hasn’t always been that way for our people. For thousands of years, we practiced a very different kind of storytelling. In the days before electricity and modern conveniences, telling stories was a major form of entertainment. People would gather in the evenings after a meal and tell stories. The stories were frequently repeated. Those with the deepest significance became memories, word-for-word by groups of people. Group memorization has a self-correcting feature. When one person makes an error in the telling, others correct that error. With this technique people were able to tell stories with complete accuracy for generation upon generation. When writing became common, it was less trusted than the spoken word. Writing was prone to errors, whereas stories that had been memorized by groups of people were reliable. It is hard for us to think in those terms, because since the invention of the printing press, we have reversed our opinions about writing. Until very recently, we have believed that things that are win writing are more reliable than the spoken word.

With the advent of the Internet, however, things are shifting again. It isn’t uncommon for someone to take out their phone and do a bit of on the spot research during a conversation. Their sources, however, might not be as reliable. There is a lot of misinformation available on the Internet.

Who knows what stories our grandchildren will tell? Who knows how accurate they might be? Time will tell. One thing is certain, however. They too will tell their stories. It is something we have always done and will always do.

Did you hear the one about . . . . ?

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!

Mega yachts

I recently read in an obscure boating magazine a brief commentary on the mega yachts that the writer observed parked in a Connecticut harbor during a festival that used to be marked by more traditional boats and ships. The author commented on the fact that the large luxury ships carried the flags of many different countries and speculated that the reason for this different flags may be that their mostly US owners have been shopping around for places to register their craft that are less expensive in terms of taxes. The writer stated that those who are rich enough to afford such craft probably didn’t get that way by passing up methods of saving money. Still, those who can afford that kind of boat probably are capable of paying the fees to register them in their home country if patriotism or another reason compelled them to do so.

I’ve no expertise in mega yachts. I don’t imagine I will ever be in the market for one. I don’t even know the distinction between mega yachts and super yachts. In other usages, the prefix mega refers to a million. Most of these vessels cost well in excess of multiple millions of dollars. A super yacht is, I believe, just another name for the same type of vessel.

There was a time when luxury boats were a means of transportation. Wealthy people desired to have a way to cross oceans and commissioned vessels to carry them safely to their intended destinations. Today’s generation of super yachts aren’t designed for getting people from one place to another. The preferred method of transportation, especially over long distances, for the wealthy consists of private jets - themselves multiple million vehicles. The yachts seem to be mostly destinations for vacations or days off. They afford a high level of luxury and privacy and can be moved by crew from one destination to another. Owners are rarely aboard for the trips from Caribbean islands in the summer to the coast of New England in the winter. Some vessels cruise the Mediterranean in the summer and more southern locations in the winter. These big vessels don’t travel fast. The fastest of them might reach speeds in the 25 to 30 knot (28 to 35 mph) range. The super rich don’t spend much time traveling at those speeds when their jets will top speeds in the 650 mph range.

What those big ships do is consume a huge amount of fuel. Mostly powered by large diesel engines and employing industrial diesel generators, the ships are often ballasted in part by huge diesel tanks. They employ complex strainers and fuel cleaning systems to insure their reliability. It is not uncommon for a mega yacht to consume 500 liters (130 gallons) or more each hour of operation.

It occurs to me that there might be an emerging industry in designing sail boats for the super wealthy. I’m pretty sure that people who travel around the globe in private jets are not primarily motivated by trying to reduce their carbon footprint, but electric vehicles are catching on with the wealthy as signs of their awareness and concern, so why not sailboats?

For most of the history of the world long distance transport of goods and people was accomplished in a very environmentally friendly way. They used a renewable resource - the wind - to power their vessels. Speeds weren’t high, but mega yacht owners don’t purchase their vessels for speed in the first place.

A couple of years ago I was at a week-long training even in Norfolk VA. We had some free time one evening and I purchased a ticket for the sunset cruise on the American Rover, a 135 foot three-masted topsail schooner. The cruise was just a jaunt around the harbor on the Elizabeth River. As soon as we had pulled away from the dock and turned outward, the sails were raised and the engine shut down. The quiet sounds of wind in the sails and water alongside the hull were delightful. The entire cruise was over long before I had tired of the pleasant ride. American Rover is not an old ship, but rather a modern vessel manufactured to Coast Guard safety standards and outfitted with luxury accommodations including a ship’s store, bar, and modern bathrooms. There is an air-conditioned lounge below deck, but the place to ride that evening was definitely on the deck under the sails with the great views of sunset over the harbor.

I can see how it makes sense for a company that specializes in carrying tourists to have a sailboat instead of a heavy launch that needs to be refueled each trip. Costs of operation are probably lower, even though the sailing vessel does require a bit more crew.

I’m no expert in fashion and what appeals to those with lots of money to spend, but I am a bit surprised that there isn’t a resurgence in the market for top-end luxury sailing yachts. Such a ship would enable the owner to experience a high level of luxury while feeling good about the use of renewable energy. I realize that ice makers and air conditioning are essential to the feeling of luxury for the wealthy owners. Compliment the vessel with solar panels and perhaps wind generators to power the electrical systems and luxury could be combined with energy efficiency.

Were I super wealthy, I wouldn’t turn to a pastor who lives more than a thousand miles from any ocean for advice on what kind of yacht to order. There are plenty of people with much more expertise than I. I do hope that some of the brilliant yacht designers are sketching out plans for luxury sailing vessels.

That wouldn’t solve the issue of which flag to fly on your mega yacht. It wouldn’t make owners more or less patriotic. But it might ease their consciences a bit if they have ships that are more environmentally friendly. Then again, there are plenty of other tings to make their consciences uneasy. It’s just an idea.

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!

A bad joke

I spend a fair amount of time hanging out with cops and corrections officers. I am well aware that there is a dark humor that surrounds those who are often dealign with crisis, viewing trauma, and encountering some of the most challenging and tragic circumstances of our society. I don’t fault officers for diffusing a tense situation with a joke that others might consider to be inappropriate. I know that they have a tough job and that there are times when you have to blow off a bit of steam. I understand that there are moments when if you can’t find a way to laugh, you might end up crying - or worse you might bottle up your emotions so deeply that they begin to destroy you.

So I’ve heard some of the worst jokes about tragedy.

But the dark humor of cops is shared in a guarded setting. If you hear those jokes, it is a sign that you are trusted. They don’t get told in public press conferences or in social settings. You don’t hear those kinds of jokes very much at all if you aren’t with the officers in the real moments of their service lives. They get told in the briefing room and the break room and the locker room. They don’t get told on the occasions where everyone is wearing their dress uniform.

And the cops I know don’t engage victims and potential victims in their jokes.

This week our Governor and other state officials announced a campaign that at first I thought was a joke - a joke of the worst taste. “Meth. We’re on it.” is now a trademarked slogan of our state. It is the core of a half-million dollar advertising campaign. And yesterday, I was reminded of another old joke as our governor went before the press to defend the campaign and its slogan.

The old joke is this one: “When they’re running you out of town, pick up a baton and pretend you’re leading the parade.”

Governor Noem clearly is leading the parade this week. She is defending the slogan and the campaign that has created an overwhelmingly negative reaction on social media and is being negatively covered by national media from television networks to the Washington Post. She dug out another old trope: “Any publicity is good publicity.”

It appears that they didn’t use any professional educators, teachers of teens, or adolescent psychologists in planning their ad campaign. They didn’t even use a South Dakota advertising firm. They went to Minnesota to find an ad agency that had the capacity to take a major crisis in our state and turn it into a giant dark joke for the nation to laugh at.

Here is the real problem: in our state the use of methamphetamines among 12 to 17 year olds is twice the national average. We - and that is the entire state - have a real crisis. I don’t need the Governor to explain to me the double meaning of the slogan. Everyone in South Dakota is affected by the meth crisis. Every community is impacted. The future of our state is at risk because of this highly addictive, highly dangerous substance.

At the same time, the adolescents in our state - including many who have never tried meth - are seeking to being taken seriously. You don’t connect with those who are feeling alienated and disconnected by making them think you are making fun of them. And if you are an adolescent who is experiencing the terrible lows that follow having consumed a dose of meth, watching television ads of people who clearly have never experienced what you have claiming to know what you are going through is a joke of the cruelest kind. “You say you understand, but you don’t have a clue!”

Our youth look to us for honesty and acceptance. When they think we’re making fun of them, the relationship is broken.

Every educator knows this. Every adult who works with youth should know this.

Extreme narcissism seems to be popular in government these days. And our Governor likes to associate with our very narcissistic President. But when the governor says to the teens of our state, “Your worst problems are really about me, not about you,” our problems are even deeper than the harmful chemicals that are sold for profit to unsuspecting preteen children.

But it is even worse.

The dark humor I hear from cops and corrections officers are an acknowledgment that they have encountered problems that cannot be solved. Part of the reason you joke off the terrible crime seen you’ve just been called to investigate, part of the reason that you make jokes about the smell of the recovery of a body that has been decomposing for weeks, is that you can’t reverse the tragedy. You’ve come face to face with something that can’t be “solved.” The joke is an admission that thee is real tragedy and pain and loss in the world and that you can’t stop it. You will have to go out to another tragic car accident. You will have to attend to another gunshot death. You will have to break devastating news to a family again and again. These things do not go away. The humor is a way of rising above the unsolvable problems of society.

Making our meth crisis into a joke is akin to saying that we don’t know how to solve our problem.

Here is the truth. South Dakota needs millions of dollars for methamphetamine treatment clinics. We need in-patient facilities and programs staffed with highly-trained addiction recovery professionals. The cost of those facilities and programs will be high. The half million dollars spent on advertising isn’t enough to provide what is needed. But a half million dollars would make a difference. Running the ad campaign before we have solutions in place is simply bad timing.

They might as well have made the slogan, “We know we’ve got a problem, and we don’t have a clue how to solve it.”

A half million dollars could have been invested in a site study and plans for a west river addiction treatment center. We would have gotten more value from it than an ad campaign that has made us, once again, the laughing stock of the nation.

I’m even getting into the dark humor. I saw a meme yesterday that I’ve been passing on.

South Dakota.
If we were any higher we’d be North Dakota.

It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

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!

On my day off

Yesterday was a day off for me and I had two vehicles that needed minor preventive maintenance, so had scheduled both to go to the shop, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. So I spent a couple of hours in automobile dealerships yesterday, something that I don’t do too often. I was, of course, met by the up sell in both dealerships. After being quoted a price for the service recommended by the owner’s manual, both dealerships came up with another small item that needed to be addressed. First of all both tried to sell me tire rotation and balance. Because we get that service free from the shop where we bought our tires, I don’t need to pay the dealer for the same service. One tried to tell me that their records indicated that I was due for the service. I informed them that they don’t have all of the records when it comes to the tires on my car. The up sell was gentle and the service advisor backed right down. Then, a few minutes later, it was my battery terminals were showing some corrosion. They could service the batteries for an attentional $20. Since testing the batteries is part of their vehicle inspection, one would think that they might be able to to take the extra ten minutes to clean the terminals for less than $20, but I guess not.

The entire business of automobile maintenance is very different than once was the case. When I was growing up, the service department in our shop was seen as key to sales. If we provided excellent service at a fair price, we could earn repeat business from our customers. These days, the shop operates almost as a separate enterprise and profit center for the dealership.

