One of the sorrows of this past week was the deaths of 176 people in the Ukrainian airplane hit by the missile in Baghdad. In military parlance I am sure it is called “collateral damage” and “the cost of war”. In political rhetoric it is “justifiable.” There is always an expected body count in any military encounter. The millions of victims of national pride, the “Innocents” and their survivors rise up from history with their cries of despair that echoed in those last moments of their lives.
Neither should this incident be a finger-pointing moment unless all the governments of the world take responsibility for those moments when the bigger picture of national pride got in the way of the “little guy, the child, the man or woman” who is simply going on with their everyday lives. We cannot ever overlook human life. Governments are very good at making excuses for their behavior, but the end result is what counts and there should be world wide mourning each time another life is caught in the cross hairs of a military exercise.
I remember reading about a decision that had to be made about bombing a target some years ago. The president of our country had to make the final decision. One thing he weighed was how many civilians would be in harm’s way when the bombs were dropped. They finally decided on late night when only the cleaning crew would be in the building and they tried to pick a time when they were on break. Now granted, every decision cannot be weighed with such precision, but I still cannot help but think of the young and old killed this week when governments thought they could take life and death decisions into their own hands and play their own games. And at what cost?
In reading the history of the Middle East, it is interesting to note it has always been an area of commerce and was vital to any movement from Africa into Europe in ancient times. But it was of very little interest to the Western nations until the Suez Canal became a route that bypassed the southern trip of Africa and shortened the distance between India and the rest of the world. Very soon the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia presaged the growth of the oil companies that now rule the governments of the world. Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States have all had their fingers dipped in Middle Eastern oil since World War I. The oil oligarchs dictate not only in the board rooms, but also to the governments of the countries where the oil lies. Oil interests equal power and great wealth as the oil states have come to recognize. But the desire for wealth throws them into the mainstream of political balancing acts, trying to keep everyone happy in the midst of cultural and religious differences.
We have seen too many times when the justifiable death of Qassem Soleimani and the subsequent justifiable retaliation by Iran are part and parcel of the same dark dance between the nations. It is always “the innocent” who pay the piper. It is not a matter of politics, but rather one of common humanity. Watching this play out day by day I somehow have a sense the little people of the world (meaning us) have reached a point where we will no longer tolerate being moved like pieces of a game board at the whim of petty leaders or multi-national corporations. Maybe, just maybe we are ready to say, “No more.”
It is 7 a.m. and I have been up since 6 which is unusual for me. I think my hip surgery, medications and a slower pace in my lifestyle have left me with readjusted sleep patterns. For years my friends who are early risers have told me the morning is the best time. While I see you can get more things done, I will say, "Mornings, not so much!" But will try to adjust to whatever hand I am dealt.
As I was laying in bed doing my exercises this morning I was thinking about rural medical care. For many years every little town had a doctor who birthed babies, did emergency surgeries, took care of sick people by making house calls, but those days are done. In most cases small towns are served by a P.A., physician's assistant, who handles all the emergencies and gets people to the towns with more medical facilities when needed. Here in Glendive we head to Bismarck or Billings and from there they send you on to other places such as Denver. Some people head immediately for the Mayo Clinic but whatever you decide it means hours of driving or airplane flights. It is not fun having to make those decisions.
Our community is fortunate that one of our young local women, now an orthopedic surgeon, married a local man and has returned to town part time. She has a solid practice in Cheyenne, Wyoming, so commutes back and forth every month. It is a 600 mile trip for her over some pretty rugged Wyoming country. But having her here has been a boon for us all.
Her mother said her daughter, the surgeon, was surprised at how many cases of old injuries she was seeing. But that is typical of frontier living. If you are a rancher, farmer, small business man or woman you don't have time for long trips to the doctor and several months of not being able to get to your work. You work through the pain and stiffness and keep going. Having a surgeon here means that at least you can have local care, local hospital and not feel so removed from what is familiar.
It is amazing to watch the rural medical system at work. It is a real struggle to provide local care in areas where the population is wide spread and minimal. Numbers of patients do matter. This is especially true in our nursing homes. More and more people are trying to stay in their homes longer, but getting home health care is another issue as well.
