July 2020

Remembering Jack

I met Jack as a leader in the church I served in Idaho. In one of our first conversations, he said to me, “You’re from North Dakota? I’m from North Dakota.” We proceeded to talk about the state where I had lived the previous 7 years and where he grew up, raised mostly by his single mother. His mom was a school teacher and principal and later a librarian. Jack and his big brother worked at every job available from farms and ranches to the grain mill to road construction. He’d spent enough winters in Minot to have no fear of -30 temperatures and had plenty of stories of the state where I had lived.

Jack was a faithful member of the church, rarely missing worship, always doing his part. He served as Moderator of the congregation for a term while I was pastor and when his term was ended he was quite happy to settle back into the pew and just be a regular church member. Jack didn’t talk about his work very often, but I learned that he was a tireless worker, unafraid of 60-hour work weeks. Jack didn’t talk about his work very much with me. He loved talking about his North Dakota roots, about his family and about the church.

Jack and Marilyn invited us into their home for family dinners and celebrations and whenever we went there, he’d rise from dinner and take me out to look at his quarter horses. He loved raising horses and he was quick to saddle one for a ride around the corral or load a couple into a trailer for a ride in the mountains.

Once when we were looking at the horses he told me a story that demonstrated his personality. One day a memo was circulated in the law firm where Jack worked. This was back in the days when there was no email and memos were pieces of paper delivered to worker’s mailboxes or deposited on their desks. The memo reminded all of the employees of the firm that theirs was a prestigious law firm and that a certain amount of decorum was expected. This decorum extended beyond the walls of the firm to the parking garage. Employees were expected to have well-maintained vehicles in appropriate condition to impress the clients of the firm. The memo made Jack angry. He went home that night and took his well-used Dodge Ramcharger SUV out into the corral. This was in the days when a SUV was a utility vehicle and not a status symbol. He whipped a few donuts in the corral until the vehicle had lots of horse manure all over it. He drove it to work the next day and parked it between a Mercedes and a Corvette, each belonging to partners in the firm. He laughed as he told me the story.

I heard that story before I knew that Jack was a founding partner in the firm. His name was the third one on the building.

Jack had spend much of his career as a trial lawyer and at one time he had argued more cases before the Idaho Supreme Curt than any other attorney. Early in the time that I knew Jack, he was instrumental in passing the Farm Worker’s Bill through the legislature. The bill brought farm workers under Idaho’s workers’ compensation provisions. This was a huge justice issue in the state because there were many farms who employed seasonal workers who often received no benefits and who were simply discarded when they were injured and disabled. Idaho has a long history of hispanic workers going back to long before statehood. Basques from Europe were imported to herd sheep. Workers from Mexico had been coming to Idaho for generations, many of them longer than the families who owned property in the state. There were plenty of Spanish-speaking land owners and farmers in Idaho. But Idaho also had a legacy of systematic racism. Idaho was not a state until 25 years after the Civil War. As a territory that was rich in gold and silver, it was one of the places where the Southern States sent miners to dig for precious metals to help fund the Confederacy. After the war many confederates settled in Idaho and brought their racial opinions with them. More than a century later, when the 1992 Los Angeles riots brought about extensive reform in the LA police department, many of the officers who were dismissed for acts of overt racism relocated to North Idaho where they continued to practice their beliefs.

Jack had no tolerance for racism. He was an intensely loyal family man. When his oldest daughter fell in love with and married the star of the university football team, he became a son to Jack. Jack and Marilyn’s first two grandchildren were African-American boys. If anyone told a racist joke or made a racist statement, they were quickly called on the carpet by Jack. And Jack was used to winning arguments. He could be incredibly intimidating in a clash of words.

Impressed with the justice work of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Jack sought to bring that style of advocacy to Idaho, insisting that his firm hire minority attorneys and offer pro bono services to victims of injustice. He worked with other community leaders in Idaho to found Kids’ Chance, a non-profit organization that assisted children of injured or deceased Idaho workers with financial assistance for college education.

Throughout his highly successful career with numerous legal awards and distinctions, Jack always presented himself as a North Dakota farm boy and a man who loved horses.

As I listened to parts of the memorial service for John Lewis yesterday, memories of the part of the history of the struggle for racial justice came to my mind. I thought of what a leader he was in the civil rights struggles of my lifetime. Listening to the tributes paid to Lewis, somehow Jack came to my mind. Whether you call the movement civil rights or Black Lives Matter, the movement is a call for justice for all people. Racism affects all of us regardless of the color of our skin. And if a North Dakota farm boy can become a tireless advocate of the rights of farm workers, I can also do my part to call for an end to voter suppression and unequal administration of justice. This great country has a long way to go to live up to the ideals of its founders. Every one of us need to re-read the Declaration of Independence and rededicate our lives to the vision of a nation where all are treated equally.

We have some wonderful models and mentors in the struggle.

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!

Dog days

People have referred to the hottest days of summer in the Northern Hemisphere as “dog days” for a very long time. During the rise of the Greek empire, the rising of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky in the northern hemisphere, was connected with heat, drought, thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs and bad luck. The star is part of the constellation Canis Major, latin for “the greater dog.” It is so bright because it is only 8.6 light years from the earth. Compared to other stars that appear near to it in the night sky, that’s close. Arcturus is over 36 light years away. Betelgeuse is more than 642 light years away and Rigel is 864 light years from earth. On the other hand, the distance that it takes light to travel 8.6 years is a long span and it is unlikely that a distant star is affecting the weather on our planet. And although earthly observers have attached the names of animals to some of the patters of stars in the sky, the connection between actual bears or dogs seems to be all in the imagination of observers. I can’t make out a dog in the night sky, but I do know how to look for the stars of Orion’s belt and follow the line of those stars to Sirius, which is an easy star to identify.

The Greek word upon which Sirius is based means “glowing” or “scorching.” The temperatures can be scorching at the height of summer, so the name seems appropriate.

My observation of the dog days of summer, however, haven’t been based on paying particular attention to the stars, though summer nights do invite sitting outside and looking up at the night sky. I do find that I become a bit lethargic when the temperatures are high. I’ve had to push myself to keep working in the heat. Yesterday was a nice respite, with light rain most of the day and temperatures that were more moderate. I used the cooler day to its advantage, cleaning out the garage attic and making a run to the city landfill with a load of things that we have discarded.

Since we call these days dog days, however, I’ve been observing the dogs of our neighborhood and surroundings as we go on our daily walks. There is a routine that has developed between people who walk in the parks during this pandemic. We are careful to give each other the six feet of separation that is recommended. We will wave or say hello, but don’t linger for conversation. Sometimes we look away as we pass, as if to grant the other person even more emotional space. The dogs being walked by others, however, don’t know anything of the physical distancing rules of this disease. They are eager to see other people. They come running up to greet us as we walk. Mostly they are restrained by leashes, but most leaches are six feet or so long and so we bend down to greet the dogs with a pat on the head or a little scratch behind the ears. As we do so, we laugh at their eagerness and comment to their owners that the dogs know nothing of the rules of the pandemic.

Having delivered newspapers as a boy growing up in Montana, I learned early in my life to observe dogs. Nearly every home in our town had a pet dog and I knew which ones were friendly and which ones were not. I can usually determine whether or not a dog is a threat by looking at it. Most dogs, of course, are not any threat at all. Even those who bark at me often are simply noisy, not dangerous. I’ve been bitten a few times, and I know that dogs can pose a threat, but that seems to be a rare occurrence. Most of the dogs we meet are friendly and gentle.

There are, however, folks who are frightened by dogs. There is a UPS driver who often delivers packages to my sister’s home who is terrified of all dogs. Her Australian Shepherd likes to bark at trucks and will bark at the UPS truck when it comes into the yard. The dog, however, is gentle and would not bite a person. The driver, however, has made comments about how he would never keep a dog like that. He refused to get out of the truck, sometimes just dropping the packages on the ground, opening the door of his truck as little as possible. This driver delivers packages in rural Montana. He must encounter hundreds of barking dogs every day. I can’t imagine that he is very happy in his line of work. I think that the other UPS drivers know about his fears. One of them carries dog treats in his truck and gives treats to all of the dogs when he drives the route. That encourages all of the dogs to greet the UPS truck when it comes into the yard.

Personally, I like living in a world where people have pet dogs. Although we do not have a dog, I enjoy visiting in homes where there are dogs and I enjoy the pets of my siblings. Our daughter has a gentle Labrador who is such a gentle animal with our grandson. He loves the dog and it is easy to see that the affection is mutual. We joke about having a granddog.

The dog days of summer, then, aren’t all that terrible for us. As August approaches, I’m not experiencing any anxiety about the days to come. I know from experience that September is not far away and October can bring snow in this country. If I get a bit lazier when the weather gets warmer, I’ll just have to put a little more effort into each day.

We live in uncertain times and this will be remembered as an unusual summer, but I’m not thinking that the dog days are any worse than others.

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!

Churches and education

In the middle of the 18th century, before the Revolutionary War, business leaders, newspaper editors and clergy persons in England began to form Sunday schools. The schools were primarily for working children, who were employed in factories and who had little opportunities to learn to read or the basics of arithmetic. Soon Sunday schools were being organized for children who were growing up in slums. These schools were promoted as a solution to youth crime. This was more than a century before public schools were provided for children.

During my working career, I often reminded people of this bit of history when we discussed Christian education programs in the churches I served. There was a time when it was assumed that the education of the children of the church was the responsibility of parents and families. Sunday schools were organized, not to teach our own children, but rather as mission projects aimed at improving the education of poor and working children.

The centuries have passed and times have changed. Fortunately, child labor is no longer practiced in modern, industrial societies to the extent that once was the case. Exploitive child labor, however, continues as a practice in several areas around the globe. Sunday schools now focus primarily on educating the children of adult members of the church. When they are promoted beyond the membership of the church it is often a matter of evangelism - a way of encouraging those who don’t participate in the church to become involved.

Over the years I’ve had countless conversations with faithful church members who view the Sunday school as an instrument of institutional survival. The Sunday school is seen as the key to having adult members in the future.

On the North American continent, prior to the beginnings of the Sunday school movement, there were prominent leaders who envisioned a public education system that offered schooling to all children. Boston Latin School was founded in the Massachusetts Colony in 1635 as the first public school. The Mather School, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, opened in 1639 as the first free school funded by taxpayers.

Starting schools was an important mission of our forebears in the United Church of Christ. Our church has, throughout its history, supported the education of all children through public schools.

This history and more is important to remember now that we find ourselves at a point of national crisis in regards to education and schools. The opening of schools is being used for political advantage by some as educators scramble to figure out how to continue to teach while providing for the safety of students and school personnel. In every school district in the nation debates are raging as to when and how to open the schools.

Our schools were forced into a sudden shutdown in the face of the pandemic last spring. Some schools were better able than others to respond with distance education. Innovative teachers developed lesson plans that could be delivered via the Internet and schools continued to teach in the best ways they could given the inability to meet for face to face class. In this process a large number of students simply did not receive educational services. Even where school districts were able to provide tablet computers to children, many lived in homes where there is no access to high speed Internet. In many homes, Internet service is provided alongside cable television and when unemployment threatened the economic survival of the family, cable television was cancelled. The model of distance learning only threatens to leave millions of children without access to education.

Our schools have too little classroom space and too few teachers to support the kind of physical distancing recommended by health authorities. Classrooms that last year housed 30 students with a single teacher are only large enough for a dozen students if six foot spacing is observed.

Faced with the realities of our situation, many school districts are proposing hybrid models of education, with some in-person classes and some online learning. There are a lot of different models being proposed, but often the proposals include schooling a couple of days a week, which allows for students to be spaced out with fewer students each day. This in-person component will also provide teachers with a way to maintain relationships and to discover which children need additional assistance with access to the online components of the program.

We are at a point where we need to reinvent education for the children of our world. Just as churches were key to the establishment of public schools and educational institutions that helped to raise children from poverty and exploitative child labor, there is a new opportunity for churches to take up the cause of supporting education for all children. Many church buildings have classroom space that reflects the postwar baby boom. Those classrooms often sit empty six days each week. Churches can partner with public schools to provide physical space so that classes can be smaller and appropriate space can be maintained.

Physical space is only part of the problem, however. The key to education has always been providing teachers. The teacher-student relationship is the foundation of all effective education. Many of our churches already have systems and policies in place to provide safe teachers and mentors for children. We have mechanisms to screen adults who work with children. Our churches also tend to have an abundance of senior citizens and retired persons. The population of our churches offers a rich group of experienced adults who have time to volunteer as mentors. Even though many church members do not have the education and training to teach, volunteers can be trained, supported and deployed to provide an auxiliary for the professional teachers employed by school districts.

There are a lot of details that have not been thought through in this proposal, but the call to action is clear. Once again our nation finds itself at a point of crisis where churches have a lot to offer to their communities. We are called into new partnerships to serve others.

How we will respond remains to be seen.

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

Our home is situated on a lot that is a little more than a half acre.We are near the top of a hill, and the land around our home is anything but level. Our lot is typical for our subdivision, which was designed to have plenty of open space between buildings. Some of the homes in our neighborhood have manicured lawns with automatic sprinkler systems and careful landscaping. Other homes allow most or all of the lots around their homes to remain natural with grasses growing tall in the summertime. Our home is somewhere in the middle of all of this. We have lots of open space and I keep it mowed during the summer. Mowing is a chore. While the majority of the folks in our neighborhood ride around on their lawn mowers, I have chosen to use a walk-behind mower for the 25 years that we have lived here. It is a good workout going up and down the hill with the mower. Most summers aren’t too bad, however. The grass grows quickly during the late spring and there are weeks when mowing once a week doesn’t seem to be often enough. Then, around the end of June, the rains slow and the heat increase and the grass slows its rate. I can let it go two or more weeks between mowing right now.

