What day is it?

firetruck and excavators
The task of the day yesterday was painting the railing on our deck. I had done all of the prep work he day before and was ready to get at the task. I was on the job before the construction workers began their tasks. They are installing large concrete storm sewer pipes next to Sheridan Lake Road behind our house, so the noise of machines is part of our daily life in the neighborhood. I was also thinking of our grandson Patrick and our daughter Rachel. It is a little confusing. Patrick’s birthday is today, but he has lived his life in Japan, where the clocks are a day ahead of us, so I was thinking of video chatting with them in the evening, which would be morning of his birthday in Japan.

I worked throughout the day and made good progress on my task. In the afternoon there was a bit of excitement at the construction site in our back yard. Two track excavators were working . One was digging the trench, the other lifting the concrete pipes into the trench and back filling. All of a sudden the machines stopped. Then we heard the siren of the firetruck from the station up the road. Soon we had the extra red and blue flashing lights of the fire trucks and the construction workers. The firemen talked to the workers. There were now more than a dozen workers standing around with a half dozen firemen, who were busy charging a line from the pumper truck. Within a few minutes we saw trucks from Montana Dakota Utilities and began to figure out what had happened. One of the excavators had made contact with a natural gas line. With the fire fighters standing at the ready, their hose aimed, the MDU people unloaded a mini-excavator and began to dig between the two big machines. After a couple of hours they had a pretty deep hole and not long afterward, the smell of gas wafted across the yard. The crisis averted, the firemen began to pack up their equipment and head to the fuel station. The workers continued to repair the pipe. Before they were done, there was an additional backhoe on the scene and one of the big excavators was helping beak rocks as they dug. The people from Mid-continent Communications arrived and began to work on their cable as well. There was a crew on the site until about 10:30 working on getting things to a place where they could pause their work.

With all of the entertainment right at the back door, I watched and painted and made good progress on my project. I quit my work a long time before the construction crews. I fired up the barbecue and we ate our pork chops on the deck watching the work as we ate.

I was thinking about talking with our daughter when I realized, “Oh, that’s right, it is leap year!” Our grandson was born on a Friday in Japan. We got the news on Thursday evening while we were at the last night of Vacation Bible School at the church. But leap year meant that the one year anniversary wasn’t just one day but two days forward in the week. Yesterday was Saturday here and it was Sunday morning in Japan. I had been thinking it was Friday most of the day.

All of a sudden it came to me, “I don’t even know the texts for this week!” I hadn’t been thinking about worship at all. It was a strange feeling for me. Usually, even when we are on vacation, I have some awareness of worship. I prepare worship bulletins in advance when I am gone. I’ve even done months worth at a time when I’ve been on sabbatical. I’m immersed in the flow of what the texts were last week, what has happened in the life of the community this week, what the texts are telling us this week. I am thinking of hymns and songs and readings and the general pattern of the life of the community. But I am out of the rhythm. I’m not doing any worship planning.

We will worship live with First Congregational Church in Bellingham, Washington this morning. But that won’t happen until 11 am in our time zone and I don’t need to do anything to prepare. I’m not into the flow of the life of that community. Most of the people are strangers to me and they won’t know I’m participating.

Last night, after we had been on our walk and talked with our daughter and her family it sort of hit me. I really am retired.

And so the grief begins. I’ve been around people all of my life and I know the process of grief. I’ve lived some pretty big grief, such as the death of a brother and a sister and my father and mother right in front of the congregations I serve. I knew that grief would be a big part of the separation from this congregation. But I also know the ethical obligations of a pastor who is leaving a congregation. It is not my role to meddle in the life of the congregation as it adjusts to an interim pastor. They have a new pastor now and it isn’t me. I understand completely and I accept the change. Still, I miss the congregation. I miss the flow of work. I’m grieving

I confess that I’ve checked the church web site to look at the bulletin. I am no longer the administrator of the church Facebook page and I no longer get the administrator alerts, but I check it fairly frequently. Things are a bit different in the era of the Internet and the season of Covid. I can pay attention to what is going on without directly contacting church members. I can continue to hold members of the congregation in my prayers without inserting myself into the role of pastor.

