Many modes of healing

Modern, scientific medicine has brought many gifts to those who receive treatment for a wide variety of illnesses and diseases. the increases in knowledge and understanding of disease have been dramatic and there have been a host of improvements in quality of life for those who suffer both major and minor illnesses.It is not hard to find examples of the benefits of scientific medicine. 50 years ago the survival rate for those suffering heart attacks was only about 3 out of every ten people who suffered attacks. Today the survival rate is more than seven out of ten. the understanding of the complex dynamics of the heart have been greatly enhanced by modern diagnostic tools such as ultrasound, catheterization and micro optical devices. Doctors have ways to monitor heart rate and rhythm and there are a host of treatment options available through the study of chemistry. The combination of complex scientific studies of physics, chemistry, electricity and other disciplines has lead to a revolution in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide variety of heart conditions.

Similar advances in the understanding and treatment of various forms of cancer have led to dramatic increases in survival rates and quality of life.

Often we think of the study of medicine in terms of the scientific and technical knowledge that is transmitted through a rigorous and challenging form of education. It takes years of classroom preparation and practical experience to become a doctor and those who have specialized training and skills often spend additional years in training and clinical observation. We think of hours in laboratories and hours of treating patients in controlled settings when we think of medical education.

There is, however, another field of inquiry that is bringing promise to the treatment of illness and injury. The study of history and anthropology has led to the discovery of aspects of healing arts that have been successfully practiced for long periods of time. Some of those medical practices don’t meet the modern standard of double blind studies and controlled inquiries. However, there are examples where the careful study of ancient practices have yielded benefits for the treatment of certain conditions.

Once example of the use of an ancient practice in modern medicine is the use of acupuncture. This traditional Chinese medical practice has often been called a pseudoscience because the way that the practices have been learned have primarily been through tradition and person to person training as opposed to scientific method. However, there have been modern scientific studies, including double blind studies that have shown acupuncture to be effective in the treatment of pain. There are some studies that have observed pain management rates that match and even exceed those of chemical treatments. Scientists have also observed that there are fewer risks of side effects from acupuncture than from some modern medicines used for the treatment of pain.

Less studied, but possibly very effective are ancient aboriginal practices for the treatment of depression practices by native Australians. Australia’s indigenous Aboriginal people are thought to be the oldest living human culture on the planet. There are modern practitioners of physical, mental and spiritual health whose training and practices are as old as 60,000 years.

Western psychiatrists treat depression with a combination of chemical medicines and cognitive-behavioral therapies. While these treatments can be very effective, no medical treatment is completely effective in every case. Furthermore, access to scientific-based treatment for mental health issues is restricted in most parts of the world. Shortages of staffing, funding and facilities means that many are simply unable to access treatment.

The aboriginal practice of reconnecting with nature as a technique for rebalancing the spirit has proven to be successful in the treatment o depression. Non-indigenous people have traveled to remotes areas of Australia for treatment by traditional mubarrn practitioners. These treatments have been observed to be effective. The traditional healers invite that visits to sacred sites guided by particular rituals and ceremonies. Additional study is needed to understand the practices and to measure their results, but there is increasing anecdotal evidence that individuals have found the treatments to be both effective and long lasting.

It is important to understand that there are no treatments for depression that offer a complete cure. Although sufferers may see a reduction in symptoms and in some cases experience years of remission, depressive illness often remains a threat to health for years and even decades. It is extremely difficult to effectively treat.

Tradition attributes supernatural abilities to healers, but modern scientific studies reveal that rather than supernatural powers, healers have access to a body of traditional and historic information and practices that have proven to be effective over thousands of years of practice. The knowledge is passed down through the generations and is honed by an extremely long chain of trial and error. Modern scientific studies of the practices can lead to the discovery of drugs that appear in natural plants and animals, techniques such as immersion in cold water and guided meditation and other practices that hold hope for effective treatment.

Additional studies are needed, but it is clear that there are many avenues of exploration for those who are willing to conduct research into areas that are not considered to be part of a modern, scientific education. Our system is heavily weighted for scientific, technical, math and engineering skills and less funding and support is given to the study of anthropology, history and other areas where measurements are more difficult and assessments are challenging at best. Yet these fields of inquiry offer the possibility of discovering new treatments for illnesses that have caused suffering throughout human history.

As we continue to learn about how to bring relief to those who suffer, there is an obligation to make careful study of all possibilities for treatment. Dismissing possible treatments because the mode of education and transmission is not the same as contemporary scientific inquiry is to miss entire fields of study and potentially to fail to understand effective modes of treatment.

The knowledge and skills of the worlds oldest culture are fields of inquiry that hold the potential to reveal truths that have long been known by some, but largely ignored by the rest of the 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!

Honest doubt

With the increase in secularization and the decrease in church attendance across the United States, I find that there are many challenges for those who assume religious leadership. Two have become especially evident to me in the past few weeks. The first is well known and many Christian writers have addressed it. There are a number of people who find faith to be a personal matter and who feel confident that they can pursue it on their own. We often hear of people who do not participate in a church who find God in nature, in personal spiritual disciplines and other places. They feel that they have no need of an institution to live their spirituality and that they are not less faithful than others, just more independent in their faith. And I am sure that these are good people and that they do have faith. The problem, which was illustrated in the lives of some people I encountered this week is that you can’t be the body of Christ all by yourself. I do not deny that God is revealed in beautiful sunrises and mountaintop experiences. I enjoy my opportunities to see the beauty and glory of creation as well.

To put it bluntly, however, Mountains don’ make nursing home visits and beautiful sunrises won’t prepare food for a funeral lunch. There are times when we need community deeply and the care and concern of other people is critical to our survival. Encountering God in the everyday is wonderful and I wouldn’t discourage it in any way. But it can be insufficient when crises arise. Our people discovered this truth many generations ago - around the time that the first parts of what we now call the Bible were being collected as stories to be shared. There was a time when people thought that God was somehow limited to specific special places. They encountered the power and beauty and grandeur of creation in special places and so they concluded that God was present only in those wonderful places. They made regular trips to those places and they communed with God and they had deep religious experiences. Then, for whatever reasons we don’t remember, our grandfather Abram and our grandmother Sarai decided to leave their home and the places of their ancestors and the places where they experienced God and they discovered that the God they had experienced in those special places was also present in distant places they had never before visited. The idea that God was everywhere began to form as their entourage of people traveled across the ancient middle east. Their story became part of the foundations of our faith.

There is another problem that is a bit more subtle, but very real. As the country has become more secular, and the church has diminished in size and influence, fewer people are attracted to the profession of ministry. They don’t see it as having a future. With fewer ministers, the church has learned to modify its expectations of ministers. Youth and charisma have become valued qualities and age and experience have become less valuable. Even education and preparation has diminished as a quality desired by churches, who are panicked to find new leaders. As a result there is a form of “Christianity Light” that is being preached from many pulpits. Leaders of good faith, but limited knowledge of history and limited life experience, think of the verses and parts of the Bible that are attractive to them and preach part of the gospel. They speak of blessings and of salvation and of forgiveness of sins, sometimes powerfully and eloquently. But they rarely talk about doubt and despair and increasingly treat them as if they were somehow enemies of faith. They portray themselves as experts, but don’t seem to have read the entire Bible. The passages thy know and love best are great for good times, but seem shallow and hollow when real troubles come.

These good time preachers speak the truth, but often don’t tell the whole truth. Go to any contemporary evangelical church and listen for references to the ending of Psalm 137 or Jesus cry from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” You probably won’t even learn that Jesus was quoting Psalm 22 when he said those words. Deep within our faith are stories of our people experiencing doubt and despair and depression. Sadness is not the enemy of faith. Doubt is not the opposite of belief. Wondering about where God is in a difficult situation is a constant theme of our people. But this is not being explored in preaching or in bible studies in so many churches. Pastors are threatened by doubt and often resort to pious advice about praying more or redirect people to scriptures that come from happier times. They seem to think that having the right beliefs is the answer to doubt, instead of accepting doubt as a normal part of a deep and abiding relationship with God.

I’ve attended far too many funerals where the message is that the one who has died was a wonderful person. They even call them celebrations of life and try to behave as if grief and despair aren’t part of losing a loved one. It is true that these are amazing and wonderful people and their stories should be told and thanksgiving and praise should be given for having those people in our lives. But if all we can say is “It’s been good and it’s over,” we miss the genuine treasures of our faith. The same God who is present in the sunsets and mountaintop experiences is also present in the moments of despair and doubt and grief. The community who loves you on the days of weddings and baptisms and celebrations will love and support you on the days of sorrow and sadness and grief. God’s love is communicated not only through creation, but also through creatures.

Beyond that, our people have been here before. Ours isn’t the first generation to have experienced grief and pain and doubt and despair. The Bible is filled with the stories of widows and orphans and immigrants. It is also filled with stories of survivors. On the days when survival is all we are able to accomplish it is good to know that we belong to a people who have survived other dark times.

Despite secularization and decline in religious participation there is still an important ministry for the institutional church. I have no doubt that the church will survive this downturn. I have no doubt that new leaders will emerge. And when I do doubt, I am strengthened by the stories of our people of the times when it looked like all was lost.

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!

Work schedules

When we were students, many students, including my wife would, on occasion, pull “an all nighter.” They would be working on a project and as the deadline approached, would work straight through the night without sleep. I never acquired that skill. In the first place, I am a compulsive person who generally beats deadlines. Yesterday I scrambled to make sure that I had all my notes in place for Monday’s service, even though it was only Friday. If I had not had them in place, there are several blocks of time during which I could work on them, and I may make some adjustments and changes, but I am ready to go right now. I have four services before that one, but it just the way I work. As a result, I usually had college papers finished and typed in final form several days before the deadline.

The other reality about all nighters is that I have never been able to stay away all night. I remember that when we were kids our parents would give us permission to stay up until midnight on a couple of special occasions such as new year’s eve. My brothers and sisters would stay up, playing games and eating snacks and I would give up and go to bed. On the few occasions when I did manage to stay up, I didn’t literally stay up, but dozed and woke to watch the ball fall on the television and yell “Happy New Year.” We live in the Mountain Time Zone, but I observe New Years on Eastern Time and I’ve been known to catch it on the computer when it occurs in Australia, where it is midnight when it is mid day here.

It is not that I sleep more than other people. I am good at waking in the middle of the night and getting up to respond to a crisis. I can get by with smaller amounts of sleep than is typical. Although I’ve noticed that I need a bit more sleep now than was the case 20 or 30 years ago, I still am pretty good at gaining a bit of extra time by rising early in the morning.

I have had many different work experiences, but I’ve never done shift work. Hanging around with law enforcement officers, I’ve gained appreciation for those who do that work, having to adjust their lifestyles to sleep during the day so that our community has coverage around the clock. In my imagination, I think I could adjust to that kind of schedule without too much problem, but it is purely theoretical. I haven’t ever tried it.

When we travel long distances I seem to be quite similar to others in terms of how much time it takes me to adjust to jet lag. A couple of nights of being awake at the wrong time and I am usually adjusted to the new time zone quickly.

At the hospital, where it is essential that coverage be continuous, there are all kinds of different schedules. The hospitalists seem to work 12 hour shifts with 7 days of work followed by 7 days off. The nurses also work 12 hour shifts, but work 3 days on followed by 4 days off. Then they cover by working an extra day from time to time. The result is that there is a lot of change in staffing. A patient who has been in the hospital for five days can have been seen by four hospitalists and a dozen nurses. I haven’t yet figured out how they divide up what areas in the hospital different employees work. they are good at keeping all of the areas staffed, but there is a huge turnover of staff. It is a good thing that they all wear name tags and that there is a marker board in each patient’s room where they write their names, because learning all of those names when you aren’t feeling well would be a huge challenge. Add to that the fact that the average patient sees people from transport, lab, and a variety of diagnostic specialties and a stay in the hospital involves meeting a constant stream of people who had not previously met.

It makes working in a church, with a constantly-changing congregation a piece of cake when it comes to remembering names.

I used to think that remembering names was a natural talent, and it is true that some people are better than others, but I’ve learned that it is also an acquired skill. I am capable of learning and remembering people’s names and when I focus on the task, I can improve my skill. In general my memory is not as strong as it once was, but I think I’m a bit better with names than was the case a few years ago. That may be just my perception, but I think I’m right.

I woke early this morning, ahead of the alarm clock. I felt well rested and ready to tackle a long day with many events and obligations. My schedule has been disrupted a bit this week, but I’ll need all of my energy for the next three days. It helps to feel good at the start of the marathon. However, I have no intention of pulling any all nighters. I expect to be in bed and sleeping at the usual time for the next few nights. I’ve got my notes in order and I’m ready for the work that lies ahead.

Of course my days are never completely predictable. There will be changes in schedule, new demands for my time, interruptions and encounters with people who need to talk more than I anticipated. That’s the way of my life. I’ve learned to reprioritize my task list over and over again. I’ve also learned to go to sleep when there is work that is undone. That is a very useful skill when the job is bigger than I. One thing about my vocation, I’ll never run out of work.

I thank God for that meaningful work. It is a blessing that makes sleeping an easy task.

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!

Medical terms

Since I’ve been spending a bit of extra time in the hospital this week I’ve become aware of the amount of specialized language that is a part of health care. Most of unfamiliar language comes from scientific and technical terms. The names of medicines , for example, tend to be a bit difficult for a lay person pronounce. The doctors and nurses have practiced, so they can reel off Cardizem, Lovenox, Digoxin, Metoprolol, Tikosyn, Eliquis and Amiodarone like they were everyday language. When I try to take notes on my cell phone, my spell checker doesn’t know any of those names. And there are all kinds of acronyms and letter combinations. TEE is not a beverage, but rather a diagnostic test: transesophogeal echocardiogram. NPO means “nothing by mouth,” but the letters come from a mix of Latin words: Non per oral. As I have been hanging out at the hospital there have been new words and phrases every day and for someone who enjoys words, it is a fun new learning curve.

Being at the hospital is a mixture of a few challenging, and sometimes frightening moments mixed in with a lot of waiting. A new medicine can take an hour or more to become metabolized and it can take 24 hours or more for a medicine to leave a body when it is discontinued. Some treatments require patience. In addition the hospital staff are serving a lot of patients and though they rush from room to room, the patients need to wait at times. This hospital has a continuously open kitchen so patients call to order meals off of a menu. It takes about 45 minutes for the meals to arrive and patients learn to anticipate the delay while they anticipate when a procedure or visit from a doctor might occur. Sometimes it works and they get a hot meal delivered and are able to eat it in peace. Sometimes the tray arrives at the same time as a person from the lab or a doctor or a procedure and the tray sits and the food gets cold while other events take precedence.

Even though I have a computer and work to do and a book to read, I find my self sitting with my mind wandering more while I’m at the hospital than is the case in my usual daily life. Yesterday I began to think of “new” hospital terms and their definitions.

I’ve been using my PED to track my HIEP to offset the PWA and CWB. My PED is my personal electronic device or cell phone. My HIEP is the “hospital induced exercise program.” Since the room I’m visiting is on the seventh floor, that is six flights up and six flights down each visit. The hospital has elevators, but I use the stairs because I ned the exercise and I feel better when I’ve had some physical activity to offset the hours spent sitting and waiting. According to my cell phone I climbed a total of 36 floors yesterday. I take a medicine that keeps my heart rate from going too fast, so I get a bit winded on the stairs and usually stop to catch my breath after three or four floors, so it take a bit of time for me to get up and down. PWA is “Physician waiting anxiety.” Since we don’t know when a doctor will make rounds, we spend quite a bit of time waiting to talk to the doctors. I want to be present for doctor visits as much as possible, but I also need to take care of things at our office, so I do quite a bit of running back and forth and then waiting for the doctor to arrive. CWB is “clinical waiting boredom.” There is a lot of waiting in the hospital. It takes time for lab tests to be processed. It takes time for the pharmacy to deliver medications to the floor. It takes time for different procedures to be performed. The term “patient” is appropriate. It requires patience.

