If you are approaching retirement, I want to encourage you to have a ready answer for two questions you will hear constantly -- How is retirement? and What do you do? Well, I am soon two years into retirement and I am finally getting a handle on what it means for me, because I think it is different for everyone and there are many variables.
For me, I treasure the time I have been given through retirement. A recognition of the reality of “time” as more than just a vague concept is very important. If you are willing to see the “time” as a gift, it will open all kinds of doors for you. If you see “time” as something you have to fill up, that you have to be “doing” all the time, the gift is tarnished and you will be the looser.
I often find myself laughing at how I make use of this gift. I tell folk I have a tendency to get myself into trouble. I have time, so I sit and think a lot about what I could do, what I want to do. I walk through the rooms of my house and think. Then I have discovered the Home and Garden channel and Pinterest. I am intrigued by how people are able to fix up their homes in attractive ways and I enjoy looking at the things I can do without too much training. Several times I have found myself in the middle of a project moaning over what I started and wondering if I can finish it. A couple of times some local craftsmen have come to my rescue but most of it I have been able to finish.
My first summer I worked outside painting and getting help to landscape some of my yard. All was going well until the storm in 2015 that smashed my little maple tree. The tree is getting lots of encouragement to resurrect itself this Spring. We will see.
A year later I became intrigued with chalk painting and began to look at my kitchen cabinets and the fact they needed an update. I started slowly by chalk painting and distressing three pieces of simple furniture. The chalk painting went well so I read more on Pinterest and decided to tackle my bathroom next. I had two sets of cabinets in the bathroom and took the plunge. All went well until I had to put the cupboard doors back on the storage unit in the bathroom. I couldn’t lift the doors, hold them and put in the screws for the hinges. Fortunately I had a neighbor who was willing and a wife who loaned him to me and the job was done.
I was really tired after that project so I let a few months go by and then decided to tackle my kitchen cabinets. I admit to a high level of anxiety when it came to those cabinets but I wanted to lighten the kitchen because my house is rather dark. Finally I jumped in. I put at least four coats on the doors -- paint and antiquing and polyacrylic. Two weeks and it was done! I don’t know what other people think when they come in, but I like it and I guess that is what is important.
There is the story of staining my closet door and having to be rescued by someone who really knew what he was doing and helped me out of a mess. Then I converted a coat closet into a shelving unit. It turned out really well and then I painted another closet that had been a rose color in a blue bedroom. It is gray now and looks great.
So -- time on my hands will at some point direct me toward a vision of what to do next. I really should have someone to rein me in at times, but what’s the fun in that. In the process I’ve discovered a whole new range of interests and abilities.
[Photo Palm Sunday cross ELCA Our Savior's Lutheran Church,
As I thought about the bombings in Brussels, Belgium yesterday, right at the beginning of Holy Week, all the great sorrow in the world becomes like a heavy weight trying to push humanity into the dust. Jesus, carrying his cross through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgatha, reminds us of the crosses we each carry throughout our lives. There are crosses of great tribulation, of sorrow, of pain, of death, but there are also crosses which are bathed in the glow of personal sacrifice and answering in a positive way the call to discipleship.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the martyr to Nazi persecution, talked often of personal and social discipleship as responses to God’s many gifts of grace and mercy. Albert Schweitzer, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, wrote a piece on his personal search for Jesus: “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”
I think no matter what your religious creed, there is an innate call to a discipleship, to serving something much larger than our individual self. Perhaps that is what jihadists feel through their constant use of terror. Perhaps they believe they are serving some much larger truth. Of course others feel the call to serve power and money and self-absorption. We see that all around us.
But in spite of the hopelessness, horror and death that seem to bedevil us, filling our vision each day, the call of the Cross of Jesus, is one that goes beyond ourselves. There is nothing self-serving in taking up the call of the Suffering Servant, as Jesus is called in Isaiah 53. Maundy Thursday of this Holy Week we are reminded that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, calling them to the servanthood he himself was living.
As I noted, this is Holy Week 2016. We are called to look beyond our narrow view of what this life is and instead think of what it could be for those suffering in this world. What about the hungry, the homeless, the refugee families struggling to escape war, trying to find a life. Every generation has faced that desire for something better. In my family we hear the story of a great uncle who immigrated from Norway to America because, “There has to be some place where a man doesn’t have to pull a plow like an animal.” Our call as Christians, but also as Americans is to give some substance to the dream of a better life, the life we take for granted. We are to be a voice for the voiceless and to point out a different way of seeing the world then blood and terror and smoke and then begin working to make it happen.