Those of us who live in the rural areas are very cognizant of the limitations and the needs and it can be scary sometimes, but neighbor helping neighbor is what makes the difference. We are very grateful to doctors who come from outside and stay so we can build up a relationship with them. Local nursing staff is another issue. When I was in the hospital in November it was fun to be cared for by young women I knew -- that I had had in school or as in two cases in confirmation classes at church.
I have also had lots of physical therapy the past year. Our hospital has a unit but there is also a privately owned place in town. It is well and professionally staffed. Both work hard to get locals back on their feet after surgery. It is another dimension of long-term medical care that is so important.
We watch the papers carefully when it comes to funding rural medical care. We know what it means to be without and no one wants to go that route.
There is something to be said for having a local hospital where you can be visited by friends and family and be close to home. Even when the end of life is near, there are familiar people walking with you on the journey. Medical care is not just in the numbers and the dollars. It is why we fight so hard to at least keep what we have.
The days between Christmas and New Year's are "the between time" before we head into the new year. It is almost like everyone takes a hiatus before jumping back into the fray of tax season, inventories, end-of-year sales. There is really nothing to do that has to be done this week. So -- what to do? Seems we have to be busy, can't just sit and doze (although I do more of that these days). But these days are meant for that kind of living. Sure we have to clean up after Christmas, freeze the extra food, save the reusable wrappings and bags, sort through the cards one more time, write a few thank-your. But this week is an odds n' ends week and that is perfectly acceptable.
Everyone seems to be in a reflective mood; I received this text from my brother who lives in Las Vegas:
I wrote this this morning. It feels important so I thought I'd share.
"I like the old-fashioned, the imperfect and the old. Using the typewriter and the 35mm film cameras. I sense the rounded edges, the depth of black paint, the braising, and the patina. They connect me to craftsman who handmade the parts and imbued their essence to making these tools.
From childhood I stood in the machine shed of my grandfather's farm,watching him and my uncle grind their files and chisels into sharp edges. I walked beside them noting taut barbed wire fences, well rounded haystacks, well fed farm animals. Every animal and tool shown respect and care for what they gave to the farmer.
Today we're donating "eleanor " our 2005 Hyundai sonata with 237,000 miles to the Vietnam veterans of America. We treated her well,took care of her and she took care of us. She's been low maintenance until now. The engine is knocking a little and we put several thousand dollars in her last year.
She will be sold probably for parts but we can hope for restoration. It could happen.
Whomever buys her, will have a car with a little soul, who can take care of the owner as they take care of her.
These are the days to dig out that old journal in which you wrote one day and then got too busy to go further; to find the book with the bookmark showing where you last left off, answering the Christmas greeting that appeared from a long-ago friend. It is that time of the year to reflect, renew and rededicate.
Everyone has memories of Christmas past. For each one of us the memories are precious and centered around special foods, gifts received, traditions honored and of course the people. Those memories, whatever they are, are meant to be cherished and as the years go by and people leave us for whatever reason, the memories are still sweet and dear. We make new memories all the time and that is why it is important we take special pains to be sure they are good ones and ones we want to keep. I have wonderful memories of Christmas connected with Christmas Eve worship services and the lighting of candles, the honor of preaching the Christmas story and the wonderful glory of Christmas Day when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” I remember Christmas times with lots of family and now I celebrate Christmas with new friends or establishing new traditions that honor myself as a special person in the eyes of God.
The more recent memories, however, are built on the treasured memories of my childhood when aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and my family were all still living. Out on the South Dakota prairie we gathered at the ranch under a sky that was filled with stars, diamonds in a sable colored sky. The yard light shown out as a “light house” to light our way down the lane to the house which was awash in light, where we were welcomed and loved.
When I was in junior high, I had to write a poem for an English class. I wanted to write about Christmas so with a little help from Mom, I managed to put this together:
Christmas Eve at Grandma’s, I never shall forget.
Though I live to be a hundred it is a time I’ll ne’er regret,
The days I spent out on the farm with grandparents and cousins, the real old-time charm.
At even-tide the relatives come with many a "Gladlige jule”! Laden with gifts to add to the pile
And more food to make us drool.
First the table grace is said, then the lutefisk, leafs and Christmas bread.
