I just left a lunch meeting with a group of pastors from across the southeast corner of the state. Previously there had been Zoom meetings, but this was the first face-to-face in quite awhile so everyone was talking in small groups, trying to catch up on their church’s activities. The consensus was, there was a gradual coming back to the way things had been done in the past, a return to some of the sacred rites and practices of the faith that are so precious to Christians everywhere.
One of the pastors changed the direction of the conversation a little when she said, “I have been feeling we need to push a “reset” button on our lives and the life of the congregation. We need to take this time to re-examine who we are now and how our thinking has changed." That word made a lot of sense to me — “reset”.
How often in our lives do we have to find that button in our brain and push it and then prepare ourselves for change — the birth of a baby, job change, life passages. This group of professionals was talking about church worship, how technology has been adapted to reach people with the gospel message, and the frustrations they felt as they realized that while people were still faithful to the gospel message, the way of doing worship had altered subtly while we were all under quarantine.
And it is not only church worship. The cry of this past year is, “When can we get back to normal?” But what is “normal”? Erma Bombeck, the humorous columnist, once said, “Normal is the setting on a washing machine.” Nothing will ever be exactly as it was before the pandemic. To date, five hundred thousand people have died. Many people have lost loved ones either to the virus or just the usual ways that death comes. Your grandchildren have grown and matured in your absence. If you have spent an intense time at home with your children you have come to know each other in a very different way. There are nuances to behaviors we have not recognized in each other before this time.
I often think about the horrors of the Civil War. I have seen pictures of Atlanta, Georgia, and other cities in the South that look like the bombed cities of London and Dresden, Germany, after World War II. The results of that war are still being felt in the issues of white supremacy, Black Lives Matter, and the removal of statues that are unpleasant reminders of a time in our history that shaped us for generations to come. “Normal”? History is never normal.
The “reset” button for our generation has been spinning the world into a new age and a new way of looking at the life we have been given. Massive crowds of people will not be a comfortable place for many people maybe for years to come; medical resources and care of hospital personnel have to be examined and the systems re-vamped to meet the needs of this generation. Education of our children will return to the classroom, but every teacher and student will have a memory of masks and home classes. “Wash your hands” is now a part of how we live safely.
And the power of the pandemic has altered our political landscape. The inequities of health care and financial resources have boiled to the top and everyone is demanding equality so that they can live with dignity. In the past four years the world has seen a side of the United States it had never seen before and we are having to “reset” how we deal with the European Union, the Middle East, South America, Africa and Asia, Russia and China.
The “reset” button is whipping our world through a sea of changes. Sometimes we just hold on for the ride, but other times we are apt to land in a different place than we have been before.
“Normal” — not so much. “Reset”. New focus. But human beings always adapt and we can only work together for the good of all.
A friend and I were discussing a book the other day and in the process of our visit she asked a rhetorical question — “How did white people and western civilization ever get the idea that their way was the only right way?” Her thoughts jarred loose a memory about an incident that happened when I was in India. Northern India had been conquered by a group of people known as Moghuls. They were from the plains of Central Asia. They were lighter skinned and according to anthropologists are from the same branch of humanity as lighter skinned Europeans. The further south you travel in India you notice the people are much darker and part of the native group known as Dravidians. The Moghuls never subdued this group. They had a thousand years or more history of mixing with the people of Africa. I overheard a conversation by two of our guides one day. Both were from Northern India around New Delhi. One of the women had seen a famous Indian movie star. The other guide was very excited and asked, “How light-skinned was she?”
Their conversation hit me so hard that I have never forgotten that day. Everywhere there seems to be the concept that lighter skin means greater beauty and in the progression of things — leads to power and wealth. It was an eye-opener that was really hard to hear.
The six weeks I spent in India, the lectures I heard, the places I visited, the people I met all taught me how little I know about the world in which I live. A world so variegated as to be beyond comprehension. We are each unique and no one person is better than another. It seems as though it is a lesson the world has never learned, because every culture and society constantly belittles the “other”. And we wonder why we can never find peace.
America is so blessed by the rich tapestry of people and cultures that have contributed to our makeup. The history of America is not just a “white” history, but African, Asian, South American, East Indian, Middle Eastern and every other color and creed. That is our greatest strength. Western civilization is younger than the 5000 year old history of India’s people. We now know that human beings came out of Africa and began that great migration to all the corners of the world.
Public Radio had an interview recently with a Latina woman who talked about self-image and learning that every culture sees beauty in a certain way. My vanilla-colored skin is a far cry from the exotic beauty of many mixed races across the continents. Body shape and size, music, art and other cultural aspects of national identity are all good and strong. It seems that Western Civilization has fed the world “the great lie” that “white is good” and that other gradations of color are not on an equal level, but are lesser than.