As a person who has struggled with being overweight all of my adult life, I appreciate the exercise that mowing our lawn gives me. I complain about it from time to time, but I am grateful that I have had the health and energy to be able to do that task for myself. I wear a watch that keeps track of the distance I walk and mowing our lawn is close to three miles of walking.

We have been walking as our primary exercise this year. We decided to make it a priority to take at least a half hour to walk together every day and we kept that commitment even during the final, very busy weeks, of our work at the church. Now that we are officially retired, we are able to walk more on many days. Rapid City is a good place to walk. One of the lasting legacies of the 1972 flood is a system of interconnected parks along the creek that runs through town. There are paved walkways that stretch from one end of town to the other and offer cool places alongside the creek with plenty of shade for summer walking. The trails connect to three parks that have less developed trails for more extensive walking. One park features a small reservoir that is usually filled with geese.

The main hiking trails have been seeing a lot of use during this time of pandemic. They provide space for people to get outdoors and maintain physical distance. We see a lot more families riding bikes on the trails this summer. Still, there is room for us to enjoy being outdoors and feel safe with our distance from others.

There are several trails within the city that we enjoy walking that get us out and away from others. When the weather is good, we hike in Skyline Wilderness Park or some of the trails around M hill. We have several loops that give us a couple of miles of walking without being too strenuous.

One of the places that we enjoy walking is at Terra Sancta Retreat Center. The Roman Catholic Facility features two loops of hiking trails that total about 1.5 miles. They are connected to a parking lot by a paved Via Dolorosa with stations of the cross displayed on granite slabs. The trails are on a wooded hillside that faces East, so it is shaded in the evening. Most of the time we have the trails to ourselves. If we do encounter another hiker or small group, all of the walkers are very respectful of the solitude that the setting offer and we quickly pass.

Sometimes when we walk we talk. It seems that we always have plenty to talk about. Sometimes we just walk in silence, listening to the natural sounds around us and allowing our minds to wander.

Last evening we were walking at Terra Sancta and I was feeling a little tired, having mowed the lawn in the morning. I could feel a bit of stiffness as we walked along. Still, it felt really good to simply be able to walk. Walking is an exercise in which you can control your pace. If the hill is steep and you are a bit short of breath, you can simply slow down, shorten your stride and allow your body to recover. When the terrain is flat, you can speed up.

As we walked, I remembered that we just passed the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Act was widely supported as the legislation made its way through congress. There were only 9 “no” votes in the senate and it passed the house by a unanimous voice vote. Strangely, much of the opposition to the act came from religious groups, including evangelical churches, who opposed governmental regulation of churches. It was strange that religious institutions would argue in favor of discrimination. Our church, the United Church of Christ, however, strongly backed the act and one of our ministers, Harold Wilke, a tireless advocate for persons with disabilities, was present at the signing. After the act was signed, President Bush turned and handed the pen to Rev. Wilke. Having no arms, Wilke slipped his foot out of his shoe and accepted the pen with his foot.

Rev. Wilke was just one of the many persons who taught me that we do well to define others and ourselves in terms of our abilities not our disabilities. With no arms, Rev. Wilke could walk, but there are others who need wheelchairs or walkers or canes or other assistive devices for mobility. Being able to walk gives us access to trails and locations that are not accessible to those who use such devices. Certainly we do not want our churches to be places that are filled with barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from full participation.

As another friend likes to say, we who can walk are only “temporarily abled.” Our bodies are frail and we all will experience disability. So we gain great pleasure from going for walks and enjoying the ability to travel around under our own strength. It is a blessing that will not be ours forever. For now, it is good to savor the joy.

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!

Good and evil

There is an argument that has been going on for as long as humans have had time to sit and think philosophically. The argument has to do with a person’s basic perception of the nature of humanity. Are we inherently good or inherently bad? From a logical point of view, it becomes easy to explain the source of evil in the world if one argues that humans are simply evil to the core. From a simplistic point of view, that is the argument of the doctrine of original sin. There is evil in the world because humans have used their freedom to do evil things. From the very first humans, we have used the knowledge of good and evil to commit evil. This leads to the question of whether or not humans are redeemable. The answer of religious philosophy is, “Yes, humans can be saved, but they cannot save themselves. They need the help of a higher power.”

I think that the argument is a bit misleading because creating the dualism of only two options is rarely the way the universe works. I would argue that humans are capable of great good and also capable of great evil. There is no such thing as a completely good person and it is probably true that there is also no such thing as a completely evil person. The amount of good or evil we contribute to the world is not a product of our essential nature, but rather a product of the decisions we make.

The Christian position towards evil has always had a deep confessional component. Our striving to do good in the world includes the confession that we have not always made the best choices. We make mistakes. We cause pain. We need to confess our sins and repent. The basic message of John the Baptizer was echoed in the message of Jesus: We are not the victims of our decisions. We have the power to choose to go in a new direction.

This argument has received a great deal of attention in our country’s press in recent months as the Black Lives Matter movement has moved into the streets in every state. Of course there are more than two positions and more than two points of view, but to simplify for the sake of illustration, there are some who have taken to the streets to say that the history of our country has resulted in the systematic oppression of some of our people. Our country was founded on the exploitation of slaves who were forcibly taken from their homes and pressed into servitude. Although slavery has officially ended, our country continues to take advantage of a segment of our population through underemployment, low wages, lack of essential services such as health care, child care and housing. We continue to perpetrate this injustice through unequal enforcement of laws and the overuse of jails and prisons. As a society we need to confess and repent. We need to admit our flaws and go in new directions. The peaceful protests in the streets of our cities are a form of confession of the flaws of our society and a call to the repentance of systematic change.

On the other side of the argument are those who say that despite missteps, the basic direction of our nation’s history has been positive. They argue that no apologies are necessary and that the continuation of the present situation and direction is the best course of action for the country. This argument was taken to an extreme by an opinion piece written for the New York Times by Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. In that piece he described slavery as a “necessary evil” on which the American nation was built. He sees the peaceful protests as an “orgy of violence” and has backed the Trump administration’s use of troops to quell the unrest.

To claim that the evil of slavery was necessary is, from a philosophical point of view, a dangerous justification. If you can justify the enslavement of human beings, you can pretty much justify almost any other action. Race-based slavery involved rape, torture and the sale of human beings for profit. It is hard to describe that practice as anything but evil. To call such evil “necessary” is an interpretation of history that many find repulsive.

While this argument plays out in the newspapers, legislatures and streets of our nation, we all need to continue to look not only at our history with a confessional eye, but also our current behavior. As we argue over the history of the slavery of Africans in the United States and try to make sense of our shared story, we all are using computers and cell phones and other electronic devices to capture pictures, send messages and make our arguments. Inside of all of these devices are lithium-ion batteries. The development of this technology has created a revolution in how we communicate and access information. This technological revolution, however, is coming at a high human cost. The lithium and cobalt in our batteries come with a toxic legacy that harms the health of communities near the mines and damages the environment. Furthermore cobalt mining is based on the brutal practice of child labor, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to over half the world’s cobalt mines. Apple, Tesla and Microsoft have all been sued over cobalt mining deaths. Jodie Lutkenhaus, a chemical engineer at Texas A&M University, wrote, “Everyone is carrying around a lithium-ion battery mined by children.”

I know of no way to deal with the realities of our patterns of consumption and the harsh realities of the world than to say that we humans are of a mixed nature. We strive towards good, but are guilty of evil. We make mistakes and our mistakes cause others pain. From my point of view, confession is a necessary part of living a meaningful life. And for confession to have meaning, repentance must follow. We need to change our ways.

To Senator Cotton I say, no evil is “necessary” and to dismiss evil as “necessary” stands in the way of making the fundamental changes that allow us to move towards fulfillment of the vision of a society where all are treated equally.

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!

Annual Reports

Over the years, I have read a lot of church annual reports. There are a lot of ways to tell the story of a church and different congregations place different emphases on different tools of communication. I’ve looked at annual reports of congregations simply out of interest. I’ve found that some congregations don’t even include specific financial data in their reports, while the congregations I have served have always included financial reports.

When considering whether or not a call exists between myself and a congregation, I always tried to do as much research as possible. I would pour over a decade or more statistical reports to the denomination to assess any trends, look for rough spots in the history of the congregation, and look for any challenges or problems that might remain. I would look at what percentages of finances were going to mission and what the trends in compensation for staff were. That interest in annual reports would then continue to the annual reports to the congregation. I would ask for copies of past years’ reports and look over them. After accepting a call to a congregation and beginning to serve the church, I would go through the church’s files and read old annual reports to discern patterns and discover how the history of the congregation informed plans for the future.

As a pastor, I put considerable effort into the annual reports of our congregation. Accurate and accessible reports are essential to keeping open lines of communication with the congregation. Having a background in newspaper production, I was aware of design issues. As congregations made the transition from mimeograph to photocopy machines, new layout options became possible. When we got the ability to include photographs, I was quick to make sure that we integrated them with other visual elements such as type size and style. When color became available, I worked hard to come up with designs that worked both in black and white and in color. When we made the switch to online production, I considered how reports would look on screen and on paper. Later we had to consider screen size, making reports that would be easy to access with a computer, tablet or cell phone.

At our Rapid City Church, I used the production of the annual report to set a visual theme for the year. I would design the annual report and then use its visual appearance to create a new masthead for the monthly newsletter and a new letterhead for the congregation each year. I know that those changes weren’t important to some of the members of the congregation, and were probably a hassle to administrative assistants, but communication is at the heart of a congregation and I put considerable effort and energy into the design of the tools of communication that we used.

I’ve even paid attention to the annual reports of the congregations I served earlier in my career. I continue to peruse the reports of the congregation we served in Idaho 25 years ago. I can still recognize design elements that I introduced to the congregation. The format and layout of the current annual reports is familiar to me.

I suspect that this fixation with annual reports isn’t common. When I would ask colleagues about trends or history of the congregations they serve, they often would seem to not know some things that seemed to me to be important. Reading financial reports can be boring and they only tell part of the story. More interesting to me is the tone of the lay reports. Often a paragraph or less, those reports reveal the spirit of a congregation and reflect the joy of working in a church.

Sorting through the papers in our home, I have ben re-reading a few annual reports as the time has come for us to discard much of the paper we have kept over the years. Cleaning out files, I have thrown out a lot of reports. I did leave a file with the annual reports of the past 35 years for my successor in the church office. I don’t know whether or not the file will interest the interim or future pastors. If nothing else, they show an evolution in design and production.

In the process, I came across what may be my all time favorite report. It was part of the report for the year 1950 at Wright Community Congregational Church in Boise, Idaho. The report was made 35 years before I was called to be pastor of the congregation. I discovered the report as we prepared to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the church. The author of the report was still alive when we were called to be pastors of the congregation. In fact, his daughter was the church secretary for several of the years that we served as pastors.

Here is that report:

Ushering Committee - Mr. Carroll Carpenter

“During 1950 the ushers have given out bulletins to and seated approximately 5000 persons, averaging close to 100 per Sunday.

“In seating this multitude, we did very little walking as most of the people like to hunt their own seats. There is some difference of opinion on this point.

“We have tried several ways of taking up the offering and finally settled on the four plate system which takes less time. We have had good success this way and have received no buttons or slugs all year.

“We have tried to control the ventilation to prevent frostbite, chilblains or sunstroking.

“We have developed a new method of seating. This is to fill the front rows first. This way we can easily see how many seats are left and have a place for late comers. It has worked very well in reverse. We understand that Congregationalism stands for independence and this seems to be the case. We tried to steer late comers down front for awhile, but now we just stand back and watch them push whole rows over to make room.”

I know why have kept a copy of that report for all these years. If nothing else, it has given me the topic for a journal entry and a wonderful memory of a faithful member of a wonderful congregation. Who knows what treasures future generations may find in the reports we have written?

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!

More rambling thoughts

For several years, my work as a UCC educational consultant, my service on the Board of the Association of United Church Educators, and my work with the corporate board of Local Church Ministries meant that I traveled quite a bit and met with members of the United Church of Christ in many different settings. A common response when I shared that I was from South Dakota was, “I know someone in South Dakota. Do you happen to know . . .” Most of the time I would know the person named because it was likely to be a member of the United Church of Christ, which is not a large group. If the person was from Connecticut or Pennsylvania or another more populated area, they would be surprised that I knew their acquaintance. I’d respond by saying that South Dakota is a state with a small population, so I know everyone in the state. Of course that isn’t true, but it made for an entertaining conversation.

Another thing that surprised people from the Eastern United States is the size of the geography of western states. I’ve served as an active, ordained minister of the United Church of Christ for 42 years and I have never served a congregation that was in the same time zone as the Conference Office. That fact often amazes folks from places where our congregations are closer to each other. I love to joke that Chamberlain, SD is a great place for meetings of the South Dakota Conference because when we drive 210 miles for a meeting and the folks from Sioux Falls drive 140 miles for the same meeting they honestly believe that they have come half way. Actually, I appreciated the move to South Dakota, where we live only 350 miles from the Conference Office. We moved from Boise, Idaho which is 450 miles from the Conference Office in Portland, Oregon.

Of course those distances don’t matter very much these days. Traveling to attend face to face meetings is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Improvements in technology and video conferencing were already making travel seem like a needless expense to do the work of the church. Then the pandemic hit and face-to-face meetings quickly became a thing of the past. Zoom, Go To Meeting, Microsoft Teams and Webex seem to be the most common places for meetings to occur these days.