But I have no interest in bashing automobile dealerships or talking about the way things used to be (OK Boomer).

What was interesting to me is that I had engaging conversations while I was waiting in the customer waiting area at both dealerships. In one I noticed that a member of our church was also there for service and enjoyed talking about the previous day’s actives with her while we both waited for our cars. There were plenty of things to talk about and soon we were anticipating the coming Christmas season and other events that are planned for the coming year at the church. The time went by quickly while we were talking and soon her car was ready. There was a sense that we would have enjoyed talking for a longer period of time if we had the opportunity.

At the other dealership, I was approached by a stranger who asked about the jacket that I was wearing. The jacket is from this year’s suicide survivor’s walk, which was held in May. After explaining the jacket and giving some information about the Front Porch Coalition, our suicide prevention group, the conversation turned into her story of her experience with suicide. As is the usual case with survivors, she has a very tragic story with overwhelming grief and pain and loss. She wasn’t being overly dramatic, simply telling a bit of her experience. We were two people making a connection around a topic that isn’t always welcome in every setting. There is still a lot of stigma attached to suicide and those who are grieving suicide loss learn to be guarded when speaking of their sorrow. Some who hear are quick to offer simple solutions or trite phrases that seem to minimize the loss. They have heard “It was his time,” or “God needed another angel,” so many times that they don’t need to hear that again. People mean well, but the often don’t know what to say and too often they say the wrong thing.

I have learned, through many years of working with survivors, that they are not asking me to fix their pain. They are not asking me to give them meaning. They are simply wanting to share their story and have it received. The loved one whom they’ve lost left a hole in their lives that can never be filled and sometimes you need to just talk about that person. Sometimes you need to be able to talk about that person without having to apologize for the way he or she died.

Such a conversation, however, renders the rest of the business of the car dealership pretty banal by comparison. My pickup got finished and I asked the service advisor to wait because we needed to talk a bit more. I spent more time at the dealership than I’d planned, but I had the time to invest and the conversation was well worth my time. I gave the person more information about the Front Porch Coalition and invited her to contact our office and get to know about the programs and projects of the Coalition. It was a worthwhile visit. It was also a chance encounter that was deeply meaningful.

The two encounters are representative of many conversations that I’ve had over the course of my working life. I don’t want to have missed out on either of them. On the other hand they illustrate the challenge of taking time for rest and recreation. Yesterday was my day off. I spent part of it doing what I do when I am working. It is simply impossible to maintain rigid barriers between work and recreation in my profession. I know that this is hard for the lay members of my congregation to understand, because they too have significant conversations in unexpected places. If you spend your days turning wrenches and working on cars, a conversation with another interested and interesting person doesn’t seem much like work at all. What could be the problem with taking a few minutes even if it is you day off? I get it. And, to be truthful, I don’t see it as a problem. The work of the church doesn’t follow a schedule or a time clock. I have been hired not to accomplish a list of tasks, but to be present for the people of God.

My hair is pretty short. It isn’t very dramatic when I let it down. The distinction between work and recreation is subtle. Sometimes you can’t even tell that I’m working. I suspect that when my time comes, my retirement will also be gentle. Part of what I intend is to keep doing what I am doing now.

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!

Trying to understand

I have friends who have very different political viewpoints than my own. There are people with whom I associate on a regular basis who don’t know much about my political beliefs, because I fear that I might offend them if I am honest. I appreciate having friends who think differently than I. I try to listen carefully to them. I try to understand their point of view.

But I am stymied about the political extremism that seems to have taken over our country. It seems that both of our political parties have certain litmus tests that require absolute faithfulness in order to call yourself a member of the party. The votes at the highest levels of government are all partisan. It makes big news when a single representative or senator votes differently from the rest of the members of her or his party.

I try not to be partisan. I try to be open to those who disagree. But there is one litmus test that is being applied to members of the Republican Party that I do not understand. It is the position of the President on immigration. This radical turning away of those who seek refuge in our country - forcing people to wait in other countries, exposing them to danger of kidnapping and murder while they wait - seems contrary to some of my deepest beliefs. If it genuinely is true that you can no longer be a Republican and favor welcoming refugees, I don’t know how some faithful Christians can be Republicans.

Our country needs good, loyal Republicans who stand up to the present administration’s policies and say, “We cannot support this approach to immigration and to refugees.”

Our Bible is too clear on the topic.

By the third chapter of the Bible, Adam and Eve are forced out of the Garden. We are all the descendants of refugees. In the 7th and 8th chapters, Noah builds and ark and takes refuge from the flood. We are all descendants of refugees. In the 12th chapter, God calls Abram: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” And later, “Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land.” Still in the first book of the bible, Lot takes his family and flees Sodom, Abraham is a stranger and alien in the land of Canaan, Jacob moves his family to Egypt to escape the famine and reunite with Joseph. All of this is the story of our people in just the first book of the bible.

As the law is given it is clear: “There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.” (Exodus 12:49 and Leviticus 24:22). “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21) “When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34, reputed in Leviticus 24:22)

The Bible goes on and on and on. The prophets warn us not to oppress the alien.

Jesus presents a clear parable about immigration in Matthew 25;31-46: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Paul makes it a mark of true Christianity in the letter to the Romans: “Mark of the true Christian: . . . Extend hospitality to strangers . . .” In Hebrews we are urged to “show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels . . .”

I am trying to understand, but so far I am not having success. At the same time as the number of refugees in the world is the highest since World War II, the United States has dropped to historic lows in terms of the number of refugees admitted. The US is no longer the world’s top country for refugee admissions. For deuces we led the world. No more. Refugee admissions into the US have declined substantially during Donald Trump’s presidency.

That isn’t what worries me, quite frankly. Refugee resettlement has risen and fallen over the years with changes in administrations and policies. The numbers of refugees and the countries of origin have changed substantially in the past. What worries me are the polls the report the attitude of the country. The attitude toward refugee resettlement varies widely by political party affiliation. According to the Pew Research Institute, about half of our country (51%) said the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country. 43% say it does not. Around three-quarters of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (74%) said the U.S. has this responsibility, compared with 26% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Since I live in a state that is majority Republican, that means that the majority of my neighbors do not favor welcoming refugees.

According to Lutheran Social Services, the only refugee resettlement group in our state, the number of refugees welcomes to our state has been declining steadily since 2014. We are a state with plenty of jobs. We are a state with plenty to share. But we are a state that is developing a fear of those who are seeking to escape war and violence and fear.

I am trying to understand. I am convinced that God has not called me to judge my neighbors. God has not called me to determine who is and who is not a Christian. God has not made me the arbiter of who has a Biblical faith and who does not. But I can’t reconcile a “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that is it.” rhetoric with a resistance to welcoming refugees.

In a hyper partisan world where individuals are forced to choose sides, it is hard for me to understand my neighbors. I’ll keep listening, but seriously, folks, I don’t get it.

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!

25 years

When my father had been flying crop dusters for 25 years, he decided to hang up that part of his career. He sold that part of his business, including the airplanes used to apply agricultural chemicals. He also sold the fixed base operation at the airport, in order to make the business he sold large enough to succeed. One of the two partners who bought that part of the business eventually bought out the other one and had a long and successful business. His sons still operate the airport in my home town.

When my father had been selling farm machinery for 25 years, he said, “25 years is long enough for any venture.” He sold his machinery business, leasing company, feed store and the inventory of new and used farm machinery. He also sold his franchise.

My father never officially retired. He was always starting some kind of new venture. His years in the farm machinery business overlapped with his years as a crop duster. When he sold the farm machinery business, he kept a truck and a tractor and other equipment that he used to go into the roofing business with one of my brothers. He remodeled a house. He managed rental properties.

My father died young, before he reached the age of 60. I think that he lived most of his life with a sense that he might die young. When he started flying, it was a risky business and many pilots were lost in accidents. At any rate, he was a realist about life and death and he did not expect that he would live to old age.

Because my father sold his flying business before I began my career, all of my career has taken place after many conversations I had with him about how 25 years was long enough for any venture. His sense that one ought to go to work, make a contribution and then move aside so new leaders can emerge has stuck with me and been in the back of my mind for all of my working life. Now that I am in my 25th year as pastor of this congregation, and I have announced that this will be my last, it looms large.

Of course, there is nothing magic about 25 years. It is a good, long time. It isn’t a bad span for a career, though a bit short for most. There are plenty of other ways to count the span of a career. The US military offers significant retirement benefits after 20 years of service. There was a time when Methodist pastors were moved from one congregation to the other on an average of every four years. I have plenty of colleagues who have built entire careers without ever serving a single church for a decade.

When I began my career, a professor warned me of the “four year itch” After spending four years in high school, four years in undergraduate school, and four years in seminary, many seminary graduates served their first congregation for four years and then began looking for a move. My life didn’t quite line up with those ways of counting. I spent only 3 years in high school and though I spent 4 years in seminary, I completed my master’s program in 3 years and invested the 4th year in earning a professional doctorate. But my professor was right. I did have a sense that it was time to move after four years in the parish. Fortunately, I resisted that urge and served seven years before moving on from my first call. At the time we began our careers another mentor said that three years would be sufficient parish experience before going into specialized ministry. I seriously considered that path, but have never regretted not following it.

When we left our first parish, we accepted the call to become pastors in a mid sized congregation that had a history of conflict with pastors. The previous four pastors had left on uncomfortable terms and three of the four had left the pastoral ministry after serving that congregation. We resolved not to end our pastoral in that manner. We set the goal of coming to the end of that ministry on positive terms and leaving the congregation feeling good about themselves and their ability to attract leaders. We served that congregation for a decade. In that time the church grew, and, after years of preparation was launching a major remodeling and addition to the physical building. It was a good time to leave the congregation feeling good about themselves. The era of conflict with pastors was behind them and now, a quarter of a century later, it has not returned.

When we came to this call, we had no sense of how long it would be. We had teenage children and hoped that it would be our call long enough for them to graduate from high school. It was. They did. And we continued to feel called to this ministry.

Now there is a unique feeling to the work that I do. On the one hand there are lots of anniversaries in my work. Next week will be our 25th Thanksgiving. Our 25th Christmas will follow. My lawn mower has survived 25 summers of mowing without the need of major repairs. On the other hand, I am aware that there are many things that I am doing for the last time. As we plan our Advent worship, there is a sense of finality about it. I may not be planning Advent worship at this time next year. After a career of moving most of our family’s Christmas celebrations to the week after Christmas day, I may be available to celebrate with family when Christmas 2020 comes around. In the summer, I received my annual datebook and planner from the denomination and thought with nostalgia, “this could be the last one of these I’ll ever have.”

Change is not mostly sad. I am filled with excitement about new possibilities that are opening up in my life. We are beginning a new adventure and have no idea where it will take it.

If you enjoy reading my journal, rest assured. I only started posting daily essays to the Internet in 2007. That’s only 12 years ago. I’ve got a lot more years before I will have been doing that for 25.