Most of the time I consider waiting to be a gift. I have a very busy life and sometimes I fail to take time to reflect and meditate. If I end up in a waiting room, I try to take advantage of the opportunity to think and pray. But the balance of waiting and acting is thrown off by spending extra time at the hospital this week. I seem to be either rushing or sitting with very little in between. As a result my mind wanders in strange directions as I sit.

I’ve been remembering my mother quite a bit this week. One reason is the simple fact that the room I’ve been visiting happens to be a room that my mom occupied briefly more than a decade ago when she was receiving treatment at the same hospital. Another reason is that she was a nurse and when we were children she taught us a few medical terms. In her days as a nurse medical schools used a lot of Latin and doctors and nurses loved the specialty language. I studied Latin in high school, so we had a few shared words. Neither of us became fluent in the language, so it it wasn’t a private language, just a few words and phrases that we could use from time to time.

Learning a bit of the hospital culture is helpful when you end up spending a bit of time there. It can be frightening and intimidating with all of the activity and the processes of quick decisions and actions, but learning about what they are doing and the reasons for the decisions can help to ease anxiety. I’m grateful that I have a capable cell phone with internet access and a son who is a medical librarian to help me lean all of the necessary terms and concepts. Doing a bit of research has been very helpful for my understanding.

And who knows, perhaps I’ll add something to the medical literature. I’m hoping HIEP sticks. I think I’ll start using it whenever I’m around doctors or hospitals.

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 sort of prayer

OK, God, I need a break here.

I know that there is so much that should cause me to express my gratitude to you. I am blessed in so many ways that it is impossible for me to count them. I have a wonderful family. I have been loved all of my life. I have a meaningful career and work that has purpose. I have a beautiful home in a beautiful part of the world with magnificent animals for neighbors. I live win a community that is caring and compassionate. And that is just the start of the list.

And I know, God, that there are so many people whose lives are filled with so much more tragedy and pain and loss and despair than mine.

I know I don’t have much to complain about at all.

But yesterday left me feeling like I need a break.This week has been harder than I expected. Harder than other weeks. And when I add it to last week, I’ve spent too much time at the hospital, too much time with those who are grieving, planned too many funerals, It seems like a long stretch.

Is it too much to pray for a break?

Yesterday afternoon, for the second time in as many weeks, the Custer County Search and Rescue folks had a search that ended up with a body bag. These volunteers train and organize and give hours and hours of their time because they want to help those in need. They train to rescue those who have wandered off the trails and become lost, or who have attempted a climb and need a bit more technical skill than they possess. The point is that they do what they do because they want to preserve life. Recovering the body of a 22 year-old college student is a service that they are willing to perform and they are proud to serve however they are needed. But, truthfully, Lord, they live for the successful rescues, the lives saved and stories with happy endings.

They could use a break.

One of the deep honors of my life and work is that I have been granted the privilege to walk with those who are grieving. I am called to serve people who gather to remember and grieve by officiating at funeral services. It is work that is deeply meaningful. And I think I’ve gained a bit of skill through years of practice. But this weekend I’ll have two funerals on Saturday and another on Monday, with my usual Sunday services tucked in between. I’m up to my eyeballs in bulletins to prepare, orders of worship to plan, meditations to write, and stories to tell. It is good work, but it never comes evenly spaced in any period of time. I want to serve. I want to help, but each service takes it toll on my energy. I wouldn’t mind a couple of weeks without a funeral.

I could use a break.

I know that you have a lot of other prayers to answer, God. I know that my concerns are small in the scheme of things. I’ve spent enough time in the emergency room and the halls of the hospital this week to fully understand that there are lots of people with problems that are deeper than mine and pain that is worse than I can even imagine. I count myself among the most fortunate of your people. And, God, I am grateful. Thank you for all of your blessings.

But I read the stories of Moses, who dared to argue with you and even question the wisdom of your judgments. I nearly cry when I read about how he intervened to save the children of Israel when you had every reason to simply give up on them. I know I’m no Moses, but I admire the way he stood up for his people. I would like to have the courage to stand up for the people I serve as well. They’ve had a rough time recently. They plan the funeral lunches. They bake the cookies. They usher the mourners. They serve without complaining.

They could use a break.

I know that there must be days, God, when too many of our prayers sound like whining. It must get old to hear your people crying out to you. And I know that you love your people unconditionally and you always seek what is best for us. I know that I couldn’t do the things that I do if it were not for my absolute faith in your providence and presence.

You alone know how many times I’ve thought about Tevye, the character in the musical play Fiddler on the Roof and his prayer to you, “Would it foil some vast, eternal plan if I were a wealthy man?” And I know the answer to his question. “Yes, Tevye, it would foil the vast eternal plan. Wealth always comes at the cost of poverty for others. And praying for wealth, while entertaining in a musical play, is not the prayer God longs to hear from the people God loves.” So I, God, am not praying for wealth. I am not praying for luxury. I am not praying to somehow magically escape the trials of this life. I am not praying that I would escape being touched by grief.

I just want a little break. A day off. A few minutes to catch up. A morning to sleep in without being awaked by my list of tasks to be accomplished and people to visit and problems to solve. Is that too much to ask, God?

I remember, God, that the Fiddler in the play is a metaphor for survival in a life of uncertainty. The fiddler assumes a precarious position up there “trying to scratch out a pleasant simple tune without breaking his neck.” I know that you don’t ask of us more than we have to give. I know that trusting you is the path to my future. I know that I will receive a break when I truly need one.

There is another song that is a part of the original musical that has been left out of most modern productions. In that song Tevye sings:

When the Messiah comes
He will say to us
’I apologize that I took so long
But I had trouble finding you
Over here a few, and over there a few.
You were hard to reunite
but everything is going to be all right.

I get it God. I need to just show a little more patience.

So, dear God, if you can’t give me a break this week, how about a little patience? It couldn’t hurt.

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 cars I drive

I’ve never been much of a car person. I like to have reliable transportation, but I don’t care very much about having the latest model or the most stunning features. There was no sports car to accompany a midlife crisis. There might not have been much of a midlife crisis anyway. I sometimes will walk around a car lot while my car is in the shop for service but I don’t seem to be tempted by the new models. We have, on a couple of occasions, purchased new vehicles, but most often it has made sense for us to purchase used vehicles. We haven’t been early adopters of the latest automotive technology.

Yesterday I was driving the car we refer to as our “new” car. It is only eight years old as opposed to the 20 year old model I usually drive. It is a very nice car with a bunch of features that we don’t have in our other vehicles. But I don’t drive it very often and though it is the same brand as the other car, the controls aren’t quite the same. It was a fairly warm day yesterday with a high of 77 or 78 degrees. I was busy and making quite a few trips from one place to another. As I was driving down the street, I found myself thinking that the air conditioning in the car wasn’t working as well as it does in our other car. Air conditioning in a car has been a topic of conversation in our house. My father never owned a vehicle with air conditioning. He argued that the need for air conditioning occurs only for a few days of a few months in the part of the world where we live. When we lived in North Dakota we didn’t have air conditioning in our car for most of the time. Then we purchased a used car with air conditioning and every car since has been equipped with the feature. Our daughter, who lives in northern Japan where the weather is similar to what we experience here has been driving a car with air conditioning that doesn’t work for a couple of years and it was no problem when we were visiting her during the hottest part of the summer this year.

Anyway, I was driving the car and thinking that it was a shame that the “new” car’s air conditioning doesn’t work as well as the air conditioning in the “old” car. “Oh well,” I thought, “It isn’t hot enough to run the air conditioner anyway.” I rolled down the windows and went on with my trip. When I pulled into the parking lot and stopped the car, I examined the various controls in the car and discovered that my warm sensation had nothing to do with the air conditioner in the car. I had turned the controls so that the air conditioning was directed to the defrost vents. When it was directed through the dashboard vents, it was working perfectly. More importantly, I was hot because the seat heater was turned on to “high.” This is the only vehicle we’ve ever had with seat heaters and I don’t think about them very much. Turning off the seat heater made the car much more comfortable on the next trip.

It wasn’t very long ago when the idea of seat heaters in a car was a very strange idea and a feature that we never would have considered.

There are lots of other things that we take for granted in modern vehicles that I once thought were frivolous. I’ve never experienced any problems with turning a crank to lower or raise a window, but all of our vehicles have electric windows these days. That’s four motors, four actuator assemblies, four switches and a host of wiring that can go wrong in place of simple mechanical devices that rarely failed. It used to be that a car seat adjusted forward and back, but all cars now have adjustable back angles, and most will adjust in a host of other directions as well. That is more mechanism that holds the potential for failure and needs service. The list of features that once were considered luxuries and now have become standard is a long one.

The concept of basic transportation has been replaced by a great deal of complexity and expense. Our first car as a married couple virtually never required servicing in a dealership. I did all of the routine maintenance such as oil changes myself. I made basic repairs, such as replacing the starter, adjusting the carburetor, and performing tune ups by working on the car in the parking lot. I pretty much understood how it worked, what could go wrong with it and how to fix it. I don’t possess the skills to diagnose and repair problems in the complex vehicles we drive these days. I don’t even do my own oil changes, though I don’t think it would be all that hard or require any special tools. On the other hand, I once owned a pickup that I drove about 60,000 miles with the “check engine” light on. That record was nothing compared to the almost 140,000 miles I’ve driven my current set of wheels with the “check engine” light on. Not all of the features of modern vehicles are worth the expense of repairing. In both cases, I have had the codes read periodically and know that the reason for the light is not related to safety or even to the long-term operation of the vehicle. It is just that the warning light could indicate other problems and I don’t have that particular warning device to use because it is constantly on for another reason.

Then again, if I’m not smart enough to turn of the seat heater, I might not be smart enough to discern whether or not a maintenance code is critical.

At any rate, I don’t need any different vehicles to be a happy person. The ones we have provide sufficient entertainment to make me laugh.

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!

Hospital observations

I spent several hours at the hospital yesterday. It is something that I do fairly often and there is nothing particularly uncomfortable about being at the hospital when I am not a patient. They don’t poke or prod me and my presence is accepted by the staff, who are polite and helpful. The experience, however reminded me of some bits of hospital practice and culture that are distinct and different from other parts of my life.

You’d think that technical language and jargon might be a barrier in a hospital dedicated to scientific and evidence-based medicine. However, I’ve found that almost everyone in the hospital, from doctors to nurses to aides to technicians, is pleased to explain things to you if you ask a question. Most of them are very good at explaining things in terms that can be understood. Actually, I think that they are used to bridging the gap between medical technical language and common lay language.

There are, however, some things about hospital culture that stand out as I reflect on the day. Here are a few observations.

Hospital staff have been trained to avoid apologies. I suppose this has something to do with the fear of lawsuits, but they have learned to be very natural without using the words, “I’m sorry,” or even “excuse me.” Instead they listen carefully, repeat what you have told them, and use euphemisms such as “I could do this another way,” or “lets try again,” when they are communicating that they will be changing their behavior. I don’t think that this is a conscious effort for those who have been working at the hospital. It seems to simply be ingrained in their culture.

I, coming from a culture and a tradition of confession, am constantly apologizing. When I stand in a place that is blocking another, I apologize for being in the way. I apologize for not remembering some detail that I am asked by a hospital employee. I say “excuse me,” and “I’m sorry” enough that several times yesterday I was told, “You don’t need to be sorry,” or “No need to apologize,” and even “You’re good.” I actually think that if I made a point of offering a apology for each time I was even slightly in the wrong place or in the way of hospital activity, I would end up making others uncomfortable. Then I’d have to apologize for that.

I don’t have any complaints about the hospital or the way I was treated, but I did notice the difference between the culture of the hospital and the culture of the church where I work every day.

Another difference that I’ve noticed is that people don’t make reference to shortages of staff. In a hospital the phrase “shortage of beds” is almost always a reference to a staffing shortage, not an actual problem with a lack of furniture. I don’t think I heard that particular phrase yesterday, but I’ve often heard it in reference to behavioral health patients and the lack of services available. If you listened to what is said about Regional Behavioral Health, South Dakota Developmental Center, Northeastern Mental Health Center, or The South Dakota Human Services Center in our community, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that there was some kind of a strange furniture shortage in our state. One might even be encouraged to go into the business of manufacturing hospital beds to address the acute shortage. But “shortage of beds” doesn’t mean a furniture problem in our state. It means a lack of staffing and sometimes it means a lack of funding.

The phase I did hear yesterday was “the hospital is full.” It didn’t mean the same thing as that phrase means during the motorcycle rally, when they sometimes have to have patients in the hallways or double up in some treatment areas separating patients with curtains. What it meant yesterday is something that you often encounter in a motel if you arrive too early. The room is not prepared. The hospital, like a motel, has a limited amount of cleaning staff, who work diligently but can only be one place at a time. As they work through the rooms, preparing them with fresh linen, cleaning out bathrooms and making sure that all surfaces have been disinfected, it take time. When a patient is dismissed from the hospital or transferred to another area in the hospital, it takes time for the cleaning staff to get to the room and make sure that it is fully prepared for the next patient. You won’t however, hear anyone at the hospital go into detail. They’ll just comment on how busy the hospital is and use terms like “We’re full.” I suspect that staff have been told not to make references to staffing shortages in any of their conversations with patients or families.

Actually, as my experience yesterday illustrates, much of medical care involves waiting. A patient literally has to be a patient person. The hospital moves a significant amount of people through their triage, treatment and patient care rooms and the system works in many ways that are very efficient, but there is a reason why every doctor’s office, every treatment area in the hospital and every floor of the institution has a “waiting room.” Being a patient or a family member involves quite a bit of waiting. The hospital has invested significant resources is making those waiting areas comfortable. They are kept very clean. They have comfortable furniture. There are television sets everywhere in the hospital. And there are quite a few volunteers and staff who try to ease discomfort and keep patients and families informed. I don’t know how many times I was offered a cup of coffee yesterday, but it was a lot. As one who doesn’t drink coffee, I was aware that with all of the potential health effects of caffeine, the hospital might want to consider revising its beverage offerings for those who occupy the waiting rooms.

I have no conclusions about hospital culture today, just observations. It’s probably a good thing that I spend some time at the hospital so that I learn more about the culture of a place that is devoted to healing and caring for people.

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!

Remembering those who died

It has been seventy years since the Mann Gulch fire took the lives of 13 firefighters near the Gates of the Mountains in the Helena National Forest in Montana. The fire occurred before I was born, but I grew up knowing the basic outlines of the story. At the end of the Second World War it was known that parachuting from airplanes was an effective way to get fairly large numbers of people to remote locations. The airplanes that had been used in the Normandy invasion had transported the largest number of paratroopers every dropped in a single wave. The bulk of those paratroopers jumped from US C-47 aircraft, manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company. At the end of the war, there were a lot of surplus airplanes available for purchase by civilian flyers. The C-47s could bee converted to Douglas DC3 airliners and many were thusly converted. A few retained their cargo doors and were used for various applications. Johnson Flying Service in Missoula, Montana, in cooperation with the US Forest Service pioneered the use of aircraft to drop firefighters by parachute into remote locations.

The Mann Gulch fire was a lightning-caused fire in tinder dry conditions in the middle of August, some of the hottest days of the summer. Johnsons dispatched a plane with 16 smoke jumpers to respond to the fire. The hot afternoon and the mountains resulted in moderate to heavy turbulence for the entire flight and one of the smokejumpers got sick during the flight. 15 jumped on the fire. Within a couple of hours of the jump, ten of the smokejumpers were dead along with another firefighter who had been dispatched vie ground transportation. Two other smokejumpers were critically injured and died the next day. Only 3 of the 15 who jumped survived.

The area where the firefighters died was a very steep hillside and the fire was burning up the hill. As the firefighters attempted to outrun the fire it exploded into an inferno with flames reaching 200 feet into the sky. It created its own winds as it tore through the dry fuels.

Today the steep ridge is a national historical landmark and 13 crosses mark the places where the firefighters fell.