I’m sure I’ll get back into a weekly routine. I won’t forget what day of the week it is too often. If I am a bit uncomfortable with this “in-between” time, the discomfort is natural. I need to allow myself an opportunity to grieve what has passed as I look forward to what is coming.

It is Sunday morning and I’m up early. That feels natural. I hold God’s people in my prayers.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Walking

As Susan began to recover from a near-fatal drug reaction, one of the questions she asked her doctors was, “What can I do to help my recovery?” Her electrophysiologist responded, “Exercise. It’s probably the most important thing you can do. Something moderate, like walking. We recommend 30 minutes five times per day.” Seeing the look on our faces, he quickly recovered. “I mean five times per week. You can take a day off, but 30 minutes, five times per week.” We’ve laughed about the five times per day many times since that happened, but we’ve also been faithful to an exercise regimen. Rain or shine, wind or snow, we’ve walked at least a half hour eery day since December. There have only been a few days when we walked indoors. For the most part, we’ve walked outside. We walk in the city parks, in the National Forest, at area campgrounds, and around our neighborhood. Our neighborhood is filled with hills, so it is a good workout.

As we walk, I sometimes look at the others who are out and about. In our city’s parks there are a lot of dog walkers. We’ve observed responsible pet owners who are gentle with their animals, keep them on leashes and clean up after them. The dogs, of course, no nothing of social distance rules and often strain at their leashes in an attempt to greet us as we walk. Sometimes we stop and pet the animals with the consent of the owners.

We often see people who are out in our parks who are riding on electric vehicles of various types. Electric bicycles are becoming more and more popular. You can always recognize an electric bike from a distance if the rider is not pedaling and the bike is cruising at a good speed. I know that they make bikes that are for pedaling most of the time and the motor gives a boost on steep hills and other situations where needed, but we also see people simply riding on their bikes. And there are a wide variety of different types of electric scooters including hoverboards and one wheels. I’m sure it takes a bit of balance and practice and that there is a bit of exercise in riding those devices just as there is in snowboarding or skiing down a hill, but I always wonder why people are so interested in an alternative to walking. We enjoy our walks. We cover a couple of miles every day and see no reason to have a device to ride during our adventures.

Nearly half of the people we see when we are out on our walks have ear buds or some other type of listening device. Wires hanging from ears is a common sight when we encounter others. I love music and have invested a lot of hours promoting music groups and raising funds in support of the arts in our community. I’ve served on the board of directors of the Black Hills Chamber Music Society and the Bells of the Hills as well as the board of Allied Arts of Rapid City. I used to have a very eclectic collection of records before we all began to listen to digital music. I have an extensive playlist on my phone that I can connect vie blue tooth to my car and to a speaker in my shop. I enjoy listening to music.

Most of all I enjoy live performances. There are no ear buds that can accurately reproduce the experience of a great pipe organ. Acoustic instruments deliver the sound to your ears on a stream of moving air. The vibration of a 16 foot pipe is something you feel in your bones as well as hear in your ears. A symphony of 100 or more artists is a visual treat as well as a unique sound. I enjoy recordings of orchestras, but they are not the same as being in a concert hall.

However, when we are walking, I enjoy a sound track that doesn’t require ear buds. The sound tracks to our walks is gentle conversation and sometimes near silence. We listen to birdsong and the splash of the creek, punctuated by the occasional crack of a bat, if we are walking near the ball fields. We talk about the big things in our life, such as retirement and plans to seek a new place to live. We talk about the little things, such as what to cook for dinner and who is going to call the insurance company to report the hail damage. Sometimes we don’t have much to say to each other. Sometimes we are eager to talk about something important to us. Sometimes we have things to report from our day.

I remember walking with my parents when I was young. We nearly always walked to church. It was just a couple of blocks from our home. My parents frequently walked hand in hand. Later, when I was older, I realized that part of the reason they walked hand in hand is that they had very different strides. My father was a very fast walker and the only way my mother could get him to slow down to hear pace was to grab ahold of his hand so he was aware of how fast she was walking. I think that holding hands probably sped her up as much as it slowed him down, but it worked for them. We hold hands when we walk some of the time, but we’ve learned to adjust our pace to one that is comfortable for both of us. For the record, it is a pretty fast pace these days. We cover a mile in 18 to 20 minutes even when walking in steep places. We frequently pass other walkers who have a slower pace.