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 local hardware store was having a bag sale last night. I receive their promotional emails, so I was vaguely aware of the event, but it wasn’t on the top of my head. I don’t enjoy shopping for the sake of shopping and I wasn’t out looking for bargains. However, I had a project at home that I was working on and I discovered that the bolts I had were 1/2 inch too short to complete my project. I hopped in the car and headed to the hardware store. I remembered the bag sale when I couldn’t find an open space in the parking lot. I briefly considered going to another store, but walking is good for me and so I just parked in the lot of another store and walked over to the hardware store. It was obvious that their promotion was a big success. The store was packed with customers. They are serving food and beverages and folks were enjoying talking with each other. Every aisle was crowded with people and I had to be patient to make my way to the bins of bolts. I counted out the bolts I needed and headed to the check out area.

Then I followed the line of people waiting to check out. It wandered around the store. Back by the back wall of the store, I found the end of the line. Once again I thought about giving up, returning the bolts to the bin and going to another store. However, I’d come this far, so I took my place in line. Having nothing more important to do, I settled into waiting and watching the people around me. There were several different techniques being employed by those in line.

Ahead of me was a couple who had gotten a shopping cart and joined the line as soon as they got to the store. The cart was empty, but they took turns going out and obtaining items while the other partner kept their place in line. By the time they got to the checkout area the cart was full. Also ahead of me was a couple who might have been in their eighties or even older. He was struggling with all of the standing and leaned on the cart for support. She was trying to help him. At one point, she went and brought back a snack for him. Her devotion and concern for him was touching. Behind me was a woman who was rather loudly complaining about the long line while talking on her cell phone. She seemed to be a lot less happy than some of the rest of us. I thought about offering that i would trade places in line with her, but I didn’t want to offend the others who were patiently waiting.

Rapid City being the size of town we are, I saw several of my friends as I waited in line, and chatted briefly with them as the line slowly moved forward. One friend commented that I chose the wrong evening to make a quick trip to pick up a handful of bolts. I replied that I didn’t know I needed them until that particular evening.

I hadn’t eaten my dinner at this point in the evening and all of the food, and especially the smell of the popcorn machine, was making me hungry. The line snaked between two counters with snacks on its way to the cash registers. I noticed that other customers were checking out the snacks and more than a few made impulse purchases from the snacks for sale even though there were free snacks offered in the store as part of the promotion. I resisted the temptation.

The clerks at the cash registers were efficient and soon I had paid and was on my way across the parking lot to my car. I noticed several cars driving around and around looking for a place to park. I’m pretty sure they could have saved time by parking and walking like I did, but they seemed unwilling to walk. Perhaps one of them had a condition that made walking difficult. I gave thanks for the ability to walk. It feels good to me to walk. I enjoy it. A couple of blocks isn’t a problem for me. I resolved to make it a practice to leave a few parking places close to the entrance to the store every time I need to use that parking lot. I know that there are special places reserved for those with disabilities, but some others may not enjoy walking as much as I do, so I’ll leave a few spaces for them.

Because the trip to the hardware store had taken a half hour longer than I expected and because I was the cook for our dinner last night, our dinner was delayed by a half hour or so. As I cooked, I told my wife stories about waiting in line at the hardware store. So I not only got a bit of bonus time to watch people, which I enjoy, I got some stories to tell - even a topic for my journal this morning.

I suspect that the hardware store owners are feeling pretty good about their promotion this morning. It certainly appeared to be a success to me when I was there last night. I’m not the kind of person who is attracted to those kinds of sales, yet they got a little bit of business out of me and they got a lot of business from some of the customers who were filling their carts. Perhaps there was a bit of early Christmas shopping going on.

So much in this life is colored by your attitude. If you want to complain, you can find things to complain about. If you enjoy community, there are plenty of offers of community. If you like being with people who are different from you, there are occasions that give you what you like. And, if like me, you like a surprise from time to time, you learn to take what life gives you and enjoy the unexpected turn of events.

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 things you learn

In the winter of 1977-1978, as I was preparing for my final semester of Seminary and anticipating that I would obtain a call to serve a church, which would make me eligible for ordination, I prepared my first Ministerial Profile. The Ministerial Profile is the denomination form that serves as a resume for pastors seeking a call to a congregation. Among the standard questions on the form at the time was a request to report on your four most recent professional positions in the church. I put down my internship at the Wholistic Health Care Center and the Union Church of Hinsdale, My work as a church janitor at University Christian Church, My two summers as manager of Camp Mimanagish of the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference and my nine months as a licensed minister for pulpit supply at the Custer Community Congregational Church in Montana during my senior year of college. That was all of the professional church experience that I had. Then I submitted my profile as was the custom in our seminary to the teacher of my United Church of Christ Polity Class for his review before submitting it to the denomination for distribution. When I got my draft form back from my professor, Dr. Rooks has written across the experience page in red ink, “Are you sure you want to report your work as a janitor? They might expect you to clean the bathrooms as ‘other duties as assigned.’” At the time, I was a bit incensed, I was applying to be ordained to serve the church and if that meant cleaning up a bit, I was willing to do what I was called to do. I was wary of ministers that thought they were somehow above the people that they served and who thought that some jobs were beneath their dignity. I left the report of my work as a church janitor in my profile. It worked. We received a call to begin our ministry serving the Reeder and Hettinger, North Dakota congregations, a position that we held for the next seven years. It was a great beginning to our ministry.

Over the years, by the way, I have cleaned a lot of bathrooms. I’ve cleaned up after toilets overflowed and I’ve plunged clogged toilets. I’ve cleaned up after children, and I suspect adults, have had “accidents” in the bathroom. I’ve scrubbed toilets and walls and floors. I’ve also moved furniture, installed new shingles, replaced siding, caulked windows, painted walls, hauled out garbage and recycling, and escorted vagrant people, curious children, stray cats and dogs and a couple of birds out of church buildings. I even chased away a marauding bear, but that was during my time as a camp manager before I was ordained.

Along the way, I’ve learned to do a lot of jobs that require skills that aren’t taught in seminary. I know how to fire up a boiler, pull Cat5 and Cat6 ethernet cables, install phones, administer a database, update computer software, split firewood and change the tire on a trailer.

For the record, my theological education did not include any classes in computer network installation and maintenance. There were virtually no computers in churches when we began our ministry. I did help our first parish purchase an electric typewriter and a photocopy machine. I did learn how to run a spirit duplicator and a mimeograph machine. I’m pretty good at replacing typewriter ribbons and cleaning type. My seminary had no classes on kitchen appliance maintenance or lawn and tree care. I have no professional expertise in forming budgets or accounting procedures.

There is a fair amount of learning on the job that occurs when you choose to become a minister. What I’m saying is that my job isn’t all preaching and teaching and reading books and leading discussions and making pastoral calls. There’s a fair amount of basic administration, personnel management, building maintenance and other work that ends up on my desk from time to time.

Which is why I know how to properly install the lower spray arm of a Hobart Commercial Dishwasher. I didn’t take a class. I just learned it from doing what needed to be done. I mention that particular task because our church’s dishwasher quit on the crew washing dishes three weeks ago. We called the Hobart Company who sent out a technician who said that the problem wasn’t the machine but the fact that there was no pressure gauge on the water line. We called the congregation’s mechanical contractor who sent a plumber who installed the pressure gauge. The Hobart repair man came back and said the pressure was too low. I told him that it now had a pressure adjustment that was installed with the new gauge. He claimed that it would not work. We had the plumber come back. He thought the problem might be the hot water heater, which was a brand that his company does not sell and he thought might be suspect. Since we have plenty of hot water in the building, I questioned his diagnosis, but we sought to find a way to get that checked out.

Meanwhile time is passing with the dishwasher not available to the congregation. We have a pot luck lunch coming up in tow weeks, panic is starting to set in.

Last night a couple of us put our heads to gather and took another look at everything. We found out that we have plenty of hot water and that there is more than the required amount of pressure for the dish washer. I also discovered that the lower spray arm of the dishwasher was not installed properly. I reinstalled it and ran the dishwasher, which cleaned the dishes we put into the machine. It turned out that the machine wasn’t completely repaired, however. The top spray arm is not rotating or spraying. But I am left with a dilemma. Do I call the Hobart repair man again after he has proven that he doesn’t even know how to properly install the lower spray bar? What would convince me that he knows more about the upper spray bar than the lower one?

The entire process reminds me once again of how many people bring only a narrow set of skills to work with them. The dishwasher repair man doesn’t do plumbing. The plumber doesn’t repair dishwashers. They can blame each other out of any unsolved problem. And we sit with a dysfunctional machine and don’t know who to call.

I wonder if there is a class in commercial dishwasher repair that I could take. I think I’ll check YouTube.

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!

Addicted to incarceration

Our community has two facilities that are designed for the incarceration of people who have committed crimes. Our county jail, which also houses prisoners for the state and federal court systems, is a large facility with many state of the art features. It is perpetually full, in part because it is also used to house those who have been charged with crimes as they await trial. Another facility, specifically designed to detain youth aged 11 to 20 also is a part of our community. This facility also houses local, state and federal detainees. Both are fully accredited facilities and a great deal of time and money has been invested in making sure that they comply with all of the regulations regarding detaining individuals. Both employ fairly large numbers of guards, control room operators, nurses, and other workers. In addition, the juvenile facility has a fully-functioning school with teachers who work under the administrative umbrella of the local school district.

The original idea of keeping a person confined to a single building or set of buildings was not itself considered to be punishment for crimes. Prior to the 18th century, most crimes were punished by corporal punishment. The concept was that if you caused a person physical pain such as being beaten with a whip, the person would be deterred from future similar behavior. The most serious crimes were punished by death. Prisons didn’t need to be very large because they were designed for temporary housing until punishment could be completed.

A British philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, was opposed to the death penalty and created the concept of a prison that itself would be the punishment for a crime. His concept was that if people were kept isolated in an austere setting they would be forced to contemplate the error of their ways. His ideal of a penitentiary, or a place for penance, included isolating inmates from each other and from the guards. If a detainee did not know how many guards were in the facility and if they didn’t know when they were being directly watched and when they were not, they would become peaceful because of the threat of overwhelming force.

By the 19th century prison were being built for the sole purpose of housing inmates. Those who were sent to prison and stripped of their freedom were no longer able to commit crimes and thus the facility deterred crimes by locking people up. From that time, there have been intense debates about whether or not prisons serve to reform those who have committed crimes. Some people feel that fear of being locked up deters crimes. Some believe that the experiences in prison can help to reform criminals and make them less likely to commit other crimes.

Most of the corrections officers I know are convinced that despite the programs of social and psychological examinations, educational programs and other opportunities offered by corrections facilities, those who are incarcerated run a very high rate of recidivism. They often expect to see those who are freed from incarceration to return at some point in the future.

I am certainly no expert when it comes to incarceration. I am merely a chaplain to those who serve in corrections facilities. What I do know is that incarceration is not an effective treatment for addiction and our facilities are filled with people who have various kinds of addictions.

I realize that there aren’t many people in our community who want to discuss the philosophy of anything, let alone the philosophy of incarceration, but our facilities are full of people whose crimes are the result of addiction. In South Dakota consumption of a controlled substance is a crime and you can be convicted of possession by consumption. That means that there are people in our jail facilities whose crime was not something over which that person had control, but something that was beyond their capacity to control. Addicts do not have the capacity to control their addictions. It is not a choice. Addicts are aware that their addiction is causing them harm, but they are powerless to stop the behavior. The cause of addiction is not a series of bad choices, even though addiction may come after a series of bad choices. The cause of addiction is pain. People experience trauma. They seek pleasure to counter the pain in their lives. Some of the pleasures they find cause tremendous harm to themselves and others. And they cannot escape their addictions.

