I had a nice walk along the Yellowstone River yesterday. I normally go into Makoshika Park because it is so much closer to my house, but decided this would be a nice change. I walked along the leveee going north and then changed direction and headed south. This is the area the River floods most every year. Here and there are patches of sand deposited by the river when in flood. The paths fairly well-maintained and wind their way through the flat land.
The above photo shows what we call the "black bridge", railroad bridge still used by the BNSF. Glendive has four bridges -- this one, the interstate bridge, the Old bridge which is closed to traffic, and the Towne Street bridge.
This next photo is the underside of the Towne Street bridge. Something I have not seen before. Interesting.
Anyway it was a lovely day -- chilly but no wind, sunshine and a good path to walk on with my leg which is still questionable when I need balance. Nice way to end 2020.
Trump is on his way out! I heard Rep. Ben Sass of Nebraska call out those Republicans who are trying to appease Trump's base as they look to their own futures. He called it "civic vandalism". The vote with the electoral college is the 6th of January and for the first time it is contentious (well maybe 1876). There are groups who want to disenfranchise those who voted for Biden. Many are going to make Biden's work very difficult. The work is not over, but we pray for the vaccine to reach more people, pray for health for all, prayers for the world that this virus may be brought under control. 3400 died yesterday.
Today is a windy day. Strong gusts both today and tomorrow. The temp is a decent 22 degrees and the sun is shining, but the wind. . .Really limits anything outside, like a walk.
Heard from the family. Margy is doing Christmas cards today. Bernie made a chicken noodle soup as Greg is ailing and I am writing a sermon for Christmas Eve. I will bring the message at the UCC church by invitation. Fun and nice to be asked. Their Pastor (Brother Guy) is a very laid-back, down to earth kind of guy.
Made filled cookies and fudge this year. Sharon and I will share Christmas Day dinner so I will make Grandma Larson's apple salad. Always a favorite.
Vaccines are starting but virus cases are high and many deaths. Dawson County is experiencing its share. Scarey and difficult. Even when people die of heart issues or cancer there is not the closure allowed because of virus exposure. I have done a few graveside services with masks and distancing and it is difficult for people.
Thought I would share my Christmas Eve sermon as I have worked on it thus far.
Christmas Eve UCC December 24, 2020
Grace and peace to you from God the Creator, from Jesus, the Messiah, the promised One and the Holy Spirit our teacher and guide. Amen. Grateful for invitation to bring you the Christmas Eve message. It truly is a holy and joyous night when Christians the world around celebrate the birth of Immanuel, God with us.
As a pastor, one of my frustrations about Christmas, is what message to bring that is new or different or challenging at Christmas. It is a dilemma because I think what most of us want to hear are words that take us down memory lane. Christmas is a dear, sweet, nostalgic time. Every sight, sound, smell, every tinkling bell takes us back to childhood and that most magical time. I can even remember some of the gifts I received that were special, in particular two dolls that I still have stored away. Precious memories.
My parents wanted my brother and me to be part of family traditions that had several generations of patina on them. The ranch where the night sky was so crammed with stars you thought you couldn’t squeeze in one more. Cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles, traditional Norwegian food, presents and then we always had a family Christmas Eve devotional time. There was the final round of coffee and cookies before everyone headed home. You all have have something special you remember — the church services, programs — school and Sunday School, caroling, the sense of joy prevading your life. But in truth no Christmas was perfect — each one was different — some good, some difficult.
But what people want each year is “normal” — tell the old story and we do, but remember that each year we hear it with new ears. There is no “normal” Christmas in the sense it is like last year or ten years ago or fifty years ago. We hear it differently because each year means something different to each one of us. You know I am going to talk about 2020 — such a different year —raging forest fires, hurricanes, melting polar ice caps; our music has been the songs of civil protest and recognizing racial inequality; division in our democracy and a fractured election; and of course, most of all the virus brought death and isolation and financial ruin, hunger and poverty to millions of people throughout the world. Underlying this year has been a basic strain of fear and a lack of understanding as to why this has happened? how it happened? and how do we deal with it? This year perhaps we can say with more understanding that the manger lies in the shadow of the cross. This year more than ever we need the Christ Child to move among the lost, the dying and the suffering bringing the Word of comfort, peace, and assurance we all are desperate to hear.