I think that the timing of my career, however, suited me well to the ministries of my time. I’m sure that I could become accomplished at all of the online and social media ministry that is required in this day and age, but it certainly is not my best skillset. On the other hand, I rather enjoy getting in a car and driving across the state. Unlike some of my east coast friends and colleagues, I don’t mind a day’s drive and for me that is likely 400 or more miles. I remember a conversation I once had with an east coast colleague who told me that he really hated it when he had to drive 30 or 40 miles for a meeting. When we lived in North Dakota, we drove 180 miles one way to do a bit of shopping or to be seen my a doctor.

I guess it is a matter of perspective whether we are talking about distances traveled or people that we know.

As Christian denominations go, the United Church of Christ isn’t one of the large ones. We have a very important place in the history of the United States, and we have a unique leadership place among Christian denominations, but our impact is not based on the number of members or the number of churches in our communion. As a result, we are used to finding common friends even when we are meeting with those in distant locations. It was no surprise to me that the lead pastor of the church we are connecting with in Bellingham, Washington mentioned to me last week that she is friends with the Interim minister that is serving the congregation we served here in Rapid City. They have probably served on the same committee or met through a regional or national meeting. That is the kind of church we are. People know each other. We are a family.

It is reassuring to me to know this about our church as we go through what is, for us, a huge transition. My friends have been asking me how it is going in my retirement and I haven’t yet figured out how to answer that question. Frankly, everything seems very strange to me. I have plenty of work that needs to be done, but I am less organized about getting it done than I have been at other phases of my life. Some days I feel like I am not accomplishing anything. I am frustrated by the lack of progress in some areas of my life. I remember when we thought that two weeks was plenty of time to prepare for a move, but getting prepared in two months seems like a very challenging goal at this phase of our lives. The distance we are moving isn’t intimidating to me. I don’t mind the driving. What intimidates me is the process of sorting and choosing what to take and what to leave behind.

I fill my days with tasks that need to be done. I’ve done some paining projects. I mow the lawn. I make repairs that I have deferred for years. I have a hand truck that has had a leak in the tire for at least five years. I would just add air and use it and then it would go back into storage until the next time it was needed. Yesterday I fixed the leak. It wasn’t the only accomplishment of the day, but at least it was a task that I started and finished in the same day. Right now I’ve got a lot of things that are multiple day projects. I’ve started a lot of things, but haven’t finished many.

I keep hoping that I’ll get organized and get my act together. In the meantime, I guess my journal will be rambling and scrambled.

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!

Our stories

Part of the reason that it is taking us time to sort through our belongings in preparation for moving is that we aren’t the first generation of our family to have kept a few items. As we sort, we find ourselves going through boxes, bins and other containers of things that were kept by our parents. They, in turn, had items that came from previous generations. It becomes the job of each generation not only to make decisions about what to keep and what to discard from their own life experiences, but also what to keep and what to discard from the wider story of an extended family system. In doing so, we are learning that there is a distinction between our story and history. For example a World War II vintage silk reserve parachute is a common item in museums. There were a lot of them made, and fewer of them were used than the main parachutes that were also issued to the pilots of the US Army Air Corps. A museum may not need another such parachute in order to have a complete collection and tell the story of that era of our history. On the other hand, this particular parachute is the one that our father wore when he bailed out of a disabled airplane near the end of the war. His main chute opened correctly and saved his life. The reserve chute was carried on the front of the pilot and sat in his lap as he flew the airplane. Its rip cord was pulled only if there was a failure of the main parachute. To this day, sky divers and other parachutists jump with two parachutes. It was the practice to inspect, re-pack and re-use parachutes during the main fighting of the war, but towards the end of the war there were so many parachutes that those used in actual airplane failures were retired. That particular parachute has been opened and we’ve even played with it in the wind before repacking it. It has little value as an article of history. It is, however, a part of our story.

There are smaller mementoes, kept by the generations of our family. For example, among the papers relating to the closing of the estate of a great aunt are copies of her birth certificate. Some family members never knew her middle name and since at least one of her siblings had no middle name, they thought that perhaps she had none. Others thought that her name was Elizabeth. a name that appears in family records from the previous generation. The birth certificate, however, says Bella. Is it possible that somewhere in the family there was an Isabella? We’ll never know and knowing the given name at birth doesn’t tell us much of our family history that wasn’t previously known. It certainly doesn’t change our image of the independent woman who never married and who signed her own contracts to teach year after year using just her first and last name.

However, also among those papers kept in a file with her birth certificate are her college transcripts. To our knowledge, no one in our generation of the family ever knew that she just barely made it through college. If you had known her as a retired teacher as we remember her, you would have never guessed that she only earned a C in English Literature. And she would never have admitted to getting a D in Nature Studies. The people who were elders when we were young were real human beings and even though we didn’t imagine that she could have been distracted at a time when very few women went to college and she was a pioneer, it appears that her studies weren’t her only focus in those years.

There are other interesting items among the records of our family. A wedding certificate showing a date six months later than the celebrated anniversary does nothing to change the loving family that raised wonderful children. Back then, as now, people fell in love before the date of the wedding. As one of our professors once said, “The date of making deep commitments and the date of the formal ceremony aren’t always the same date.”

I picked up the metal helmet worn by my father through 25 years of flying light airplanes in mountainous terrain. It is full of dents and dings. As I held the helmet, I ran my other hand through what is left of my hair and felt the bumps and scrapes on my own head. My father, it seems, was as prone to bumping his head as am I. Maybe I come by this particular trait naturally. The helmet has a story to tell, even if you don’t know the details. However, it does not tell the whole story of a man who also in his life was a John Deere farm machinery dealer, owned a Purina Chows feed store, developed a leasing company, raised seven children, loved to fish, hunted to feed his family, aspired at one point in his life to be a test pilot, and went to work full-time doing building maintenance for church-related institutions when he retired.

The reality is that we have more boxes of papers to sort than we have time. In the process a few precious gems of our family story will be lost, as has happens to all families. A few more will be discovered. And, as much as we are trying to keep this from being the case, a few files and papers will be packed up unsorted and moved along to the next place of our residence. Even more interesting to me are a few pieces of furniture and a few other items that have served various parts of our family in various locations that will end up in a thrift store or a furniture ministry and find their way into someone else’s home. Those things will carry an untold story even as they become part of another family’s story.

Not all legacies are fully known. Some secrets of the past remain secret.

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!

Take me out to the ball game

The story is that Jack Norwith was riding the subway when he saw a sign: “Baseball Today - Polo Grounds.” Somehow that sign inspired him to write the lyrics on an envelope. The words were later set to music by Albert Von Tilzer. The song was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office on May 2, 1908. The ballad of Katie and her boyfriend was made popular at man vaudeville shows around the country. In the Song, Katie wanted only to go to a baseball game:

Katie Casey was baseball mad,
Had the fever and had it bad.
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev'ry sou1
Katie blew.
On a Saturday her young beau
Called to see if she'd like to go
To see a show, but Miss Kate said "No,
I'll tell you what you can do:"

Most people don’t know the verses, but they do know the chorus that follows each of them:

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win, it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.

As far as we know, the song wasn’t played or sung at a ball park until 1934 when a recording of the song was played at a high-school game in Los Angeles. Its first appearance in a Major League Ball Park occurred the same year when it was played during the 1934 World Series. As for the songwriter, Jack Norwith, he didn’t attend a major league ball game until 1940.

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 1907 and in 1908, defeating the Detroit Tigers both times. When we lived in Chicago, from 1974 - 1978, the Cubs were not exactly on a winning streak. Their best season during our years was 1978 when they made it to 3rd place in the National League East with a record of 79 and 83. When your team loses more games than it wins in a “good” year, you start to look forward to the 7th Inning Stretch and Harry Caray leading the crowd in singing, “Take me out to the ball game.” It might be the highlight of the game. It certainly led to speculation about how big of an alcohol problem Carey had.

It took the Cubs until 2016 to win another World Series. Harry Caray died of a heart attack in February of 1998. He didn’t live to see the victory that he kept predicting.
In the strangeness of the year of the pandemic, The baseball season makes its official start today. July 23 isn’t what we would call an early start for the summer sport, a game that at one time was called “America’s Pastime.”

The New York Yankees take on the Washington Nationals tonight at 7 pm Eastern Time. Three hours later, on the West Coast, the Sand Francisco Giants face the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cubs home opener will be Friday as they play the first game of a three game series against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The season will last for 60 games so that it can be wrapped up in October. The big thing for baseball fans is that there will be no fans in the stadiums. The games will be played in empty ball parks for television audiences. if you want to watch major league baseball in 2020, you are going to have to watch television.

Baseball isn’t a game designed for television.

The unique thing about baseball, as opposed to football, basketball, hockey or soccer, is that it isn’t played against the clock. The length of a baseball game is determined by the play of the game itself. Although television producers can count on breaks for advertisements when the teams are retired each inning, they don’t know how to schedule the rest of their evening. If the teams are tied at the end of nine innings, then extra innings are added to the game until a team wins. The length of an inning can vary depending on how quickly three batters are ruled out. The longest game in terms of innings was in 1920 when the Brooklyn Robins and Boston Braves played 26 innings before the game was called due to darkness. It all took place in just under 4 hours.

In 1984, the Chicago White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers played 25 innings before the Sox finally won. the game took eight hours and six minutes and had to be played over two days. Play was suspended after the 17th inning at 1 am because of a rule that no new inning could begin after that time. Play resumed the next day and in the 21st inning the Brewers took the lead with a three-run homer. Somehow, Chicago managed to tie the game by the bottom half of the inning and the teams played on. The game finally ended with a home run that put Chicago in the lead.

People don’t watch television that way. In fact, not all of the 14,754 fans who started that historic game were in the ball park when the game finished.

But people are watching a lot of television these days. In the midst of the pandemic, more and more people are staying at home and they are watching more and more television. Even thought it isn’t much fun watching a home run bound around empty seats in a stadium, I suspect that the ratings for baseball will be pretty high this year. People need a distraction from the chaos of politics and the fears of a growing pandemic.

I read an article that predicted that the 2020 World Series will be the New York Yankees vs the Los Angeles Dodgers with LA being the winner. Those predictions are usually not right. If we would predict winners and losers there would be no point in watching the games.

I’m not much of a sports fan. I don’t plan on watching much baseball. But I will be paying attention - especially to the Cubs and dreaming of the day when once again you can

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win, it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.

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! For the record, the copyright has expired on the lyrics to the song, which is now in the public domain.

Driving the old car

We visited with dear friends last evening. It is always a bit tricky, during this season of a pandemic. We don’t want to contribute to the spread of the disease, but we have so far not been directly affected by the infection and we, like all other people, are hungry to be with others. So we expand our bubble from time to time, being careful about hand washing, distance, and spending as much time outdoors as possible. As we were driving home, my wife commented on the fact that we were driving our “old” car. We are very fortunate to have multiple vehicles in our family. The car that I usually drive is one that we have owned for many years. It is a 1999 Subaru and has over 290.000 miles on it. It has been a very reliable car and has filled many roles in our family.

The car has made a lot of road trips. It was our “go to” vehicle for taking our children to and from college. Our son attended college 1,250 miles from our home. Our daughter’s college was nearly 500 miles from our home. After college, our Son lived in Los Angeles for a while and the car made two 2,700 mile round trips there, one with a side trip to the Grand Canyon. Our son was married during his graduate school days in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Car made the 3,400 mile round trip with a cedar chest on the roof rack going down. It has served as a daily driver for our family for all of those years and been my go to car for late night and middle of the night calls when I needed to head to the hospital or another location. It has been dependable winter and summer with comfortable air conditioning and all wheel drive reliability for slippery roads. I’ve had it in the mud on multiple times and it has ventured off the road when needed. It has traveled a lot of miles with a canoe or kayak or bicycles strapped to the roof.

I joke that I can now put ethanol in the car because iit is 21 years old and n South Dakota it is legal to consume alcohol once you are 21 years old.

The thought that occurred to me as we were driving home last night is that I’ve become a bit like my father. My default car to drive is the oldest one we have. Our family got a new car when I was 16 years old. I had a driver’s license and I was eager to drive that car and it seemed to me that my father had purchased it to keep it in the garage. An older car with a less modern and comfortable interior was always offered when I wanted to go somewhere. Now I understand how my father got pleasure from keeping the new car new. My first choice is almost always to drive the older vehicle.

It isn’t that we have new cars very often around our house. Our “new” car is 9 years old. We need and have been able to afford reliable vehicles but we have no need for new vehicles very often and when we get vehicles that are new to us they usually have had a previous owner. Our family has always had many priorities for our financial resources and cars haven’t been the most important purchase for us.

We are fortunate to live in a time when vehicles are reliable and last a long time. I can remember thinking that I needed to replace tires when they had 10,000 miles on them. These days if I don’t get 50,000 miles out of a set of tires, I think something is wrong. Our car usually is good for 75,000 miles on a set of tires. I remember when we replaced the muffler on our car every other year. This car still has its original muffler 21 years later. Of course cars have also become more complex. I used to be able to perform all of the routine maintenance on our vehicles and could do field repairs on most of the things that went wrong with them. I’ve replaced starters and batteries and alternators in parking lots and used to do tune ups, replacing spark plugs and distributor caps and wires as needed. I could adjust a carburetor, and replace an air filter. These days our cars go to the shop for oil changes and I don’t know how to operate a diagnostic computer. I can make a few repairs, but it takes a technician to do most of the things they require.

We had a car when I was a teen that needed the engine overhauled at 50,000 miles and we thought that getting a vehicle to 100,000 miles was a major accomplishment. For the most part, when a car was five or six years old it was time to start thinking about replacement. Sometimes I wish my father were still living just so he could see me driving around in a 21 year old car with nearly 300,000 miles on it. I think he would have enjoyed it.