A common example of this is methamphetamine addiction. For most users, the initial use of the stimulant produces the most intense “high” that they will ever experience with the drug. From that point forward they continue to seek that intense pleasure but it eludes them. The intense pain and depression that follows the drug, however, persists. They take more of the substance to try to drag themselves out of the hole of withdrawal that follows the drug. The cycle continues and they do not have the capacity to “choose” to stop. The pain is too intense. Some meth addicts can become temporarily detoxed by incarceration. If we lock them up without access to the drug they do get some of the effects out of their system. The underlying pain, however, remains and as soon as they are released from incarceration they seek more of the substance in a hopeless effort to end the pain.

There is, however, a societal appeal of removing people with intense problems from public view. Locking them up in jails and prisons is one way of removing them from sight. However, when we don’t solve the underlying problems, the problems increase. The number of people who are incarcerated continues to increase. Here in South Dakota we have roughly 25,000 people or about 3 percent of our population locked in prisons and jails. The crime rate in South Dakota is below the national average, but our incarceration rate is nearly twice the national average. The more we lock people in facilities, the more we need to lock them in facilities. Our social problem functions exactly like an addiction.

Building more jails and prisons will not solve our problem. If we could realize that, we might develop more compassion for those whose addictions can’t be solved by obtaining more of the substance they abuse.

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!

Technology

A few decades ago, when my parents were still alive, I don’t think I would have been able to predict how cell phones would transform certain aspects of our life. My father-in-law was one of the first adopters of the new technology, when a mobile phone was a fairly large case that you carried in your car and required a special antenna to be installed. We borrowed that bag phone when we came to Rapid City on our house hunting tour in 1995. A few years later, I got a flip phone to help the office staff find me. I spend quite a bit of time out and about in the community, calling on folks and making visits in a variety of settings. Having the cell phone gave the office a way to get messages to me. Before long, I had become quite addicted to the technology, carrying my phone with me nearly everywhere I went. Years passed, phones become more capable, and these days, I grab my phone as I wake in the morning and it is a nearly constant companion throughout my day.

What I don’t think I expected was how much we would use our phones for things besides talking to folks. Yesterday, I was with another grandparent and we were exchanging views of our grandchildren by scrolling through the photos on our phones. We were passing around the phones and admiring each other’s grandchildren. It probably isn’t significantly different from the old wallet photos we used to cary of loved ones, but our photos are much more up to date. I receive new photos of my grandchildren nearly every day. With children and grandchildren living so far away it is a definite treat for me.

It isn’t just that we receive more pictures, however. We also take more pictures. I a barista adds an extra d to the spelling of my name, I’m likely to snap a picture and send it to a family member. When I see something that catches my eye, I get out my phone and take a picture. The current generation of smart phones has meant that I nearly always have a camera available. Using my phone doesn’t afford the same focus and concentration as using my camera, and I’m more likely to take a photo that is less well framed and less artistically appealing than I am with my camera, but the advantage of the phone is that it is constantly available and the photos I take with my phone aren’t all that bad. The resolution of the digital photography from my phone is about the same as my good DSLR camera.

I remember years ago I was amazed by a Minox camera. The subminiature camera used 16mm film and was tiny. You slid the outer case to the right and exposed the shutter and lens. It was the stuff of a spy movie. I don’t remember seeing any spectacular pictures taken with the camera. It was more of a novelty. I know that lighting was an issue for the tiny device. It was a relic of the Second World War in terms of technology, but the miniature camera was still a fascinating device. The cameras we carry in our cell phones are much smaller, much better and many provide artificial lighting.

Another device that struck me as interesting when I was a youth came directly from the comic pages in the newspaper. Dick Tracy had a two-way wrist radio. He could talk into the watch-like device and receive messages on it as well. We had portable radios that we used in our family’s business. They were very expensive, fairly fragile and bulky. You could clip one to your belt, but you had to extend a metal antenna that was very prone to being broken and they didn’t seem to work in many of the places whee we wanted to use them. I thought the device that Dick Tracy used would be a marvel of the future. Like a flying car, it was something that didn’t exist in real life, but something that someone might develop some day.

I doubt that i could have imagined the watch that I wear today. It has a digital assistant. I can talk to it and ask it to display certain information. It receives email messages and even works as a telephone. It is brand new to me, a purchase made in response to our recent issues with heart rhythm. It acts as a heart rate and rhythm monitor and we can check our heart rate at any time by touching an icon on the screen. The device, however, has far more capability than we’ve learned to use.

I can’t help but think how much my father would have loved this futuristic devices that we have. He loved the simple calculators and computers that were available when he was living. He purchased many different generations of communications radios. We had a basement full of devices that were purchased, used and then put away when the next latest one appeared. I’m pretty sure that he would have been an early adopter of modern digital technologies had he lived to see the devices.

What is clear to me is that the changes and advances in technology are occurring so quickly that I have no ability to predict which technologies I will be using a few years from now. I have wondered if driverless cars will avoid that awkward conversation with my children when it is time for me to quit driving. There are devices that appear in fiction - in movies and on television that we don’t yet have. There is no such thing as a teleport that can instantly move a human being from one place to another. That, however, would be a great technology for grandparents. We could beam ourselves to a kindergarten graduation or a birthday party and be home for dinner.

When that time comes, I probably won’t have the money to purchase the device. I will have spent all my money on gadgets that are currently available. It is, however, fun to imagine what might be 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!

OK Boomer

I came of age during the Vietnam War. That pretty much makes me a boomer. I fit into the definition of that generation of people. When we were teens we first heard the phrase “Generation Gap.” It was a reference to a difference in opinions and beliefs between youth and their parents and grandparents. My own experience, however, didn’t bear out much that was a gap. I was close to my parents and as I entered my teens and young adult years, my parents were very supportive of me. I was a very opinionated young adult. I spoke out and was quick to argue over my opinions and beliefs. I did not, however experience conflict with my family. Sometimes it did seem that there were some older people in our church and in the community who didn’t seem to “get it” when it came to certain beliefs and political positions, but inside of our family, I felt like we could communicate and support one another. That didn’t mean that we always agreed. We were arguers. We debated at the dinner table. My brother who is closest to me in age and I had some intense arguments during your late teens and twenties. I did not feel, however, that we were dismissed or ignored by our parents. They listened to our ideas. This was true of other elders in our extended family. There was always respect for the opinions of others even when there was not agreement. I can remember some fairly complex arguments with uncles and cousins. Describing the relationships in our family as a generation gap, however, didn’t make sense. We’ve always had some pretty left-wing elders and some pretty right-wing young people in our family. And we have plenty of opinions that fall on a wide spectrum in every age cohort. My father an my uncle didn’t agree on much, but they knew that they were family and that they would be seeing each other often.

I never suffered from the generation gap. And I have yet to receive an email, text or social media post with the phrase, “OK Boomer!” I know about the phrase because it is hard to escape some articles about it. The BBC, which is pretty much a boomer news source has had several articles talking about the phenomenon. A 25-year-old New Zealand politician made headlines in her country for using the phrase in parliament when and older lawmaker interrupted her speech on climate change.

I suppose that there have been, in ever generation, people who become entrenched in their ideas and ways of life and others who challenge that entrenchment. It is fairly easy to find legitimate criticisms of the decisions and lifestyles some of the people my age have chosen. We have, so far, proven ourselves to be ineffective at solving some major problems such as income inequality, global climate change and racial injustice. It isn’t that we don’t care, but rather that as a generation, we have been unwilling to give up on ideas such as continual growth. We seek lives of comfort instead of making sacrifices for future generations.

One of the changes in the church over the span of my career has been a shift in the value of experience. When I began my career, I was advised by a trusted colleague to go to a small church and gain several years experience before applying for another job. The common wisdom is that those who wanted to serve in larger congregations or in Conference or national church positions needed to have experience in a variety of different local congregations in preparation for those roles. Somewhere in the span of my working the general opinion of that has shifted. Different size congregations have different leadership needs and specialized ministries such as Conference or denominational work have specialized skill sets. And youth and enthusiasm have become highly valued commodities in the marketplace for ministers. Congregations and Conferences alike seek younger leaders. This may have something to do with a decrease in the number of people entering the ministry as a first career. Whatever the reason, we have seen younger ministers assume roles that once were considered to be at or near the “top of the ladder.”

From my point of view this has not been a negative thing for he church. Over the years I’ve witnessed enough incompetence and poor job performance from people who are middle aged to know that the ability to do a job well is not the possession of a single generation. And I have enjoyed the energy and leadership of younger colleagues. It is true, however, that I have not personally suffered in any way from the younger generation of leaders. I’ve never failed to get a job because a younger person got it. I’ve had a career path that has been rich in meaning for me and have not faced barriers that others have avoided.

I do, however, have a sense that the time is coming for me to step aside and allow others to move into some of the positions I hold. I don’t worry much about the congregation I serve. It is a wonderful and healthy congregation and it will seek leadership that is appropriate for the next steps in its history. I do, however, worry about some of the volunteer organizations in which I am active. I don’t see younger people stepping up to do the work that our generation has done and is doing. I am active in several organizations where young people are scarce in the pool of volunteers. Habitat for Humanity, for example, has plenty of young employees, but few young volunteers. And the young people who do volunteer tend to give smaller portions of their time than the older volunteers. I understand that they have busy lives and that they don’t have the luxury of time that some of us older folks have, but I’m still working full time and I have always felt that volunteering is an essential calling on top of my regular work schedule. Sometimes I wonder if the next generation will rise to the challenge of volunteerism.

Then I think, “OK Boomer.” It might just be time for me to step aside and allow new leadership to emerge.

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 weather outside

I remember the year we moved to North Dakota. I would go down to the cafe in town and have coffee with a few of the ranchers and local businesspeople. The conversation ranged from polite to weather to sports. It was a good way to get a feel for the community and to connect with the issues that were most important to those I served. After several months, or perhaps more than a year, I came home one day and commented to my wife, “No weather around here is typical.” It didn’t seem to matter what occurred, the talk at the coffee shop was that this was “unusual weather for us.” If it was hot, it was unusual. If it was cold, it was unusual. After I started paying attention, I became convinced that it was the way the locals talked about the weather. “It doesn’t normally get this cold and stay cold for a long time.” “Usually our summers are milder than this one.”

I sort of understand that way of thinking, especially this year in South Dakota. The series of spring blizzards we experienced last spring was surprising to me, even after 25 years of living her and a lot of spring blizzards. And the wild swings in weather this fall have surprised me as well. On Saturday, we were unloading firewood in our shirtsleeves and enjoying being outside. On Sunday afternoon, I was trying to scrape the ice off the windshield of my car in a raging snowstorm. By last night, the snow was deep enough that I had to be careful to get the car into the driveway. This morning I’ll be blowing 6 inches of fresh snow out of the driveway.

The forecast calls for temperatures in the 50’s tomorrow.

It isn’t just us. I’ve been reading about the bushfire crisis in Australia. At least three people have died. More than 150 homes have been destroyed and the fires are raging to intensely that officials are warning of catastrophic danger. New South Wales and Queensland have been experiencing hotter and drier weather this spring than typical.