Norman Maclean is the author of the memoir “A River Runs Through It” made famous by the 1992 movie directed by Robert Redford based on the book. That story of two brothers, sons of a Presbyterian Minister, growing up in the Mountains of Montana paints a glorious picture of the geography and culture of the mountains despite the complex and tragic life of Paul. Norman wrote the book in part to sort through his grief and to tell the story of his brother. the book brought a lot of attention to the former University of Chicago professor during his retirement years.

Less popular and less known is the last book by Norman Maclean to be published. Young Men and Fire is his exploration of the Mann Gulch Fire. It represents a long obsession that McLean had with the events of that terrible day when the firefighters perished. Maclean had worked as a firefighter and had experienced close brushes with the power and danger of fire, while working a fire in the Lolo area west of Missoula. He visited the Mann Gulch area late in the fall following the fire and began what was a long obsession with the fire and the events of the day the firefighters died.

He wasn’t alone in studying the fire. Many of the safety rules and fire survival techniques taught to all Forest Service firefighters are based in lessons learned from the investigation of the Mann Gulch Fire.

I grew up in family whose primary business was based on the surplus airplanes and airplane parts that became available after World War II. Our family also used airplanes for fire patrol and on occasion leased planes from Johnson Flying Service and used our planes to guide smokejumper planes to the fires. I considered becoming a smoke jumper until I learned that I was not able to pass the eye test. It seems that glasses could be a liability when jumping out of airplanes to fight fires.

When I read Maclean’s book about the Mann Gulch Fire, I already knew the outlines of the story. What struck me was his obsession with the way that the men died. He went into each individual’s experiences as far as possible, examining where the bodies were found, what injuries occurred and imagining what their experience might have been like as they collapsed from heat and exhaustion and succumbed to the fire. I never understood Maclean’s obsession with how the men died.

Smokejumpers are generally young people. The crew that was dropped on the Mann Gulch fire ranged from 17 to 33. The youngest of those who died perished on his 19th birthday. The oldest to jump, the crew foreman, was the only one over the age of 30. He survived the fire by lighting a backfire and moving into the burned out area.

What is missing from Maclean’s book, in my opinion, are the stories of the lives that the firefighters lived. By focusing on their deaths, we never hear of what drew them to work for the Forest Service, what they loved in life, and what kind of people they were. Having grown up around wildland firefighters, I know a bit about the culture of those who fight fires. In general they are people who ave a special appreciation for the beauty of remote places. They love to hike and hunt and fish and explore. They often enjoy the solitude of wild places. They have a passion for living. The tragedy of the death of those who have fallen cannot extinguish the bright light of the joy of living shared by those who survive. The way in which the young men died is nowhere near as important as the lives they lived.

The last survivor of the Mann Gulch Fire was the youngest member of the crew. He died in 2014. The responsibility for telling their story has now been passed to those of us who were not living at the time. I hope that we will not forget that these were exuberant, passionate, wonderful people, full of life with hopes and dreams of the future. How they lived seems more important than how they died.

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!


My mother used to have a shadow box on the wall of her cabin that contained a large number of keys. I never counted them, but there were a lot. There were keys of all different kinds, from skeleton keys to more modern types of keys. Most of the keys probably had originally worked padlocks, but others were for door bolts and a few were car keys. Before she made up the shadow box, she simply had a shoe box where she kept keys whose locks were unknown or perhaps had been lost. At least one of the keys was to a car that had been sold, but not all of the keys had gone with it to the new owner somehow. My father was, among many other things, a farm machinery dealer, so there were a few keys that fit tractors thrown in there as well. After she made up the shadow box, I used to tease here, “Now all we need is to find someone who has a collection of locks.” I’m not sure what happened to the collection of keys. It is possible that one of my sisters acquired it after our mother’s death. We sill have the cabin, but the display of keys is no longer on the wall in the hallway.

I was thinking about that box recently because I have been sorting out some of the things in our home in anticipation of the possibility of putting our home on the market in the future. We’ve lived her for 24 years now and we’ve accumulated a lot of things. It’s time to reduce the inventory. Like my mother, I seem to have a box of keys. I didn’t set out to collect keys. I just somehow ended up with a key her and there that I forgot what it unlocked. Since I thought that I might one day need that key or remember why I had it, I kept it so that it could be retrieved. The fact that I keep keys has proven to be valuable a couple of times. Not long ago, I found an old bicycle lock in the garage and when I went to the key box, I was able to find a key that opened the lock. Now I don’t really have need for that particular bicycle lock, but at least at the moment the lock and key are reunited and they might prove valuable to someone who wants to lock their bicycle.

I am aware that the day will come when those keys will need to just be thrown away. Perhaps they can be added to a bucket of mixed metals at the recyclers instead of going into the dump, but it is possible that there is a spare key to a house we haven’ lived in for a quarter of a century. Come to think of it it is also possible that there are keys to the locks we had replaced on this house. The old locks are gone, but I somehow retained the keys. The bottom line is that I don’t need the keys and I’m likely not going to need them. Still, I’m keeping them around for a little while. Maybe I’ll find another bicycle lock or some other hidden treasure.

I used to make fun of folks of my parents’ generation for their ability to keep all kinds of objects. They grew up during the Great Depression when all kinds of things were scarce and they had an attitude that you should never throw anything away because it might become useful in the future. My dad had a box in the basement of scraps of wood all of which were too small for a future project. They probably would have had value as kindling or fireplace wood, but they were retained just in case he needed a wedge or shim. My Uncle Ted literally had a shoe box of “Pieces of string too short to save.” I knew what was in it because he had labeled it with a grease pencil.

I don’t make fun of those folks any more, because I’ve become one of them. Sometimes, when I am sorting out things, I think of how our children might react to all of the things I have kept. I suspect that if they somehow inherited the job of sorting out our house they would not be pleased with all of the things I’ve kept. Just thinking about that gives me a bit more courage to go ahead and get rid of a few things.

Still, some things keep accumulating. I enjoy office supply stores and I often wander down the aisle with pens. I don’t often buy a pen, but once in a while I’ll decide that I need one. Mostly pens come into our house with advertisements from various organizations and companies. I have a container on my desk that is filled with pens. There is another one upstairs in the kitchen. There are a few additional pens in my desk drawer and another container at work. Sometimes, I check to make sure that all the pens work and throw out the ones that have dried up, but I still have a lot of extra pens. Last night I was sorting out my camera bag and I came across two pens that have never been used, still in plastic packages. On the side of the pens is printed “Narita Airport.” When I saw them I remembered that as we were waiting for our flight from Tokyo to Seattle over a year ago a kind gentleman approached us and asked us to take a survey about our experience in the airport. After answering his questions he presented us each with a pen. I slipped the pens into my camera bag and forgot about them. They came home to the US with us. They traveled from Seattle to South Dakota with us. The have gone wherever my camera bag has gone since, including going back to Japan this summer. I obviously have had no need for the pens. I found writing devices to get through my life just fine without them. For more than a year I carried them around and they became very well traveled. I know people who would have just tossed them in the garbage at the airport. They are, after all, just cheap advertising pens. I know people who would have tossed them when they discovered them in the camera bag. I haven’t done that, yet. At the moment they are in the container of pens on my desk, which is getting very full.

My attempts at reducing the number of items I posses aren’t going very well yet. I wonder if it it easier to get rid of pens than keys.

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 story of our people

I like stories. I read novels. Most of the time I have a novel that I’m reading among the other books that I have in progress. The novel I am currently reading is by Yoko Ogawa called “The Memory Police.” It is a dystopian novel about the people who live on an island where objects keep disappearing. Most of the people soon forget the items that have disappeared and learn to live without them, but there are a few, who are able to retain the memories of the objects that have disappeared. The main character in the novel is herself a novelist and after books disappear, she gets a new job, but she keeps the novel she has been working on when books disappear. And she keeps her editor, whom she hides in a secret chamber in her home and together they retain memory and preserve the past.

Of course my paragraph doesn’t do justice to the well-crafted story. One of the fascinating components is that the novel that the writer is working on is contained in the story - a literal novel within a novel. The story within the story is titled “The Typist.” In that story, the typist loses access to her typewriter. The story within the story is in some ways the same story as the novel itself. Even as I write these brief paragraphs, I realize how hard it is for me to describe the complexity and fun of this book. Perhaps it is enough to say that the story is worth reading and Ogawa has crafted a fascinating book.

Of course my life’s work is about a story as well, but it isn’t the same kind of story. My work has to do with the stories that our people have been telling for generations. Perhaps, like all stories, our story starts with lived experiences. Our people left the home of their ancestors and journeyed without knowing their destination. they formed strong family bonds and along the way they collected new family members, some by birth, others by adoption. Their identity was strengthened by the journey and the trials of life on the road. They found places to rest and to stay, sometimes for many generations. They faced hardships, including several occasions where others attempted to eliminate them through crew means. They suffered slavery. They found their way to freedom. They made a home. They lost their home. Of course there is a lot more to the story than just that. One of the important aspects to the story is that through all of the generations of people, they kept the story. Parts of the story of our people have been told for at least 4,000 years. Eventually our people decided that they needed to have the story written down in a permanent form. Creating that written book took many generations and as soon as there was something that seemed to be a complete form we started to encounter different cultures and languages and translation of the story was required. The translations themselves changed the story.

Along the way, as we told the story from generation to generation, it became more than a book. In a way much of what we do is theatre. We have specialized buildings just for the telling of our story. We have songs and motions and even specialized costumes that are a part of our storytelling. We developed ritual and ceremonies that we repeat with great care. We elevated some members of the community to the role of caretakers and tellers of the story.

There are some who find my way of describing our faith and religion as irreverent. I do not lack reverence for our traditions. I do not lack reverence for our story. In some ways I feel like the character in the novel. I have a distinct calling to preserve memories that others are beginning to forget. As more and more people choose lives that are distant from religious traditions and develop secular ways of living, those of us who are immersed in religious lifestyles become the keepers of the traditions and history of our people. We are deeply aware that there are elements and qualities that come from remaining connected to the past. We are convinced that those connections are essential to forging a future as a people. We are deeply dedicated to preserving the memories of our people.

So we tell the story and we strive for accuracy. We enact the rituals and we strive for faithfulness. We teach our children and what we teach them is the truth.

Elie Wiesel, in the introduction to one of his novels reports a conversation with a rabbi in which the rabbi questions the value of his use of novels and stories. The concluding line in that story goes something like this: “Sometimes in order to tell the truth you have to tell a story.” The deep truth of our human condition is so rich and complex that it can’t be fully described. No amount of words is sufficient to contain the whole story. So we use symbols and symbolic language. We can’t describe God, so we use metaphor and simile. We say “God is like . . .” We compare experiences knowing that they aren’t quite the same.

I am aware that conveying the Gospel is done as much with the life I live as it is with the words I say. Words are important and I try to choose my words carefully. But actions speak louder than words. I am aware that there are many settings in which I am being observed. People want to know what a minster is and they pay attention to what a minister does. My life is not just a matter of how I treat people when I am in the church, but also how I treat them when I am not “working.”

Communicating the faith of the many generations of our people is as much a matter of how I treat others in my everyday life as it is the words I write or speak in formal settings. Henri Nouwen wrote “All real living is praying.” I take the prayers I say seriously, but I try also to remember that how I treat the person bagging my groceries is another form of prayer. My interactions with the janitor who cleans the bathrooms is as important as my meeting with the donors who support our work.

The story of our people is far more than the words we say.

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 kids are watching

I attended grade school in a small town. During my elementary years most of the parents of the kids in our class hosted a field trip. We went to a dairy farm about four miles out of town. It wasn’t too impressive to me because my father sold and serviced the milking machines and cream separators that the dairy used, so I’d been out there a lot. We went to the lumberyard, another yawner for me. We went there all the time. We went to the grain elevator, slightly more interesting, especially when the manager told us a story about a huge grain elevator fire that he had witnessed in another town. We went to the doctor’s office, which was closed that day and there were no patients. We didn’t see any blood there, but we talked about the possibility of there being some at some times. My friend Jim, whose father was the doctor, said that he had to sew up people with bloody injuries all the time. David said, “They do that at the hospital not at the office.” An argument ensued. David’s dad worked at the creamery. After showing us all of the big machines, he opened up a large stainless steel butter churn and, after emptying out the contents, took his finger and ran it around the lip of the churn, withdrawing it with what looked like about a quarter of a pound of butter, which he promptly popped into his mouth and swallowed, declaring, “YUM!” It was just like the fairy tale of Jack Sprat. David’s dad was a tall and very slender man. I was impressed. I never ate that much butter at one time before, but once I had taken a big swipe at what I thought was ice cream in the freezer and put it into my mouth only to discover that it was lard, poured into an ice cream bucket. That wasn’t a pleasant experience in my memory.

I liked the visit to the telephone company. And Valerie’s dad, who was an electrician, fixed up a neat set of lights and switches that we could turn on and off.

The visit to the drive in where we each got an ice cream cone was worth the trip.

But, hands down, the best field trip of our entire elementary school experience was when the class went to the airport, where my father was the manager. He had lined up three airplanes and he and two of his pilots gave everyone a ride. There were 3 kids per airplane and 3 airplanes, so it took 3 trips to take all of the kids up for about a 5 minute ride. I had had much longer rides than we got that day, but all of the other kids in my class were jealous of me, being able to ride in an airplane whenever I wanted.

It didn’t do much for my popularity or status at school, but it was a good day nonetheless.

I’m pretty sure that if such an adventure were planned for this day there would be so much paperwork what with liability waivers and permission slips and the like that the trip would include a tour of the hangar and a chance to sit in the airplanes without actually going flying.

Somehow I was thinking about those field trips yesterday as I was doing a bit of shopping for treats to take to the staff of Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center this morning. Twice a month, I stop by at shift change in the facility to deliver a few treats and to offer encouragement to the staff.Taking care of youth who have landed on the wrong side of the law can be a stressful job. Staff turnover is fairly high and most of the corrections officers are young and early in their careers. I like to offer them a bit of support and encouragement and be a listening ear as they sort out their lives. They were drawn to the career out of a desire to be of service. Some of them were drawn to the work because they feel like they can make a difference in a child’s life. As opposed to an adult corrections facility, all of the youth in the center are there for a limited amount of time and the focus on education and learning life skills for the outside world is essential. The people who become officers usually are fairly idealistic about their ability to make an impact. But it is easy to get jaded in that job when the same youth returns time after time and they witness examples of disconnected parents and other behaviors that most of us never witness.

I figure a donut now and again isn’t going to hurt the officers. Actually, most of them are very health and nutrition conscious, so I always bring fresh fruit and a large thermos of good coffee.

One of the things I bring to accompany the coffee is real cream. They are used to powdered creamers in the coffee at the center, so it is a treat to have a pitcher of real cream. We don’t use cream at our house, so twice a month I buy a pint of real cream and share it with the officers and staff of the center. Shopping for cream made me think of David’s father, who in addition to the display of eating butter all by itself once gave me a lecture on how real butter fat and real cream are good for you. He always drank cream in his coffee and said that heavy cream was the best. He lived long enough that I also knew him when he drank his coffee black and drank lots of it staying up late when he switched jobs to running the bowling alley.

Children learn a lot about life by observing adults. I was shaped by ministers and mentors from all walks of life. It is something of which I have to remind myself from time to time. When a little one greets me at preschool or a tot climbs up into my lap at the fellowship hour after church, I know they are studying me. “Can this guy be trusted?” “Is a minister a good thing?” The answer to their questions comes in the form of my behavior. They pay attention to what I do more than what I say.

I hope I never forget that they are watching.

Some of the most troubled youth in our community are watching and studying the behavior of the corrections officers at Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center. The least I can do is send those public servants off to work with a snack in their bellies and a pat on the back.

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!