For many of the world’s citizens, the dream of owning a car is beyond reach and for many others the thought that a household could afford multiple vehicles is an image of almost unimaginable wealth. I’ve had access to reliable vehicles all of my adult life and often have had a choice when I need a vehicle for a trip. Family vacations for us have often involved road trips of thousands of miles. Ive been to the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans by car in the same year.

Now we are preparing to move 1,200 miles from our home. We’ve made one round trip this summer and plan another before making the trek with a rental truck with our furniture. And I’m not worried about the reliability of our vehicles.

The 21-year-old car, however, won’t be making the move with us. We one one too many vehicles right now and the time has come to find a new owner for that car. It isn’t worth much money, and it will probably become part of a vehicle donation program at a local non profit.

Until that day, it is my vehicle of choice. I’ll miss that car when it is gone.

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!

Silly songs

I’ve spent time at church camp every summer of my life. Growing up at church camp, we sang a lot of songs. We sang hymns and popular songs. We sang table graces before our meals and songs after our meals. There were plenty of serious songs about faith and there were lots and lots of silly songs.

I love the mountains, I love the rolling hills
I love the flowers, I love the daffodils
I love the fireside, when all the lights are low
boom dee at a boom dee at a boom dee at a boom

Then we added

I hate the mountains, I hate the rolling hills,
I get allergic from smelling daffodils
I’m sick of firelight, where you can’t read a thing
boom dee at a boom dee at a boom dee at a boom

and that became

I love the cookie, I love the food she serves
I love her biscuits, I love her fruit preserves
I love the dining hall, when all the tables are full
munch munch gobble gobble slurp slurp swallow swallow

We sang songs in which we could make up or modify verses, sometimes tuning into dozens of verses, sometimes becoming a kind of competition between the different tables in the dining hall. There was a nursery rhyme song that we sang:

Old Mother Hubbard went to her cupboard
To get her poor doggie a bone
When she got there the cupboard was bare
So she threw it out the window
The window, the window, the second-story window
When she got there the cupboard was bare
So she threw it out the window.

The next table would use a different nursery rhyme:

Little Bo Peep, she lost her sheep
And didn’t know where to find them
Leave them alone and they’ll come home
And throw them out the window
The window, the window, the second-story window
Leave them alone and they’ll come home
And throw them out the window

Another table would sing:

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe
She had so many children she didn’t know what to do
She gave them some broth, without any bread
And threw them out the window
The window, the window, the second-story window
She gave them some broth, without any bread
And threw them out the window

And on and on we’d go until we ran out of nursery rhymes or simply got tired of the song.

There were lots of other songs and we had some song leaders who were pretty good entertainers as well. We laughed and sang and sang and laughed.

When I got older I discovered that different camps had different favorite songs and that there were variations about how the songs were sung. At first, I thought that our camp was the place of the “one true way” of singing camp songs and that everyone else was wrong, but I soon realized that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to sing a camp song as long as everyone is included and having fun.

I’m not sure what got me to thinking about camp songs recently, but perhaps it is this strange summer without camps because of the pandemic. A year ago our grandchildren visited and we took them to grand camp and sang lots of silly songs. It’s pretty hard to sing “I’m singing in the rain!” with your thumbs up, knees together. tongue out, butt out, while hopping up and down, in a circle without giggling. And singing silly songs and giggling with your grandchildren is a pretty wonderful thing to do.

Music is a wonderful teaching tool. Ask any child to recite the alphabet and chances are that child will sing the letters to you instead of making a simple recitation. We are pretty sure that in addition to their liturgical function, many of the Psalms were set to tunes as an aid to memorization. The longest of the psalms, 119, goes through the entire Hebrew alphabet with a paragraph for each letter. We can assume that it was used to teach important religious principles as well as basic literacy. And we can marvel that our forebears memorized such a lengthy psalm. But group memorization was a powerful tool and the addition of a tune would make a big difference. It might have even been sung in larger groups with small groups each taking one letter and passing the song around the room, not unlike the silly songs we sang in the dining hall at church camp.

It has been decades since I sang some of those songs, but they stick with me.

I will never forget the time when we had a family reunion. I was a young adult and we were camping at my cousin’s ranch. We had brought some very large tents and one night we decided to have a “tent revival” with some parodies of evangelists and an old time revival meeting. We weren’t sure how some of our elders would take our sense of humor. In fact we were worried that some of them might take offense. One rather grumpy great aunt, well into her eighties was pretty serious about her strict methodist faith. Her father had been a minister in the old circuit riding days and her family was prominent in Montana Methodist history. She seemed to not be enjoying our “revival,” but near the end of our time she stood up. We were preparing for a lecture about being serious and not making fun of religion. Instead, she sang:

When the sexton rang the dishrag
Lard was rendered by the choir
As the organ pealed potatoes
Someone set the church on fire
“Holy smoke” the parson shouted
In the crowd he lost his hair
Now his head resembles heaven
‘cause there is no parting there.

We rolled with laughter. It was the best part of our revival. We learned that singing songs for the fun of it was also a part of our tradition. She had been singing silly songs since she was a child at Institute and camp.

I hope I can keep singing the silly songs for many years 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!

How is it with your spirit?

One of the questions that we all are responding to frequently is “How are your feeling today?” It is the beginning of a series of questions that are intended to screen those who are suffering from symptoms that might indicate that they have succumbed to the novel coronavirus. Covid-19 is no joke. More than 140,000 dead in the United States. More than 600,000 dead worldwide. The infection rate is continuing to grow.

I am aware that I changed my response to that question long before the pandemic. For most of the past decade I have responded to that question with, “I am well.” I stoped saying, “I’m feeling fine,” or “I’m doing great,” or even “I’m OK” and replaced it with a true statement of my physical health. “I am well” seems to be an accurate answer to a question about my physical health.

I made the change in my answer during a time of significant grief in our family. One day in April my brother died suddenly. The following January my mother died. In February, our first grandson was born. In March my father-in-law died. In July our daughter was married. The events in our family were coming so fast that I didn’t know how I felt from day to day. I didn’t want to be untrue in the responses I made to the question of how I was doing, but I also did not want to go into all of the details of my grief and joy and adjustment to all of the life changes that occurred in such a short amount of time. So I tried to come up with an answer that, for me, spoke of my physical health, which was good, and left the question of my mental and emotional and spiritual health unanswered.

Then, about four or five years ago, I stopped asking people “How are you?” The question seemed to me to be simply wrong for many of the relationships in my life. What is a young couple with a new child to say to that question when we all are deeply aware that the wife is dying from cancer? “How are you?” seems like a cruel question in the circumstances.

I visited a young man who went through months of treatment for a neurological disorder. He was hospitalized for nearly three full months. During that time I visited him regularly. It didn’t seem appropriate to ask him, “How are you?” We both could see the hospital bed. We both knew that the commode was next to the bed because he couldn’t walk. We both knew how worried he was about his job and his future.

Those are just a couple of examples of why I made a conscious decision to stop asking that question, at least when it is obvious that things are grim.

Instead, I started asking, “How is it with your spirit?”

The question is increasingly important these days as we adjust to life with a pandemic with no end in sight. I was especially aware of the question yesterday. Once again we watched the livestream of the worship service with other members of a congregation that we hope we will be joining. Once again, it was strangely unsatisfying. We are so used to live, in-person worship. We are so used to connecting with people in so many different ways that just watching a computer screen is sadly unsatisfying. I am aware of how much work the leaders of the church are doing to make the weekly broadcast work. I know how hard we were working during the last three months of our careers as we tried to provide spiritual support to a congregation in the midst of a health shutdown. Maybe we were working so hard that we were forgetting to ask the question, “How is it with your spirit?”

There are things that renew my spirit. As has been true all of my life, connections with nature and the power of creation is renewing. We are fortunate to be able to walk outdoors every day. We have to pay attention to the weather and choose the time of day, but we are able to walk next to the creek or through the forest, or along the high ridges. We are able to watch the deer and the birds. It renews our spirits to be together and to be outdoors.

My spirit is renewed by my family. We are able to videoconference with our grandchildren whenever we want. We can send pictures back and forth instantly. Yesterday it was a picture of our 1-year-old grandson who had managed to crawl into the bathtub and start the water dribbling. It reminded me of the day when his mother was a toddler and she crawled into the full bathtub with her brother while she was fully clothed, including her shoes. I realize how much life and energy and enthusiasm our children provide to me. I am reminded how fortunate that we have been to be able to travel to be with our grandchildren. We were in Japan a year ago, marveling at that same grandson and his parents.

I have prayers and scripture and books that strengthen and uphold me and renew my spirit. I am constantly reminded that ours isn’t the first generation of God’s faithful people to have encountered hard times. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

The answer to the question is, “I am well.” We have not contracted Covid-19. Our physical condition is healthy. There is, however, more to the story.

This is a challenging time for churches. As the time of physical distancing continues, there is a continuing need to focus on programs. Virtual Bible studies, visual book groups, virtual discussion groups, special worship services, video editing, keeping up with social media. But a church is more than a list of programs. It is, at its core, all about relationships - relationships that nature the spirit. And those relationships are a continuing challenge.

How is it with your spirit?

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!

Sunday

We are walking later in the evening these days. It is natural because the warmer weather makes a mid-day walk a lot more uncomfortable than waiting until around sundown. With the sun setting at around 8:30 in the evening, there is plenty of time for an after dinner walk. We have also found that the area parks, which have never been crowded, are even more deserted in the evening. There will be full parking lots and a bunch of people around some of the ball parks, and a few folks will linger in the creek, but the walking and bike paths are available for those of us who want to walk with plenty of distance between ourselves and others. It is not uncommon for us to have Mary Hall Park to ourselves or share it with just one or two others.

The lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Summertime and the Living is Easy” are a bit dated but somehow they came to mind last night. Saturdays have become a time when we almost always talk with both of our kids over the computer and get to see our grandchildren. We fell into that pattern when we were still working. Our Sundays tended to be busy and so the day of the weekend that worked to connect was Saturday. Our daughter-in-law works on Saturdays, so we often miss her, but our son is home with the children and we have a good visit. Saturday here is Sunday in Japan and we generally have a good conversation with them. 6 pm here is 9 am there, which works well for a conversation with them.

In the summer we generally cook our main course outdoors. We have a grill next to our deck and often do simple things such as chicken, burgers, brats and the occasional steak. I’ve gotten pretty good at baking a potato on the grill and roasting vegetables. The markets have lots of fresh produce, so even though we aren’t raising a garden this year we are eating well.

We enjoy eating on our deck. These days we have to clean the layer of dust off of the table each day. It is probably more frustrating for me because I have just stained the deck and it is looking good, but with the road construction there is a layer of dust on everything every day. We are getting used to it, but it is the first time I’ve thought of buying a leaf blower. I don’t know how well it would work to blow the dust off of everything, but the thought has entered my mind.

The real difference is that my mind is adjusting to being retired. Saturdays were, for almost all of my adult life, a day of preparation. I rarely wrote my sermons on Saturdays, preferring to have those ideas in my mind earlier in the week, but my mind was focused on the details of Sunday morning for most of the day Saturday. I would be making sure that I had my notes updated on the prayer concerns of the church and that I had all of the things I would need in my backpack before I went to bed on Saturday night. I often had a topic for the next day’s journal entry in mind so that I would be able to get it posted early. Our weekends feel much different these days. There is no Sunday rush. With the time zone difference between here and Washington, the livestream worship from the congregation there starts at 10:45 here, and I don’t have to be there for all of the countdown to the service, so as long as we are in front of the computer by 11:00 we can see the whole service.

I am beginning to remember Sundays from before the time I went to work as a pastor. When I was a child, our routine involved a bit of preparation form Sundays. On Saturday evening we’d polish and shine shoes and set out our fancy clothes for the next morning. On Sunday morning there would be a flurry of activity in the kitchen, getting the pot roast in the oven, preparing salads and such. Our family walked to church year round. It was only two blocks from our home. And the family rule was that we walked to church together. On the way home we could run ahead. Our dad was a talker and he might be the last one to leave the building, but we’d head home to play for a few minutes before dinner. In our house we had dinner at noon and supper in the evening. If our dad found anyone he could invite to dinner, there would be guests at the table and more talking after dinner.

Later, when I went to college, Sunday was the one morning when I didn’t set an alarm to wake up. I did some volunteering in the Church School at the church I attended during my college years, but there wasn’t much preparation for teaching and I could arrive ten or fifteen minutes before the start of things, so didn’t have to rush. After we married, I would buy a Sunday paper from a newsstand and we’d read the paper over a leisurely breakfast before heading off to church.

But for most of our lives, Sundays have been rush days. I’d rise early, shower, dress and eat a breakfast that could be prepared easily. I often went to the church ahead of other family members to be prepared for worship. I liked to spend time in the sanctuary and go through my sermon at least once before anyone else arrived at the building. A little extra time for my prayers was necessary before people started coming, because there would be a lot of business and urgent conversations that needed to be pursued before worship. Final talks with the choir director and organist and lay reader to make sure everything was coordinated. By noon I felt like I’d put in a whole day’s work.

It is different now. Perhaps I’m re-learning the art of Sabbath. I can tell it will take a bit more time for me to adjust.

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!