The challenge of the preacher bringing the Christmas message and the challenge to those listening is to take those varying worlds and draw them all together until the focus narrows and the beam of light pinpoints the baby and we hear perhaps for the first time, the words of the prophet Isaiah on this Christmas Eve — For a child has been born for us, the gift of a son for us! He will take over the running of the world. His names will be Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. His ruling authority will be widespread and he will deal in fairness and right living now and forever.
As Christians of the 21st Century, ones who still believe in the power and love of the Child, we are called by God as each generation has been called to redefine the Christ Child, placing his manger in our world against the backdrop of our time and place. Only then can the old story become startlingly new and speak to us in words and ways that mean something for us.
The Apostle Paul, writing to Titus as we read in the NT, reminds us that Jesus is not just then, long ago, but Jesus is now. Paul says, “For the grace of God has appeared (that is Jesus) bringing salvation to all, leading us in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright and godly as we wait for the blessed hope and the second coming in glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The key words are “leading us in the present age to live lives”.
How do we identify Christ for our time? As we come adoringly to the manger, we must bring our own gifts and talents for these are the gifts the Child seeks — what is in our hearts? A loving heart is what is pleasing to God. How do we love? Not just in thought, but in word and deed. How we serve our neighbor next door and around the world? Jesus said the greatest commandment was: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind. And the second commandment is like it :You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22.36-40.
I have always found Jesus’ words in this commandment to be full of deep meaning. Jesus says we are to love God with everything we’ve got. Everything we are and hope to be we focus on loving God and then Jesus adds love your neighbor just like you love yourself. All our lives are focused on self-preservation — it is the way we are made. Jesus now take that activity and focus on your neighbor. What does that mean — love God, love your neighbor. Actually pretty simple to hear but much harder to do..
Coming to the manger to coo and ooo and ah at the baby is ok as Lon as it doesn’t end there. It must not end there. The manger in the shadow of the cross is the challenge of our faith. Baptized, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever. Christmas is a holy and sacred time when we reintegrate ourself into this world with resolution to live as we are called to live in this present age. We hear the Christmas story with different ears this year. But each year is a year like no other. We face the challenges and the hopes and the desires of each year kneeling at the manger and then moving into the world to serve.
As I make my preparations for the holiday season, I find myself taking periodic reality checks. I was struck with reality particularly hard as I sent out Christmas cards and letters and blithely signed “Happy New Year.” Last year I did the same thing never realizing the year that lay ahead of us. Now, at the end of that year, the reality of those greetings is that it means picking up the pieces and attempting to mend our world which is broken. When I read the cards this year, the language of Christmas takes on new meaning — joy, hope, love, goodness and, of course, peace. A broken world where the word “peace” is twisted and battered and in shreds.
The whole world is hurting, but the United States seems to have been hit harder than other countries and we are reeling from the economic disaster the pandemic has brought upon us. And I am reminded of the poem by Shelley entitled “Ozymandius”. Upon seeing the ruin of a mighty statue lying in the desert, the poet hears the words that are written on the wind, “We are the greatest nation. Nothing like us ever was.” But nothing remains and
“Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
And I wonder about the greeting “Happy New Year.”