Then we all gather together once more to sing the old songs we all know and adore.
And the story is read about the Christ Child who was born in a manger bed.
At last the clock tolls twelve and all must depart. Another Christmas Eve has left memories in our hearts.
As I write these words, the dear ones pass before me reminding me of the love we felt for each other and the blessing of the real meaning of Christmas.
All the Christmas times were not so idyllic. We were all just human beings, of course. But the desire to let everyone know they were special was real.
I fear that these days social media and the continued trends in technology to separate us from those warm times of human touch and dynamic relationships have deprived us of what the Christmas Season is meant to be — a time of relaxation, a time to just be together, and a time to know where our roots are and where we belong. Of course we can’t go back, but we can use those memories and those times to help us build new memories where love and caring are just as real today as they were back then. Each memory becomes a stepping stone for what is to come. God bless you and Merry Christmas.
Pastor Julie Long, Broadus MT, ELCA pastor, rural minister. Accepting the call to loving and serving.
If you think history plays no part in your life it is because you choose to ignore it. We can’t escape history; we can’t run away from the past. We have to learn to live with it. That really is a gift parents can give their children — both sweet memories of the past as well as the struggles that have shaped who we are. Do we grow into men and women of courage and forthrightness or people of cowardice, hiding behind the skirts of dishonesty?
That has often been one of the criticisms of America — we are such a new country (relatively speaking to the rest of the world) that in the arrogance of youth we believe we can choose to ignore the past decisions we have made as a people, collectively and individually. That was the call of the American West and the great movements of immigrants to this country — to escape the old ways and the mistakes. But that doesn’t work. We can run, but we can’t hide and always we must learn from our weaknesses, finding a certain triumph in overcoming the past and its regrets.
Our past history is not only the individual relationships we have to deal with, but also those of our country. People living today were part of the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II and the Atomic Age. My generation lived through the disruptions of the Martin Luther King, John and Robert Kennedy assassinations; the anti-Viet Nam war riots and the Civil Rights riots of the 1960s and 1970s. Remember the battles between the hard hats and the hippies and the 1968 riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago? New generations have the bombing in Oklahoma City, the “9-11” disaster, Desert Storm, and the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and always the tinder box of the Middle East. No generation is without its history and it influences who we are and what this nation is and will become if we do not learn from our mistakes as a people.
I was thinking the other day I will now be a part of three of the four impeachments this country has participated in. Nixon was not a popular president and his actions before and after Watergate made that apparent. What I do remember is a country where Democrats and Republicans were working together to see that justice was done — a justice that said no one was above the law. I can still remember watching John Dean’s testimony, and hearing those wonderful voices of Barbara Jordan and Chairman Sam Ervin from the committee. I don’t think anyone believed that kind of criminal activity went on in our country, but we learned.
The final vote of impeachment for Bill Clinton found me sitting in the car in the parking lot at a local grocery store and watching people moving all around while on the radio I could hear the voices determining the fate of the nation. Again the underside of politics and its picture of humanity and all its sins was being revealed.
Waiting now for the 4th impeachment, my third, I am reminded once again this is no small thing that is happening in our country. Impeachment has now widened to an international involvement and revealed a new viciousness and lack of self-examination for sins committed. The appearance of Jeffrey Epstein and his death makes him a “sticker child” for this generation of politicians. No one wants to take responsibility for deeds done. The underbelly of politics, the enormous greed to which people aspire and the call of power, the need to control, is once again laid bare. Whether or not we can rise above the partisanship and bore straight to the truth will be determined by men and women who take to heart the great call to “love justice” and to approach this moment with humility.
Sitting here recuperating from hip surgery I am blessed with time to do what an invalid is allowed to do —think, doze, read, visit with folks who stop by with yummy food. Of course it is not a holiday, but healing allows for this other world, a slower world, to poke its head in and say, “Howdy, time for me to sit a spell!”
It’s Advent and for those of us who parallel our regular calendars with the calendar of the Christian Church, we are now into a new church year. Advent is always a special time in the church when the paraments change colors to a deep royal blue, the music moves between joyful and penitent. The people of God are just waiting for the Candlelight service on Christmas Eve, the singing of “Silent Night” and then Christmas Day when the words, “Christ is born” ring through churches everywhere.
