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.
I admit I was deeply disappointed this past week when the voters of Glendive defeated a school bond issue. There were lots of pros and cons in the local newspaper and for the most part they had legitimate rationales for their concerns. But the bottom line for me was the importance of education and the need our students have for the best a community can offer. Education has become a low priority for most people and I am afraid the level of knowledge and understanding our world in a positive way, is in decline. The idea “Oh, it’s good enough” is ‘not good enough’. I remember one person saying that an education was not only about getting training for a job, but it was perhaps more importantly to help us live together in the world with our fellow humans. To see the world as a bigger place.
As a liberal arts major in college I know I had a wide-ranging introduction to all the good things the world has to offer. To be a “nay-sayer” is to shut my eyes to the world outside and to live only inside my own head. I have often wondered why it is so much easier to say “no”, than to say “yes” or at the very least, “let’s think about it.” To say “no” shuts the door on discussion. It prevents learning, growing, stretching to see the possibilities in another person’s viewpoint. To watch a baby is to make me think we are born with a certain level of negativity. “Mine” and “No” are often what we hear a child say early on. We need to be taught to share, to say yes, to understand the small things we sometimes have to give up to work for the greater good.
Once in Dawson County we had a state representative who was overheard to say there was no need for him to travel to Helena for the session. He could vote “no” right from his home without wasting the taxpayers’ money. Again that brick wall opposed to progress for the greater good and the bottom line to give our children the very best that we can.
While this negativity has been around a long time, I think the current political climate has given people permission to be “against” anything or anyone that does not think as they do. The harshness with which disagreement is met does not leave the door open to compromise or coming together to at least talk things through.
The sad part in all this is that the kids are the losers. And the future of this world is more hesitant and cast in a darker hue. We have to be positive, we have to look ahead with hope. To believe this is as good as life is going to be, is losing the point of living in the light.
Last Saturday night I was watching, for the tenth time, the DVD THE POST. And of course I was sitting there blowing my nose and wiping away my tears. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is the heroic story of The Washington Post newspaper editor Ben Bradley and publisher Kathryn Graham and their decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Now later the Post would be the paper that broke the story of Watergate and the crimes and corruption in the Nixon White House, but the Pentagon Papers came before that. The Pentagon Papers were released by Daniel Ellsberg (a whistle-blower) because he had seen first hand the war in Viet Nam and he had read the secret report that had been commissioned by Bob McNamara on the history of the Viet Nam war from 1947 to 1967. Ellsberg says in the movie that 10% of the war was to fight Communism and 20 % of the war was to help the people of Viet Nam so that meant 70% of the war was just so the U.S. could save face by not losing the war. Seventy per cent of the men dying in Viet Nam were dying for a president to save face and that covered Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Not one of them would admit we were losing the conflict. The New York Times and the Washington Post defended the first freedom in the Bill of Rights which includes freedom of the press, “Congress shall make no law. . .abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” by taking their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The judges ruled 6 to 3 that the American people had the right to know. Justice Roberts said the newspapers exist for the right of the governed and not those who govern. It really was monumental.
Today we find the battle for freedom of the press continuing. Many of the big city newspapers are gone now, lost to news from the internet and a public that continues to read less and less. But freedom of the press is a liberty worth fighting for. Dictators go after the media when they take power and journalists in television and newspapers are the first to be attacked. The murder of journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi by the leaders of Saudi Arabia shows the long arm of tyranny. But it really has been good to see this basic American right being upheld in our own community’s discussions concerning the school bond issue. Long, impassioned pleas by both sides have given attention to the importance of truth and the freedom to express our opinion openly in our small community. Another issue that has received attention is the activity of the DEQ and the issue of oil waste disposal in Eastern Montana. Farmers and ranchers and the Northern Plains Resource Council have been given an opportunity to be heard at public hearings as well as expressing their opinions in a free and open press.
We must not ever take freedom of the press for granted. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, fighting the Nazi regime in his native Germany during World War II said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” To suppress a free press is to bring down a silence that destroys truth and a government in a democratic society made up of free men and women must never be afraid of the truth. One newspaper had on its masthead the words, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
Say “thank you” to the men and women of our local radio and tv stations and our newspaper who lift up the issues that are important to us right here. It is through their work we are heard.
Long ago volunteering was a part of surviving. You helped your neighbors and together you built barns and made quilts, and built school houses, and cleared the land for plowing and planting. You fought fires together and built churches and helped tend the dying and bury the dead. When someone with a wagon went to town they took orders from everyone as to what to pick up. When the snows were deep, the neighbors brought out their team of horses or oxen to help clear the roads. There was a sense of building a community, of knowing that surviving wasn’t a solitary journey, that it was shared by those around you. There were barn dances and hay rides and ice skating on the creek on a chilly winter’s night. To volunteer was simply to step out your door and knowing the needs of those around, the suffering as well as the accomplishments, it was to help. To help because that is just what human beings do for and with each other.