If you have understandably, after this past year, turned your back on news reports, magazines and newspapers. If you say “No more politics”. Then perhaps you have not heard the analysis of the struggle that lies before us — receiving and distributing the vaccine, healing a broken government where legislative action and judicial decisions are divided to the point that trying to do some good is blocked at every turn. To wish someone a “Happy New Year”, after all 2020 has brought with fires, civil unrest, political division, and hurricanes, not even mentioning the virus, seems to me rather like the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”
In Jesus’ words to his disciples, He says, “Peace, I give to you, my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives…”. I want to grab hold of the word, “peace” and attempt to wring out of it any hope for the new year. And lo and behold, there it is. Do you know the Greek myth about Pandora’s box? Pandora’s curiosity causes her to open the box given her by Zeus. As she does all the horrors of life spill out and move into the world bringing sadness, death and destruction. Struggling to close the box, Pandora hears a soft voice saying, “Wait” and out of the box flies “Hope” to move into the world.
The “peace the world cannot give” is a hard fought peace. It means that each day of the new year we must dedicate ourselves to pick up the pieces and mend our broken world. No more blame games, no more letting someone else do the work. Money and greed, prestige and power will not make 2021 a “Happy New Year”. It is going to take diligence and the recognition of a hard-won peace to rebuild. We have to lay aside political differences and gender and race and think about helping this world and our country be a place where everyone matters, dedicating ourselves to the lost and the struggling and the poor. We are in this struggle as one humanity. Only then can we return to being a beacon for the world through our generosity, our welcome and our allegiance to freedom and democracy.
Howard Thurman, American author, philosopher and social justice activist wrote a Christmas blessing that stirs my heart and helps me re-orient myself in the right direction each time I read it:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart
Let the work of Christmas begin!
Let’s begin it together!
Imagine a city park. Those of us in rural communities don’t consider parks as much because we have lots of wide open spaces in which to wander. But an urban area where there are blocks of apartments, businesses and busy streets, without any green spaces between, (“Green space (land that is partly or completely covered with grass, trees, shrubs, or other vegetation) is without real life. One article I read talked about active and passive green spaces. Our parks serve both purposes and we need to protect them both. I want to explore that a bit.
Early photos of Glendive show land that is completely open between the river and the badlands. The community was once reminded that every tree in Glendive has been planted. And in this country that also means watered with great care and in many cases protected from the winter elements. The first settlers of the Great Plains struggled to grow trees. My first trips east of the Missouri River were overwhelming. I had never seen so many trees in one place. But you see, I was a prairie dweller, used to viewing an open horizon. While my grandmother from Wisconsin would return to the South Dakota prairie with soil from Wisconsin, hoping it would help her lilac bushes to grow, struggling as they did in the drought, wind, and the heat.
We need green spaces and we need trees and flowers and areas where we can just “be”, away from the noise and confusion of business and traffic. Glendive’s city parks are wonderful. We are blessed with public green spaces in every part of town. And these parks are maintained by the Public Works department. They water, mow, fertilize, rake leaves, maintain equipment and picnic tables. Those green spaces we take for granted, that we cherish for their shade and beauty and tranquility, are a gift given to the community.
Just think of Lloyd Square Park. How often in the summer do folks find shelter from the heat under the towering trees. Years ago there were band concerts in the park and Shakespeare in the Parks used the area for many years of plays — there is the swimming pool and bath house, tennis courts, playground, covered and open picnic areas, a basketball hoop and a lovely maintained garden and lots of room for the squirrels to play. The parks over the bridge include soccer fields, horse shoe pits, another tennis court, volleyball grounds, playground and skate park and picnic tables. Whipkey Park on the East side has a splash park, playground, baseball field and soccer fields and skating rink and a wonderful hill that is the best place in town for children to go sledding.
A green space is more valuable than we imagine. We humans have a compulsive need to fill up spaces. If there is an open lot we put up a shed. We fill our parks with things to do. But we also need a place to be able to sit quietly and read a book, or throw out a blanket and have a picnic, or wander among the trees and observe nature. Green spaces are not empty spaces in and of themselves, but filled with natural life which is essential to our mental well being.
As I listen to people talk about our local green spaces I keep hearing about more things to build in our parks. Of filling up the spaces, when the wonder and beauty of Makoshika, or example, is its wilderness. Development has its place, but it can also destroy the gift that is given us to just wander at will.