Managing stress

Decades ago, when I was leading stress management workshops for the Wholistic Health Care Center in Hinsdale, Illinois, I used to imitate Granger Westberg’s example of a lost sock to illustrate the five stages of grief. I know that Kubler-Ross added two steps to make it seven stages and others have enumerated 12 stages, but for the purposes of the workshops a simple illustration worked well.
Denial: That sock must be around her somewhere.
Anger: Damn it! Why do I always lose the good socks?
Bargaining: If I find that sock, I’ll organize my sock drawer and keep things neater.
Depression: I guess I’m never going to have any good clothing long enough to enjoy it.
Acceptance: Well, I can always wear these socks.

The silliness of the example helped participants to think of many different kinds of losses in their lives instead of thinking that death of a loved one was the only source of grief. We used the Holmes and Rahe stress scale as a tool for participants to evaluate the level of stress in their lives and to understand how the grief associated with rapid change can contribute to an increase in illness.

I don’t remember all of the items on the scale, but I do know that retirement ranked right up there with being fired from a job and that change in the health of a family member was not that far from personal injury or illness. Moving from one home to another, changes in financial state, death of friends all are sources of stress Even positive things such as awards and personal achievements, vacations and holidays can add to stress.

I was thinking that it might be interesting to fill out the social readjustment scale in the light of the Coronavirus Pandemic. There has been a lot of loss and stress in our world in the past few months. People have lost the freedom to go about their days as they used to do. They have lost the freedom to visit with loved ones or have lunch with dear friends. Young people have lost one and perhaps two years of school in the usual manner, making friends, socializing and learning. There has been a lot of loss.

It is one of the paradoxes of illness in general. Illness has the capacity to make one feel more ill. The stress of having an illness and contribute to increased depression and illness in an individual. It is true also of a group. Our society is not just ill from Covid-19, we are ill from the process of dealing with a pandemic with no end in sight. The stress is showing in our political leaders, who are expressing more and more anger in the face of the rising illness. Simple steps to limit the spread of the pandemic have become hotly contested political issues.

I notice people who are not wearing masks in places where masks are common, such as the grocery store. However, I don’t even speak to those people. I assume that they have a reason for their behavior, but I don’t know what that reason is. I’m afraid of hearing an angry diatribe about wearing masks. I’ve heard enough things from acquaintances and neighborhood members about their passion towards wearing or not wearing masks.

Because we are not thinking about the stress on our society in the terms of stress management, we are surprised by the anger. Anger is a normal part of the process of grief and we are grieving all kinds of losses. The result is a lot of anger that needs to be appropriately managed.

We have been so conditioned to think of stress in terms of individual experience and behavior that we are not aware of how much stress is a social phenomenon. We are all in this together. I’m in it with everybody else. I’m struggling, and I’m not the only one.

It is not, of course, the first time this world has experienced stress on a large scale. the 20th century brought two world wars and a number of pandemics. History teaches us that humans are amazingly resilient creatures. We can learn to live with incredible stress and pressure.

We may not like the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but we can decide to live with the conditions of our lives. We have choice. We have agency. Often, however, we forget it. We feel like we are only victims of forces that are beyond our control. But we are not totally helpless. We can’t control the pandemic. We can’t control the choices of our leaders. We can’t control the virus. But we do have some things we can control. We can control our personal behavior. We can control our choice to engage in physical exercise. We can control how we invest the time of our days. We can control how we reach out to others. We can allow ourselves to feel sadness and grief in the midst of loss. We can control the decision to pick ourselves up and go to work at the things that are most important.

There are some lessons from those long-ago days when I led stress management workshops that are still relevant to my life today. I can acknowledge that I am grieving and allow myself to grieve, but I don’t have to give in to being overwhelmed and despairing. The losses are piling up and we are sad. And we have to remind ourselves that grief is normal. It is a healthy, human response to loss. It is OK to feel sad. We don’t have to be disabled by our grief.

When we taught stress management, we avoided using “coping mechanisms.” Instead we spoke of coping skills. We have abilities that can be strengthened through practice and we can increase our skills with work.

This is a moment in history where we all need to work at practicing our coping skills. Put a plate of cookies in front of a neighbor’s door. Offer to go shopping fro a friend. Make an extra phone call to check in on a loved one. Practice the kindnesses that remind us that we are all in this together. Ask your loved ones, “How are you doing? How are you?”

Grief is not a state. It is a process. We get through it.

We’ll get through this.

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!

Living in a crazy world

There are some areas where scale and automation work well for our society, but sometimes there are glitches that don’t make sense. We’ve been going through a round of routine medical examinations. As a result of a regular visit with our family doctor, the dose of one medicine that I take was cut in half. I was already taking the smallest pill available for that particular medicine, so my doctor instructed me to cut the pills in half and take one half pill each day. No problem, I thought. I have a 90-day supply because our insurance forces us to use one of the huge mail-order pharmacies and they tend to get ahead of us with the medicine. That means that I know have a half year’s supply. However, the pharmacy, receiving the doctor’s new prescription assumed that I had dropped the old prescription and gotten a new one as if it was a change in medicine. They also assumed that the way to consume the tablets was to cut them in half and discard half, which makes no sense at all to me. So they shipped me what they thought was a 90-day supply, which is really a 180-day supply. Added to the pills I have from the same pharmacy, I now have a full year’s supply on hand. Normally I would work with my doctor to allow the prescription to expire, causing automatic refills to cease, until I caught up and got a reasonable supply, but I will be seeing a new doctor in six months as we establish care in a new place. I hope the new doctor will understand the quirks of the mail order pharmacy and work with me.

All of this occurs because the insurance company believes that they are controlling costs by working with the mail order pharmacy. This can’t be the case because of the huge amounts of waste that the process creates. If I were working with a local pharmacy, I could let the pharmacist know my current supply and wait for refills until the pills are needed.

Ah, such are the perils of our modern society.

Another story from my day yesterday illustrates the point in a completely different way.

Ford Motor Company employs a host of brilliant engineers. Our seven-year-old pickup truck is a marvel of modern engineering. The turbo diesel engine produces more horsepower and torque than we will ever need. The turbo charger itself is an incredible piece of engineering. It has variable pitch blades, which are controlled by the computer. I can set the cruise control while pulling a 5,000 pound trailer and it will control my speed perfectly going up hill or down. I can descend the highest passes in the Rocky Mountains without ever touching my brakes. The cab of the truck is filled with all kinds of modern conveniences including air bags to protect driver and passengers. There are cup holders nearly everywhere you might reach for one.

The dashboard cupholder, however, is definitely under-engineered. It expands to tightly hold even the largest cup, and ingeniously springs back to a small size to fold into the dash. However, it is made of plastic with a strong steel spring to hold it closed when not in use. The result is that it appears to be stronger than it really is when it is opened. If you push down on the cupholder, the spring will break the plastic and it will flop uselessly to the floor of the cab. I found this out recently when a good friend reached for a pump of hand sanitizer that I was keeping in the cupholder. He pushed down on the pump without supporting the cupholder and, crack, the cupholder broke.

The replacement part from our local Ford dealer was $88 due, in part to another engineering mistake. Instead of making the basic black cup holder replaceable by allowing the dashboard cover to be removed and put onto a new unit, or making the hinge itself replaceable by using a few screws, the entire unit has to be ordered to match the interior color of the truck. Not wanting to spend the $88 for the new part, I went shopping online and found the part for $39 and ordered it. It arrived promptly and I could see two screw holes, so assumed that I could simply remove two screws, remove the old cupholder and then replace those screws.

It wasn’t that simple. First I had to find a Torx T27 driver to remove those two screws. Not a T25 or a T30, but a T27. Fortunately I had the correct driver. But the cupholder didn’t come loose. I had to watch two YouTube videos to learn how to take it apart. It seems that there are four additional screws that need to be removed to allow the cupholder to be removed. The first is quite easy to access. You remove a panel under the steering wheel that reveals the location of that screw. The others need to be accessed by removing the center of the dashboard, which itself requires portions of the dash to be removed that are held in place by clips to reveal mounting screws. And these mounting screws require a 7mm metric socket to remove. The center of the dash board contains a dozen connectors supplying power to the stereo, the heater controls, several power outlets, four up fitter switches and the trailer brake unit.

I suspect that if one were to take the truck to the shop to have the job done the final bill would have been over $200 with all of the labor that is required. It seems obvious to me how they could have designed the unit to be stronger, more easily replaced and less expensive. Those goals, however, weren’t among the design criteria for Ford. After all they need to keep the income stream from parts and service coming in order to support their dealer network.

I don’t think we have any worries, however. Should any of the Ford engineers or technicians lose their jobs because people like me find discount ways to purchase parts and make their own repairs, they could always find jobs in the mail-order pharmacy business. The same kind of logic prevails in both industries.

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!

Life in our neighborhood

fawnsinyard
Having road construction behind our house has changed the patterns of the animals in the neighborhood. We often watch the deer in the evening. They seem to like to cross the road at about the same time as we have dinner. Since we like to eat on our deck during the summer, we tend to wait until a little after six for dinner because the construction crews shut down around 6. The deer are also waiting until the machines shut down for the day before crossing the road. Another change is that the deer didn’t have their fawns in our back yard. I’m not exactly sure where the little ones were born, but there is a sheltered gulley not far from our home that would provide what they need for the births. So we didn’t see the young fawns until they were bigger this year. However, there is a set of twins that we’ve seen and yesterday they decided to take a nap in our back yard. Despite the activity of the excavators and a concrete truck and a couple of skid steer loaders they settled down and though they were wary when I stepped out of the garage, they allowed me to take a few pictures before I left to run a couple of errands.

bluebird
The bluebirds continue their work of feeding their brood and provide entertainment for our meals as well. Bluebirds eat insects and it amazes me how keen their eyesight must be for them to be able to spot a small insect creeping in the grass. They’ll sit on a perch and watch and then suddenly dive and come up with a bug to take to their babies. I’ve seen them sit on the peak of the roof and still be able to be effective hunters.

We often don’t see the turkeys in the summer, so it doesn’t seem unusual for them to be having a different pattern for their days. They’ll probably show up in the early fall when this year’s chicks begin to look like adults. They’ll definitely be challenged by the construction. Turkeys like to walk in the same pattern each day and they don’t seem to like major changes.

Life is good and peaceful in our little neighborhood. It is hard to tell that there is a pandemic going on. Sure we shout to our neighbors across our back yards, but we did that before Covid. Our houses are fairly well spaced out here and many of us have been keeping to ourselves long before the illness was a threat.

We are definitely going to town a bit less these days. We take care of business as needed, and if we miss an item in our weekly grocery trek, I’ll make a second trip if needed. And I have never learned to be efficient with my trips to the hardware store. I keep a fair supply of items in the garage, but there’s always something that I’ve forgotten.

As the death toll from Covid-19 near 140,000 in our nation, with more than 3.4 million cases our state remains at a low level of testing, around 10%, so we don’t know how dangerous it is to venture out. As opposed to the days when we were actively working at the church, we’re mostly keeping to ourselves. Of course the church is empty now as well, so the final days of our working there were mostly being alone in the building.

I wonder, however, about what ti means to be living in this bubble. We are happy here with our birds and deer and we’re busy with the home repairs and sorting that need to be done. We have easy access to food and have everything that we need. But we are not used to separating ourselves from the world. There is so much grief in this world. So many have died. So many families have suffered losses, and because of the nature of the disease, many families have suffered multiple losses. Then there is the grief of loss of jobs and loss of friends and loss of church services and so many other losses. Our world is so full of grief.

Grief is something the church does well when it is operating in its normal fashion. We know how to console one another. We know how to be a supporting community. We have rituals for departure and funerals in he face of death. But this is not a normal time. Virtual church isn’t where we do our best work.

I pay attention to the work of active pastors and I admire their creativity and the dedication of those who are “in the trenches.” As we participate over the computer with the congregation in Bellingham I’ve learned of their 24-7 prayer line, we’ve been invited to participate in a half dozen virtual small groups, including Bible Study, fellowship and special interest groups. There are emails form the church three times each week and the Sunday services offer a chat stream that appears alongside the worship service. I’m not used to having side conversations during worship, so I don’t participate too much, but it does seem a little bit like being able to hear the whispers of others during the service.

We humans are amazingly adaptive species. We adjust to the realities of our lives. In that we aren’t that much different than the other animals who are our neighbors. If I am getting annoyed about all of the dust from the construction and the need to constantly wipe down surfaces as I spread stain on my deck, the bluebirds must have a similar layer of dust on their purchase and inside of their house. The deer are used to having the backyard to themselves when we go to work and with us staying home there is more activity in what used to be a very quiet place. But they are adapting. Life goes on and the natural process of raising a new generation continues.

Indeed we are among the world’s most fortunate people.

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!

We're all different

I know it is not winter, but something I read recently got me to thinking about snowflakes. The ideas likely came from a memoir by Barry Lopez called “Horizon.” Lopez is a veery good writer, winner of the National Book Award. Horizon is a very personal memoir of a man who has traveled extensively and often. He examines not only his own life, but the life of the planet. Having gone too some of the coldest and hottest and loneliest places on the planet, he speaks of the search for meaning and purpose in this world. I picked up the book because Lopez is is the author of Arctic Dreams. I have been drawn to books about Arctic and Antarctic explorations.

My thoughts of snowflakes, however, weren’t directly related to the book I’m currently reading. Sometime several years ago I read an article, likely on the Internet, about a scientist who had come up with a rough mathematical formula to test the adage that there are no two snowflakes that are alike. Basically the article said that because a water molecule consists of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom and oxygen and hydrogen bond at specific angles favoring six-sided prisms for snow crystals. Additional ices tends to attach to the six branches. Then the scientist estimated the number of snow crystals that fall on the earth. The number is huge. In the article it was represented by counting the number of zeros that would follow the lead number. I don’t remember the numbers, but they were very big. Then the scientist computed the statistical possibility of two of the smaller crystals being identical over a span of say, ten or a hundred years and concluded that there was a small statistical probability that there were two snow crystals that were identical at some point in history, but that finding them would be impossible.