Joy in the morning

I write my journal posts in the morning and usually do not re-read them. I you follow the journal, you know that it is fairly raw. I make a number of typographic errors. I tend to use a few too many run-on sentences. The entries could use a bit of editing. Yesterday, however, I took a few minutes to read what I had written after I had gone to the office. I wanted to check one of the stories I had told to make sure that I had respected those involved. It is a bit of a challenge for a pastor as I know a lot of stories of the lives of others and I want to have what I say be relevant and connected to the life of the community. On the other hand, the stories of others are not mine to tell and I know things that have been shared with me in confidence and that confidence is a trust that must be honored. So I just wanted to check. I decided that there was nothing in the journal post that was a problem in that sense, but that there were quite a few typographical errors. So I resolved to go back and fix the most obvious mistakes. However, my day got busy and I didn’t get around to that simple little task until this morning. I just went into the editing software and posted corrections to the most obvious errors.

The difference of a day, however, is fairly dramatic in my life. A lot of things happen each day. This morning as I read what I wrote yesterday, I found that I had gotten a bit whiny. I don’t mean to complain about my life and just publish stories of things that make me upset. In the first place, I have a wonderful life and I don’t really have that much about which to complain. I’ve been privileged in almost every aspect of my life. Sure, I’m human. I have some days that are better than others. But I count myself to be among the most fortunate of people. I have a loving family. I have meaningful work. I have a supportive congregation. I have an honored role in the community. I have a beautiful home in a beautiful setting. I have colleagues who are intelligent, competent and supportive. The list of joys in my life is far longer than the list of challenges.

So, to my regular readers, a quick apology: I don’t mean to complain in my journal posts. If I am truly a resurrection preacher as I claimed in yesterday’s journal entry, I should be about telling good news in the midst of this challenging and troubled world.

Today I want to celebrate some of the signs of hope that give me deep joy.

I am so grateful to have an incredible circle of friends and acquaintances who are the age of our children. There are some incredible people who are currently in their thirties who take the time to befriend me. I am genuinely impressed with their intelligence, compassion and energy. I am inspired by their dedication and commitment. Their lives are much different from my own. They are confident and competent with electronic technology. Their smart phones extend their community and they know how to use them to stay connected with their community. My devices seem to get in my way and I have no capacity for multitasking. But their attitude towards their devices is much less awkward than mine. But it isn’t just their attitude towards technology that impresses me. They have grown up knowing how to access great volumes of information. They can fact check a statement in seconds. They are continually sifting and sorting information in intelligent ways. The young adults in my life are building community that reaches beyond their age cohort. They are genuinely caring about their relationships with elders in ways that is genuinely impressive.

And they are becoming parents. The generation of our grandchildren are a deep gift of those young adults. Yesterday I walked down the hall in the church and a voice called out “hello” to me. It was a preschool student who is also active in our church. As I paused to greet her I was struck by how much she has changed in the past few months. She is much more confident and outgoing than was the case last spring. She is ready for preschool and is at home in this new environment of children. She is just one of many children who populate our church and my life.

The world is different from it was when I was 30 years younger. It is different from it was when I was a child. there are incredible challenges that face these people. But when I see who they are and spend time with them I am reminded over and over again of the great creativity, intelligence and leadership they are bringing into the world.

This morning as I look back at yesterday and recall my interactions with other people, I am not less aware that there is deep tragedy, pain and loss in the world. I am, however, filled with renewed hope as I see the caring and compassion with which people are treating each other. For each tragedy and grief I listed in yesterday’s journal entry there are communities of caring people who are responding with compassion, grace and dignity. My job gives me the opportunity to witness those who give of themselves to support their friends and neighbors. It gives me the joy of working in a building that fills with children each school day. It gives me real world examples of resurrection every day. It is not just tears and wailing and sorrow.

Natalie Sleeth was a hymn writer and composer who gave us some dramatic and wonderful songs. Her “Hymn of Promise” has been an inspiration for many and is used at all kinds of occasions. Another of her hymns is playin in my mind as I begin today: “There’ll be joy in the morning on that day, for the daylight will dawn when the darkness is gone, there’ll be joy in the morning on that day.”

That day seems to be today. May you rise to joy.

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!

Faith for the hard days

It doesn’t happen very often, but it has happened before. I woke this morning and for a brief moment I had the sensation that I was waking from a bad dream. I was slightly confused about what time and what day it is. Then I realized that I had not had a bad dream. The terrible thing that I had been thinking about wasn’t a dream. It was reality.

A brief article on the local newspaper’s web site confirmed what I already knew: “Custer County Emergency Management called off a Tuesday search for a missing man after using drones and dog teams to find him.” There aren’t any details in the article. The emergency management department will probably have a press conference and share more information later today, but I already know the information that I need to know. I had been following the story all day long and was kept informed by a family member on scene. It is not my story to share and I don’t want to go into details, but what I can say is that I’ve had this sick feeling since I received the news.

I have completed applied suicide intervention skills training. I know quite a bit about how to work with those who are contemplating suicide. I know the warning signs. I know some of the history of depression and struggle for mental health this family has witnessed. I saw and spoke to the victim a little over a week ago. But my knowledge and my training were not enough to prevent this tragedy. A man is dead before his 40th birthday. A young widow remains. Two daughters remain. Grief is washing over an entire family system and the depth of pain that they feel is overwhelming.

I know I’ll be playing the “could have,” ‘would have,” “should have” game in my mind for the next several days. None of that changes the reality. I will wake to the same reality as that family for each day going forward. And that reality is tragic.

It has been a challenging week and it is only Wednesday.

Yesterday morning I kneeled at the bedside of a woman I’ve known since she was about the age I am now. As I read a Psalm and said a prayer I looked at her hands and face. She never was a big woman, but now she seems so small. It is almost as if she is evaporating in front of us. She is receiving comfort care as she goes through a slow and quiet journey from this life to the next. Now in her 90’s she doesn’t have much family left. A loving niece attends to her and professionals provide the care she needs. I couldn’t tell what she hears or understands, but I chose familiar verses in the hope that there would be some spark of recognition in her and that the words would be comforting.

In the evening I gave a hug to a friend whose list of stressors is so long that It seems impressive that she can be out and functioning, let alone smiling and grateful, which she was. Let’s see: Her son is in the hospital with some kind of infection that they can’t get diagnosed. Her husband is filing for divorce. She has a meeting today with a surgeon about treatment for cancer. Her father died early yesterday morning. Her mother is experiencing dementia and may or may not fully understand the death of her husband. And that isn’t the complete list.

In the morning yesterday I met with a colleague and began our conversation by apologizing for not responding to his Facebook post because I couldn’t figure out how to say what I wanted to say in such a public forum. He is going through a life- and career-changing experience that is far too complex to death with in a Facebook post.

This is what I do with my life and work.

Yesterday, I listened to part of a radio interview with a colleague of mine. He was speaking of the tradition of prophetic preaching, founded in the historic Biblical prophets and speaking truth to power. This, he said, is especially needed in this time of global crisis and environmental destruction. As I listened, I couldn’t help but think that somehow I am not a prophetic preacher. I’ve never had that gift.

If I were to characterize my preaching, I guess I would have to say that I am a resurrection preacher. I am brought again and again to the truth that for our people death is not the end. Despite the stories of tragedy and loss and pain and destruction, God always has more for us. I know that the crisis my colleague is facing is not the end of his career. There will be a fresh start and new opportunities. I know that the problems that are currently overwhelming the woman are not the story of her life. I know that the woman who lies dying in a nursing home bed is only part of the story. I know that the body recovered near a hiking trail is not the end of love in the lives of those who are grieving.

Jesus told his followers, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” (John 15:9) He went on to tell them, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) I am not the one to carry the voice of judgment or anger to others. I am not the one to speak of justice to the halls of power. I am a pastor who is called to bear witness of the power of love. And love is stronger than death. And that means that I am called to speak that message in the face of death. I am called to speak it on the mornings when yesterday seems like a bad dream.

Today I proclaim that this is not the end. The grief, the pain, the sorrow, the loss, the sadness - these are not the final words on the condition of the human spirit. We were born to love. We live in love. We will die in love. And love never ends.

Even when the day is hard. Love never ends.

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!


Erik Erikson was a 20th century developmental psychologist who took Freud’s theories and modified them into a eight-stage theory of development. His work influenced a lot of psychologists and educators and was considered to be essential for teachers and leaders in the later half of the century. When I first read Erikson’s stages, they just made sense to me and I considered them to be a model for thinking about life and development. At the time I first read Erikson, I was not yet a father and had quite limited real world experience, but his theories seemed to explain a lot of what I observed in others and gave a framework for my thinking. I still refer to Erikson’s ideas.

As I have grown and experienced more, I have come to understand that what Erikson presented is just a rough framework and that his sense that the developmental tasks are sequential is not quite accurate. Human beings are complex characters and the definition of successful development and what it means to be well-adjusted can vary widely by culture and by individual. We aren’t all the same. We don’t all develop in the same patterns.

Nonetheless, his framework still colors my thinking.

Recently, I have been thinking about Erikson in part because I believe that I have reached the last of his eight stages. I guess I’ve done pretty well at the other seven. At least I have endured enough to have moved to a new area of focus. Erikson’s last stage of development is called “Integrity vs. Despair.” In his book, Erikson identifies late adulthood as beginning in the mid sixties, which is the age where I now am. He wrote that people in late adulthood reflect on their lives and either feel a sense of satisfaction or a sense of failure. If you have the sense of satisfaction, you have a sense of integrity and can look back without regrets. However, those who do not succeed in this stage of development end up feeling as if their life has been wasted. Bitterness, depression and despair can follow.

Of course, Erikson presents extremes to illustrate his stages of development. Few, if any, have absolutely no regrets. And few, if any, are overwhelmed by a sense of total failure. Most of us find ourselves somewhere in between. We’ve done some things right and we’ve made some mistakes.

What I find about this stage of life is that is requires a great deal of sorting and sifting. At times, I feel like I have so many memories and not all of them have the same value. I remember my father with great joy and those memories are ones that I want to treasure and keep for all of my life. There are some trivial details about my elementary education, including some of my classmates, that I don’t remember. I have other memories that seem to me to be unimportant.

It is similar to the possessions that clutter my life. I have a sense that this phase of my life is a time of sorting. I’ve collected and kept things throughout my life and now is the time to shed some possessions and to distribute some of the things that I’ve gathered.

Yesterday I spent some time sorting things in the garage. I’ve been trying to give a few hours each week to that task since we returned from our simmer trip. My goal is to get the garage emptied so that it can be used as a place to stage other items as we sort through the rest of the house in preparation for a move sometime next summer. The time has come for us to downsize and that means that we won’t be moving all of our possessions.

For the most part, sorting is a good exercise. there are a lot of things that I don’t mind putting into the Rummage Sale or Restore boxes. I’m a bit less free with the items that make it into the garbage can. I can think of uses of many items that I’ll probably never use. I’ve kept things that have potential uses, but for which I have no need. Scraps of wood might be used later. Pieces of wire could be employed in a repair.

There are other items of which I’ve simply collected too many for any one household. I think I have enough duct tape to last the rest of my life. Somehow, I collected new colors and obtained new rolls before I finished the old ones. Fasteners such as screws and bolts are easy to over accumulate. I know I have a particular screw or bolt in my garage, but it is too hard to find, so I go to the hardware store and buy a new package. The package has more than I need so more extras accumulate. Now that I’m sorting and consolidating, I discover that I have huge inventories of some items - far more than I will eve need. More goodies for Restore, I guess. I love Habitat for Humanity, so it is easy to support the Restore.

The accumulation of junk in my garage, however, doesn’t seem like a very good measure of the meaning of my life. Sure I’ve acquired more than I needed. Sure I have kept things that I should not have. But those remnants in my garage remind me of the projects I’ve accomplished. I built two canoes, three kayaks and a rowboat in that garage. I restored two additional canoes that might have been headed for the dump, but now are beautiful and useful boats. I built and repaired quite a bit of furniture in that garage. I’ve repaired broken toys and broken cars and scores of other broken items. My collection of tools and spare parts have proved useful in many ways.

So the next few months will be my time of working on my own development. Despair doesn’t seem to be threatening, but Integrity is an elusive goal.

When I get around to sorting my books, I’ll probably keep my copy of Erikson’s “Childhood and Society.” You never know when I’ll need to check up on his descriptions of developmental stages and see how I’m doing. On the other hand, I’m pretty close to the end of the book. he doesn’t have a stage after the one I’m working on.

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!

Some things don't change

In the days when my main mode of transportation was a bicycle, there was a “pocket size” 9 transistor radio displayed in the window of the Montgomery Wards Catalogue store. Most of the items in the catalogue had to be ordered and typically took one or two weeks to be delivered, but there were a select number of items that the store had in stock and you could have them the same day that you bought them. I admired that radio. I can’t remember what it cost, but it was more than I had at the moment. I remember worrying that by the time I saved up the money the radio would be sold to someone else and I would have to wait until one came, which would add even more time to my waiting.I also remember imagining what I would do if I had the radio. I could see myself holding the radio to my ear with my left hand while I road around town steering my bike with my right hand. Riding my bike one-handed wasn’t a problem for me. I thought that I would be about the coolest thing going if I had music while I made my way around town.

I can remember buying the radio. I had a few bills and a whole pocketful of change that had to be counted out on the store counter. I had a paper route in those days and frequently had a few dollars to spend in the Wards store. I have a clear memory of buying a flexible flyer steel runner sled as a Christmas present for my younger brothers. It cost $4.95. You can still buy that same sled for $129.99 at Cabella’s.

Anyway, I don’t remember much about the radio. I can remember that it was one of the first devices I had ever seen that used a 9-volt battery, which was rectangular instead of cylindrical. The battery had two terminals on the top and the connection to the radio snapped to those terminals like grippers.I also remember that reception with the radio wasn’t very good. We didn’t have a radio station in our town. I could dial in the transmitter that was 30 miles away, but I didn’t like their music that much. What I really wanted to listen to was the music from the big city 80 miles away. It would come in, accompanied by quite a bit of static. Pulling out the long antenna helped, but that was less effective after the end of it broke off. It turned out that riding a bike while holding the radio wasn’t exactly as problem-free as I had imagined.

I was thinking about that radio the other day as I watched part of the keynote at the annual Apple developer’s conference. They had just announced the new iPhone 11. The new A13 Bionic chip in the phone has 8.5 billion transistors. I’m not sure what you get for all that extra money. My phone has only 6.9 billion transistors according to the company web site. Still, I can listen to whatever I want from my phone. It will pick up radio stations and it will play music that is live streamed I can talk to my phone and ask it to pay a specific song and it will do so. I have wireless headphones that mean that I can listen to music hands-free with the phone in my pocket.

The device is cool, but I’m sure that in the days of the 9 transistor radio, I would have preferred the device that other people could tell I was using. Something unseen didn’t have the same appeal to me in those days. I also could not have imagined the computing and communications power that I take for granted today.

Sometimes it seems like things have changed so much.

But there are other things that don’t seem to have changed. In our pantry is a cylindrical cardboard box, red on the top and blue on the bottom with a white circle in which is the head and shoulders of a long-haired white headed man in a dark blue had and jacket with a white scarf around his neck. It looks exactly like the box that was in our home when I was a child, although I once had a discussion with a friend about whether or not the box used to be blue on the top and red on the bottom. The contents is the same as well. The rolled oats look, smell and taste the same. I can remember when the company came out with “Instant” oats that could be cooked in ten minutes in a sauce pan instead of half an hour in a double boiler. The innovative difference was that the oats were smaller so they cooked faster.

In our home cold cereal was a summer food and we didn’t eat much of it in the winter. Hot cereal was the staple of breakfast, often served as a first course followed by eggs and toast. When I was a baby it was determined that I had a sensitivity to wheat products, so in place of the wheat cereal that was ground from the hard red winter wheat grown on my uncle’s farm and transported in buckets to our home and ground in a small home flour mill, we had oatmeal. My uncle grew oats, but the oats were all reserved for animal feed and we bought oatmeal at the store in the red and blue box.