We need active and passive green spaces and then we must plan our parks and activities with care. Green spaces are areas that keep giving for generations. We need to do our work of preservation in this time and space. (Avis Anderson is a long-time resident of Glendive currently serving on the City Council.)
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds, - and done a hundred things you have not dreamed of. . .and while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand, and touched the face of God. (Poem High Flight by John Gillespie Magee)
By chance, did you catch the lift off of the space ship “Resilience” this past week-end, as it headed into space taking four astronauts to the space station? It put me in mind of when I first heard the word “Sputnik” and Yuri Gagarin; then John Glenn and Apollo and those words, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Those were heady days in America when we were united by some of the greatest achievements history had ever seen. I had to watch the lift-off on some side tv channel. We here on earth are still mired in our red and blue tribal culture, clinging to vestiges of what “was” rather than recognizing that history is linear. History moves in a straight line and it is always forward.
To watch that shiny ship head into space and think of us still caught in the squabbles that hold us bound to the past is really pathetic. You can’t hold on to the past. A lot of us try to, but it is a deadly past-time that will eventually lead to our own destruction.
I watched the lift off because my nephew, an environmental engineer, let us know. He was excited and knowledgeable about the whole process and what would happen once the ship docked at the space station. He is a Gen X’er and is part of that newer generation of young people who can see beyond our petty squabbles to what lies ahead. You might say he sees beyond the stars. Scientists described the next moon landing which will be near the polar caps of the moon. There is ice there, i.e. water. The moon will become a fueling station for journeys to Mars. I will never see that happen, but he and his family may. But I was there at the beginning when President John Kennedy issued the first challenges that this was something that could be done. And who knew we would see this new day.
Given all the disasters of 2020 I would really pray the New Year will see us rising to our feet and taking up the journey of humanity once again. The promise of a vaccine for the pandemic is here and it is as great an achievement as “Resiliance”. Our democratic process again proved there can be a free election with a peaceful passing of power (albeit reluctantly). History moves us on. As the four astronauts are speeding through space to their new home for seven months, can we move on one step at a time to something greater than ourselves — freedom from war and bloodshed, and poverty, freed for the promise of equality for all people in this time and this place. Promises of a roof over our heads, food for our families, and Peace on Earth goodwill to all.
After a contentious election it is finally over. Biden won but Trump won't concede that he lost. There are all kinds of things that could go wrong between now and January 20th so I don't know. Keep praying, I guess.
Montana went wholly Republican -- couldn't believe it. I think people went down the line and just checked all the Republicans and didn't even think about who they were voting for. It really was disheartening -- so sad -- as some excellent candidates were defeated.
The tribal warfare is so frustrating in this country. There is no concept of compromise. I think Biden's election was a hope that something will change, but I don't know if the opposition will allow that to happen. The need to demonize the other party just stops anything good from happening. When we say "God bless America" we have to mean it from both sides of the aisle and the bottom of our hearts.
Let's see, two trips to Miles City to take recycling and hit Wal-mart and one trip to Dickinson to see an orthopedic guy for a brace which I never got and that's it since the day before Thanksgiving 2019 when I had my surgery. I have not been out of town! I am amazed at how I have accepted the situation with going slowly mad!! In fact, I do admit that everyone I know has done pretty well considering the quarantine situation. The big thing I hear that people did was clean house -- all those boxes were finally sorted and gone through.
But this is about my escape on Saturday. I thought I was getting company, but that didn't happen so I called my nephew in Rapid City, Cole, and asked him to meet me in Buffalo, South Dakota. It was time for a lefse drop! I had ordered lefse for the family and now I had to get it to them.
I left town heading east about 7:30 a.m. The minute I left town I hit fog. I drove in fog nearly the whole way 161 miles. It wasn't pea-soup thick, but it was enough that I couldn't pass on two-lane highways. Just as I am amazed at the folks who don't wear masks these co-vid days, I am surprised at the folks who didn't turn on their headlights when driving in the fog. It really was dangerous.