So, for all practical purposes what we learned as children is true. No two snowflakes are identical. And if there were two that were identical, the odds of them being seen by the same person are astronomically huge. It just isn’t going to happen.

Then again we hear of events that beat astronomical odds. Last week three sisters in Mansfield Ohio gave birth to babies. The three children were delivered within a span of 4 1/2 hours by the same doctor at the same hospital. USA Today reported that the odds of that occurring were one in 50 million. But it did happen.

The odds of finding two identical snowflakes are much, much higher.

It is the nature of this universe to favor diversity and difference. You could spend a lifetime studying dragonflies and you wouldn’t find any two that were identical. That’s true of birds and rocks and blades of grass. It is true of people, too. We are all different.

We often forget this amazing diversity, however. We want to put items into categories. Unlike people who live near the poles, we have one word for snow. If it is an ice crystal that fell from the sky and it isn’t hail, we’ll call it snow. Even though no two snowflakes are the same, we’re going to put them all in the same category.

When we do that with people, we almost always create problems. We humans are each unique with our own genetic traits, our own decisions, our own cultural experiences, our own stories. And we don’t like it when others place us in categories. When people fail to see others as unique and human the results are often incredible cruelty. Human history is filled with experiences of murder and genocide and discrimination. Some lives are valued more than others.

On the one hand, it is surprising to me that the choice whether or not to wear a face mask when going out in public is so emotional and political. People scream at one another over their decision. Those who try to enforce the rules about face masks are threatened and some have become the victims of violence. People have been killed in the passion or arguments over this simple behavior. I’ve heard it reported that liberals wear face masks and conservatives don’t. That generalization doesn’t hold up in my observation. I suspect that the age of the individual has as much to do with the decision about a mask as does the political affiliation, but there are some general categories that hold up statistically. When it comes to wearing face masks, we seem to greet those who make different decisions with fear. I’ve hear both those who wear masks when they go out in public and those who do not describe the others as “living in fear.”

I don’t see why the decision has to be absolute. I have gotten into the habit of always carrying a face mask with me when I leave the house. Whether or not I wear it has to do with my proximity to others. If I’m hiking with my wife and there are no others present, I don’t wear my mask. If I go into the post office where people stand in line, I wear the mask. I haven’t figured out how to eat while wearing a mask, so yesterday we pulled down our masks to share an ice cream treat in an outdoor setting where people were physically distanced. I wore my mask to order and pay and when I took items to the trash can, where people were closer together. I saw some people who weren’t wearing masks, but they posed to threat to me or to others that I could deserve.

I also don’t find it to be any limit on my freedom that masks are required in certain settings. I didn’t feel my freedom was being restricted when I wore a face mask when I went in for a blood draw for a routine check-up. I’ve lived with businesses posting signs that say “No shirt, no shoes, no service” for all of my life. Although I grew up in a home where we often came straight from playing in the river to the dinner table, sometimes in our swimsuits or wet cutoffs, I haven’t found my freedom restricted by businesses that require me to put on shoes.

As we go through this pandemic together, I hope we will just cut each other a little slack. We are all different. And that is a good thing. As we make our own choices, may we give others the room to make theirs as well without judging them.

Once we figure out face masks, perhaps I could share my opinion on motorcycle helmets. And I don’t even own a motorcycle.

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!

Curation

We’ve begun some of the conversations that will probably mark the rest of our lives. In a world where we have had so much privilege and been granted so many possessions, which things do we keep, which do we discard, and how do we find new homes and new uses to things that we have held onto over the years. Although it isn’t a completely accurate comparison, I feel a bit like a curator in a museum. We have a lot of things that have come to us and many of them are a bit old. Which of those items do we keep and how do we use them to tell the stories of our lives.

Of course there is much that is simply junk. We have things in our home that we haven’t used and will never use. We have other things that have outlived their usefulness.There are other items that can be used by other people. Solid furniture that we don’t need and our children don’t want can be put to use by other people and there are agencies such as Love, Inc., Salvation Army, Cornerstone Mission, and Habitat Restore who have some skill at helping those items find new homes.

But the things that make me feel like a museum curator are the family heirlooms. We have antique clocks that carry family stories. A wall clock and a mantel clock have been in family homes for several generations now reside in our home. In a sense they don’t feel like they are our possessions, but rather a trust from previous generations. We’d like to pass them on to younger generations, but the younger people don’t want them. A clock that needs to be wound ever day and needs to be cleaned by someone with a rare set of skills and is only marginally accurate and must be reset each day as you wind it isn’t exactly the kind of timepiece that enhances the busy lives of young adults.

There are lots of things about our future that we do not know. My garage is filled with lots of common hardware. There are items that can easily be obtained if needed, but also can be used in so many ways. How much of it is worth moving? How much just needs to be left behind. Just because you can keep a harness ring all of your life doesn’t mean you’ll find a use for it. Common screws and bolts may cost more to move than they are worth. Heavy and bulky items such as scrap lumber and plumbing parts are worth less than the cost of moving them.

As we prepare to move and sort through our lives, we are making decisions that are imperfect. Pictures and slides go. We’ll work at sorting them in the next phase of our life. We know that we will be transporting some things that later need to be discarded.

The curator’s task is not just to sort through things to determine their age, nor is it just determining what is common and what is rare. The curator’s task is to tell the story of a community. What we want to take with us is the story of the lives we have lived. And that is also what we want to pass on to children and grandchildren. Old cards and letters are valuable only if there is someone to read them. We’ve carefully sorted though many of the items that were a part of our parents lives and chosen to keep some of those things, but just because we kept them and they are meaningful to us doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be meaningful to those who come after us.

I imagine that every curator who begins a new job faces the same challenge. Imagine moving to a museum and having the job of adding to the collection. The amount of storage space is limited and items that are not displayed, but stored have limited value. Each generation of leadership must make decisions about what to keep and what to discard. In that sense it makes sense that we leave some of those decisions to our children. There are some things we will take with us that will one day become items they have to sift and sort. I do not apologize for this. We’ve had to sort through a lot of items that belonged to parents and grandparents. Nearing the end of their lives our parents became overwhelmed by the task and finally got to the point where they could no longer deal with all of the decisions. We ended up going to their homes and moving out the items we thought they would need in a smaller living space. Other items were sorted. At that point we kept items for which we had no immediate use, but that we thought might be needed or wanted by younger members of the family. Some of those items are easier to sort the second time, but there is an inefficiency in the fact we chose to keep them in the first sorting.

Then there is the issue of time. We could spend years sorting, but we don’t have years. We need to set a reasonable timeline for leaving this house and making our way to the next one. And, frankly, we don’t know what timeline makes sense. The shifting nature of the pandemic means that the rules for travel are changing every day. It isn’t reasonable to simply select a day and heading out. But failing to do that has its consequences, too.

So we have become, for a while, curators of a part of your family story. It has never been about the items. We aren’t people who own huge amounts of things that have great worth. There is no jewelry to be appraised, and few treasures headed for antique shops. What we have of value are the stories we pass on to the next generation.

I understand now how a shed full of junk at the back of the shop at my mother’s summer place got the name “Uncle Ted’s Museum.” My mother didn’t need anything that was in the shed. There were things there that she couldn’t even identify their use. But she kept them. One item made its way to a new home in a real museum as my sister sorted the shed this spring. Much of the rest was hauled to the landfill. Maybe in the future some archeologist will sift through the landfill in search of clues to an ancient society. In that case, we’ll be adding a few clues to that story as well.

Curators, however, also keep collections. There are more than a few that will end up in packing boxes and will make the trip to our new place.

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!

Sounds in the night

My father grew up in Eastern North Dakota, outside of the town of Minnewaukan. Minnewaukan is the Dakota name for Spirit Lake, called Devil’s Lake by European Settlers. The Lake sits on very flat country and expands and recedes in wet years and dry. The river that feeds the lake is nearly level, falling as little as one inch per mile in some sections. There is no rushing water in the area.

From Minnewaukan, he moved with his family to Billings, Montana, where his father operated a service station that was quite a distance from the Yellowstone River. He attended Billings Polytechnic College, which is tucked under the rimrocks away from the river. From there he moved to Victorville, California, in the middle of the desert. After being discharged from the service, he moved to Oklahoma to attend A & P school. From there it was a search for a place to start a flying service. When they chose Big Timber, Montana, they selected a house that was a couple of miles from the river. Only later, when he well-established did they get their cabin by the river.

I recount his journey to make the point that he didn’t grow up with the sound of running water.

When I was a teenager, he took me into the Crazy Mountains. We drove up to Half Moon Campground and camped overnight. We hiked away from the campground with just a few things to make our meals and our sleeping bags. We slept under the stars without a tent. He rolled out his sleeping bag right next to the falls and I next to him. In the morning he declared that it was one of the best night’s sleep of his life. “There is nothing like the sound of rushing water to make you sleep!”

It isn’t like he grew up listing to rushing water to lull him to sleep.

Looking back, I wonder if he had a bit of tinnitus. He had spent a lot of time around some very noisy engines, flying airplanes for all of his adult life. Perhaps the noise of the waterfall was just the right frequency to allow him to sleep without the perception of ringing in his ears.

I don’t have tinnitus. I can appreciate silence, and enjoy it when we have a very quiet place to sleep. I prefer to be away from crowds and the noise of cities. Our place out here isn’t absolutely quiet. We have a fairly major street in our back yard, but our neighborhood quiets down pretty well in the night. We can hear the coyotes sing and wake to birdsong.

Our son and daughter in law have employed various devices to make white noise as a background for sleeping. they feel that it was very helpful for their children when they were babies. Before it is born, a baby’s world isn’t silent. There are all kinds of body noises in there. In fact babies sleep when their mothers are active and tend to wake when things get quiet as the mother sleeps. When they get well developed, they’ll start kicking and moving when the mother is trying to sleep. The natural process helps to prepare the mother for all of the sleepless nights after the baby is born.

It makes sense that a little noise of some kind is OK in a sleeping area. It is interesting how much a person can adjust. When we lived in Boise there was an irrigation canal that ran along the south edge of our property. We didn’t have rights to take water from the canal, but there was a small diversion at the southwest corner of our property that took some of the water to a smaller canal that served places to the south that had irrigation rights. The diversion made a rushing water sound that you could hear from our bedroom on quiet nights. But the water wasn’t the only sound of the city. Right behind the irrigation canal was a set of railroad tracks. The tracks were not used by the freight trains that went through town, only the Amtrak which had two trains per day - one eastbound and the other westbound. Those trains roared by our place late at night and early in the morning with the whistles blowing. I thought it would be a challenge to learn to sleep through the trains, but it was quite easy and I soon could sleep right through them every night unless they were late. If the train was not on time, it would wake me. If it came through at the right time, I could sleep right through the commotion.

These days, we don’t have much noise at night. We’re a long way from any rushing water, though I love to sleep next to a stream when presented with the opportunity. I grew up with the river right next to my window during summers. In the summer, when we sleep with the widows open, I can hear the neighbors if they come or go late at night. I can hear the traffic on the road. But I can also hear the coyotes and other night sounds of the hills. In the summer we sometimes have big thunderstorms with rain and hail and lots of wind. The thunder and lightning provide a light show with sound effects. Other nights we get smaller and more gentle storms with just a bit of wind in the pine trees. The wind through the pine trees is as soothing a sound as water rushing over rocks. It can lull me right to sleep in a few minutes.

I appreciate quiet, but my world is rarely silent. When I was leading worship I would refer to moments of prayer as “quiet” prayer, not “silent” prayer. I always listened to the congregation during those times. I could hear a child fidget or a cough or someone just clearing their throat. I could sense the mood of the congregation. I judged the length of the quiet time by the sounds of the congregation. I don’t need my world to be silent, a little sound is a wonderful thing.

So I listen for the wind in the pine trees. Even when it is just a slight breeze, the calm sound surrounds me as I sleep.

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!

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!

Visiting the high country

rockcreekred lodge
Back in 1986, I was an adult chaperone for the delegation of youth from the Central Pacific Conference to the United Church of Christ Western Regional Youth Event held in LaForet, Colorado. Roughly two thirds of our delegation boarded the train in Portland, Oregon in the morning. Our portion of the delegation joined them in Boise, Idaho that evening. We traveled through the night on the train. Sunrise found us in Salt Lake City, Utah and the next day’s travel was through the mountains to Denver Colorado, where we boarded vans that took us to the camp. During the following day, delegations arrived from across the West. There were worship services and workshops and a wide variety of activities. on the next to last day of the gathering there were several major day-long adventures offered. I agreed to be one of the adults supervising the youth who hiked the Barr trail up Pike’s Peak. The hikers were given an early breakfast and sack lunches and we started up the trail around 7 am. Our goal was to get all of the kids to the top before 4 pm as afternoon thundershowers are common in the summer and lightning strikes on the top of the peak are common.

Another counselor and I volunteered to hike sweep at the end of the delegation, assisting any campers who were a bit slower than the others and making sure that everyone was staying with the overall group. I knew the other adult counselor from growing up in Montana and we enjoyed conversation as we hiked. Not long after our lunch break we had to slow our pace for a camper from Hawaii who was struggling. He kept asking us to let him stop for a short nap. He said he would catch up. Of course, we couldn’t allow that to happen, so we kept working with him, encouraging him to drink more water, resting as he needed and coaxing him up the trail.