That cylindrical package first made its appearance in 1915. But that time the Quaker Oats company had already started printing cookie recipes on the box. The story as I heard it is that the company had nothing to do with the quaker religion. The man on the box is just a stylized picture of what some artist thought a quaker might look like. The Quaker Mill company was founded in 1877 in Ravenna, Ohio. Founding partner Henry Seymour found an encyclopedia article on Quakers and decided that the qualities described - integrity, honesty, purity - were the identity he wanted for the product. the name stuck.

These days you can buy “old fashioned” steel cut oats in the store at a much higher price, but in our home that cylindrical box is considered to be a staple and I suspect that you could find the rest of the ingredients for the cookies - butter, eggs, brown sugar, baking soda, flour, cinnamon and, of course, raisins - in our house without having to make a trip to the store.

Not a bad way to start the day. The cereal, not the cookies. The cookies aren’t a bad bedtime snack, though.

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!

Too many screens

Most days, when I am not traveling, I write my journal while sitting at a library table in our basement. On the table is a monitor and a stand that holds my notebook computer, so I have two displays that provide light in the room. There is also a desk lamp that provides light on an external keyboard that I use while typing. On the computer I have an open document where I write the words. On the other monitor I display various items. Sometimes I display a search engine with results of something that I’ve checked out and will use in the blog. Sometimes there are news headlines displayed on the second monitor. Sometimes I just leave it with a single photograph that I use for a background when there are no applications running. Even though the two displays are side by side, I only look at one at a time. I’ve learned to focus on my writing and most of the time that is where my attention is directed. If I need to look up something, I stop writing for a minute to do that. If there is something I want to copy, I look at the copy page and later check to make sure that my typing was accurate. At any rate, I seem to be able to deal with two screens without a problem.

At the office, I have only one screen and I don’t seem to miss the other one. I used to have a second monitor there as well, but that stopped working and I just didn’t seem to need it. At work I usually am dealing with email, updating the church web page, or preparing worship bulletins when I’m using the computer. If I need more than one document open at the same time, I overlap the windows so that I can quickly tab between them.

But three are a lot of places where there are a lot more than just two screens. On Friday night we went down to the studios of South Dakota Public Broadcasting to hear Jami Lynn play a banjo from the National Music Museum that Earl Scruggs had given to Johnny Cash. It was a delightful evening of song, but the studio was really full. There were people packed in so tightly that we didn’t have a very clear view of Jami. We could hear clearly, but found it easier to watch a television screen mounted across the room from where we were seated. I could get enough of a glimpse of Jami to know that the color was off slightly in the monitor. Everything pictured there was a bit more blue than what my eye perceived when looking at the artist.

We were, after all, in a television studio. The monitor that I was watching was large and clear, but it was one of five different monitors on the same wall. The other four were displaying four different programs. For a few moments, I was distracted and watched as Cookie Monster was taking cooking lessons to the sound of Jami Lynn playing clawhammer banjo on a rare and historic banjo. It was a bit surreal. I found that the multiple pictures, all with their own sense of motion and timing, were distracting and a bit hard to watch. I had to concentrate and focus on one at a time or the whole thing was simply disorienting.

Then yesterday I spent some time in the waiting area of the emergency room at the hospital which is brand new. The new emergency department opened just last Wednesday. There in the waiting room was a bank of four monitors, each with a different program playing. After a few minutes, I got up and moved so that I was no longer facing the monitors. I definitely had the sensation that all of those visual images coming at once did not promote health or healing. I can see how a single monitor might be good for patient education or to orient confused people to emergency room procedures. There might be times when some soothing pictures or other images might help anxious family members while they waited as their loved one received treatment in the emergency department. But I can’t understand the need for a cluster of four screens. Fortunately, there was no sound from any of the screens, which seemed to be showing local television programs, which in the wee hours of early morning are mostly showing advertisements for things to purchase. I kept wondering how often such programs advertise products that claim to offer effective treatment but are medically questionable. Does the hospital really want to be promoting such things?

I suspect that children who have grown up with so many screens in their homes and in virtually every place they go might do better in making the quick mental switch from program to program and screen to screen. It is a skill that I don’t possess. I don’t like having too many screens with too much information to absorb. And when I’m in a waiting room, I really prefer to just wait. I can allow my mind to focus on what is most important to me, which most of the time is a patient who is receiving treatment or a family who is experiencing loss and grief. I don’t want to be distracted by television.

Furthermore, these days, we all carry screens with us. I don’t do it very often, but I know how to watch videos on my smart phone. I can use it to get the news headlines from multiple sources. As I looked around the waiting room, most of the other people there were looking at their phones, not at the screens on the wall. It may be that even though the emergency room is brand new and supposedly state of the art, having all those television monitors is something that is a bit behind the times. If they want to educate patients or get information to them, perhaps they should have free wi-fi and Internet based resources for individuals to watch on their own phones.

Meanwhile, I chose a seat where I wasn’t facing the screens. If that fails, I guess I could always close my eyes.

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!

An incomplete ER

Rapid City Regional Hospital serves not only our city, but communities within about a 250 mile radius with a wide variety of medical services. On Wednesday of this week, Regional opened its new emergency room after a couple of years of construction. There has been a maze of construction around the hospital, including a new parking garage, a new landing area for medical hospitals and an entirely new emergency department. Construction continues with the demolition of the old rehabilitation hospital and additional construction underway to replace those rooms. Additional patient care rooms on the second and third floors of the hospital are also part of the construction plans for the hospital.

The new emergency department has a larger and more private waiting area for families and those needing treatment, an expanded and much more private triage area, additional care rooms and resources. It is a state of the art facility, with video cameras and all kinds of other new technology designed and built into the facility.

The reason today’s journal entry is being posted late is that I spent a couple of hours in the new emergency room this morning. It wasn’t because of any medical emergency in my family. I was there to provide support to another family, who had experienced a traumatic set of circumstances and had special needs this morning. I received the request for help at 4:36 am, just minute after I sat down at the computer to write. I’m pretty faithful to the process of writing the journal, but there are interruptions that cannot be ignored.

So I dressed and headed down to our new state-of-the-art emergency room. While I was there I was reminded of a huge failing in the hospital’s construction plan. It is not something of which I had not been aware before, but once again, something that seems so obvious to me seems to have escaped hospital planners.

While the emergency room has quick access to CT scanners and a MRI machine, x-ray machines, ventilators, defibrillators, surgical suites and a host of other resources, it has no resources for treating mental health crises and no behavioral health tools.

To back up for a moment: Rapid City Regional Health does operate a Behavioral Health Hospital. It is across the city, in a building from which the hospital moved in the 1970’s. It is whatever the opposite of “state-of-the-art” is. The patient care rooms are only slightly remodeled from what had been general hospital rooms. These days there are security cameras and locked doors and other devices to isolate the patient care rooms from the offices that occupy the rest of the building. As it is, the behavioral health unit is nearly always full. It is difficult to find a bed for a patient in need of critical care.

The behavioral health hospital is also in the wrong place. It is across town - a 15-minute drive from the main hospital. Admissions for those in psychological crisis is still through the hospital emergency room, but treatment is across town. Sometimes that trip across town is made in an ambulance, other times in a family member’s private automobile and still other times in the back seat of a police or sheriff’s cruiser.

It is obvious where the hospital’s priorities lie. There are no plans to put a behavioral health unit where it belongs - right next to the emergency room. There are no plans to provide additional care for those experiencing psychological distress. In the hospital’s defense, the costs of such care are staggering. Insurance covers only part of the cost of providing care. Many who come to the hospital in psychological crisis don’t have any insurance or ability to pay. Providing such care is a loss for the hospital. And in health care, as in other arenas of our lives, money talks.

Still, it is not accurate to state that our hospital provides full care for all emergencies who come into the hospital. And, as was illustrated again this morning, it is a matter of life and death. Chronic depression can lead to suicide and failure to obtain prompt treatment can lead to death.

That brand-new, state-of-the-art, only open 4 days emergency room was not equipped to handle the trauma of one who had just witnessed a violent death. That fancy and expensive multi-million-dollar facility didn’t have what was required to support a family who were trying to come to terms with what had happened. They didn’t design private counseling rooms into the facility. They didn’t design private family areas. They didn’t design offices for psychologists. They have surgeons on call at all times, but not psychiatrists. The building doesn’t seem to reflect the latest medical research which scientifically provides absolute links between physical and psychological health.

We, who were there to try to provide some comfort, spent the morning improvising. Law enforcement officers who were conducting interviews and trying to provide support to the family were left with facilities that were a bit newer, but in other ways just as inadequate as the old emergency room. The surgeons and nurses may love their new facility, but for some of the rest of us, it is a huge sign that the planners and architects and engineers were focused on only part of the care of patients. That narrow focus seems to have also restricted the vision of hospital administrators and the hospital board.

We won’t have complete medical care in our city as long as we don’t have state of the art psychological and behavioral health facilities, complete with a fully-functioning emergency room and staff trained in psychological care and suicide prevention. For right now, those seeking treatment are sent to a 70-year-old building across town where the front door is locked and not attended during the night and early morning hours. Those who are suffering crises end up across town in an emergency room that is not prepared for the emergencies they present.

The hospital may have spent millions on construction, but their facility is far from complete.

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!

Orange cones and barrels

This past summer, as we drove miles across South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington, we encountered a fair amount of road construction. We also encountered more than a few places where they were preparing for road construction. There would be the warning signs, the reduced speed limits and lots of orange barrels and cones. In some states they call lane closures “traffic revisions,” a designation that sparked some humorous conversations between us. “Do you suppose that this is the original traffic revision, or are we working with the New Revised Standard traffic?” It was a reference to various Biblical translations that might not be funny to the average person. Most frustrating were lane closures and speed reductions where there was no obvious construction going on at all. We followed the speed limits, but there were places where we backed up a lot of traffic by doing so. It makes sense to slow down for the safety of construction workers and to adjust to narrow lanes, but it doesn’t make sense to slow down for places where all you are doing is driving next to lines of barrels and cones.

That sparked a series of funny conversations. I expounded the theory that the ups and downs of oil prices was sparking temporary unemployment in the Bakken oil field. Normally that part of North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba is filled with lots of construction. But when the price of oil dips too low, they stop new exploration, waiting for higher prices. This results in massive numbers of orange barrels and cones that are temporarily without work. I speculated that putting too many of the devices in a field results in rowdy behavior, wild parties, excessive noise and other social problems, so the Bakken exports orange barrels and cones to neighboring states and provinces when they are not needed and those states spread them out alongside the highways to keep them from converging - too many in the same place. This results in miles of orange barrels and cones without any apparent reason.

Of course it is just a joke. Highway engineers have reasons for placing the barrels and cones and not every aspect of construction can happen immediately. There are reasons why we encounter lane closures and reduced speeds when we can’t see construction workers.

So I was surprised to learn yesterday that there is currently a shortage of orange barrels and cones in eastern South Dakota. After three EF-2 tornadoes struck Sioux Falls Tuesday night, downing trees and spreading debris around the city, heavy rains continued across a region from Mitchell to Sioux Falls with flooding inn Mitchell, Parkston, Madison and other communities. The South Dakota Department of Transportation has closed Interstate 90 between Plankinton and Sioux Falls due to the flooding. The official detour for traffic traveling from the west is to go north on Highway 281, east on Highway 14 to Brookings and then south on I-29 to Sioux Falls. There is an additional section of Interstate 90 that closed yesterday afternoon between Mitchell and Sioux Falls. And it isn’t just the Interstate. There are hosts of county and secondary roads that are closed as well.

Apparently it takes a lot of orange barrels and cones to close so many roads and appeals had to be made to providers of cones and barrels in other states for additional devices to warn motorists.

I am sorry for the inconvenience caused by road closures and I am sympathetic to those who have experienced losses due to the tornadoes and floods, but it somehow strikes me as funny that there is an actual shortage of orange barrels and cones.

I guess I usually can find something to strike my funny bone when others aren’t laughing.

So I had to stop my car and ponder a sign that I noticed yesterday at the corner of the lawn of 1st Assembly of God Church in Rapid City. The sign announced a “Huge Kids’ Sale.” I thought to myself that it might be a good thing to plan a visit to the sale. After all I love kids and although neither of the children who grew up in our home were obtained at bargain prices, and I thought that we were mostly past the stage of raising children, it might be worth checking out the market and finding out what kinds of kids they had for sale. You know, if they had really good prices, it might be worth picking up a couple of spares. You never know when you might need a few. Then I thought that maybe we should get a group of people from the church go go to the sale. Our church school and youth programs could use a few more children. Sometimes we have small classes and small turnouts for events that have been carefully planned. A few more children would make the activities better for all. So if we could pickup say 25 or 30 more kids for our church programs, that might be a good investment. Besides, they are going to have them on sale. You don’t want to pass up a good deal.

Then I though again. The sign advertises a “Huge Kids’ Sale.” The classrooms at our church are set up for regular sized kids. I’m not sure that we would have the right kinds of play equipment and toys for HUGE kids. And I wondered whether or not HUGE kids would require special skills of those who care for them. In the preschool area of our church, we have a bathroom with smaller fixtures to accommodate small children and to make it easier for them to use the facilities. But we don’t have any special toilets for HUGE kids. Maybe HUGE kids are just adult sized, which would probably work, but what if HUGE means bigger than adults?

Maybe I won’t go to the sale. HUGE kids might be frightening.

So you see that it doesn’t take much at all to amuse me. I’m wondering whether or not we should make a special appeal in church for orange cones and barrels. You never know, there might be a church member that has one or two stored in their garage that they wouldn’t mind donating to ease the shortage . . .

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 physician's mistakes

Medical training in the United States is a rigorous undertaking. The highly competitive process of gaining admission to a medical college often eliminates well-qualified candidates. Over the years I’ve known several brilliant young people who aspired to become doctors but who could not gain admission to a medical college. Then, once in a medical school, candidates are subjected to a highly structured and very intense process that includes sleep deprivation, intense pressure and more competition. The result is that the highly trained and highly skilled physicians who work in the medical system in our country are an exceptional group of individuals.

There are, however, a lot of qualities, essential to the delivery of health care, that are not taught in medical school. One of those qualities is humility. Those who survive the process of medical education usually have a very high opinion of themselves. They believe that they are exceptional and that they know more than others. They have been taught that what they do is something that the average person cannot do. And they believe what they have learned.

I’ve written in my journal before about how those trained in scientific method and evidence-based medicine frequently fail to apply science and evidence-based techniques to certain aspects of their practices. While doctors and hospitals tend to follow the latest scientific discoveries and trends in administering drugs, they rarely achieve state-of-the art business practices. Hospital and medical practice billing departments often are overly costly and inefficient. Doctors are among the largest barriers to reform simply because they find it so difficult to admit failure.

A recent experience by a friend illustrates how an inflated ego can be a barrier to effective medical treatment. My friend had been referred by a doctor to a routine radiological screening. A couple of spots were discovered that could be signs of malignancy. The radiologist delivered the news to the patient with clinical coldness and then explained than a biopsy would be needed in order to confirm the initial diagnosis. The patient asked, “So it might be benign?” The doctor responded, “Unlikely.” “How do you know?” asked the patient. “I’ve seen a million of these” was the doctor’s curt response. He failed to hear the cry for hope in the voice of the person he was treating.

Of course “a million of these” is just an expression. The doctor was literally too young to have reviewed a million diagnostic tests. But it is a common type of exaggeration. The doctor was trying to establish his credentials and inspire confidence in his abilities. But what if we assumed he was delivering factual information in his response. There has been a fair amount of research on the error rate among radiologists. A simple second opinion of radiologists’ readings finds that the second look produces a 30% disagreement rate. Radiologists produce different diagnoses in about 25% of the cases where they are giving a second opinion of their own readings without knowing who did the original diagnosis. It is estimated that the error rate in radiology is between 10 and 15%. That means that if the doctor had really read a million of the tests, he would have mis-diagnosed between 100,000 and 150,000 cases. That’s a whole lot of human lives affected by simple human error. A 2001 review of American radiologists found that the rate of clinically significant errors in radiology was between 2 and 20%. If we move towards the low end of that finding, say 4% that would mean 40,000 cases where the quality of life of the patient was seriously affected by the radiologist’s mistakes.