I drove the first leg of the trip behind a pick-up pulling a trailer. We just got to Baker (75 miles) and a coal train was going through -- at the four way stop the pick up went west and I headed east -- right behind a man hauling several rolls of hay (wide load) on a flatbed. The speed limit in North and South Dakota is 65 on 2 lane highways so that was the only thing that made me have patience. Being a Montana driver I am used to faster speeds. Dad called it my "lead foot".
Cole and I met in Buffalo at the gas station on the south end of town. (Great spot to meet -- can't miss it!) We bought a sandwich at their convenience store and sat in the car and ate. I got a good pre-covid hug, turning my face away from him, but it felt so good. Other than a couple of zoom gatherings I hadn't seen him for a year! He is such a nice man.
I drove back, stopping in Bowman to fill up with gas and get some junk food and then headed north to Amidon and Belfield before I hit the interstate. By that time the fog was gone and the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. I got back good season before the deer started coming out. It was a beautiful ride. The windshield time is always a time to be treasured.
Today there was rain and snow, (see photos above) then some clearing, but more of the same predicted.
What freedom! Of course I used plastic gloves to put gas and put on my mask going into the station. It was good to know I could drive that far and made my hip healing almost complete. Distance traveled 340 miles round trip.
As Covid sweeps over the prairies like a wildfire and the political debate and division daily grow more acrimonious and unending, the Book of Lamentations in the Old Testament gives us much to think about. Twice now, Lamentations 3.22-27 has appeared in my thoughts and thus into some musings:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Setting is all important to this piece. According to commentaries, the book is a series of five poems that were long believed to have been written by the prophet Jeremiah, depicting the suffering of the children of Israel in Babylon.
Marin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, saw these poems as more than just a harkening back to Babylon. Luther’s theology is called the Theology of the Cross. He believed we meet God in the suffering of this world. Later, Albert Schweitzer would come to a similar understanding that we can only know who Jesus really is when we meet him in the work he has called us to do for our time. To divorce Jesus from his teachings about our call to serve the poor, the sick, those in prison, the hungry, those victims of injustice, that is, the suffering, is to not know Jesus at all. There is another line that says Jesus’ call is to come and die with him and in scripture he says, “Take up your Cross and follow me.”
Lamentations is a book of hope in the middle of suffering. To lament is to claim personal suffering and the suffering of others, but to also know what we are to do with that suffering. We are to lay it at the feet of Jesus and then translate our laments into action. We never give up hope. We go on working and fighting and caring. The struggles of this life also mark a clear vision of our call to serve the world.
Today is All Saints’ Sunday 2020. Saints don’t work for sainthood. It isn’t like a promotion in the Kingdom of God. Saints work because they love God and their lives are lives of gratitude for all they have been given. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Workers’ Movement wrote, “You cannot look for the true meaning of communion as worship to be participated in by all and dedicating yourself to God in prayers and worship, and yet remain a cold-blooded individualist in one’s life outside the church.” I am reminded of a member of the Movement who was recently injured in Buffalo, New York, during a Black Lives Matter march. He was pushed to the ground as he called for justice and peace. There is much to lament in our world today. The voices of compassion are muffled in the face of oppression and power. But they are never silent. As real today as they were in the time of Jeremiah, the Laments teach us how to sit quietly in the mercies of the Lord being filled with His loving care for the good of the world.
Nihilism is the belief that there is no meaning or purpose in existence.
I am guessing it is the result of the last few days of gloomy weather — probably a foretaste of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — but the above definition is an atmosphere I am seeing begin to appear in our society. The word is nihilism. In the extreme, it is a nasty philosophy that says nothing matters.
There is also the biblical “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die” (Ecclesiastes, Isaiah). Whichever definition of life calls to you, neither does humanity much good.