In retrospect, we should not have allowed someone who had come from sea level in Hawaii to be hiking above 12,000 feet where the oxygen is so thin. Hypoxia and altitude sickness are common even among healthy youth with that much altitude change. The Pike is 14,115 and a challenge even for hikers who have acclimated to the altitude. It is one of the fourteeners in Colorado that is accessible without technical climbing skills. You just follow the trail to the top. But the planners of the event should have given some attention to those who were not conditioned to the altitude. Even requiring those to ride the cog wheel railroad to the top would have been preferable to having a vulnerable youth on the mountain as the afternoon wore on.

We didn’t have many resources for treating altitude sickness. We got some orange juice into the hiker. He was strong and young and we completed the hike. You had made it to the top of the mountain in three different ways. Some hiked. Some rode the cog wheel railroad. A few rode up in vans driven by adults from the camp. At the top it was decided that I should drive one of the vans down the mountain as I had experience with steep roads and the Pike is notorious for wearing out brakes. There are brake inspection stations on the road as you descend and if you get the brakes too hot you are required to wait until they cool. Driving down was no problem and we returned to the camp without further problems. Our Hawaiian hiker recovered well after the descent.

I was thinking of the experience as we topped mountain passes on our drive from Washington back to South Dakota. The passes are no where near as high as we were in Colorado. Homestake Pass over the Continental Divide is only 6,329 feet above sea level. But we woke up on Sunday in Mount Vernon, Washington which is 180 feet above sea level. We spend that night in St. Regis, Montana at 2635 feet above the ocean and this morning we wake in Red Lodge, Montana at 5,568 feet. All of the changes in elevation have been no problem for us as we are used to traveling and they are in a comfortable range. There is plenty of oxygen in the atmosphere at 5,568 feet. Airline travel is routinely done with the pressurization set for the oxygen content of about 8,000 feet.

I have a friend, however, who feels the effects of altitude even in Rapid City which is only 3,202 feet above sea level. He has problems with his lungs and sometimes finds it difficult to catch his breath. Any exertion is a challenge for him. He is much more comfortable at sea level. I have some understanding of his situation because I also had an aunt who struggled with altitude. She carried supplemental oxygen for any trip into the mountains.

We, however, have so far been blessed with bodies that easily adjust to changes in altitude. I was a lot younger when we hiked the Barr trail, but I had no ill effects from spending time above 14,000 feet with no supplemental oxygen. My performance and judgment weren’t affected in ways that I could perceive. Of course that is one of the problems with hypoxia, you don’t think that there is anything wrong as your mental performance suffers. At any rate, we are blessed to be able to enjoy the high country without ill effects and relatively quick changes from near sea level to mountain locations don’t prevent us from hiking and walking and enjoying physical activities.

It felt good last night to lie in bed and listen to the sounds of Rock Creek flowing outside the window. The air is clean in the high country and there are lots of wild flowers to enhance the beauty of our visit to this part of Montana. How much we would miss if we were not able to get out and enjoy the mountains.

Our human bodies are amazing in their ability to adapt to changing circumstances. And yet, we know they are also frail. They require care and none of us will go on forever. So we give thanks for the moments of health that we enjoy. They are indeed a blessing.

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!

Do your part

Rapid City bound, we drove across Washington and North Idaho yesterday afternoon and evening. The states where we drive have all erected large electronic signs to update motorists with the latest information about road conditions and other important things. In the winter the signs often warn of high winds or slippery conditions. In the summer, Montana often has general highway safety messages and reports the number of traffic fatalities to date. These days the signs seem to have messages about pandemic safety. All of the Washington sings had the same message yesterday:

THINK TWICE
BEFORE TRAVEL
STAY SAFE

I guess that there were a lot of people like us whose second thought was, “I guess I’ll go!” There were a lot of people out and about on the roads. Fortunately, for us, the big traffic delays in Washington were going in the opposite direction of our travel. The biggest slow down we saw was traffic heading up the eastern slope of Snoqualmie Pass on Interstate 94. We don’t usually take the Interstate when traveling across Washington, but it is the fastest way to travel, at least some of the time. Yesterday, we were fine, heading east, but west-bound traffic was stop and go for miles and miles heading up to the pass. There were a lot of folks heading back to Seattle after the 4th of July weekend. The Interstate was essentially one big traffic jam all the way back to Ellensburg. That’s over 50 miles of cars and trucks backed up. There were a lot of recreational vehicles in that line and I’m sure there were a lot of frayed tempers as well.

We stopped to use the rest rooms at the top of Snoqualmie Pass and again at a rest stop east of George. People were being fairly respectful of social distances. The majority, however, weren’t wearing face masks. This surprised us because Washington has a statewide mandatory order requiring the use of face masks. This is being widely observed in Mount Vernon, where we had been visiting. We had ours on when going inside buildings or walking near others.

Most surprising was Spokane. We stopped for fuel and picked up a sandwich at a shop that we ate on the tailgate of the pickup before getting back on the road. The sandwich shop was not enforcing the face mask rule. In fact we didn’t even see the signs that are posted on most public buildings in Washington stating that it is state law. The employees and we were wearing our masks, but none of the other customers, who also were not observing the simple distancing signs marked on the floor. We got our food and got out of that shop. Right next door was the fuel station where they were clearly enforcing the face mask and physical distancing rules.

We are living a huge social experiment. How do you get people to do what is clearly in their best interests? The issue of face masks has become political and more than one candidate has used the tactics of social division rather than appealing to unity. I am afraid that the high number of infections that we are now experiencing will continue as long as the politicians are trying to exploit the pandemic for personal political gain. Sadly the politics of division has worked in the past and candidates are quick to exploit our differences and disagreements.

I know it will be an issue when we are back in South Dakota. I have seen the pictures of the July 3 fireworks display and rally at Mount Rushmore. Senators and Representative and Governor all standing shoulder to shoulder with no face masks or other personal protective gear. I hope there was no one in attendance who was actively carrying the virus, but since it takes a couple of weeks for incubation, we won’t know for a while the results of the behavior.

Even then we may not know. It seems that world leaders have a euphemism for contacting the virus. Unless the politician is deathly ill and needs to be hospitalized, as was the case with Boris Johnson in England, the announcement is made that the spouse of the leader has been infected and the leader needs to take time off to be safe. That is what happened in Canada. It was announced that Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie, had contracted the virus and he disappeared from public view for several weeks. I don’t know whether or not he was infected, but I suspect that a lot of couples have shared the virus once it came into their home. I’m suspicious that the announcement that Donald Trump Jr’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, has tested positive for Covid-19 might be telling us that the illness is closer to the President himself than campaigners would like us to believe.

As we crossed the Montana line, I noted that their state traffic signs were no longer reporting highway fatalities. The slogan on those signs is:

BE SMART
6 FEET APART
DO YOUR PART

It isn’t exactly highbrow poetry, but it is an attempt at public safety education. I appreciated the attempt at rhyming. Actually, I noted that both states had signs that were easy for me to remember long enough to include the slogans in today’s journal entry.

How this pandemic plays out is a long way from being resolved. I’m pretty sure that the holiday weekend has resulted in a lot of risky behavior and it is likely that increased infection rates will be showing up over the next couple of weeks. None of us are magically exempt from catching the virus. The basic precautions of keeping distance, washing hands and wearing face masks make sense to me. If I unknowingly have contacted the virus and have no symptoms, I certainly do not want to be sharing the illness with anyone. And if I can do anything to slow the spread of the virus, it seems to me to be worth a little inconvenience to do my part, as the Montana sign asks.

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!

The journey continues

skagit sunset
Technically, we were still employed the last two weeks of June. We had saved two weeks of vacation to end our time at the church, and we have taken these weeks as vacation, to unwind and prepare for our return to Rapid City to get our house read to sell. So officially our retirement began on Wednesday and today is our first Sunday of retirement. I don’t know that that technicality makes any difference, but it is worth noting as we adjust to a new way of life. The days of the week were blending into one another before we stopped working at the church. Covid-19 changed so much in terms or routine. And it continues to have a big effect on what we do and how we plan our lives. Going to church just isn’t the same thing when church is online.

New Pilgrims Community UCC in Anacortes is using YouTube to broadcast sermons, but there isn’t any real way to connect with the community other than watching a video right now. We could contact the pastor, but it would be only a phone conversation at this point. First Congregational Church of Bellingham is live-streaming on Facebook. Their worship services are more similar to what we have known in Rapid City and the congregation is nearer to the same size. Still, it is hard to connect with a community when they are not meeting face to face.

Some of the island congregations are meeting, but the islands themselves are not yet prepared for an onslaught of tourists and we’ve stayed off of them during our visit.

And, of course, we haven’t done anything about seeking a place to rent here. It is too soon for that. We’ve scanned real estate listings and driven by some potential places, but we need to take care of our home in Rapid City before we start paying rent on a new place. So we remain in limbo.

Today we will start back for Rapid City and the work that needs to be done there. It has been a wonderful vacation with walks through parks and community neighborhoods, sleep overs with grandchildren, family meals with our son and his family, and lots of adventures. Our camper has been a good home base and will continue to be that for us for the next few months of transition. But it is time to go back. Vacation is wonderful in part because it is a limited amount of time.

The trip back to Rapid City will give us time to adjust to the realities of retirement. We know that we need to make some changes. Life doesn’t just go on as before. And we have faced a lot of different challenges in 47 years of being married. I commented to Susan recently that it reminds me of our move to Chicago for graduate school. At that time we had only been married a year, but Chicago is about the same distance from Montana as Northwestern Washington is from South Dakota. In those days there was a national 55 mph sped limit, and our car wasn’t as comfortable or quite as reliable as the transportation we have these days. But we were younger and willing to spend more hours per day driving. The trips usually took us three days with two nights on the road. Most of the time at least one of those nights could be spent with family. That’s about the way we’re dividing up these trips.

Of course we didn’t go back and forth. I made a trip with our household items and put them in storage and then we made the move to Chicago in a single trip. But we returned to Montana at Christmas and again in the summer. We also had the stability of a set school year, generous fellowships to make our studies financially feasible, family support if we encountered big problems, and we were moving into an institution that was focused on community. Our first meetings at the seminary were all about getting to know the classmates with whom we would journey for the next few years as we completed our degrees. Theological education in those days was very much about participating in a university community. As one of our seminary professors said, “No one should read Karl Barth alone.”

sunflower
This time we have abundant family support. Our son and his family are welcoming us to their community. Our daughter and her family are supportive of our decision to make the move. We also have the financial security of a United Church of Christ pension, a bit of Social Security, and a bit of savings that we have been able to set aside. We have the equity in our home and are in a good position to make a change. What we don’t have is the kind of community that we have known in other moves in our life. This time we aren’t headed towards a church that has been searching for a pastor and decided to call us. Except for a few conversations with individuals, the congregations in this area don’t even know we are coming yet.

Skagit County is still on phase II of Covid lockdown. There is a mandatory face mask order for the entire state in all public places where people are closer than six feet from one another. Going to indoors public places is discouraged. The churches are not yet meeting face to face. Our interactions with other people during our travels is very limited. We carry our own food with us. Fuel can be purchased by putting a card in a machine without any conversation with others.

Every person who has experienced retirement has experienced a sense of change and newness. We are not unique. We will make these adjustments. But we have been having a few conversations between ourselves and with our family about how strange this particular adjustment seems to us. As our mentor and teacher Ross Snyder wrote, “Our life is a mountain with valleys between and spiraling paths through the mixed-up ravines.”

The journey continues.

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!

Independence Day 2020

july4fireworks
We celebrate July 4 as the day of the birth of our nation. Of course a nation doesn’t come into being in a single day, and the story of how July 4 became our national holiday is a bit complex. The Continental Congress was comprised of delegations from each of the colonies. Delegations ranged from two to seven representatives and each colony was given a single vote. The original draft of the Declaration of Independence was prepared by Thomas Jefferson, but there were delegates who weren’t willing to sign on to Jefferson’s document. The New York delegation, for example, was not authorized to vote for Independence from Britain. On July 1 the document was tabled. Congress then proceeded to edit the document as a committee of the whole, striking more than a quarter of the original document. Jefferson said that the document was mangled by the process. The vote took place on July 2 with a two-thirds majority, but not a unanimous declaration. Some colonies abstained from the vote. Nonetheless, John Adams wrote his wife Abbigail that he believed the July 2 would go down in history as the day of the celebration of the new nation:

“I am apt to believe that [Independence Day] will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

He got most of his prediction right, but the day attached to the declaration wasn’t the day that congress passed it, but rather the day it was publicly announced, July 4.

Whatever Jefferson thought of the edited document, it has stood the test of time as a powerful statement of the rights of people and the basis of legitimate government. A brief introduction asserts a philosophy of natural law that guarantees the right of people to form governments and to assert independence from ruling authorities. That is followed by a preamble that is a powerful statement of human equality and rights.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Of course the founders of the nation weren’t quite as expansive in their thinking of who possessed these rights as their document declares. Signers of the Declaration included slave owners who weren’t thinking in terms of the equal creation or the rights of those slaves. The colonists weren’t including the indigenous people of North America among those who they thought were created equal. The document, however, rose above the specifics of the moment. It has gone on to become a statement of an ideal - a goal towards which the nation can strive. The common equality of all has taken centuries to come to fruition and we are far short of the fulfillment of those ideals, but the document continues to guide our development as a nation and our work towards the granting of equal rights and human equity.

After the preamble, the Declaration has a long list of grievances against the King of England that justify the independence of the colonies from British royalty. It lists specific instances when the liberties and rights of the colonists have been abused by the King’s actions. This section is followed by a denunciation:

"Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends."

Then the document is concluded with a stirring and powerful pledge:

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

The document was then signed and shortly afterward delivered to the King of England. It was also widely circulated among the colonies and it inspired the citizens of the colonies to muster the ability to assert their Independence through a war and the establishment of a new government.