The answer given by the doctor was misplaced. It did nothing to advance medical treatment or patient care. Quite frankly boosting the ego of the doctor is not among the responsibilities of the patient. Furthermore, the patient’s question was the right question. What the patient wanted to know was “is there a chance that the initial diagnosis could be wrong?” The answer is, most certainly, “yes.” That is why the next step after the radiology is a biopsy - a different type of medical test that involves analysis of actual tissue from the patient.

It was a single exchange between a physician and a patient. It has little clinical significance in this particular case. The patient will go on to deal with a surgeon and an oncologist and will not have to deal with the radiologist for much more than occasional diagnostic tests ordered by other doctors.

The practice of medicine is an art as well as a science. Of course scientific process and precision is important to effective medical treatment and advances in science have contributed a great deal to patient outcomes and quality of life. But science is only part of the practice of medicine. The results of tests need to be interpreted by trained human eyes, though in the case of initial reading of radiological tests, evidence is mounting that robots are more accurate than humans. Beyond interpretation, the results have to be communicated to patients in ways that enhance understanding and engage patients in the process of treatment and recovery. That is where this radiologist made the biggest mistake. Telling a patient “I’m smarter than you” does nothing to promote healing. The physician might have desired to establish credibility or even enhance trust, but the display of an over-inflated ego to a patient who has just received shocking and life-altering news is not the way to inspire trust.

It is possible to become a medical doctor in today’s university environment without ever taking a single course in the humanities. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are important fields of study for physicians. But to provide that education without philosophy, ethics, literature and art is to fail to produce a well-rounded doctor.

As the experience of my friend illustrates, every physician eventually comes to the point of having a dramatic effect on the real lives of real people. Improper diagnoses and mistaken diagnoses can permanently affect the lives of real people who are loved and treasured.

The doctor with the over-inflated ego will one day encounter the limits of his own health. He will one day experience illness and disability. I hope and pray that when that happens he encounters a physician with more compassion than he displayed.

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!

Feeling blessed

Yesterday was a slightly hectic day for us. My first meeting of the day was at 8:30. I left for the office at about 6:30 am, which gave me time to go through my email and respond to a couple of things that needed to be done. When I got to my meeting, there was a text message about some reorganization that is going on at the church that needed my attention. After the meeting, it was back to the church to consult with staff, check email again and before long it was time to get some lunch. I had time to go home for lunch, but by the time I returned there were volunteers working at the church and I worked with them. Somewhere along the way, the road construction down the hill from the church meant that the water was turned off. While it was turned off, someone tried to turn on a faucet and left it on full blast with the sink drain plug in. When the water came back on the floor of the kitchen was flooded. There were three of us working mops before we got it cleaned up. Then it was time for brass rehearsal. When that was done I had a couple of other things to take care of and soon it was time to walk around and lock the church and head home for dinner.

When I write about it this morning, my schedule doesn’t seem at all hectic. I got to go home for lunch and for dinner. There are days when I don’t get a break for meals. The main thing about my day yesterdays that it was filled with the pacing and needs of others. I didn’t have time to work on my own projects. I usually have the liturgy for the week roughed out by Tuesday evening. I didn’t even get started on it yesterday, because I couldn’t find time to sit at my desk and work.

After dinner, as I was working on a project at home, I got to thinking about some of the conversations I had during the day. My life didn’t seem that hectic when I compared it with the circumstances in which others find themselves.

One person with whom I spoke yesterday will be going public with the announcement of a divorce this week. There have been lots of behind the scenes talk of divorce for some time. there has been counseling and conversation and consideration of other options. But the decision has been made. It isn’t what the person I was speaking with wanted, but it is what can be accepted. One comment that was made to me was, “It’s about as amicable as a divorce can be.” Amicable, however, does not mean painless and the pain was evident as we spoke. The process of making the announcement is complex. Divorces mean the break up of family and there are a host of co-parenting decisions that are yet to be made. Divorces affect extended families and it is unclear how others will react. Divorces have dramatic effects on family finances and it is unclear how the bills will be paid. Divorces affect employment status and career paths and although this should not be a problem for the individuals involved, surprises do occur. My heart breaks for the couple and for their children and I couldn’t get their circumstances out of my head.

One the one hand I am deeply grateful that I have not had to go through a divorce. On the other hand, I know that in a way my joyful marriage creates a barrier between me an those who have suffered divorce. I can’t really understand all of the dynamics of their lives.

There is someone who I’ve known for many years who is going through the process of waiting for biopsy results. The doctors are fairly certain that the diagnosis will be cancer, but are waiting for lab results before making a full diagnosis and considering a treatment plan. This particular individual already has a very complex life with many others who depend on that person. One comment from that individual was, “I hope it is benign simply because I don’t have time to get sick right now.” I hope it is benign, too, but I also hope that the individual can find more personal time in the weeks to come whatever the outcome. In the meantime, positive confirmation and waiting for test results is excruciating. I know that the doctors are really just being cautious and wanting to be sure, but I wonder if they understand how heavy the burden of waiting can be for some patients.

Those are just two of the many stories that make up the lives of the people in my circles. When I compare my day to theirs, I really have it good. There is no reason to gloat, but the truth is that I don’t have anything worthy of a complaint. My life is graced with a strong and joyful marriage. We have healthy children and grandchildren who are amazing and loving and attentive. I have an extended family with a few quirky personalities, but we have been remarkably free of painful separations and rifts within our family. I have a job that I love and steady employment. The usual conflicts that arise in the church are present in every organization and, frankly, we’re pretty good at handing conflict and moving on with the life of the church without hurting people’s feelings excessively. I am surrounded by dedicated and generous workers in the church.

As I take time for my prayers this morning, my thoughts are focused on others whose stories are filled with much more fear, uncertainty, pain, loss and grief than my own. Praying for them is important because when you are facing life’s challenges it is important not to be isolated and feeling like you are the only one praying for your particular concern. It is also important for me because it reminds me of how much in this life I have for which to be grateful.

My life is blessed even when it seems a bit hectic.

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!

National Suicide Prevention Day

Tomorrow will be September 11. It has become, since the bombings of 2001, a day of offering support and recognition to first responders such as firemen, policemen and those who are serving in our armed forces. Such tributes are appropriate. Those who respond to the call to service deserve our support every day of the year and special events to honor them and to recognize their service help us to honor them and the work that they do.

Truly honoring service people, however, must occur more than once a year. An anniversary of a tragedy is not the only time to show our support of those who serve.

It may well be that today is as important a day as 9-11 when it comes to supporting military personnel, firefighters, police and other first responders. Today is national suicide prevention day. It is one day in the midst of an entire month devoted to education, awareness and activities to prevent suicide. And suicide is a great danger for those who serve.

In a video recently posted online by the US Air Force, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright said, “We lose more airmen to suicide than any other single enemy - even more than combat.” And it isn’t just the Air Force. Suicide kills more people in all branches of the US military than combat. More cops die by suicide than line of duty deaths. More Firefighters die by suicide than by line of duty deaths.

Getting serious about preventing suicide is essential if we are to truly support those who serve.

From time to time I am asked to address the families of newly-sworn officers of our local Sheriff’s department. One of the things I try to address are some general facts about stress management and ways that family members can be supportive of their new officers. Because law enforcement takes place 24 hours a day, officers will be doing shift work which can be a source of stress and family disruption. This is also true of military personnel and firefighters. There are some things that can be done to assist those who are engaged in working nights and trying to sleep during the day. Another thing I do when I speak with those families is to offer a bit of reassurance. Law enforcement work involves risk, to be sure, but it isn’t the most dangerous profession around. Loggers, fishers, pilots, roofers, garbage collectors, steel workers, truck drivers, farmers and ranchers, construction workers and grounds maintenance workers all have occupations where risk of death is higher than police and sheriff’s patrol officers. There are at least 30 professional categories with higher line of duty deaths than fire fighters.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to be vigilant when it comes to protecting those who serve. We just need to be realistic about where the danger lies. Our officers carry a range of tools on their belts, including pepper spray, tasers, and guns that help them to do their job and protect them from harm. They wear body armor to provide additional protection. We are far less likely to provide them with the psychological tools they need to deal with threats to their well being. Their jobs involve exposure to trauma, horrific accidents and shootings. They will, in the course of their careers respond to deaths by suicide. A report commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation showed that there is a relationship between the number of deaths witnessed and the likelihood of an officer dying by suicide.

There is a huge stigma associated with seeking mental health assistance in our country ant that stigma is even greater among first responders. Those who suffer from depression or other mental illness experience shame and a fear of losing their jobs if they seek treatment. The stigma associated with mental illness prevents law enforcement officers, firefighters and military personnel from seeking treatment.

Less than 10 percent of all U.S. law enforcement agencies have suicide prevention programs. The military is a bit better. All branches have some sort of suicide prevention program. the U.S. Air Force is stepping up prevention programs in response to an alarming increase in deaths by suicide in the first half of 2019. An increase of more than 50% in deaths by suicide occurred in the first half of 2019. If that trend continues 2019 could be a disastrous year for the Air Force when it comes to suicide. It already is a tragic year for the families involved.

Representative Susan Wild from Pennsylvania has become an articulate spokesperson for increasing suicide prevention efforts on the national stage after her partner died by suicide over Memorial Day weekend. Instead of being silent in here grief, she has added mental health and suicide prevention to her policy agenda and has spoken passionately and beautifully before the House of Representatives. At least two people have written to her saying that seeing the video of her speech saved their lives. Contemplating suicide, the individuals chose instead to seek help after hearing her words.

Each of us has a role to play in suicide prevention. It can start with a simple question: “Are you OK?” When we notice a friend who seems a bit depressed, we can ask, “Are You OK?” When we see someone struggling with problems, we can ask, “Are You OK?” When we comfort one who is grieving, we can ask, “Are You OK?” It is a simple question that conveys concern and support at the same time. Of course asking the question demands that we spend the time to truly listen to the answer. There will be times when we need to help the person find additional resources. Counseling and mental health care are difficult to obtain in some parts of our communities. It can take a bit of resourcefulness and persistence to find support services. But it is essential that we reach out and provide the support needed.

Those who are most affected by suicide loss often consider their grief to be personal and are reluctant to speak openly about it. Creating safe places for people to share and to talk is an important part of healing.

As you prepare to honor those who serve on 9-11, keep in mind the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Together we can make a difference.

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!

Experiencing the sacred

Our congregation has the practice of having children volunteer to be acolytes. The acolytes’ jobs are to process during the opening hymn and light the candles and to come forward during the closing hymn to extinguish the candles. Our church uses oil lamps for candles, so they light and extinguish easily. The candle lighting devices also have small oil lamps in them, so they need to be carried in the right direction to keep the flames burning. The ones we have have very long handles. They even extend to make them even longer, but I can’t imagine a scenario where we would use them in the extended position. Serving as an acolyte is something that younger children really like doing and older children don’t enjoy as much. Yesterday morning, we had a younger acolyte who was lighting the candles for the first time. He was excited about the job and had studied the way other children had done it. He knew what was expected of him. And he was paired with an older and more experienced acolyte who could help him if there was trouble. I get to follow the acolytes down the aisle for both the processional and the recessional. As we were standing at the doorway, I noticed that while most of the acolytes hold the candle lighters with the long handle extending alongside their body, he had the extra length between his legs. It reminded me of a child riding a hobby horse made out of a broomstick. The woman who recruits and supervises acolytes was trying to get him to hold the candle lighter the way that other children do, but I thought it was just fine for him to hold it the way he wanted. His mother was standing there to provide encouragement and support, so I made a gesture to her like I was throwing a lasso and mouthed “Yee-haw” That made both of us giggle.

I’ve know this boy since his birth. He is the oldest of three children in their family and he has always been an absolutely delightful child. I can remember holding him as a baby and his baptism and the baptisms of his brother and sister. When he was a toddler, he came to church wearing a John Deere t-shirt. He wanted to come down to my office to say hello to me and his mother let him while she was talking to someone in the hallway. He returned wearing a John Deere cap that I had. He had told me that his grandpa has a John Deere tractor and that he had gotten a ride on it. I thought the cap, though a bit big for his head, complimented his outfit nicely. A few minutes later his mother poked her head into my office to make sure that the gift was authorized. Then a few minutes later he came running into my office, gave me a big hug and said “thank you!” That week I got a very nice hand made thank you card from him.

So I was delighted that he was being an acolyte. As we walked down the aisle, I couldn’t help but think how much I like this particular part of my job. The children with whom we are allowed to work are incredible. The trust their parents place in the church and its leaders is indeed a very sacred relationship. It breaks my heart and angers me deeply that some clergy have so terribly broken that trust in ways that have caused permanent injury to children. We have done everything we can think of to make sure that our church is a safe place for children, carefully screening every adult who has contact with children and creating programs where activities are all witnessed.

We are, after all, in the business of the sacred. There are many sacred elements and moments in worship. In seminary, we spent hours and hours discussing the elements of worship. The prayer of consecration for the elements of communion have been considered for generations to be sacred. Any change in those words must be carefully considered. So, too, the baptismal prayer is sacred, forged through millennia and rich in layered meaning. Our hymns are genuinely sacred music, made so by the occasions at which we have sing them. They have been the accompaniment of the funerals and weddings and other moments in the lives of generations of our people.

One of the roles of a pastor is to be a steward of the sacredness of our traditions. It is a responsibility that I do not take lightly. But all of the sacred words and sacred songs and sacred ceremonies are small things, really. The deepest responsibilities of a pastor have to do with sacred relationships. Those relationship are built one at a time, person by person, trust honored by trust honored.

Following an acolyte down the aisle might be a memory of a lifetime for me. It is also a memory for the mother of the child. And for the young man who is walking down the aisle as an acolyte for the first time in his life, the quality of his memory is sacred. Will he think of the church as a place that is home? Will it be for him a place that nurtures his spirit? Will he one day come to a point in his life where he is willing to make a commitment to this community? Will the faith of our ancestors burn with holy fire in his soul? These are questions whose answers are unknown to me. What I do know is that it is a sacred trust to be allowed to be a part of his life - and of the lives of the other children who come to our church. It is a privilege and I am overwhelmed with joy that this privilege has been afforded to me.

Yee-haw! Ride that candle lighter! Fell the joy that you have brought to our church! And know that I’m right behind you, cheering you on.

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!


I suppose that I am not alone in this, but I am still trying to figure out my relationship with the various electronic devices in my life. My first tablet computer was a used iPad that my sister gave to me when she got a new one. I didn’t think I needed the device. I have plenty of other electronic devices and having to deal with another one wasn’t high on my list of activities. However, as soon as I began to use the device, I saw its usefulness. I could put a dozen book on the small device. When traveling I didn’t need to take the book I was currently reading plus a couple of backups in case I finished that one. I could just carry one relatively small device. I also could put everything I needed to lead worship on the one device. I didn’t need a hymn book plus a bible plus my notes. All could be consolidated into one device. It wasn’t long before I ordered a new one for my personal use. It lives in my backpack and goes with me almost everywhere that I go. I get it out at home in the evening to read books and I have it on my desk at work as I go through my day. I use it to take notes when interviewing couples in preparation for their wedding or families to plan a funeral. It is my “go to” device for many things.

I’m equally addicted to my cell phone. I use it for my alarm clock and it is the first thing I reach for each morning - even before I put on my glasses. I carry it with me nearly every where I go. I use it for a wide variety of different applications from keeping track of my medications to reminding me of my appointments to getting directions to a new address.

Yesterday, however, my daw was remarkably device free. The devotions I led in the morning were based on ideas I had in my head and a single psalm, so I slipped a small bible into my pocket and left the devices in the car for that event. Then I went to the church where the funeral I was leading had a lot of other speakers, so I tucked my hand-written notes and a funeral program into my bible and led the service while my electronic devices remained in my office.