But I also have friends who live in Melbourne. Victoria is facing the coldest spring in more than a decade with the mountains just north of town covered in snow and antarctic cold bringing rain, gusty winds and hail across the state. The cold front crossing the state is bringing thunderstorms and flood watches.

Sydney’s forecast calls for a “hot, dry and dangerous day.” Melbourne’s calls for “chilly weather, strong winds and the possibility of snow in higher elevations.”

It is springtime in Australia.

All of the extremes in weather prompts conversation about climate change, but the science behind climate change is complex. It isn’t as simple as blaming climate change for the extremes in weather currently being experienced. Attributing the cause of a specific event to climate change is probably not accurate. Climate change can, however, be used to predict some general trends and patterns in weather. It is not my area of expertise and there are many who are far more competent than I to comment on the global climate crisis.

In the meantime, I’m thinking that people have always been fascinated by the weather. I’m also thinking that the weather continues to be able to surprise us even with all of the advanced technologies and weather prediction models that we have.

I remember when we used to call a flight service station for weather forecasts before going on a trip in an airplane. The forecasts were fairly general and it was a challenge to get the specific information needed to make a safe decision. These days we have applications on our phones that show the latest doppler radar and illustrate the cloud cover in real time. We have more tools for predicting what the weather will be, and yet we are still capable of being surprised by it.

The shifts from warm to cold to warm that we are experiencing this week have so far been fairly accurately forecast by meteorologists. We knew that the snow was coming when we were enjoying the warm weather on Saturday. And I know that warm weather is coming as I prepare to clear the snow from my driveway this morning. Even an accurate forecast doesn’t keep us from feeling a bit amazed at the weather we are experiencing.

Maybe it is just like the coffee shop in North Dakota four decades ago. There is no such thing as typical weather. All of it is unusual.

There is some evidence that while most of the human-caused pollution that is affecting the global climate has come from places in the northern hemisphere, the most severe effects of climate change are being experienced in the southern hemisphere. Whether or not this will become a continuing trend is uncertain, but what is clear is that we are all connected on this planet. What occurs in one place has effects in another.

What is abundantly clear is that there is always some kind of weather-related disaster going on somewhere in the world. Our access to real-time news means that we are constantly aware of extreme weather events. I’m continually amazed that nursing homes leave television sets tuned to the weather channel. The television might be reporting wildfires in Australia and a cyclone in India, or flooding in the UK, but the residents don’t always process the location of the news that is bing broadcast. They look out the window and see clouds and wonder whether or not the flooding will affect them. They see a reporter standing in high winds and wonder whether or not there is a tornado heading for their location. More than once I’ve suggested that a care facility turn the channel on their television - or just turn it off.

So, if you’re new the Black Hills, welcome, and don’t worry about the snow outside. Our weather isn’t usually like this in November - except when it is.

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 fancy Italian dinner

I don’t think I have any amount of Norwegian ancestry. At least the ancestors we know come from German and English roots for the most part. I have some relatives who have really gotten into studying genealogy and there is quite a bit of information available, but I’ve never made much of study of my ancestors beyond great-great grandparents or so.

I did, however, grow up in a community that had a lot of Norwegian families. Norsemen from Greenland were probably the first Europeans to reach North America. Leif Erickson reached America via Norse settlements in Greenland around the year 1000. The wave of immigration to the areas where I have lived, however, came as a result of a variety of agricultural and natural disasters that created famine in the Norse countries in the last half of the 19th century. The attempt to form a union between Norway and Sweden never worked out the way people wanted and in 1895 ongoing tensions between Sweden and Norway resulted in a retreat of Norwegians from Sweden in 1895 and sparked a new wave of immigration to America.

Our children were both pretty blond, blue eyed and fair skinned and fit right into the community with a lot of Norwegians where we lived in North Dakota. North Dakota welcomed nearly 70,000 Norwegian settlers between the 1880 census and the 1900 census. This wave of immigration corresponded to the settlement of the county where we lived in North Dakota. I used to joke that we raised our children on the Norwegian Reservation in North Dakota. It was a culture with which I was familiar because the town where I grew up in Montana also had plenty of Norwegians. So when I moved to South Dakota, I had heard a lot of the Ole and Lena jokes that had been so carefully collected by the pastor of the Lutheran Church on the west side of town. I don’t know if I ever succeeded in telling him one that he hadn’t previously heard, but we exchanged quite a few. Rapid City has a reproduction of the famous Burgundy Stavkirke known as Chapel in the Hills. It reminds me of the chapel in Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot, North Dakota.

So it is with a bit of caution that I make a report on the activities in my home town. Friday night was the big Italian Dinner in the town where I grew up. It is an annual fund-raising event for the Episcopalian Church. I’ve never attended the dinner, but it is a kind of big deal to the people who work hard to serve a nice dinner to their friends and neighbors. But when I think of my home town, I don’t think of Italian dinners. So here is a scenario from my imagination that has no bearing on the actual event.

The committee got together to plan the meal there was Lars Larson and Olie Olson and Pete Peterson and Swen Swenson. And, of course their wives, Olga, Oola, Uma and Helga. Olie says they should start with a salad, so there is much discussion about what an Italian salad would be like. Pete thought that he saw some Genoa Salami in the Costco the last time he went to the city, so he said he would bring some. They could cut it into little chunks and add it to a regular salad with lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Pete said that what they needed was some black olives, so Uma agreed to get a can when she went to the grocery store. “Might better get two or three cans,” said Lars. “You never know how many people will show up.

They decided that spaghetti was served too often at Italian dinners in the past, so they planned to get some rotelli pasta. Oola was pretty sure she saw some that was multi colored at Walmart and it is only 60 miles to get there. They could pick some up. Of course tomato sauce is easy to come by with all of the tomatoes from the gardens that have been canned at the end of the summer. Each family has rows of jars in their basement filled with canned tomatoes. “You got to have cheese for it to be Italian,” says Swen. Maybe we could melt some Velveta and pour it on top. “No,” responded Helga. You need Parmesan cheese.” “I thought Parmesan was French,” responded Swen. “That shows what you know,” Helga said. “Parma is a city in Italy and it is where Parmesan cheese comes from.” “How we gonna get that stuff? I bet it is expensive,” Swen said. “You can buy it in big green cans from Kraft,” she responded. Swen conceded that the Parmesan cheese would be just fine.

“So what do Italians have for dessert?” Pete wanted to know. “You know,” Olga said, “We once ate in a fancy Italian restaurant and had a fancy dessert called Tiramisu. I wish I had a recipe for that.” Uma remembered eating the same stuff once, but she didn’t have a recipe either. “How hard can it be to make something like that?” she said. “I bet I can come up with a recipe.”

So they served a fancy Italian Dinner in the basement of the Episcopalian Church. Everyone had a good time and even though there was the same salami in the salad and int he pasta dish, which also sported olives, a good time was enjoyed by all of the participants. And a lot of people asked for the recipe for Uma’s tiramisu, so I thought I’d pass it on to you:

First you take a sheet of lefse. Spread some butter on it and then sprinkle hot chocolate mix on the butter. Then take a piece of Grandma Lena’s Rum Cake and put in on the lefse. Put a dab of cool whip on the rum cake. Sprinkle generously with Folger’s coffee crystals. Add another piece of lefse on top and smash the whole thing down. Cut into squares. Add a dab of cool whip and a bit more hot chocolate mix on the top.

Trust me, Grandma Lena’s Rum Cake is so good and so laced with Rum that no one complains after eating it.

I make no claim to the accuracy of the events reported in this journal entry.

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!

Two types of treatment

18 years ago I suffered burns on my hands, arms, chest and face in an accident. The burns were mostly superficial, 1st and 2nd degree, but the area was fairly large. After being treated in the emergency room, I spent the night at the home of my in laws. The next morning, having failed to drink enough water, I was dehydrated and I fainted. When I regained consciousness, we returned to the emergency room. I was a middle-aged, slightly overweight male who was experiencing lightheadedness. The response was nearly instant. I was plopped in a wheelchair, rushed to a treatment room, loaded on a gurney, fitted with leads to a heart monitor, given a pulse oximeter, hooked up to oxygen and within ten minutes of arriving at the emergency room there was a cardiologist at my bedside. I remembered the quick response and care at the end of September when my wife was admitted to the hospital in AFib. We didn’t have to wait in the waiting room. We were rushed into a treatment room and quickly began to receive life-saving treatment.

If you have symptoms of heart disease and arrive at an emergency room they don’t mess around. They also have all of the necessary emergency equipment and personnel with special training to respond to your condition. You get to see a doctor who has extensive specialized training in the treatment of heart disease. There are crash carts filled with all of the equipment and medicines needed to make a quick response to a heart attack.

There are a few simple questions which emergency rooms and hospital triage departments ask to determine a person’s risk of heart attack. As soon as they have a general sense that a heart attack may have occurred or might be about to occur they know exactly how to respond.

The response stands in stark contrast to another experience I have had in a hospital emergency room. I was with a person who was experiencing thoughts of suicide. In fact he was so suicidal that I didn’t dare leave him alone. I accompanied him to the emergency room because I didn’t know where else to obtain help and I knew I was up against a situation I couldn’t handle on my own. We were asked a few questions by an admitting clerk and then spent the next couple of hours waiting to be seen. The patient was taken to a triage area where blood pressure, temperature, and other vital signs were assessed. No one in that area asked any questions about mental health or thoughts of suicide. Eventually the patient was seen by an emergency room doctor who wrote a prescription before ordering the discharge of the patient.

Death from suicide in the United States has been on a steady climb for the last 20 years. The rate has increased 33% nation wide since 1999. We lose more than 47,000 people to suicide each year in our nation. The increase in the rate is steepest among teenagers. Suicide is now the leading cause of death among adolescents in our state.

Every patient who presents to a hospital emergency room receives a simple screening for heart disease. Blood pressure and blood oxygen are tested. The patient is asked about chest pain, light headedness and other common symptoms of heart disease. It would be even simpler to screen all emergency department admissions for suicidal thoughts. “Have you ever had thoughts of suicide or attempted to harm yourself?” That question isn’t a perfect screening question but a new study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School reported that the question increased the number of people who were treated by psychiatrists or given other suicide prevention resources increased by 90%. The effectiveness of simple suicide screening is so apparent that it is require of physicians who expect reimbursement from medicare for the treatment of patients.

Emergency rooms, however, are still not employing universal suicide screening procedures. The reason is not that they are ignorant of the latest research. The reason is not that they do not care. It is that they lack the resources to treat those suffering from suicidal ideation. While every emergency room is equipped with personnel and equipment to render life saving care to those suffering from heart disease. Most emergency rooms don’t have the resources to treat acute mental illness. They can get a cardiologist within minutes. They might not be able to get a psychiatrist within 24 hours.

Think about that for a minute. In South Dakota’s largest cities, the emergency rooms in our hospitals do not have the resources to treat the leading cause of death among our teenagers.

If a teen suffers from cancer, the community holds fund-raising and awareness events. If a teen is injured in an accident, we all go to work to insure the best possible treatment. When a teen suffers from mental illness, the stigma is so great that we don’t talk about it. The teen and the family are unsure if they can talk about their problem with their family, friends and church.

Emergency departments will tell you that they find it harder to get reimbursed for mental health treatment. Physical ailments result in payments. Mental health issues often result in the hospital having to swallow the cost.