Humans, being human, make mistakes, and the government that they founded is far from perfect. Our history has been marked by moments of glory and moments of failure. Less than a century after the founding of the nation a bloody Civil War nearly toppled the experiment in liberty and representative government. Although that War resulted in the emancipation of slaves and the fulfillment of some of the basic tenets of the Declaration, the racism and denial of rights that allowed for slavery to exist still persists in our nation. Not all citizens of our country are afforded their basic human rights. This killing of George Floyd has risen in the consciousness of our nation as more than a single act of depriving a person of the right to life, it has become a symbol of systematic racism that persists in our society and given rise to the call for reforms not only of the way that policing is done, but of how we organize our society.

So today, on the day we set aside to celebrate the founding of our nation and the declaration of our independence, it is appropriate to re-dedicate ourselves to the principles outlined in our founding document. May we be willing to pledge “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” to the living out of the truth that that "all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

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!

Happy Birthday Mom

If she were still alive, today would be my mother’s 99th birthday. She wasn’t a part of the World War I baby boom, exactly. At least her father hadn’t been a part of the young men who went off to that war. He had been in law school - an incredible privilege for a child of one of Montana’s pioneer families. Both her father and Mother had grown up in Fort Benton, the last stop for the Missouri River Steamboats where they turned around before reaching the Great Falls which were not navigable for them. She was the third daughter born to Vernon and Eva. Eva was the daughter of Roy Russell, a court reporter who had served in Virginia City, one of the early capitols of the Montana Territory, but who had returned to the more settled community of Fort Benton to raise his family. Vernon’s uncle had been a mule skinner who hauled freight out of Fort Benton. When the steamships unloaded, there was a lot of freight that was bound for Helena and other places deeper in the territory and the freighters were the ones to get it delivered. Part of the family lore from the Lewis side of the family is that uncle Ed was the one who was the model for Charles Russell’s famous painting of a mule skinner at the top of the Fort Benton hill. Part of the family lore from the Russell side of the family is that even though the artist had the same name, he was not related to our clan. Hattie Lewis wanted nothing to do with that “whiskey drinking n’er do well.”

Vernon and Eva had settled into a large two-story frame house with a sleeping porch on the front and a field behind where they kept a dairy cow for their family. Vernon practiced law in the area and did every kind of legal work from land titles and transactions to criminal defense to preparing wills and estates. He dabbled in politics and served in the Montana House of Representatives and Senate.

Before she was a teenager, the family had grown to five daughters and the sleeping porch was filled with girls on summer evenings. The Great Depression hit hard in a lot of ways, with folks not having money to pay for legal services. Vernon was sometimes paid in chickens or even legs and often not paid at all. Their family was one of the pillars of the Methodist Church and he served the state Conference and the General Conference of the Methodist Churches. Among the favorite activities of the family were the annual trips to Neihart, where the Methodists held their annual encampment in the Belt Mountains. One of the cabins at the camp was constructed by the family.

They saw tragedy when the fourth daughter died of heart disease, after a struggle with rheumatic fever. Vernon and Eva never wavered from their desire to educate their daughters. The college of choice for the daughters was Intermountain Union in Helena, formed from a merger of Montana Wesleyan College and the College of Montana from Deer Lodge. Vernon served on the Board of trustees of the three-building campus. A series fo earthquakes in October of 1935 rendered the campus unusable. The walls collapsed on the new gymnasium. The classroom building and dormitory were uninhabitable. The college briefly moved to temporary quarters in Great Falls before accepting an invitation to share the campus of Billings Polytechnic Institute. Vernon continued to serve as a trustee and as the college’s lawyer through all of the transitions and the family’s focus shifted to Billings along with the move of the college.

It made sense that their third daughter, our mother, who had her heart set on becoming a nurse, attend the nursing school at Billings Deaconess Hospital, where she could live safely in the Deaconess dormitory and still be able to attend classes at the college. One evening she attended a theatre performance at Losekamp Hall when a paper airplane landed in her lap. She turned around to see a giggling boy in the balcony who had obviously folded the plane from the theatre program and thrown it in her direction. Determined to give him a piece of her mind about proper behavior, she confronted him after the performance. The rest, as they say, is history.

Her boyfriend had his eyes on the sky. He was attending Polytechnic and working in their farm across the road, but every spare minute was spent at the airport fiddling with airplanes. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the twenty-year old fly boy signed up for the Army Air Corps, who were in need of instructor pilots. He was stationed at Victorville in California and the two wrote letters. The next December she boarded the train and made her way to California. She was just 20 and he 21 when they were married in the home of her uncle and aunt by a Methodist minister.

After the war she practiced her nursing and he used GI funds to complete his airframe and power plant certificates at a school in Oklahoma. Then the pair started to look for an airport in need of a pilot/mechanic/operator and a town in which to settle. Several possibilities were considered, including Rock Springs, Wyoming, but after living so far from her family home, she longed to return to Montana and when their Stinson touched down on the grass strip next to the navigation beacon on the hill above Big Timber, they decided to settle in that town.

It was still a while before I arrived on the scene and there were plenty of other family adventures, but before they turned 30 the pair had formed a solid marriage. They had endured a Great Depression and a World War. He had survived a flying career that had killed a lot of his students and earned a purple heart from injuries sustained when he bailed out of an airplane with a non-functioning engine. She had lived in four different states and he in five.

As always, there is more to the story, but for today it is enough to give thanks for that baby girl born 99 years ago who gave me life and faith and love.

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!

Adapting

It rained most of the day here yesterday. Each time we poked out our heads, there were raindrops falling. A single rainy day in a camper is no hardship. The children played peacefully in the camper all morning. We were all surprised when it was lunchtime. The time had passed so quickly. The camper is cozy and dry.

In the afternoon, while the children were having quiet time at their house, Susan and I decided that we would go for our walk. We donned our raincoats and drove to a park where there are lots of big trees. The ground was soft and squishy in lots of places and we got mud on our shoes as we got our exercise. We are not habituated to rainy country and do not have true foul weather gear, but we do have jacket that shed most of the rain. The park was smaller that we expected and we ended up walking through a neighborhood for at least half of our walk. By the time we had covered a couple of miles, we were pretty wet and ready to head back to the camper. We dried out and had a cup of tea.

In the late afternoon, I went for another walk and ended up at least as wet as I had on the first walk. Then, as the children were getting ready for bed, I offered to go out and close the chicken coop for the night. Just as I swung the door closed, I hit the overhead chicken netting and sent a cascade of water down on my head and shoulders, drenching my shirt and back. For the third time in a single day, I had to get a towel and dry myself off.

We will adjust to the new climate. We’ve been watching the locals. Our grandchildren all have boots that they pull on to keep their feet dry and jackets that shed the water. They take the rain for granted and have the gear to keep dry. We will acquire the necessary gear before long. It is likely that we have cold weather gear such as heavy coats and insulated coveralls that we won’t be needing in this new place.

We have been very disciplined about exercise and taking our daily walk ever since Susan was hospitalized last fall. We haven’t missed any days of exercise since she was able to walk for a half hour each day. At home, during the winter, there were a few days when it was too cold and windy to walk outside, so we walked inside the church. Five laps of all of the interior hallways at the church is a mile. I’ve walked as much as three miles inside of the church. We don’t have the same kind of access here yet. Churches are on lockdown and we’re new to the area.

In the evening we had a short discussion with our son about where we might walk indoors. There are not very many options. The local indoor shopping mall is now officially closed. Some of the stores in the mall are open and doing business, but they are accessed individually from their exterior doors. The interior mall itself is not open. The combination of a change in the way that people shop with the effects of the pandemic has caused the mall to be facing bankruptcy.

There are, of course, big box stores that are open. It wouldn’t be hard to get in a couple of miles walking around Lowes or Home Depot.

It is evident that an economic readjustment will be a part of the story of Covid-19. Obvious “winners” in the short term have been supermarkets and Internet businesses. Amazon was already an economic powerhouse and they were well situated to expand their profits during the time of lockdown. People are staying home and ordering everything from household supplies to groceries to be delivered to their houses.

A couple of days ago, as we were driving back to the camper from an errand I noticed a coffee shop with a drive-through where there were two UPS trucks and a FedEx truck all in line to pick up their beverages. The people who make the home deliveries have been especially busy in this time.

I’ve read that during the Black Plague in Europe, entire communities failed and ceased to exist. You will come across large old stone churches standing out in the middle of empty fields in Europe. It is likely that those churches are all that is left of a community that was abandoned. The houses fell down and deteriorated and all that is left is the church. The plague was far more devastating than the current pandemic. There were large areas where the death rate was as high as 30%. There was a huge labor shortage. Crops were left in the fields with no one to harvest them. In general, the plague affected the poorest people more than it did those who were rich. The rich got richer and the poor often simply died. Pandemics have not had a positive effect on economic justice in the past. There is already evidence that a similar effect is occurring with Covid-19.

We were already changing the way we shop before the pandemic. Bricks and mortar stores were being replaced by online retailers. The convenience of home delivery was becoming common all across the country. The fleets of brown UPS trucks were growing and jobs were shifting form traditional retail to a combination of big box stores and Internet-based businesses.

It is still too early to know all of the effects of this situation on the economy and the lives of people, but it is clear that it will be significant.

So, as we continue to walk for our health, we know that weathering the storm will require more than just a bit of better rain gear. We’ll adapt to the weather just fine. Adapting to a new economy might take a bit longer.

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!

Another walk at the state hospital

northernstatehospitalsw
We took another walk at Northern State Recreation Area yesterday. One of the luxuries of being retired is being able to follow paths without knowing exactly where they are leading. The map of the hiking trails in the area are less than precise and the paths we had previously followed were all loops, so we kept expecting this particular trail to lead back to another path, but it did not. It led to a dead end and then we had to walk back on the path to get back. We added about two miles to our usual walk of two miles, so all-in-all walked 4.33 miles. It caused no problem. We had the time. We enjoy being together. The exercise is good for us. My loving partner has learned over the years that I am prone to taking “long cuts” when we are exploring.

The walk gave me more time to think about the history of Northern State and the history of state institutions for mentally ill persons in general. Those institutions were born out of genuine concern for the victims of mental illness. They needed places where they could be safe and secure. In addition to those suffering from mental illness, most of those state institutions housed individuals who had cognitive disabilities. Before such disabilities were understood, it was common for a child born with Down Syndrome, for example, to be removed from her or his family and housed in an institution. Now we understand more about Down Syndrome, we understand that those who are born with an extra chromosome can grow to be productive adults and participate fully in life. Back then it was thought that such individuals would never be able to learn the basics of talking, self-care or ever gain skills that made them employable.

The institutions tried to separate those who had violent tendencies from others and, for the most part, did a good job of keeping innocent victims from violence. They provided a way of life that supported persons as they went through their lives and often people lived the remainder of their lives in the institutions, which developed areas for senior care and end of life care.

Northern State had its own cemetery. The remains of nearly 1,500 persons are buried there. We visited the cemetery yesterday. It is a large field, kept mowed, with a single marker in memory of all who are buried there. No individual graves are marked. There are no headstones. There was no way to distinguish individual graves.

I wondered about the stories of individuals as we went on the rest of our walk. Some of them, I presume, were cut off from their families by the process of institutionalism. I know that some state hospitals discouraged and even forbid families from visiting. The visits disrupted the normal flow of the days for individuals. Some people became upset when family members had to leave and were disruptive in their expressions of their grief. Some care givers mistakenly thought that it was best for the individuals not to receive visitors. They were institutional residents now. The institution was their family.

Families grieved when their loved one was admitted to the hospital and then they went on with their lives. Parents died before children and there were residents of the institution who had no one but the institution to care for them when they died. As the size of the institution grew, so did the number of deaths. If you take the number of deaths and divide by the number of years the institution operated, it comes to about 30 deaths per year. Those deaths must have resulted in grief for residents and staff, but I know virtually nothing about how grief was handled in the institutional setting.

By the mid-1970’s the attitude of society towards mental illness and disability was shifting. One pioneering family in the town where I grew up decided not to allow their daughter to be institutionalized. They kept her at home and raised her in the love and warmth of their family and the concern of a caring community. She grew to become an important member of the community and lived a full and productive life. This was happening all across the country. Advances in medical research, especially new discoveries of psychotropic drugs transformed the treatment of mental illnesses. That, combined with the high and ever-increasing costs of running state hospitals resulted in a fairly sudden depopulation of institutional care. Group homes replaced larger institutions. Dispersed care became a more popular model. States closed institutions.

The result was that today we have a significant population of persons with mental illness who have no place to turn. They become homeless because they lack the ability to pay for housing. They experience episodes that sometimes become violent. In place of the large state hospitals, county jails are used for incarceration when other alternatives cannot be found. The reality is that we still lock people up as a result of their illnesses. Many go without the treatment that they need in our for-profit medical system.

My career roughly lines up with the time of deinstitutionalization. Over the course of my career I have been involved with many families who have a family member who suffers from mental illness. Our communities lack the resources to assist families with their care. I have known cases where a family is in a crisis. Perhaps an individual poses a threat to themselves or to other persons. Their only option is to call the police. Sometimes the individual is incarcerated, which provides no treatment. Sometimes there simply is no treatment option available nearby. I know cases of families who had to transport a family member hundreds of miles just to find a safe place for the individual to sleep.

We can look back at the large state hospitals and understand that they were less than perfect settings, but when we look at our communities today we know that we are still failing to provide adequate care for those who suffer from severe mental illness and for many who have cognitive disabilities.

Much work remains for us.

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!