Advent has been celebrated since ancient times. Originally it was a time when the world plunged into darkness and cold and the inhabitants watched and waited for the days to lengthen and the sun to reappear. Someone told me the other day they are already anxious for the winter solstice so they know the days are getting longer. We are no different than ancient humans who hungered for light. Early Christians saw in this period of light and dark a piece of reality. All of life is light and dark.
My second day of Advent devotional (Richard Rohr) was a reminder of the importance of living with clarity and purpose. The writer said we do not live with certitude, rather we live in faith. There is always a darkness, an unknowing that follows our every step. We are not given the surety of the next breath. The next moment is not ours. We cannot claim anything or hold it fast; or lock it away. Jesus says what we lock up will only rust and decay. We have to plunge into the life we have been given with the joy of the moment. We are only given enough clarity so that we no longer need absolute certainty to live.
The Christmas season is all about light and dark. We light porch lights and Christmas trees and candles to hold back the darkness. It is as ancient a practice as humans themselves. When the darkness surrounds us the light is a reminder we do not need to fear. So we do not know what tomorrow will bring, not everything we demand or desire, but it will be a good day when we walk in the certainty of the light that is just beyond this dark moment.
Joan Chittister is a great author. I recommend her books. This is a new one I will have to track down. In these dark days of continuing cruelty, ineptitude and crisis we really need to re-evaluate and come around again to the higher standards in which we all believed at least at one time. I never thought I would live to see people turn off to what is true and good and embrace a stubborn, unseeing vision of what is damaging to us all. I had hoped there would be a Republican or Democratic candidate who could find a middle of the road that would speak to many people, but the Republicans have shut that door by eliminating primaries so Trump has no competition from that side and Democrats seem to be in a muddle. It is like the ground giving way beneath our feet as we approach an autocracy that will brings us to defeat and ruin ll that was once good and gracious in this land of "new hope".
My column for the local paper:
I have never believed in “re-inventing the wheel”. If someone else can say or do it better I want to hear what they have to say. In these days of turmoil there is a need for all of us to search out that higher power that speaks to our inner souls, demanding an integrity that stretches beyond the crowd. Here Joan Chittister speaks to the crisis which is threatening our nation’s moral caliber:
(Joan Chittister, The Time is now: a Call to Uncommon Courage. Convergent Books: 2019)
In every life there is a crossover moment, after which a person will never be the same again. Somewhere, somehow the challenge comes that sets us on a different path: the path of purpose, the path of integrity, the path of transcendence that lifts us — heart, mind, and soul — above the pitiable level of the comfortable and the mundane.
It is the moment at which transcending the mediocre, the conventional, the pedestrian, becomes more impacting, more holy-making than any amount of beige-colored political success.
As a culture we may have come to that point. As a people, we are at a crossover moment. It is a call to all of us to be our best, our least superficial, our most serious about what it means to be a Christian as well as a citizen.
So, where can we look for oneing in the political arena. Only within the confines of our own hearts. Politics — government — does not exist for itself and, if it does, that is precisely when it becomes at least death-dealing if not entirely evil. Nation-states and empires have all “died the death” in the wake of such power run amuck, of such distortion of human community.
In the end, politics is nothing more than an instrument of social good and human development. It is meant to be the right arm of those whose souls have melted into God. It is to be the living breath of those who say they are religious people and patriotic citizens — a link to personal faith.
The democratic system, as originally conceived, upholds a vision that links “care for widows and children” with a commitment to provide food stamps and a living wage for families under stress.
It embodies the soul of a nation that considers the right to breathe clean air and drink clean water, to save wetlands and reduce fossil fuels, to be a responsibility of America’s own Environmental Protection Agency.
It includes the love for all of God’s creation that links Jesus’ cure of Jairus’ daughter and the man born blind with the moral obligation to provide healthcare and social services to all of us, not simply to some.
It embraces the courage of the Samaritan to reach out to the foreigner that made this country open arms toward an immigrant world.It fact, it is the strength of the link between religion and politics that will determine both the quality of our politics and the authenticity of our religion.