I have decided that I will no longer support that stigma. I will not go silent or use euphemisms when talking about death from suicide or acute mental illness. When we lose members of our community to suicide I refuse to be silent about the cause of death. When I officiate at a funeral, I treat mental illness as a fatal disease in the same way that I treat cancer or heart disease. I speak out loud.

And when I take someone to the emergency room, I will advocate for proper treatment and intervention. A simple two-day training program can equip people to make emergency interventions for suicidal thoughts and behavior. Every emergency room technician is trained in CPR, which often does not work. ASIST suicide prevention training has been shown to be nearly 80% effective. A simple safety plan of making sure the patient knows who to call when suicidal situations arise, including mental health providers and crisis lines; limiting access to lethal means such as guns or poisonous materials; and a few additional practical steps have been proven to be lifesaving measures.

We can do better. We can save lives.

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!

Random hosptial thoughts

I’ve learned a lot of things in the past couple of months that I had not previously known. We visit in hospitals a lot, so I thought that I had quite a bit of familiarity with the setting. But having a family member hospitalized for a couple of weeks teaches you quite a bit that is easy to miss when you are a visitor. For example our hospital provides recliners in each room. They are fairly comfortable and it is quite possible to sleep in the chairs and hospital staff provide pillows and blankets for family members who want to spend the night. They are good about offering coffee and water and other amenities. The hospital has a good cafeteria and you can order a tray to be sent up to the room if you don’t want to leave the room. The prices are very reasonable and the food is pretty good. A hospital, however, is a busy place and even for the patients, who are now often referred to as “guests” in hospital literature, there are lots of interruptions to sleep. Medications are delivered on a precise schedule regardless of the time of day. Lab tests and other diagnostic events are scheduled around the clock. Vital signs must be checked regularly. If you are visiting a loved one and have settled into the recliner, you’ll be awakened often during the night. However, if you are visiting a loved one, you don’t mind that part of the experience. You want to be alert enough to pay attention to the one for whom you have come. Periodic checks throughout the night are reassuring.

Here is something that I learned. When it comes to visitors, fewer visitors and short visits are the best. As a pastor, I often feel that I need to rush to the hospital to see those who are receiving treatment and that I need to make frequent visits so that they know of the love and support of the congregation. There were a couple of pastors who visited us who knew how to make short visits, but there were some other visitors, whose visits were exhausting. The same was true of doctors and nurses. All have bee trained to seek questions from patients. Some know how to provide concise answers. Others spend a lot of time talking when they are visiting.

I think I’ve developed more empathy that can be helpful when visiting in the hospital in the future.

After several days of spending most of my time at the hospital, I was telling family members that when I retire, if I am looking for something to do, I could become a hospital volunteer. The thing I’d like to do is to get some glasses cleaning equipment and go around the hospital cleaning glasses. Patients take their glasses off a lot and they get fingerprints on them. Staff members handle fluids and other things and their glasses are constantly dirty. Visiting family members haven’t been paying attention to maintaining their eyewear. A hospital is full of glasses that need to be cleaned. I think one could start at the top of our hospital and clean glasses all the way down and when you got to the bottom it would be time to start at the top again. You’d probably go through a lot of glasses cleaning fluid and clean cloths.

Speaking of cloth, a hospital goes through an enormous amount of laundry. Sheets and pillow cases and blankets have to be changed frequently. When a patient is cold, they simply pile on more blankets. At one point, I was counting how many blankets there were in a single room. I lost count, distracted by something else, but there were a lot more than you’d find in a typical bedroom. The nurses know where the linen closets are and they keep bringing in more and more. Once, I asked for a blanket and the aide brought me three. The people who work in the laundry have good job security.

I spend a fair amount of time with law enforcement officers. Most of them have really good flashlights. There are some new devices that put out a lot of light and aim it isn a concentrated pattern. The love of flashlights hasn’t taken hold in the hospital. When they need light, they turn on the room lights, regardless of the time of day. I think a flashlight would be a handy device when delivering a single pill in the middle of the night, but I didn’t see any of them in the hospital.

For an institution that treats some of the effects of our society’s over-consumption of caffeine, they sure have a lot of coffee. I was offered coffee again and again. Even when I was visiting in the cardiac intensive care unit, hospital staff offered me coffee multiple times each hour. Since I no longer drink coffee, I also know that it is very easy to get a glass of water. I also had a couple of tea bags in my backpack and hot water was easy to obtain. This wasn’t in the hospital, but I had a diagnostic test at a medical clinic this week. Among my instructions was that I was to be careful to have no caffeine for 24 hours prior to the procedure. The instructions were specific: no coffee or tea, no decaffeinated beverages, including herbal teas, no chocolate, nothing with caffeine. The minute my procedure was completed they asked me if I wanted coffee or a soda. It was at that point that it struck me that I was the oldest person in the room. Hospitals and medical facilities are staffed by people who are young. Their energy and mental acuity are good qualities for those who offer care, but I suspect that they abuse their bodies as much as I did when I was that age. I’m learning a lot about moderation - and a lot about things I can live without - that I didn’t know when I was their age.

Since we’ve had such a good outcome from our treatment in the hospital, I think that it was a good experience for me to learn a bit more. Maybe I should take some chocolates to the nurse’s stations at the hospital - then again chocolate is laced with caffeine. Maybe I’ll just offer to clean their glasses - then again they’re so young not many of them wear glasses.

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!

Cody the wonder dog

Since my wife’s hospitalization in October, we have had a constant stream of guests in our house. Our son arrived the day that she was moved to the ICU. Her sister and my sister were not far behind him. Her other sister came. A week later our daughter and grandson came for a visit. I have joked with friends that the sisters don’t believe that I am competent. For most of the time since Susan’s hospitalization, there has been either my sister or one of Susan’s sisters in our home helping with every kind of care and household chore imaginable. Our freezer has filled up with delicious food. Grocery shopping, laundry and routine housekeeping have been done. Meals are prepared and dishes done with less participation from me than usual. It has all worked very smoothly and I am deeply grateful for the dedicated and generous support of family.

Among the guests in our home at present is Cody, my sister’s Australian Shepherd. He is a wonderfully smart and energetic dog, who loves to play. He has more patience for throwing and retrieving a ball than I. I throw the ball a dozen or more times and he remains eager to chase and retrieve after I’ve become bored with the game and am eager to move on to other tings. He is a polite guest, knowing his place to lie down and he sleeps through the night without waking us.

This morning when the snowplow made its way up our street there were two warning barks from Cody and that was it. He was quiet after he made sure we were aware that there was a truck working on our street. His response to the garbage and recycling trucks is quite different, however. Monday is our regular garbage day and Cody seems to be worked up all day long. Whenever there is a garbage truck in our subdivision, even if it is blocks away, Cody is at the window barking. If we let him out on his cable, he will run to the end of the cable and bark until he is hoarse.

When he is at his home there is a haul road at the top of the hill. The garbage truck makes several trips along that road on its way to and from the transfer station. Cody gets his exercise by running parallel to the road at the bottom of the hill, back and forth, barking at the garbage truck. It seems to be a regular part of his exercise and activity. Since my sister lives on a place with several acres, he has room to run and since he is at the bottom of the hill and the trucks are at the top, there is no danger to him for chasing them.

He also has a thing for the UPS and Fedex trucks. They get quite a vocal greeting from the dog whenever they drive up or down our street. And, on the rare occasion when they stop to deliver a package at our house, he gets very worked up.

It is hard to understand this beautiful, well-mannered dog, who responds to voice commands and seems to be well controlled, but who has no control whatsoever in the presence of garbage or package delivery trucks.

On Mondays we always get two rounds of pickups: one for garbage and another for recycling. During the late fall we also got a third truck for yard waste to be composted. This seems to be Cody’s main activity on Mondays.

When we had children at home, the pet of choice in our household were cats. The cats lived longer than our children lived at home, so we were happy pet owners until the end of their lives. In the early days of my journal writing, there were so many posts about the cats and their behavior that I made a conscious decision to stop writing about the cats. Time passes, however, and we have not sought other pets to replace those who have died. For a while we didn’t have pets of our own, but enjoyed the pets who lived in our children’s homes. The bonds that develop between humans and animals is a wonderful thing and over the years we have witnessed the value of pets in the lives of children and adults alike.

I like Cody and enjoy having him around. I take him with me in the pickup when I go to work at the woodpile. I play with him in the yard and go for walks with him. He is a very pleasant animal, except on Mondays when the garbage truck is around.

I have been saying to him that it is not OK for him to bark at my friends. I don’t currently have any friends who drive garbage trucks, but the drivers who serve our neighborhood seem like very nice people. I do, however, have a couple of friends who drive for UPS, so it makes sense to me to say that the people who provide these services in our neighborhood are our friends and we don’t want our dog to bark at our friends.

Of course Cody isn’t “our” dog at all. He is my sister’s dog and he is a guest in our home. But when you hang out with an animal, there is a sense that he is a member of the household and that he belongs not just to my sister but to all of us.

Our daughter will occasionally suggest that we ought to adopt another pet. Her suggestion usually is that we get a cat. I don’t have anything against cats. I enjoyed the ones who lived with us. On the other hand, I enjoy the freedom of not having to arrange for care of the cat when we travel. And our daughter is one of the reasons we travel so much and aspire to travel even more in years to come. I keep saying she should get the cat and we will visit as often as we are able.

For now, however, our household has a resident dog, and he seems to be enough pet for all of us. I’ve even found myself referring to him as “our” dog when talking to others. And most of my clothing has enough dog hairs on it to back up my claim.

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!

Driving Hazards

I pulled out of my driveway yesterday and headed down the hill as I usually do. In the middle of the street a couple of houses down from mine there were two does looking back over their shoulders. I knew that they weren’t looking at me so I stopped for a minute. They stood there much longer than usual. The deer in our neighborhood are quick to get out of the way of cars and people walking dogs and other traffic except at this time of the year. I looked where they were looking and sure enough there was a good looking buck in pursuit. He looked a bit tired, but he was on his way up the hill after the does.

We know that this is the season of the rut, when the deer are distracted and drivers need to be a bit more cautious. It happens every year. In our neighborhood, we don’t see the bucks very much until the rut. There will be a couple of bucks early in the fall, cruising the neighborhood and looking at the does, but their timing is off and the does don’t show any interest. Things speed up by the end of October and we start to see the bigger bucks in the neighborhood.

It is one of the joys of living where we do. We get to watch the natural world and be reminded that we aren’t the only creatures who enjoy this place to live.

There is a flock of turkeys that comes across my back yard at about the same time every morning. They head out across a major road and most of them make it. At least the turkeys speed up when they get to the pavement. The deer often seem to slow down when crossing the road as if they know it is dangerous and fear making a misstep.

They say that it isn’t a matter of “if” but of when you will hit a deer if you drive in this country. That isn’t completely true. In our family of four, three of us have hit a deer and one of our family barely hit the deer. It jumped and kicked a rearview mirror. The mirror broke but that was all of the damage to the car and it appeared as if the deer suffered no damage at all. But accidents with animals can be more severe. We had a car totaled on a foggy evening. It was being driven slowly because of the reduced visibility, but the deer darted right in front of it and was struck in a way that pushed the radiator out of its mounting brackets. The crumple zone in the car also suffered. It was an old car and the damage exceeded the value of the vehicle. Of course the accident happened the day after I put new tires on the car, not the day before. But we have been fortunate. None of our encounters with wildlife have caused any injuries to people. Every deer strike has left us with a car that was able to get the driver home. We know plenty of stories of neighbors and friends who have had much more serious accidents with animals.