I’m grateful for the health that permits us to walk. I’m grateful for the simple pleasure of walking. Muscles and bone and nerves and circulation all working together to give us time to be together and to experience the world in which we live.

At this point in my life, I don’t pan to be a customer for any of the electronic devices that provide an alternative to walking.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Neighbors

bluebirdhouse
Just before our family moved from Idaho, our daughter attended church camp at Pilgrim Cove, Idaho’s camp on the shores of Payette Lake near McCall. The camp was led by our family friend, Rev. Susan Howe and she had a wonderful time, as we knew she would. Among the crafts for the week was building bluebird houses. The Mountain Blue Bird is the state bird of Idaho and a member of our church in Idaho had researched how to make bluebird houses and cut the pieces out of cedar that were assembled by the campers. One of the things he found out is that blue birds next in a place with a certain size of hole for the entrance, so he carefully drilled holes that would be the right size. Some of the bluebird houses were mounted on trees around the camp. Others were brought home by the campers. Our daughter brought home a bluebird house. Since we were moving, it was decided that the house would make the move with us to South Dakota.

I mounted the house in a tree that we could easily see from the back door of our new home and we waited. No bluebirds arrived that first summer. We didn’t worry. We had occasionally seen a lone bluebird in the area and figured that we were high enough in the hills for a nesting pair to find the house. The house went empty for two or three years before one day we noticed a pair in the area. The first thing they did when they moved into the house to build their nest, was to enlarge the hole. They packed around the hole until it was significantly larger. So much for the research about what size hole bluebirds want in their houses.

In the years since, we’ve had bluebirds nest in the house many times. We don’t have bluebirds every year, and some years we’ve had other small birds nest in the house, but we’ve often had the joy of watching the blue birds working hard to provide for their young ones before the fledge. Bluebirds work as a couple with both the male and female going back and forth with food for the babies. Often we will see one perching near the nest, waiting for the made to live the nest. As soon as she leaves, he arrives and vice versa. It is a continual process of going for food and returning.

This week after returning from our trip to Washington, I’ve been working on preparing our deck to be stained, so I’ve been outside on that side of the house quite a bit and sure enough there are bluebirds nesting in the house this year. It is fun to watch them doing their work as I do mine. Last night I decided to try to get a few pictures, but they had slowed their activities in the evening and I wasn’t patient enough to get images of the more showy male. I did, however capture a few images of the female as she went in and out of the house. I’ll keep my camera handy today, but I’m not the neatest of painters, so I probably won’t try to use it once I’ve opened up the cans of stain for the deck.

It is really nice that we have a pair of bluebirds for our last summer in this house. This has been a really wonderful home for our family, and our young ones have now fledged and have gone off to make nests of their own. The house is such a great place for children and families that it is appropriate that we move on to a smaller place and make room for a new family. Over the years we’ve changed the place a bit. We haven’t enlarged any entrances, but we’ve pained rooms and changed flooring and really enjoyed living in this home. Our back deck was the place of graduation parties and family reunions and gatherings of all types. Our table has welcomes guests from around the world. And we have spent countless hours watching the deer and turkeys and other wild birds who are our neighbors. We were traveling when the deer had their babies this year, but last night we saw a pair of twins in the yard, which was for us the first signing of fawns this year. We’ll see them nearly every evening now.

Things are already beginning to move from our house. We’ve taken a few boxes to Good Will and there will be other items for Love, Inc., the Salvation Army, Cornerstone Thrift Store and other agencies in our town who recycle items and help those in need. There will also be a few more items for the garbage pickup and a few trips to the landfill. And, in time, we’ll move furniture and other items into a moving truck for the trip west. The bluebird house, however, will be staying. It is heading into its 26th autumn and winter outside. The cedar has weathered so that not much of the paint that our daughter put on the house remains, but cedar is slow to deteriorate and it will be a part of that tree for decades yet to come. As much as we are enjoying the nesting bluebirds this year and as eager as we are to watch the little ones fledge, what I really hope for the house is that it will attract a nesting pair next year so that whoever becomes the new owners of the house will have the joys of watching the birds.