Many in the United States claim we are a Christian nation, but if we are to call ourselves such, we must sustain a sincere connection between our Gospel values and the political choices we make. We cannot declare we are one body and then neglect to give that body the care it needs including food, water, and shelter.
My godson (and cousin's son), Phil Jerde's cattle getting ready for sale. In prairie country this time of year the stockyards are busy with ranchers selling off their livestock. Phil has ten children, five of them are boys who are just at the right age to help with working the cattle and they love it. Nothing like "built-in" hired men! The cattle trucks are rolling across the interstate and back roads. I have also seen lots of hay bales moving around the area as well. Again cattlemen are stocking up for the winter when the hay will be much needed. With all the rain we had this Spring, the hay crop was a good one in most places.
I have been without my computer for about 6 weeks. In our part of the country trying to find an Apple dealer who can clean off spam and other malware can be a real dilemma. I took my computer to Billings and then had to wait until someone was heading that direction to pick it up for me. We do that for each other out here.
I remember Mom telling about when her Dad would go to town in the early days. Everyone check to see what they could pickup for the neighbors. A trip to "town" was not something you did frequently.
I am preparing for hip replacement surgery here in Glendive, but I have to go to Billings for a stress test to be sure I can have the surgery. Thank the Lord the weather looks as though it is going to be conducive to good driving. A friend is going with me. The past year I have been walking with a cane and taking a lot of physical therapy so I guess it is time to get it taken care of. It will mean a few days in the hospital, then home and no driving for a month or so. My friends have all promised they will be there for me and I know they will, but I am not happy about missing out on all the festivities in the community. Good thing I bought a new couch so I had really stretch out.
Took a couple of drives into Makoshika. There isn't a time when the Park disappoints me.
Justice is an interesting word because it is also a concept, that is, an idea we can work with and shape to suit our circumstances and the place. We would like to think that justice is simply “fair play” or “equality” for all. We would hope that justice is something innate, something we are born understanding. But, unfortunately, we have to be taught how to practice equality and justice.
There are many occasions in civic meetings where the people rise and pledge allegiance to the flag of our country. The final words of the pledge say, “with liberty and justice for all.” Whenever I pledge allegiance I add the words “I hope so,” at the end. Whether as individuals or as a group we are making a promise that all people who come under the flag will be granted that fair play.
The word has many levels of promise — justice for all races of people and not just justice at the whim of the person in control. Justice either is or it isn’t. Everyone gets fair play. Everyone. Maybe I am just a stickler for fair play. No one has the right to push people around because they have more money or position or control. Justice is as big an issue on the play ground as it is in the Supreme Court of the United States. It is in the Supreme Court men and women are called to adjudicate our Constitution where we read the words:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of …
These are promises, pledges the people of this country make to each other. We dare not give up these responsibilities of citizenship. They are far too important and left to a few will result in something it was never meant to be. Reading U.S. History we learn of “Jim Crow” justice in the South which often meant a hanging without a trial; or in California where the migrant workers were exploited and used to benefit the man who owned the property; or during the Indian Wars when people defending their own land were driven out and slaughtered for gold or buffalo or land. Indigenous people in other parts of the world have received the same unequal treatment. Here again the call is to establish justice for all. No one gets a free ride, no one gets to re-write the rules for themselves. When I was growing up the idea of “fair play” meant everyone had the opportunity to be held accountable, and the responsibility to participate in the development of justice not only for the wealthy and well-born, but for the common person as well.
Scripture, especially the Old Testament, takes justice very seriously. The prophet Micah speaks of a three-pronged approach to living: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. The prophet Amos pairs justice and righteousness (Amos 5.24) as equal partners in the life of a good person.
To be white in this world is to be given a different access to justice and fair play than someone of another color. To be a woman of any color is to know that justice is not meted out in like manner between men and women. To be a person of color is to learn that almost everything you do is suspect and you can be the most honest, forward-thinking individual, well-educated and hard working, but because your color is slightly different, the justice you receive will be different.
There are many words which give us pause for thought, but justice is a rowdy, active, “in-your-face” word. Justice is not ours on a silver platter, but is given only when we have struggled and prevailed. To demand Justice is to only demand what is ours by natural right.