At the end of the day, I didn’t have a bunch of phone messages waiting for me. I had received only a couple of text messages to which I could easily respond. I put off dealing with my email until later this morning. No disaster fell upon my because I spent most of the day unplugged from my devices. No problems cropped up. It is a good lesson for me. These devices are tools and using tools can make the chores of this life easier. But they are only tools. They don’t need to dictate my life to me. Setting them aside from time to time is a valuable exercise for me.

I’ve been thinking about tools quite a bit lately. I was only five or six years old when my father built me a small tool bench and equipped it with real tools for me to use. I had my own screw driver, hammer, crosscut saw, pliers, a bench vice and a few other basic tools. He then proceeded to teach me how to make my own tool box to store the tools. That started a life-long adventure of collect tools. When I am doing a job and I don’t have just the right tool for that job, I am quite likely to head for the hardware store to buy a tool. I have duplicates of many tools, with a toolbox in my pickup and another in my home. I have a few tools in each car that I drive and several different tool belts and bags that can be carried to job sites. With the advent of reliable rechargeable batteries I have dozens of tools that I own both in corded and cordless versions. My garage is brimming with tools. Each time I’ve moved from one home to another, tools have been a priority for the move.

So I have spent my life collecting tools, but there comes a point where one needs to stop collecting. I have a toolbox in my garage that is filled with various wood planes and chisels that belonged to my father and grandfather and now see only very occasional use. I have the tool belt that my father in law used when he went out to make electrical repairs. I own enough c clamps to hold the gunwales on both sides of a 16’ canoe at the same time. C clamps are a bit of a joke among boat builders who generally say, “you can never own too many c clamps.” I have a bucket full of them and another with spring clamps. I have duplicates of some tools because when I am working on a long boat in my garage it is a challenge to get from one side to the other, so I have a set of basic tools for each side of the boat. I own enough tape measures that I never have to go far to tine one.

Fortunately, my son is at a phase of collecting tools to maintain his home and occasionally I have just the right tool with me when I’m visiting him that I can give it to him. This summer he asked if I had a couple of extra cam straps. I travel with a host of them. It was fun to have just what he needed. But he lives 1200 miles from our home and not all of my tools are going to make that trip.

So, like a lot of other things in my life, I need to start sorting. I don’t need to keep everything. There are a few things that can be sold. There are others that can be given away.

Maybe I need to take a day, leave my electronic devices inside the house, and get to work on cleaning the garage. Then again, I like to have my phone so I can listen to music while I work, and maybe I should run to the hardware store to get a toolbox to organize things . . .

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 talk for the team

I tried to make the basketball team when I was in the seventh grade. After a few frustrating practices, the coach offered to make me the “manager” of the team, a position I accepted. I spent the next two years inflating basketballs, picking up towels in the locker room, and keeping score at the games. I got to hang out with the players and enjoyed myself without ever learning very much about the game. I wrestled in high school and went out for track in high school without ever earning any trophies for my school’s case. I didn’t see myself as an athlete and pretty much avoided competitive sports as the years went by.

Over the years I have enjoyed many activities that could be considered sports. I have done a fair amount of downhill and cross country skiing, I paddle cables and kayaks. I enjoy physical activities like hiking, walking and backpacking. But I don’t think of myself as an athlete.

I also have never gotten into the role of an ardent sports fan. I enjoy watching high school sports if I know the students who are on the team. I’ve caught a few professional baseball games over the years. Since we lived in Chicago I have declared myself to be a Cubs fan when asked about baseball. I’m a bit harder pressed when it comes to other sports. I don’t know the names of all of the players on the roster of any team. I don’t have a head full of statistics. I can’t recite the history of the game. I have to look up simple sports information that others keep in their brain.

Yesterday I had a conversation with someone at a local agency where I volunteer. The agency has a bulletin board in the entry way. There are ea number of football pictures on the bulletin board and in one corner there is a bunch of small football players. Folks who pass the bulletin board are encouraged to decorate a football with the colors and logos of their favorite team and add it to the decorations on the board. It is a way of getting to know a bit about the other people who work and volunteer in the agency. I noticed that a friend of mine had customized the exercise, using the term “football” the way most of the rest of the world uses it and making a custom soccer ball decorated with her daughter’s team colors. Mostly, however, I was stalling. The truth is that I don’t have a favorite football team.

For several years a church member challenged me to write up little essays on the Super Bowl and I complied, doing a little research on the competing teams each year. My problem is that I don’t follow the teams and their statistics leading up to the Super Bowl, so I have to scramble to appear even a little bit knowledgeable.

My son in law is a sports fan and he comes from a family where team loyalty is a big deal. His father has already announced that our newborn shared grandson will be a fan of the New York Giants during football season and the Washington Nationals during baseball season. Since I don’t really have favorite teams, he’ll get no competition from me. I’ve promised to teach our grandson to paddle a canoe.

So today I have a challenging assignment. I have a friend who coaches high school football and who used to coach college football. He has friends who are coaches in various colleges around the region. Through my friend, I was introduced to one of the coaches of Colorado Mesa University a couple of years ago. Today will be the fourth time CMU has played our l local South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. They play one game a year, alternating the home field. Last time CMU played in Rapid City, I was invited by this friend of a friend to share a short 20-minute devotion with the team on game day. I came up with something to say about teamwork and living for something bigger than yourself. I can’t remember quite what I did say. It was enough to have this particular coach decide that I’m the go to guy for team devotions when the Mavericks come to Rapid City. So I’m up for devotions this morning.

In a little while I’ll walk into a meeting room in a local hotel. I can count on two things. I’ll be the oldest guy in the room and I’ll be the shortest guy in the room. These football players are big. I think it is also fair to say that the optional team devotions aren’t the high point of these athlete’s day. They’ll be thinking more about the kickoff at 1 pm and the game to follow. I get that. Seriously, I’ll be more focused on the funeral at which I’m officiating at 1 pm, too. But for a few minutes, we’ll be sharing the same room and they’ll politely listen to me because they are disciplined football players and they are used to pep talks from coaches.

I’m no coach. I don’t even use sporting metaphors in my church work even though those are fairly popular among some of my colleagues. I rarely refer to the church leaders as our team. I don’t see my role in the church as the same as a coach of a team. It has a lot to do with my interpretation of Jesus call to his disciples to be servants. That’s a different kind of leadership than is exhibited on the football field.

As much as I’d like to come up with words that would inspire and have a small “wow” factor for the football team, it seems unlikely that any of them will mention the devotions in their reports of the important events of their day.

My plan is to read part of Psalm 139 to them and remind them that like the psalmist they are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Who knows? One of them might someday read those words and find them familiar and comforting. If that happens, it won’t matter that he will have forgotten the day he heard me read them.

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

Please help

These days I get most of my news by reading the Internet sites of major news organizations including the BBC, Washington Post, New York Times, National Public Radio and several others. I don’t bother to try to keep up with television news, late night commentators or other sources. I say that at the start of today’s journal post because I really can’t imagine what the news is like in the 24/7 news stream of television network “news.” One of the reasons that I don’t watch television news is that I find it to be repetitious and often boring.

Even thought I don’t watch television, I’m completely bored with all of the coverage that is being given to the President’s assertion that Alabama was in the path of the storm. I’m not amazed that he said it. He has made so many false and misleading statements as President that even his most ardent followers don’t turn to him for the truth. No one expects him to be a source of factual information. And I’m not even surprised that he has gone to such an effort to argue with the National Weather Service’s attempts to get accurate information out to the people of the United States. He has now shown not just one, but two altered NWS maps.

But seriously, people. Just ignore him.

It has been five days since winds of up to 185 mph hammered the Bahamas, equalling the highest ever recorded hurricane winds at landfall. the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama are devastated. People have lost absolutely everything they had. There are entire neighborhoods - entire cities - that are completely destroyed. 30 people have been confirmed dead and there will be more deaths discovered as the people of the Bahamas continue to mount rescue and recovery efforts. According to the United Nations, there are 70,000 people in “immediate need.”

The Carolinas are being hit hard by the storm right now. There is widespread coastal flooding. Some areas have as much as eight feet of water above ground level. Flooded areas could see up to 15 inches of additional rain in coming days. More than 2.2 million people have been ordered to evacuate along the eastern seaboard. The storm has spawned tornadoes and caused power outages for tens of thousands of people.

I have no patience for a petty argument over what was or was not contained in an early forecast. I have no patience for the immature claims of exclusive information that the President has made. I don’t care if it is a violation of federal statute to make a false weather report. It isn’t the only time this President has broken the law, and it clearly isn’t the most serious infraction.

Just ignore him.

Let’s get to work on getting help to those who are in need.

Disaster relief funds have been established at most churches and other houses of worship. You can donate through our congregation by giving a gift at any worship service or sending a check directly to 1200 Clark Street, Rapid City, SD. Visit and click on the giving tab to donate online.

Church World Service responds to disasters around the globe and has resources on the ground already working to bring relief. Contact them at

The Red Cross is on the ground helping with shelter, food, water, medicine and communications. You can donate at

Global Giving has established a Hurricane Dorian Relief Fund that will help with emergency supplies and with long-term recovery assistance. You can donate at:

World Central Kitchen, led by founder Jose Andres, is on the ground setting up kitchens to feed those displaced by the hurricane. Donate at

This is an alarmingly huge storm. The government will provide disaster relief. So will long-established charities and non-governmental organizations. It is going to take the combined efforts of all of us to provide much-needed help.

We don’t have time to argue about where the storm might have gone. We know where it has been, and where it is.

47 years ago a devastating flood swept through our city, causing millions of dollars of destruction. 238 people died. 1,335 homes were destroyed. More than 5,000 automobiles were totaled. It was incredible. And the world came to Rapid City to help. Blankets from Church World Service were distributed. Emergency shelters were established. Food was given to those in need. Special services ministered to the grieving. Even those of us who moved to Rapid City after the flood will never forget the impact that natural disaster had on our community. Our lives and our community have been indelibly shaped by those events.

We, of all people, should have compassion for the victims of Hurricane Dorian. We are able to find the means to provide some support to the agencies and individuals who are working so hard to bring relief to hurricane victims.

Please, please, please be generous.

Several news sites have mentioned that the President stayed home from a planned trip to Poland to mark the 80th anniversary of the beginning of World War II so that he could monitor the movement of the hurricane. Then he spent the weekend playing golf at one of his resorts. Who cares? Ignore him. At least he didn’t get in the way of the work of the agencies who are making a difference on the ground right now. We know we can count on this president to attack others and praise himself. That’s old news. It’s boring. None of us can do anything to make him more compassionate.

We can, however, show our compassion for the victims of the storm. We can visit the web sites of the agencies that are bringing relief. We can study up on the needs that exist and how best to respond to them. We can show that we will not forget the people of the Bahamas or any of the other victims of this storm.

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!

Spelling and Grammar

When I was a student in grade school I didn’t think that I would become a writer. I was interested in airplanes and flying and didn’t worry much about English and spelling. I remember looking at the adult men in my life whom I admired and realizing that none of them had neat handwriting. As a result, I quit putting energy into penmanship. I stopped working at all of the neat circles and loops of the Palmer Method. Later, when I got to college, I had to put significant effort into teaching myself to spell. In the days of typewriters, before word processors and auto correct, making a mistake in typing required significant effort to correct. We had correction tape that we could put on the paper and cover up a mistake, then go back and retype, but it didn’t change the spacing. More than once, I had to retype an entire page because of a mistake. the process taught me to be more attentive to spelling and grammar.

Regular readers of my journal will note that I make mistakes. My journal posts are unedited and there are often mistakes in grammar and spelling that I miss. I have a basic spell checker, but the software has its limitations, not the least of which is a limited vocabulary. It is not uncommon for me to use words, especially proper names, that the spell checker does not know. I find myself overriding it on occasion. There is also a rudimentary grammar checker that came with my word processing software. It, too, gets ignored on occasion. It doesn’t do well with contractions and Ive caught it making mistakes with homonyms such as “their” and “there.” It can also make mistakes with subject and verb agreement, especially in complex sentences.

Those skills, carefully honed decades ago, are not as valuable as they once seemed. Penmanship is not a subject taught in elementary school any more. Many schools are not teaching cursive writing these days. The days of weekly spelling lists are also past for many elementary students. It is assumed that they will live in a world of automation where writing will be edited primarily by machines.

The world of publishing has changed dramatically in the past two or three decades. When we started writing for publication, we would prepare a first draft of an article or document that was submitted in hard copy (printed on paper) to an editor. We always kept a spare copy in case of a problem in the mail. That copy was edited by hand, usually with a red pen and returned with additional comments for a re-write. The second draft was submitted the same way: Printed on paper. We thought it was quite a step forward when FedEx made it possible to get documents delivered within 24 hours.

When computers and electronic word processors became common, we began to be able to submit electronic copies of our documents. At first we mailed floppy discs in a similar manner to the way we had submitted hard copy. Then, as Internet speeds picked up, we began exchanging documents electronically. Now we have software that allows for collaborative work. Multiple writers can work on the same document at the same time and the computer uses colors to distinguish input. Then the document can be compiled and a final draft produced.

I enjoy collaborative work. I’ve worked professionally both as a writer and an editor and I’ve enjoyed both roles. But those roles, too, are fading. More and more editorial work is done by algorithms. Machines “auto correct” errors. The problem is that the limitations of the automation become clear in final copy. It is not at all uncommon for me to find errors in grammar and spelling in magazines, journals and newspapers. Professional editing is a skill that is less and less sought and there are publishers who no longer employ editors. Self-publication has become an affordable option for writers and I find myself reading more and more books that painfully show the lack of editing.

So far I have resisted purchasing a subscription to Grammarly, a commercial software whose name is not recognized by my computer’s spell checker. There are many professionals who are pleased to pay the $11.66 each month for the tools for their computer to check grammar and spelling with expert help in law, healthcare, academia, marketing, engineering, sports and general journalism. Most college and graduate school students and many professionals find it well worth the monthly fee to have their writing automatically edited by the machine. My resistance has been partly financial. I’m not convinced that it is worth the price when I have fairly good spelling, grammar and editorial skills. Another part of my resistance, however, comes from my fear of losing my skills. If I only have to come close to clear writing and allow the machine to make corrections, will I become lazy about spelling? Will I quit pondering grammar challenges? Are there dangling participles that I’ll be left with? (Just a little joke.)

Perhaps the current generation of students will be more wildly creative and adventurous because they have been freed from weekly spelling tests and the chores of re-writing and editing. Maybe they will be able to accomplish even more once machines take over those tasks that once required practice and skill. There might, however, be a downside. Back in the days of typewriters and hard copy, with the painful process of re-typing page after page, with no “cut and paste” options other than starting over again, I really became intimately familiar with what I was writing. I knew every word. The repetition of re-typing and the re-reading required for spell checking and editing meant that I would read a document that I wrote multiple times. I became familiar with it. There were some pages of my college papers that I nearly memorized. These days written words seem to cary less weight. They come at a lower cost and we seem to value them less.

For now, my plan is to publish my journal without the assistance of Grammarly. Readers will be free to judge whether or not that is a good decision.

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 high school I attended was small enough that we had only one music teacher. Our band director was also the choir director. Had that not been the case, I might not have sung in the choir in high school. I loved band. I enjoyed playing my trumpet. And I had deep respect for our band director. One year he assembled a harpsichord from a kit and I helped with some of the work. He also was constantly on the recruit for members for the choir. He was especially short of male singers. So I got recruited, mostly because I wanted to please our music director, not because I though that singing in the choir was something I particularly wanted to do.

I was wrong in my assessment. I enjoyed the choir. The music was challenging for me. I had to work to learn my parts, but when I mastered them, it felt good to sing. I never had a solo voice, though I was given a few small solos in some of the pieces our choir performed. Solos made me nervous and when I was nervous my intonation wasn’t the best. I could more precisely hit the correct notes when I was standing next to other singers who knew their parts.