This home has sheltered us in some pretty dramatic storms. The thundershower that passed overhead last night dropped a lot of rain in a short time, but wasn’t one of the memorable storms like the blizzards and hail storms and other dramatic weather events that we sometimes see. Through it all the house has been a secure place to live. We’ve enjoyed its gathering spaces and bedrooms and a lot of meals have been served from its kitchen. But one of the house’s greatest features is its location. We have a large yard and lots of room for birds and animals who are our neighbors. I hope the new owners enjoy the outside spaces as much as we have.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Wearing the face mask

I had an appointment for a routine blood test yesterday. It went smoothly with no problems. On the day before my appointment, the doctor’s office called with a list of routine screening questions about whether or not I was feeling ill, if I had a cough or fever or other symptoms, and the like. I received instructions to wear a face mask and to call the office from my car when I arrived. I checked in with the receptionist over the phone and waited in my car for a few minutes before they called me to come into the building. I had my temperature taken at the door and the phlebotomist met me at the door. I was out of the building within about 10 minutes. I wore a mask the whole time.

Later, I made a quick stop at the hardware store to pick up a few bolts for a project I have going at home. The clerk, who knows me well, had to ask my name for the store’s customer loyalty program. She then apologized for not recognizing me. I teased her saying that now not only does she have to memorize the names of all of her customers, but also learn to recognize them when wearing masks.

That got me to wondering about a couple of things. What happens to people who are feeling sick? Are they not allowed to have routine medical care? In the past, I’ve go to my doctor’s office because I had a cough. Now it seems as if they might not let someone with a cough into the building. I know that the would refer a patient to a testing station, where you can get a test without leaving your car. But the screening raises a question.

And, at the hardware store. I presume that they still ask people for identification when they write a check, but how does a store clerk verify identity when the driver’s license has a picture of a person not wearing a mask and the person in front of them is wearing a mask? Do they have you pull down your mask to reveal your face when purchasing alcohol at the grocery store?

This morning I have an appointment to renew my driver’s license. It says that it expired on my birthday, but the governor ordered an extension of all drivers licenses when the pandemic shut down the examination stations in March. There have been very few appointments available for renewal, but I managed to get this one by checking every day back in June, when they announced that they were opening the examination stations on a limited basis. I will, of course, wear a mask to my appointment, but I presume they have you remove the mask for the picture.

Are they having people remove their masks when they approach the TSA screener at the airport? That person has a serious job of confirming the identity of every traveler.

As we adjust to this new reality, I suspect that face masks are here to stay. Even after there is a vaccine for this particular virus and we have moved on to other crises, I suspect that we will get out our masks whenever we are experiencing a cough or other symptoms that might be easily spread to others. Wearing masks in public was common in Japan when we visited there. I don’t think that there was any argument or controversy about the practice. It was just assumed that if you had symptoms, you would wear a mask and if you had a particular vulnerability, you would wear a mask. I assume that people keep a supply of disposable masks on hand as a part of every first aid kit.

We have a small supply of disposable masks at our house, but we are using cloth masks for everyday wear. They can be washed and reused. It is not unlike other disposable products. I’ve occasionally seen discarded masks in parking lots and other locations. I am usually quick to pick up trash and get it into the nearest container, but I’ve hesitated with face masks. Who knows what exposure they might present. If I put on a pair of disposable gloves to pick up a mask am I just adding to the amount of disposable waste? Should masks and gloves be disposed of in specially marked biohazard containers?

There will continue to be lots of questions as we learn the proper way to behave in the face of this new realty.

Meanwhile, somehow, wearing or not wearing a face mask has become a political expression in our country. The attitude towards masks is a lot different here than in some other countries. In Washington, where we recently traveled, there is a statewide order that everyone should wear masks in all public buildings. Most stores have signs at the doors reminding customers that face masks are required. We simply complied. We were very careful as we traveled not to expose others or ourselves unnecessarily. But we saw a lot of people who weren’t wearing face masks. Practicing physical distancing and wearing face masks has been eschewed by some as a sign of fear and a restriction on their freedom. I don’t understand their position, frankly. Freedom always comes with responsibility. Freedom is not just freedom “from,” but also freedom “to.” I have the freedom to choose to wear a mask to help prevent the spread of a deadly virus. I have the freedom to refrain from unnecessary trips to stores.