Sharing the neighborhood with animals does have its risks, but on the whole I think that those who live in dense urban areas with lots and lots of human neighbors have riskier commutes and more accidents with their cars.

When it comes to hormone driven behaviors, I suspect that human teenagers with drivers’ licenses pose a larger danger than deer in rut.

I suppose that observing the antics of the neighbors has been a human pursuit as long as people have been around. We certainly find it interesting to pay attention to the behaviors of our human and non-human neighbors.

Among the other behaviors of our neighbors that can pose a potential risk to safety is the annual “learn to drive on slippery roads” course that the weather and terrain around here offer. Those of us who grew up in hills or mountains find it amusing to watch flatlanders drive in general. They tend to be afraid of hills and curves, taking them at a very slow pace, and then speed up when the road is straight and flat. There is a curvy section as you head out of town towards our home. It is easy to drive that section of road at the marked 50 mph, but I know I will often encounter a driver going 35 mph or slower. Then that same driver will speed up to 60 or more when they reach the straight section of the road. We also know that flatlanders would rather die in a flaming head-on crash than slid off the edge of the road. They will cross over the center line to avoid driving near the edge of the road, especially when there is a drop off at the edge of the road. This behavior is more exaggerated when the road becomes wet or a little slippery. In addition, people with little driving experience on slippery roads tend to think that the solution to the slippery is to drive slowly, without regard to spacing between cars. The space between cars is the cause of more fender benders than anything else. When they follow close, they can’t stop. The United States Air Force has a real sense of humor about this one, frequently transferring airmen from a base in Georgia to Rapid City. If you’ve lived in this town for a while, you know to watch out for Georgia license plates when driving on slippery roads.

All in all, however, we live in a very safe neighborhood. Folks around here watch out for one another for the most part and the animals generally show a little caution about the busiest of roads. Those of us who have lived here for a while learn to be cautions and we learn where the deer cross the road. And we also learn that during the rut they’ll cross anywhere.

Be safe out there.

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!

Public and private

One of the struggles of my life is the balance of being a public person and a private person at the same time. Even as I write it, I know it sounds strange. From inside of me, I feel like I am a very private person. I don’t crave attention. I like just being at home with my family. I prefer to see others in center stage. And yet I have a job where I stand up in front of a congregation and speak publicly every week. I address large crowds on occasion. I am asked to pray in public places on public occasions. But there is always a part of me that is uncomfortable being the center of attention. I still get nervous every week before I walk into the chancel of the church. I am at home in my role in the church. I have confidence when I speak to the people I serve, but there is always a bit of me that would like to have someone else be the center of attention. I have written a lot of liturgies that have been read by other people. Often those who hear those words assume that the person who is reading them wrote them. I don’t mind. I feel flattered when others ask for copies of my sermons or journal posts or prayers or other things that I have written.

I think I could have been happy as a speech writer for a famous person, but I couldn’t write well things with which I disagree, and I think speech writers have to do that on a fairly regular basis.

At any rate, I have discovered a new awkwardness to my life that occurs when others announce my plans before I’m ready to have them announced. It takes me a long time to make certain decisions. I like to keep my options open and ponder them. I like to try out various options before i make a commitment. As we have pondered the next phase of our life, it seems that my ideas have been made public on others’ time and not in the way I thought they might be announced. Over a year ago now, I met with our Pastoral Relations Committee and explored with them the timing of the end of my call to this congregation. It is complex because both my wife and I work for the same church and the timing will be the same for both of us. It is complex because we want to do what is best for the congregation and yet we also have to be aware of the financial realities of being the age that we are and the challenges with finding other employment at this phase of our lives. So I tested the waters with colleagues and then with the committee, exploring various options. Then, after meeting with the committee, I went on sabbatical, thinking it would be a good time to contemplate and explore options. The committee, however, thought it would be a good time to poll the congregation on the issue of timing, effectively announcing my leaving the congregation when I wasn’t even in town. I felt like the discussion became public before I was ready for it. It certainly forced my hand. We had to put a date on the calendar.

It was a sense of deja-vu on Saturday night as I rose to offer the invocation at a large fundraising gala and the CEO of the organization announced to all who had gathered that I will soon be moving away from Rapid City. I guess that is what is going to happen, but I wasn’t really ready to make the announcement. Since that announcement, nearly every conversation with my friends and acquaintances around town has begun with “Where are you planning to move?” The pharmacist, a friend I ran into at the store, members of our congregation, and others have all been asking me that question.

It isn’t that we don’t have a plan. We do have a general sense of where we will be going. But things aren’t firmed up. We haven’t prepared our home to list it on the market. We don’t know the exact timing. We have no specific neighborhood in mind, just a sense that it is time for us to be closer to our family. After a career of moving where the church called us, we are not experienced in making an independent move and choosing the location all by ourselves. We haven’t selected a church, or chosen a neighborhood, or checked out our options. All of those things have been handed to us in past moves. This time we are on our own and are a bit intimidated by the process. And this time there is no firm deadline. Although we have a date for the end of our call to this church, we don’t have a date for beginning the next phase of our lives. It isn’t like the times when everything was planned around a start date of a new job.

I would prefer to have all of those details worked out in private conversation with family and friends. But they are beginning to play out in public. Inquiring minds want to know.

When we moved here from Idaho we had just accepted the call to this church when we met with a realtor to make a list of things we wanted to change in our home before we put it on the market. The realtor asked if the home could be shown as is the next day. It was shown at lunch, we had an offer in the evening and the home was sold before we were ready to move out. We ended up negotiating an arrangement to rent the home back from the buyer so that we had a place to live until we found a new home and got moved. It turned out to be a very good arrangement. Maybe part of this process is letting go of control. Maybe I don’t have to be in charge. Maybe it is best if a committee or a friend make the decisions about when and where to announce our decisions. After all I’m not very good at those kinds of public announcements anyway.

Now that it has been announced that I’m moving, I guess I’d better get busy and decide where that will be.

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!

Moving toward freedom

A small group gathered yesterday afternoon. As we were checking in with each other, the conversation revealed that six of us were win the process of thinking about moving to smaller homes and downsizing. We had quite a bit of conversation about sorting and shedding some of our possessions. After the meeting I went through the list of who attended and the conversation with which we began our gathering. Six out of ten participants are giving serious thought to finding smaller homes and learning to live in less expansive ways.

The conversation wasn’t all that surprising to me. I’ve had a lot of conversations about choosing the right time and finding the right place to reduce our impact and to make our lives a bit more manageable. What struck me about yesterday’s conversation is that the group wasn’t all elders. There were people of all ages in the group. Of the six who are considering a move to smaller places, two others were like me - considering a retirement lifestyle as opposed to those actively engaged in their careers. The other three were all younger people, in the early or middle phases of their careers.The oldest of that trio is 41. Further, those who were younger are moving more quickly, actively talking with real estate agents and visiting new places to live. It is likely that they will act more quickly than we who are older.

There was a time when it seemed like the trend in our society was towards bigger and bigger homes. When we moved into our home 25 years ago we were aware that there were lots and lots of homes that were bigger. Huge master bedroom suites with private baths were common. two-story entryways and grand staircases were available. Across the road from our home there is a home with six bedrooms and six bathrooms. Grand kitchens with room for multiple people to work, huge expanses of countertop and commercial grade appliances were common. We sought and chose a family home with small bedrooms, shared bathrooms and a modest kitchen and living room. We still see quite a few really large homes under construction in our area.

Interestingly, however, the people I spend much of my time with, are not considering bigger and more expensive homes. They are looking for modest living spaces and housing costs that are manageable of limited incomes. Affordable housing is more difficult to find in our area and in much of the country.

Over the years of our marriage we have made several conscious decisions to pursue goals that do not lead to the most wealth. We have enjoyed the benefits of meaningful work. We have been blessed with time for family, staying at home with our children when they were young, working around the schedules of teenagers and finding ways to participate in their education as young adults. We have chosen to live in places where salaries are lower but other aspects of life are rich. We haven’t counted our wealth in financial terms. And, we are happy with the decisions we have made. We have been blessed with being able to live in our home and not just work to make the payments. We have been able to travel more than some our age. We have formed lasting friendships around the globe.

As we begin to think about moving to a smaller home, one of the priorities that will remain for us is a place for guests. We no longer have children living at home. We no longer have our parents to live with us. But we still want very much to have a home where our friends and family can visit comfortably.

There are, however some things that we can do without. Our current home has an apartment in the basement. We won’t be looking for a home with two kitchens. And we have a daylight basement, a main floor and an upstairs with two bedrooms and a bath. We’d like to have a home that is all on one level, with perhaps a sleeping loft or some guest space on a different level. We currently have an oversized garage plus a large garden shed. We can probably downsize the number of tools and toys that we move. Our closets are filled with clothes we seldom wear. Those can be pared down significantly.

The Gospel of Luke reports Jesus most famous sermon without mentioning the mount. And when it comes to the beatitudes, it has blessings like Matthew’s version, but also has “woes.” What struck me as I read it as part of our All Saints Celebration yesterday was the advice concerning loving others in verses 30 and 31 of the 6th chapter: “Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” The golden rule is immediately preceded by advice about giving things away.

I am beginning to understand that downsizing and simply having fewer possessions is not a curse. It is a blessing. Figuring out how to deal with the accumulation of years can be a way of lessening the burdens of life. Fewer possessions mean less maintenance. Fewer possessions means less fear of losing things through theft. Fewer possessions means less baggage to weigh you down. Fewer possessions represent a form of liberation. We become enslaved to your desire for bigger and bigger houses and more and more possessions.

The bible is filled with stories of God taking the side of human freedom. The great exodus from slavery in Egypt is only one of the stories. God speaks to human freedom in the establishment of the commandments and in the words of the prophets. And in Jesus we find more invitations to freedom. Interestingly the road to freedom isn’t always what we think it will be. It turns out that unrestricted behavior isn’t really freedom. Living within the commandments is a better road to freedom that simply acting out. And learning to give away possessions is also a key to the land of freedom.

It is, however, also hard work. Sifting and sorting is one of the great tasks of human development. I think we are ready for the next step.

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!

Dalight savings time ends

When I was a child I taught myself to wake up and get up quickly. My father would occasionally come into my room and say, “If you want to go flying, I’m leaving in a minute.” I don’t every remember not wanting to go flying with my dad. I would bold from bed and get dressed in a flash. I learned to get dressed as soon as I heard his feet on the stairway, before he reached my room. For most of my life I’ve gotten up easily. When the alarm goes off, I rise and go about my business. I’m not sure that is a good practice all of the time and it definitely is not required for the lifestyle I currently lead, though it has advantages. When our children were little, I would hear them and could respond quickly to their needs. When they were older, I definitely woke when they came home a bit later than the agreed-upon time, though frankly on those nights, I usually was awake anyway.