When I arrived at college, I didn’t go out for choir. I enjoyed some of the concerts performed by our college choir, but I didn’t see myself as a singer. For a short time, I thought that I might be interested in becoming a music teacher or at least have that skill on the side as I pursued the ministry. In addition to some courses I took in music instruction, I also took a class in basic choral direction. The beat patterns were basically the same as for instrumental direction, but there were some things about blending voices, giving cues and instructing accompanists that were not a part of the instrumental conducting course.

I also played the guitar and had some fantasies of being a folk singer, so I learned a lot of songs and did some singing around the campfire. In college, I was a part of a group of traveling students who led worship in area churches. Our services had a lot of music and I sang with the small group at weekly practices and when we toured.

After seminary, our first congregations did not have vocal choirs. We occasionally had a small ensemble or a soloist, but most weeks our routine was congregational singing. I learned to lead congregational music by singing loud enough to be heard. I kept playing my guitar and frequently led singing at youth group meetings, camps and youth rallies.

Later I served a church that had a choir and I sang with the church choir. In that phase of my life, I also organized a small group of youth and adults who sang folk songs for worship and youth events and we had a repertoire of music that we presented.

Choir, however, wasn’t the biggest focus of my life. I didn’t mind singing in the choir, but the choice of music in that particular choir wasn’t all that exciting for me and the nearly constant drama of strong personalities clashing wasn’t my favorite element of the ministry.

When I arrived in Rapid City, the worship style of the congregation was to have the preacher up front in the chancel and the choir in the very back in the balcony. It seemed very awkward for me to try to sing with the choir, so I didn’t. I was comfortable with my role for many years. Over the years, however, the membership of the church choir decreased and once again I found myself in the position of being recruited by a choir director that I respected and wanted to please. Somehow, over the past few years, I have once again become a regular part of the choir, rehearsing weekly and singing anthems every Sunday. It probably isn’t my very favorite part of my ministry, but it is pleasant and the people who are in the choir are fun to be with.

So we begin rehearsals tonight after a summer break for the choir. It is an interesting set of dynamics for me as pastor. As pastor, I have felt that one of the roles I need to play is to support others in leadership. I try to back other staff members and lay volunteers when they are in leadership positions and defer authority to them. I don’t want to act like I’m in charge of everything at the church. So at a choir rehearsal I try very hard to simply be another member of the choir, listening carefully to the choir director and following instructions. I don’t complain about or question the choice of music. I don’t question artistic interpretation. I simply participate. However, I have strong opinions about the choice of music. And I take a different role in staff meetings with the choir director than I do in choir rehearsals. In staff meetings, I lead the process of planning and crafting worship. It is something about which I have very strong opinions and something at which I have a significant amount of skill and experience.

Because we are a congregational church, I am not the one in charge when we are seeking and interviewing candidates for positions. We have lay-led committees who take that responsibility. That means that although my opinion is sought, I’m not the one choosing who is hired to fill a particular position. My role is to support. That means I support whoever is called to a position.

So each choir rehearsal is a bit of a tightrope for me. There are things that I can say in other settings that I don’t say in choir rehearsals. Other members of the choir experience me a bit differently in choir than they do in some other settings. I have to practice keeping my opinions to myself.

Still, I like being in the choir. We have a good choir with capable leaders. And the discipline of not being in charge is very good for me. It may be that I am practicing a life skill that will become very valuable in the years to come.

I’ll keep on singing.

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!

Back to school weather

I have only recently caught up with the difference between meteorological seasons and astronomical seasons. I suppose that the distinction is important to some people, but it hasn’t had a big impact on my life. When we were children, the start of fall was the date set for the return to school, usually around the first of September. We knew, or at least learned in school, that the official start of autumn came a bit later, around the 21st of September, but we treated the months of June, July, and August as our summer dates. I also remember, from my childhood, that the weather often didn’t line up with the school dates. June often was rainy and chilly and September was usually sunny and warm. The first few days back at school were times of dealing with heat in buildings that had no air conditioning.

I was thinking about such last evening as we enjoyed sitting on our deck after sunset. We watched the stars become more visible as the light faded and enjoyed the quiet and warm temperatures as evening came on. Our grandson has his first day of school today - a bit different from the school children in Rapid City, who began school last Wednesday. We spoke with him over the computer last evening and he seems to be excited about the first day of school and the return to the school routine. He will be a third grader and in their elementary school the third grades are housed in portable classrooms set up in the school yard. The classrooms are a bit smaller than the other classrooms, but they have air conditioning, which is not part of the other rooms. Our grandson was unconcerned with the space and the air conditioning, and was focusing mostly on getting back together with his classmates. His school is relatively small, with 315 students, so he has met most of the children with whom he will be sharing a classroom this year.

September 3 is a day that I associate with the first day of school, though of course, school doesn’t always start on the same day of the month. It is my sister’s birthday and I always thought that she had an rather unfortunate birthday to land on or around the beginning of school each year. My birthday, in mid June, always landed during the summer vacation, as did that of another sister. I thought we were the lucky ones. Our birthdays occurred on days when we didn’t have to go to school. The other kids in our family had birthdays that landed during the school year, except for one brother whose birthday was Christmas Eve and so always during a school break.

The rhythm of summers off from school is not universal. There are many schools in the world that operate year round. Our traditions have their roots in times when many families made their living from family farms where the work load increased greatly during the summer and the children were needed for farm chores. Still, when we had children at home, I appreciated the vacation from school each year. There are many ways for children to learn and there was plenty of learning to be gained from family trips, an increase in unstructured play, and summer visits to the library and other places. The change in pace was good for our children. Returning to the classroom routine in the fall was an adjustment each year. We had to be more attentive to schedules, waking the children for breakfast to make sure they got to school on time and adjusting our family schedules to observe more consistent bedtimes. The return to school corresponds with an increase in program activity in the church, so the pace of our lives as parents also increased.

These days I don’t notice the shift in the pace of my life quite as much. I’m always busy at work at there are always plenty of tasks to be accomplished. Lots of home chores are seasonal such as lawn mowing and outside maintenance of our home, but those seasons don’t line up with the start of the school year exactly.

The forecast is for summer temperatures through the week. I’m sure that there are a few teachers and students who will be a bit uncomfortable with temperatures reaching near 90. Children are remarkably resilient and they’ll adjust to the circumstances, but high temperatures aren’t optimal for learning and the warm weather outside will prove to be a bit of a distraction for some I’m sure.

It seems a bit trivial that I’m journaling about the weather while Hurricane Dorian is stalled over the Bahamas and people are calling for help as the floodwaters continue to rise and the high winds hammer their homes. We live in a place that is remarkably free from such extreme weather. An occasional winter storm or spring blizzard can temporarily bring things to a slow down in our town and I know school officials were frustrated with the number of snow days last year, but we don’t face anything like the destruction and devastation that hurricanes can bring. Coastal cities from Florida to Virginia are bracing for possible damages from the storm as forecasters struggle to predict the path and the timing of the severe weather.

Meanwhile we’re in our usual routines, enjoying pleasant weather as the children return to school and we return to our routines. One news source reported that a church in Freeport had lost its roof and the airport was under 6 ft of water. When the severe weather subsides, the damage will be so great that the lives of many people will be disrupted for months if not years.

Meanwhile we were sitting on our deck enjoying the cool of the evening and feeling pretty lucky about the weather that we are enjoying. Somehow the visions of tropical paradise don’t seem too appealing to me.

Autumn is a glorious time to be in the hills. As the temperatures drop a bit and the tourists return home the hills are a great place to live and work. Indeed we are fortunate.

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!

Labor Day 2019

While most of the countries of the world recognize the contributions of workers with a holiday on May 1, in the U.S. and Canada, we celebrate Labor Day ini the early autumn. It could be argued that Canadians have to work harder for their celebration since their spelling requires an additional letter to make Labour Day. Today is the 125th anniversary of Labor Day as a national holiday, declared by President Grover Cleveland in an attempt to appease a growing and increasingly agitated labor movement in the wake of a crushing transportation strike.

Eight years earlier, in May, huge protests were held across American cities in support of shorter working hours. At the time laborers were working 18 and even 20 hours per day. Tens of thousands of workers protested, mostly peacefully demanding an eight-hour work day. In Chicago police attacked the protestors, beating and shooting them. Six died. The next evening Chicagoans gathered in Haymarket Square to show their outrage at the police. The police once again advanced against the crowd. Suddenly a bomb went off and a police officer was killed. The police opened fire and a dozen more were killed.

Then, in May of 1894, workers at the Pullman train car factory walked of the job to protest a 30% pay cut while the cost of factory-owned dormitories remained at pre-depression costs. The strike eventually led to a national boycott of trains that used Pullman cars. Railroads in the west came to a standstill. More than 125,000 workers quit their jobs rather than break the boycott.

President Cleveland had to act quickly to appease increasingly agitated workers, but he didn’t want to make the national holiday aa commemoration of the May events such as the Haymarket incident. Therefore he reached back to earlier state observances and signed into law that Labor Day would be celebrated on the first Monday in September.

The traditional ways of celebrating the day include parades and picnics, with more than a few political speeches thrown in. In years past, Labor Day marked the official start of the election season, which lasted from early September to early November. Campaigning, however, is no longer restricted to that short block of time and for many politicians, campaigning is a year-round event.

Despite pressures that have resulted in decreasing membership in labor unions, the union movement in the United States is responsible for many benefits that Americans take for granted. Weekends off from work, much breaks, paid vacations, overtime pay for overtime work, Social Security - all of these things are the direct result of workers organizing themselves to negotiate with and stand up to the power of wealthy business owners. The struggle has never been equal, with the bulk of financial resources being on the side of business owners.

The current labor market in the US is a clear illustration of the pressures that fall on the shoulders of working people. If the market followed general capitalistic rules, wages should be rising the US. With unemployment as low a it has been in nearly two decades and the number of jobs growing the resulting shortage of labor should exert upward pressure on wages. It is a simple matter of supply and demand. As the demand goes up and the supply goes down, the price should rise. Wages in the US, however have defied the expectations of economists. Despite the strong market, today’s real average wage has the same purchasing power it had 40 years ago. The modest gains in wages have been centered on those who were already in the highest paid tier of workers.

The result is widening income inequality in the United States. Those in the top 10% receive nearly all of the benefits of a strong economy, while those in the bottom 10% continue to lag behind.

Some historians cite the contrast between expansive mansion of George Pullman and the spartan dormitories where workers were forced to live, while paying uncontrolled rents to the Pullman company as a factor in the strike of 1894. The distribution of wealth and the inequality of compensation for corporate CEOs in the face of stagnant wages and rising expenses for workers has resulted in even more radical inequalities in our time. It is a simple fact that a full time job at minimum wage produces insufficient income to pay for rent and groceries in our country. While 40 hours a week remains the standard, lower paid workers are combining multiple part-time jobs, without benefits, to raise their work week to sixty or more hours. The lack of benefits, especially in the face of rapidly rising health care costs results in additional financial stress.

It is clear that a national celebration is in order. American workers have contributed to so many benefits that all of us enjoy. And workers deserve a holiday. The truth, however, is that many of the workers in the lowest-paid jobs will not be taking the day off. Retail stores will continue to operate regular hours despite the holiday. Convenience stores will still need their minimum wage employees to work. Bankers and government employees, however, will enjoy the holiday and fire up their barbecues, knowing that if they have any last-minute grocery needs, the store will be open and fully staffed. The system is far from fair.

One of the things about my job is that Monday holidays don’t have much of an impact on the number of hours I work each week. I generally take Monday as my day off - or at least as a day to catch up with household chores and spend a bit less time at the office. A Monday holiday usually means simply keeping to my usual routine. I rarely take an extra day off just because a holiday has been declared. I realize, however, that Labor Day wasn’t declared for the benefits of preachers and other professionals who are compensated for our work based on annual salaries, not on hourly work.

Today, I salute the workers who are out there simply trying to survive, worrying about the cost of simply living.I benefit greatly from their labor. I don’t know if I will go to any stores today, but if I do, I’ll make it a point to thank those who are working for giving up their holiday for the convenience of the rest of us.

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!

Enjoying these days

End of summer evenings are a treat for us. With daylight savings time still in effect, sundown doesn’t come until about 7:30, so the lighting and temperature has been perfect for sitting outside. When we don’t have evening meetings, we’ve been eating on the deck most evenings. With just two of us, it doesn’t take much charcoal to cook a nice supper. Last night we had some thin-cut chicken breasts and a few sweet potatoes on the grill. Lighting the charcoal and preparation took about 10 minutes and cooking time was about the same. In less than a half hour we had a feast. We were able to linger and talk outside and enjoy watching the deer in the yard. It truly is one of the treasures of living where we do.

Labor Day weekend marks the official end of summer, though the weather forecast is for summer-like temperatures through the next week. The air conditioning in the church may get a little workout before things get buttoned up for winter. The good weather may also give us an opportunity to catch up on a few chores that we didn’t accomplish over the summer.

Changing seasons are an invitation to take stock. We had a good summer and went on some amazing and wonderful adventures. But there were things I was sure I’d get done that are still unfinished. My ability to imagine the things I’ll do exceeds my ability to actually accomplish those chores. Perhaps it is a part of aging, though I’ve always set ambitious goals for myself and frequently had a few tasks that go undone.

Because of our travel, we decided not to put in a vegetable garden this year. That saved us the work of weeding and harvesting, but at the moment the garden is a mess of impressive weeds. I need to attend to those. I’ve also got an impressive mess going in the garage, which needs a thorough cleaning. I should be taking time to work at chores each evening, but the beauty of the evening and the comfort of lingering over dinner is a real lure.

Yesterday, as I was driving to town to catch up on a bit of work at the office, I was listening to the radio. There was someone interviewing people on the street in New York City about television programs, stars and other elements of pop culture. I thought to myself, “I’m glad no one is asking me those questions.” I didn’t know any of the things they were talking about. I always wonder how people find time to watch television. I know that other people work as hard and as long as I do. I know that their homes and yards need as much attention as mine. It isn’t that I have anything against television, it is just that sitting and watching doesn’t seem to fit into my lifestyle.

In conversation, I’ve found that some family and friends turn on the television and sit in front of it at the end of the day when they are tired. I suspect that I spend as much time sitting as they do. It is just that I prefer to watch the sunset from the deck to watching television. In the cold weather when it is dark outside, I prefer to read a book or check out the news on the internet.

There was a time when most people got their news from the television, but I much prefer the Internet. I can check things out on my own schedule without worrying about the programming schedules of the networks. We don’t have cable television, so, for the most part, I avoid the 24-7 news programming. When I do catch a bit of that kind of television, usually in a waiting room somewhere, I find it to be confusing. I’ll try to read the letters crawling across the bottom of the screen while the commentators are talking and pictures of something else are being flashed. Everything seems to be repeated over and over again and the sound is irritating. I couldn’t stand that for very long at all.

Outside on my deck, I can see people hurrying around. There is a fairly busy street in our backyard and folks tend to drive a bit fast, but our yard is on a corner that forces most to slow down and the coming and going of the deer also cause folks to be a bit cautious. Our house is set back from the road so our presence on our deck is largely unnoticed by those who are focusing their attention on their driving. We can just sit and watch the world go by.

The last long weekend of the summer usually results in slightly decreased attendance at worship. Families are taking advantage of the weekend to make short trips, go camping, and enjoy being outside. Youth sports are taking advantage of the school holiday to schedule tournaments and other activities. Still, I’m really looking forward to this morning. It will be our first communion service with the congregation since our travels, so it is a time to reconnect with the people we serve. Like other spiritual practices, the depth of meaning is reinforced by repetition. Part of the joy of the sacrament is that it is a “when we always” event. I know that repeated rituals can become stale and we can get stuck in ruts, but we work hard in our congregation to bring fresh language and music to worship and for me the practice never gets old.

These are days to savor and enjoy. There are plenty of things that need to be done and we anticipate the future with hope and with a bit of fear, but the present is a rich and wonderful time. When we simply allow ourselves to experience what is going on right her and right now we open the door to deep joy and celebration. How fortunate we are! How grateful we feel!

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!