The situation has placed store clerks in an uncomfortable position. The statewide orders, like the one in Washington, leave clerks in stores as the enforcers of the policy. It isn’t like there are enough state troopers to enforce the wearing of face masks. If the policy is to be effective, each business needs to become an enforcement agency. With all of the political division and rancor inner country today, business that enforce the policy my be driving customers away. They are already under financial pressure because of the virus, now they have to choose between the health and safety of their customers and employees and serving those who refuse to comply.

We are learning a new way of living and doing business, but the transition is difficult. The questions and challenges remain.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

From Montana

My college classmate and life-long friend Steve Garnass-Holmes preached his last sermon on the same Sunday as I. Steve is a sixth-generation United Methodist minister who served congregations in Montana, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Our careers have paralleled each other, but we served in different denominations and always in different places. Steve grew up just two houses away from the home of my wife’s family and just a few blocks from the campus of Rocky Mountain College, where we were both students in the 1970’s. We weren’t in the same class, but we are the same age. He posted a note on FaceBook the day before yesterday that caught my attention:

“When I registered to vote I had to raise my right hand and swear an oath renouncing residency in any other place. As I did, I didn’t think of Massachusetts, or even New Hampshire. I thought of Montana. Yeah, I live in Maine, but still, I’m really from Montana.”

We’ve been experiencing a similar sense of disorientation about location and place. As we look at our careers, it seems a bit of a mystery about where we have lived. Part of being a minister is trying to carefully listen to God’s call. God’s call can be very different from what we want. When ministers consider where to go, they seek to respond to need and call. When we went from Montana to attend theological seminary in Chicago, I assumed that we would be returning to Montana as soon as we completed our educations. But there were no congregations of the United Church of Christ in Montana who were seeking ministers when we graduated. We received a call from congregations in North Dakota and our experience was wonderful. We served good, faithful people in a beautiful place. We kept our eyes on Montana. We sent our profiles (a kind of resume for UCC ministers) to several congregations and a chaplaincy in Montana before receiving a call to serve in Idaho. While in Idaho we continued to occasionally consider calls to Montana congregations, but none came. After we moved to South Dakota, we applied for positions in Montana. No call ever came to serve in that place.

I am not sad about that. We have had a wonderful career and we have been blessed to serve congregations that are loving and treat their ministers well. Our children have lived in wonderful places, received good educations and grown into adults who contribute a lot to their communities.

Still it is interesting to think of the quirks of our stories that affect place. I know a bit more about Steve’s story. It was not inevitable that he would grow up with a strong attachment to Montana. Neither of his parents were native Montanans. They came from California and their path to Montana wasn’t a direct one. In fact, very early in his career, Steve’s Father served Canyon Lake United Methodist Church here in Rapid City. That congregation has had some very long pastorates. The pastor who was serving them when we moved to Rapid City continued to serve them for more than 20 years, an anomaly among UMC congregations. It is not inconceivable that Steve’s father would have continued his career in South Dakota rather than make the move to serve as a college chaplain in Montana. Had that been the case, we would have not met the family and gotten to know them. As it turned out, the long-term phase of that career was as chaplain of the college we attended and the college his sons attended and we became lifelong friends even though we have since lived in different states.

Driving through Montana in the last couple of days reminded us of the beauty and grandeur of the state. We love Montana places and we have many good friends in that state. It will, however, continue to be a drive-through state for us. Our friend Steve and his wife are retiring in Maine and he posted a picture of their car with Maine license plates. We are headed to another corner of the US. We are preparing to move to Washington, though our cars still sport South Dakota plates. It will take us longer to make the move than was the case for our colleague and friend.

Still, in some ways, we think of ourselves as Montanans even though we’ve lived in South Dakota more years than we lived in Montana. The place where you start out seems to always have a claim on our emotions.

On July 4, Steve posted a quote from the preface to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman”

"This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body."

We have been blessed with some incredible friends over the years and it is amazing how much we have shared the journey with others who have been physically distant from the place where we have found ourselves. There is a bit of Montana in us even though we’ve lived in other places. And there is a lot of South Dakota that is in us as we prepare to move to a new home. But there have always been and will always be some incredible people who also are a part of the great poem of our lives. This will continue to be our story.

More verses of the poem are yet to come.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!