When I checked today there were 40.2 million cases of Covid in the world. 27.6 million of those cases had recovered, but 1.12 million deaths have been recorded. I wrote that out to look at the zeroes — 1,012,000. The human race deals better with things we can touch, smell, see, hear and taste so looking at a series of numbers doesn’t do much for me. I can’t wrap my head around the human suffering unless it touches me, personally.
Many years ago I was traveling in India on a summer Fulbright program for teachers. When we were in Calcutta, we attended a concert which ended just about the time people were getting off work for the day. I was sitting in the bus when the driver turned the headlights on. Suddenly the population of India at 1,353,000,000 people became real to me. As far as I could see there were people moving. I imagined if I stepped off the bus I could have walked down the street on the heads of those passing by. Real people on their way home from jobs. Going to families to have dinner. To play with their children. To check on their elderly parents. And on and on I imagined their lives. Absolutely no different from mine. I have never forgotten that experience. Whenever I begin to be too self important, too self centered I think of the billions of people who are just like me. The human family — every color and language and culture God made possible.
The Covid virus has exposed our vulnerability and we don’t like it. The pandemic prevents us from doing the things we want to do. It is easy to become like a pouty, self-serving child when we don’t get our way. We begin to imagine that nothing matters but this moment and so whatever we do is okay. We imagine that we might as well party today because death might come to us tomorrow and we never think about those others whose lives cross paths with our own.
Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story entitled “The Masque of the Red Death”. A group of wealthy people flee to a country estate to escape the plague wiping out the city in which they live. They feel fortunate to have gotten away from the threat of death. What they don’t know is that death will crash the party and they will all die. The theme of the story is the inevitability of death.
We can live with that idea of inevitability. But what can happen is that we lose our humanity and any compassion is quickly destroyed. As long as we live we need to care for each other. Life is not about me nor is it about you, but it is about “us” and how we can improve what time we have and make it good for everyone.
Autumn rains for the most part are soft rains. Hearing the rain on the roof of my carport is the most calming sound I know. If you don’t have a piece of metal somewhere that the rain can hit you should put one in. The rain makes me pensive and that’s a good thing. My breathing rate slows down and I look with dreamy eyes at the lowering clouds. I know rain is not always welcome when you are working with sugar beets or have hay to haul, but for the most part the rain is a fresh perspective as it washes off the dust and sharpens the fall colors.
We need dreamy, pensive moments. To just sit and look out the window and think is a gift of time which we ignore at peril to our mental wellbeing. In these days of trouble and strife the call for peace in our hearts, our families, between neighbors is the only way to look at the world with new eyes and with a more loving disposition.
Driving in a soft rain that falls straight down in a steady beat is almost a gift. My muscles and my brain just slow down to sync with nature. Ray Bradbury, a science fiction writer, penned a short story entitled “There will come soft rains.” A nuclear holocaust has destroyed all human life. In the story ”the rain signifies nature's way or function of cleansing itself. And, following this nuclear explosion and the decimation of the human population, there is the sense that nature is cleansing itself of the nuclear fallout and of the presence of humanity itself.”
The soft rains of fall may be a way of wiping out the anger and bitterness that have addressed this entire year, in fact several years. We have to move on to something better. When immigrants came to these shores in huge numbers it was because they were moving on. They were looking for a new start. The Westward movement beyond the Applachians and the Mississippi River was looking ahead. The Homestead Act that settled our area was for people to find a new start. We don’t have the land to explore anymore, but we do have an inner space that needs lots of attention.
People have survived drought, economic depression and war. Life has never been easy. One author has written that life is complicated and hard and until you accept that you cannot get on with the business of living. It is the determination to work together, and to care for each other that makes the difference. That willingness to look at the larger picture is the route to survival. The cause of justice for all people; an America that can see the vision of freedom and a good life for all its citizens needs to call good men and women forward to vote, to speak out, to serve each other. With this compassion, democracy will survive. Without it, all the good things for which we have worked to make life better for the children will disappear like a dream.