This sense of purpose, of mission, continued for a long time and it was a good thing. But at some point things began to go askew and there grew to be economic classes in society. There were the very rich and they had no clue as to how the poor lived. When the Industrial Revolution and increased mechanization changed the way things were done, the owners and the workers moved farther and farther apart. The rich could help with a donation of money, but the poor were not grateful because it wasn’t money they wanted, but friendship, joining hands and working together to make life better. The financial disparity between rich and poor has reached to astronomical proportions where a tiny percentage of humans control the wealth of the planet.
Then the urban areas began to grow in size and population increased and the rural areas diminished in numbers. As the speed of transportation increased, we covered long distances faster, but in so doing the places and the faces along the way began to blur and the freeways allowed us to speed past the small towns and the people where life was a little simpler and slower. Cities became the places of bright lights and excitement and now the stars in the Milky Way on a clear night in the country were not bright enough. Communication changed as well and rather than take time to type or write a letter, dwelling on the thoughts we want to impart, really thinking about what was important to us to say, we texted and tweeted and sent Instagrams until all sense of knowing what other people were really thinking deserted us completely. We walked down the streets intent on the instruments in our hands, our fingers flying and sending out short messages that have no depth or purpose.
There are some signs that perhaps volunteering and working together is not a lost art. Young people are joining those folks with grey hair who have seen the Earth fade away in lost glaciers or blow away in horrific hurricanes; living without the song of a bird or seeing the polar bears frolic on the ice fields is a precious treasure to lose. There is a new wind blowing. Will it be strong enough to save our land, to once again build community? To turn toward each other, joining hands to reestablish a human network? Or have we already seen the last volunteer and everything we do is too little, too late.
Last week I had the fun of showing Makoshika Park off twice. Once to a pastor friend and then to some relatives. Fortunately the Park cooperated beautifully and I was able to wheel them through the main parts without mishap. Of course the thing ever able-bodied person wants to do is climb into the draws and coulees in the area and there are lots of them. Makoshika is a wonderful spot for hikers, those who love climbing and even mountain biking lends itself as well. This photo is a view to the north and east.
The prairie flowers have lasted well into late summer due to the abundance of rain and cooler temperatures. A bow to climate change. As I said in an earlier post we have had more humidity as well. I lost a couple of bushes in my yard to a blight which the greenhouse person said was due to the wet, cool Spring. The bush was my strawberry hydrangea bush -- flowering and one I look forward to every year. I hope it comes back next year, but time will tell.
I have had to really slow down the last month as the pain in my leg has shifted to the hip. I keep on with the PT and will see the ortho specialist again today. I haven't been able to do all that needs to be done at church because of the issue. It really is frustrating, but I know many deal with structural issues.
There are so many sorrows in the world today one really does go into neutral. The political campaign we have with us for months to come and much can happen in the between times. Economics and world affairs are more than I want to tackle most of the time. I am grateful for the badlands and the river and the good people who cross my path; for quiet times; for good reading -- "Be still and know that I am God. . ." Psalm 46.
I gulped mighty hard yesterday. I was out in the yard cutting off some flowers that were done AND being chewed on by mosquitoes, when I found a red leaf in the yard AND a yellow gold leaf. The same day -- always a sure sign that Fall is sneaking in the back door! The past few weeks have been really humid. We get a rain shower almost every night and then when the sun comes out we are looking at 83% humidity or more. Now if you are laughing and thinking, "That's nothing!" Remember we usually sit in the 20 or 30 % ranges. I seem to be wet and dripping most every day and I don't like it! Period!!
Four more Sundays and then I will be through with my time as interim at Zion. It has been a joy and a blessing and has gone by very quickly, but I am ready to retire "again". The past five years since I retired in 2014, have been busy ones. As I look back I did pulpit supply for multiple Sundays in the area. Then I did a 5 month interim in Savage, Montana, and a 10 week interim in Baker, MT. and now an 11 month interim at Zion in addition to many, many Sundays hither and yon. It is always difficult to let things go, especially good things that give you joy, but "for everything there is a season" and I believe we have to bow to whatever season we are in. It doesn't mean I am done pastoring, but a rest and a reorganizing my life is always good. Something to stimulate the mind as well as the body.
I have really had to slow down this year with hip, leg and neck issues. I have now had an epidural and a cortisone shot and lots of physical therapy and I am moving around much better. Also lots of prayers (thank you, Lord). There is still pain and stiffness, but it is so much better. I even started painting my kitchen cabinets. Very slowly and trying to be patient with the process and enjoy the results. Hard for me. I always just want to get things done.
Today a friend and I are going to a retirement coffee for the local museum curator and then out for Sunday dinner. We always find plenty to talk about.