It is time this fantasy was put to rest. When we combine our energies and our cultures we are like a strongly interwoven rope. We can do great things for the human race and sustain this planet which the Creator has given us. Life is good when we are one.
My father’s 100th birthday will roll around in April. He is no longer living, but as his daughter I find one hundred years worth remembering. Dad was a romantic. He loved my mother passionately from their earliest courtship until her death. He never left her side during the fifteen years of her journey with cancer. He was a pleasant man. After he moved to the Veterans’ Home I once told him, “Dad, if you aren’t having a good day, if you have a day when you have pain, you don’t have to be pleasant. You are allowed a bad day now and again.” He looked a little puzzled and told me, “You might as well be pleasant. It makes life so much easier.” The CNAs enjoyed coming into his room because his “Please” and “Thank yous” were so genuine.
The son of a Swedish immigrant who left his country for lack of opportunities, Dad’s life was one that many people here in the West experienced. His parents gave each one of their children one year of college. Dad started out as a rural school teacher in Perkins County, South Dakota, and then after his time in the service in World War II, he used the G.I. Bill to finish his undergraduate education and move on to a Masters’ degree.
Where Dad sometimes had a little trouble being practical, Mom was pragmatic. She kept the family’s direction headed in a straight path where and when she was able. She was a rancher’s daughter and a rural school teacher as well. She and Dad met when he was teaching and she was County Superintendent of Schools. They decided to wait until after Dad returned from the service before getting married.
They built a solid life together. They were both frugal. Their one dream was to own a home and see to it their children got a college education. They achieved both. In Scripture, Jesus talks about a man who built his house on a solid foundation and it did not fall. My parents built this together. Dad always said his recurring nightmare was losing his job and not being able to support his family. He worked Saturdays some years and every summer from the time school let out until it resumed to see to it the bills were paid and there was food on the table. He was honest and hard-working. And he was patriotic and believed in citizenship and its rights and responsibilities. I will fly the flag on his birthday.
Every family has people like this. Sometimes we let them slip away as time goes by. It is important to lift up those who really made a difference in small, but profound ways. We are the result of their hopes and dreams. It is these people who have forged our nation and it is their legacy we preserve and protect in our hearts, in our families from generation to generation and this country.
For a couple of weeks, like most of the nation, I have been deeply disturbed by the events of January 6 and the insurrection at our nation’s capitol. For me the date was doubly significant because it was Epiphany, a time in the church year that talks about light and revealing. In the Christian faith the coming of the Magi from foreign lands to find the Christ Child shows salvation has come for all the nations. So coming as it did on the same day, the riot at the nation’s capitol building was a revelation of the hatred and violence that lie deep within the human soul. That the appearance of civilized society and organized government is a thin veneer. White supremacists and racists showed their true colors. It was an experience that left us all badly shaken, especially when forces within the government seemed to be aiding and abetting the rioters.
The days found me pacing and restless and wanting to speak out and not knowing what to say. So many words had already been dedicated to this extremism I certainly had nothing to add that was worth hearing.
Then several things happened that seem small by comparison, but were full of grace and promise. The first occasion was getting my Covid vaccine shot. I have been waiting for this day because it seemed like a breath of freedom, a loosening of the bars which have surrounded us and kept us from those people we love. As I watched the nurse (again the angels of mercy who have been with us on this journey) pick up the vaccine and prepare to give me my shot I thought that little tiny vial is the product of hundreds of hours by dedicated men and women in medical research around the world. There are billions of people waiting for this same shot so they can get on with their lives as I want to get on with mine. And here on the prairies of Montana, I am privileged to receive this vaccine. It is a great gift that in time will change the world with its healing abilities.
Secondly, I am so proud of the GROW Glendive group that has organized into a non-profit and have worked out a way for us to recycle cardboard in town. I have been a passionate recycler for decades. A friend and I take turns hauling what we can to Miles City, so what a treat that a load of cardboard I had accumulated this month could be delivered to this group of like-minded folks right here in town. It is a gift back to the community and it is a “green” activity which I whole-heartedly endorse.
Lastly there was inauguration eve with the 400 lights in the reflecting pool at the base of the Washington monument in memory of the 400,000 Americans who have died of Covid. It was a brief, but moving memorial service that was needed by us all. And then inauguration day and the historic transfer of power in which we take great pride as a nation. This year the election process was maligned and threatened, but the process held firm. Democracy may have been bent, but it did not break and today we saw its resilience in a pared down, Covid aware official act. To think that for 250 and more years we have gathered to witness this event. Given what abuse Lady Liberty has had to take, it was an emotional moment to see it happen because for a time we had our doubts. Flags flying high, the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and to see a mixed-race American woman of immigrant parents take her place as our first woman vice-president. These have been days of promise, hope and deep gratitude.
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.