When my wife was hospitalized and for a short time afterward, I was waking with a start. My heart would be racing and I’d be ready for action at the slightest interruption to my sleep. When I stayed with her in the hospital, I would be wide awake and out of my chair each time a nurse or technician came into the room. Now that she is home, I’ve been waking a touch more slowly. At least I don’t seem to have the racing heart and sense of panic that was a part of those earlier days.

This morning, however, there was a definite start. I heard Susan say, “It’s after 5.” One of the sets of pills that she takes is taken at eight hour intervals and we administer them at 5 am, 1 pm, and 9 pm. I was up in a flash and wide awake. I don’t sleep after five on Sundays. Then my mind processed what had happened. We have a bedside clock that I had forgotten to reset. It wasn’t after 5 by the time we are operating. My watch and my phone both displayed a time just after 4 a.m. Welcome to the end of Daylight Savings Time. Of course we need to adjust her medicine times and that can be done gradually over the course of the day.

It isn’t the first time that i’ve been a bit startled by the change in time, though I’ve been lucky and never forgotten it in the spring when to do so would mean to be really behind on a lot of important tasks.

The other time I remember forgetting about the change in clocks was many years ago. It was before we had children and we were new at serving two rural North Dakota congregations. Our first church was 17 miles away from our home, so we allowed a bit of extra time for the drive. On that particular Sunday, we got to the church and after we had been there for a while, no one else had arrived. Then it struck us. We were an hour early. It was no problem and not one was upset. Had we forgotten in the spring, they would still be telling the story of the day the preacher arrived late for church. Fortunately that has not happened to me.

I am, however, paying just a little bit less attention to time and deadlines than I usually do. Most of the time I drive my family up the wall with my need to be punctual. I like to arrive early for every appointment, and usually am pushing other family members to keep up with my desired arrival time. Last night, however, I was relaxed and comfortable arriving at an event that had a half hour social time before it began. The problem is that I had the wrong start time in my head. As we strolled into the event, most of the other people had already taken their seats. The mayor was being introduced. I was responsible for the invocation, which was still about a half hour away, but I was a bit taken aback at my tardiness. No one else noticed, not even the event organizers and MC who had to introduce me.

I guess you could say that I’ve been a slave to the clock much of my life, but it has not seemed like a problem to me. I think it would be a much bigger problem to be someone who doesn’t pay attention to time and who habitually arrives late at occasions and events.

The development of accurate timepieces was a critical factor in the process of developing systems of long distance navigation. In the days of sail transport, a ship’s chronometer was an essential device in measuring the location of the ship on the surface of the earth. The development of accurate timepieces enabled much more precise navigation.

Then, many years later, the establishment of train schedules demanded that the world go to a universal time system. Prior to what then was called by some “railroad time” each town had its own time. Noon was established by the moment when the sun reached its highest point of travel across the sky. It was known that 24 hours later the sun would once again be in the same position. Each town had its own time and a community clock, usually in a church or courthouse, established the official time for that location.

These days, our lives are filled with devices that report very accurate time. The GPS navigation system is based on extremely accurate digital clocks. Our telephones and some clocks are constantly in touch with the cellular network and in some cases multiple satellites to make sure that their read out is just right. In this world of always knowing the precise time it is a bit of a gift to have events, such as the birth of a child or even an illness, that interrupt our sense of time and remind us that time is an arbitrary invention of humans. It has a basis in observing the universe, but there is much that operates without reference to our clocks.

Welcome to standard time.

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!

Read aloud

The other night I send our son a text message asking him to recommend a book for read aloud with an adult audience. Within a couple of minutes I had eight excellent suggestions and a couple that we probably won’t choose. There is a distinct advantage to having a son who is a librarian. He can make those kinds of suggestions of the top of his head. He reads a lot and he reads out lout quite a bit. He understands that there are different dynamics in different books. He can see how we are seeking a bit of an escape as Susan continues to recover from a fairly traumatic experience.

I have loved reading out loud since I learned to read. I used to enjoy it when it was my turn to read out loud when I was a student. I learned to read easily and I liked putting a bit of expression into my reading. But we soon learned to read quietly to ourselves and that style of reading dominated my life for decades. I used to go to the library, check out a stack of books, and head to my treehouse where I would read book after book. When I got to college, the reading was a challenge simply because the volume of reading went up. I also had to pay attention in a different manner. I stopped reading in bed for quite a while. I discovered that reading myself to sleep resulted in the bad habit of sleeping as I read. That isn’t good for overall comprehension and retention of the material. I would make sure i was sitting up at a desk or in a comfortable chair and often outlined the material I was reading to make sure I stayed focused.

Eventually, however, we were blessed with children and that meant reading aloud once again. I read some books over and over. I know that some parents get tired of that phase, but I don’t remember it being a problem for me. We used to play games. I’d intentionally skip a page and get “caught” by the child. I would change a word to the same effect. The practice of repeated story goes way back to pre-literate times. When people did not have the capacity to read or write, they told stories. Often the important stories were repeated over and over night after night. They devoted stories that were passed down with word-for-word accuracy. This tradition was formalized with practices of group memorization. Unlike individual memorization where there can be significant alterations in the text memorized, group memorization is extremely accurate. The constant corruption of the most minute details assures consistence in the telling of the story. It is one of the reasons that we have sections of our Bible that date from times before literacy and reading. It is one of the reasons that we can count on the accuracy of those stories of our heritage.

At any rate, I read “Go, Dog, Go!” a lot of times. There were other books as well.

Our children, too, learned to read to themselves. Some of the first books that they read aloud to us were the same books we had read to them. “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish” was one of those books in our house. When our children grew into their teens, our home became quiet again as we all read different books.

Soon enough, however, we had grandchildren. Now we have four. The eldest is reading to himself most of the time, but he still enjoys having grandpa read to him. A few years ago, we were visiting and both of us and his parents were all available at story time. We asked him who he’d like to read his stories and after a thoughtful pause he said, “I think adult men with beards are the best story readers.” Since his father has no beard, it was obvious that I was the choice of that evening. I took it as the highest form of praise. His sisters love read aloud, too. Since I am on vacation when we visit, I have more time than his parents who have very busy lives. They read to their children a lot, but reading is one thing I can do that frees up a few moments for the parents. I’ve taken to just reading as many stories as the girls bring to me. Unless we are being called to dinner or it is time to turn out the light and go to sleep, I just read story after story. There are some great luxuries and deep pleasures to being a grandpa.

Then, as my wife recovered from her stay in the hospital, the process of reading aloud came back. We needed a diversion from the trauma we had witnessed and a novel provided just what we needed. We’d dole out a couple of chapters each evening, until we got near to the end of the book and Susan returned to the hospital for a procedure. That evening we just read to the end of the book.

Now I’ve got a couple of the books recommended by our own private librarian cued up for more evenings of read aloud. I think that we are entering a new phase of our relationship. For decades of being married, sharing parenting and working together we often went separate directions in our recreational reading. When we read the same book, it might be months between the time one of us read it and the other got around to it. Having a common story that we are reading together is kind of a new experience for us. It made me think of the days when we both were students and took the same class. We often shared a textbook to save money, but we rarely read at the exact same moment. I tended to read in the mornings and Susan in the evenings. In fact, in the process of joint studying and joint parenting we developed slightly different schedules.

For now we have a new recreation. And we have a librarian who is quick to recommend the next read.

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!

All Saints 2019

I am firmly rooted in the Protestant tradition. I could not and would not become a member of the Roman Catholic Church in this generation. However, I am also a student of the history and the evolution of theology in the Christian Church. The first 1500 years of the Christian Church, our particular strain of Christianity was immersed in the Roman Catholic Church. We separated during the Protestant revolution, but we continue to have more shared history than we do history of being separated. There are many things about the Roman Catholic Church that intrigue and challenge me. So today, being All Saints Day, I want to acknowledge the shared tradition of recognizing saints. Although we interpret saints differently, although we Protestants don’t have a formal process for canonizing saints, although we tend to think that all faithful Christians are saints, we share the quest for remembering and recognizing people of exceptional faith who have served God and the church and their fellow humans in ways that influence our behavior today.

One of the saints, formally recognized by the Roman Church, is a rather obscure one, but one that I want to mention in my journal today. Saint Dymphna was the daughter of a pagan Irish king and his Christian wife in the 7th century. Sadly, she was murdered by her father. But before her death she is said to of founded a home for the ill and many crazy people reportedly became a lot less crazy around her.

That’s right…St. Dymphna is officially the patron saint of the nervous, the patron saint of the emotionally disturbed, the patron saint of the mentally ill, and the patron saint of those with neurological disorders.

That is to say, she just really seems like our kind of saint.

In honor of All Saints Day and in honor of St. Dymphna, I want to tell just the briefest stories of some of the saints I recognize on this holiday. Most of them have stories that are not mine to share, so I won’t be telling stories where the characters can b easily identified, and I won’t use people’s real names. If you think you recognize any of these saints, give God thanks for their lives, but do not try to read too much into the stories I am telling.

One saint of God loved working in the family business and their family was exceptionally close. He loved to work side by side with his father and he was a good salesman when they were out serving customers. He loved to talk to his mother and they could share intimate details of their lives. He told his mother about his attempts to find a girlfriend. He had brothers who had girlfriends, but he just hadn’t met the right person. He had been rejected by several different girls for reasons that made no sense to him and one girl in particular broke his heart. At fifteen he didn’t have much experience and he was particularly tender. On the day he was rejected, he was feeling particularly blue and he called his mother and talked her into coming to pick him up from school and getting him out of his studies for the rest of the day. They went home and he went down stairs to take a nap. He died in his bedroom. The official ruling by the coroner was a self-inflicted gunshot wound, a single bullet fired from his father’s gun. He had been taught how to use the weapon properly and safely. The assumption is that he died by suicide and that his act was intentional. Of course God was the only witness to his final act. Only God knows his intention. God also knows the pain of the family. They will be thinking of him today as they do every day. They will be missing him and wondering what they could have done to prevent the end of his life that they never sensed was coming. They’ve examined their lives in search of meaning and have found nothing that satisfies the pain in their hearts. The bottom line, however, is that they are grateful for the 15 years they had with him. They would not choose for him to have never been born. They still know what a gift of God he was. And they refuse to be ashamed of the way he lived or the way he died. We do not have a clear interpretation of the full meaning of his life and death, but he is among those who have gone before whose lives and faith are connected to our own.

Another saint of God died too young, leaving a widow and two young daughters behind. He was a man with a keen sense of humor. He was a loving father. He was a firefighter and an outdoorsman. He was a hunter and a fisherman. He was haunted by deep depression and he fought valiantly to control the dark spirits that surfaced in his life. He was honest about his doubt. And he is not with us any more. The hole he left in his community is palpable. There is no easy way to make sense of his death. There is no easy answer to the pain that is left behind. There seldom is an answer to what seems to us to be senseless suffering.

I could go on and on through the list of a hundred or more suicides to which I have responded in the past few years. They are all saints in their own way.

The meaning of All Saints Day is connected to being a part of the body of Christ because it means that death is never the final word because in life and in death we remain connected, like each of these saints, to God and to one another. Love and life and hope do not die. The inheritance of all saints is shared by us all.

May the lives of these saints continue to shed light on our lives until the day when we join them in that great cloud of witnesses who together with God and Jesus and the disciples and all of the saints who have gone before share in the great banquet of love.

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!