It was a day when "livin' the good life" had real meaning. The sky was blue after days of gray and wind and there were a lot of cars sitting in various spaces throughout the Park. Hiking and running were where it was at. I was out walking, heading north on Radio Hill road toward the amphitheater. Before I knew it I was at Eyeful Vista. When I got to the amphitheater I stopped and checked my pedometer. Yikes! I had walked 2.54 miles. My limit is usually 3 miles but in the spirit of the day I had stepped a bit beyond. Heading back to the car I cut across country and discovered the Ponderosa Trail which was new to me. It took me to the intersection of the trail to McCarty's cabin where I hit the main road and went on from there.
Without showing my age I can remember when a large portion of the Park was BLM land, wide open spaces with a gravel road connecting. When the teachers would have their yearly picnics in the park we kids (my dad was a teacher) were down in the gullies and up over the hills. I remember one spot over the hill from where we usually picnicked that had a little puddle of water and wild roses growing around in the mud. Family picnics, scout events, church worship services and a drive to the end of the park on the road to the Archery Range and Lions' Youth camp were all real adventures.
I took my oldest nephew on one of Doc Hiatt's last classes about the Park. He showed us fossils and rock formations and a whole range of geologic features. Doc had more energy than any of us and was up and down the coulees like a mountain goat. He had spent 35 years roaming the hills and the gullies and exploring this wonderful spot.
It is really great to see how locals love the park and how it is becoming a destination site for many other people thanks to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. Of course those of us who live here are the fortunate ones.
Ingrid Christensen, one time Director of the board for the Division for Church in Society of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said that when the church has done its best work it has done three things: had courage, listened to the people’s stories and kept God’s story of grace and mercy at the center of our work. Listening to the stories people tell is a way of giving validity to the lives we have lived. To listen is to tell people they matter. To listen to the words is to create a living monument to humanity. Our stories, our words matter. In this election year I am reminded of the power of words to sway our emotions, touching our deepest fears and attempting to give us easy answers for our greatest yearnings. The mis-use of words when they are used to manipulate and control is something about which we must always be aware. I recently listened to two professors discuss language and how it is being used to bring about decisions that influence not only our lives in this country, but also the world.
The language of fear is one that our enemies use with deliberation. Ask a child who is the victim of bullying what fear means -- non-acceptance, not being a part of a greater group, isolationism. Unfulfilled yearnings, desperation, lack of hope spill out by way of the power of words. It is the power of a language of fear that can cause us to give up our liberties into the hands of people who clasp the power for their own.
The language of isolationism is the idea that by staying out of the affairs of others we can protect ourselves. In this day and age that is not possible. But it is also a powerful language when dealing with religious and racial unrest, when we are talking about creating a kind of racial purity. When those of like mind isolate themselves from the “marketplace of ideas” their tenets harden and there is no room to breathe.
Appeasement had a meaning all its own when Hitler was seizing parts of Europe and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain came home to England with the words, “We have peace in our time.” Today appeasement is directed at affairs in which we are not directly involved whether in this country or another part of the world. “It is not our problem.” As if saying the words will make everything with which we are uncomfortable go away.
The world needs to listen to the language of the poor and downtrodden which is often a voiceless language. We need to combat words of racial and religious intolerance. It took lawmakers and this country over one hundred years before we finally heard the words of our fellow Americans and understood their words, “I have a dream.” When that dream was claimed by all it meant equal rights for all people regardless of race or gender. For a refugee the only words may be the quiet sobbing of a frightened child in a language we don’t understand or the huddled body of someone who has lost hope.
We need to fear when there are no words at all. The shallow tumble of words we text, Twitter and Tweet makes us numb to the deeper words we need to listen to and act upon. We can shut our ears and turn our backs, but the murmur of voices and the power of words are never silent.
Have you ever experienced what you might describe as a “thin place”, a moment when you felt very near to God?
Like most things in our world, faith issues have trends as well as fashion. For the past several decades it has been in fashion to say that you are ‘Spiritual’ and not ‘Religious’ and both words are spelled with capitals. I’ve read a little about it and I’ve decided that people are probably turning from denominationalism. No one seems to really like labels these days. We certainly see it in politics. This year in particular (2016) we are experiencing huge numbers of people who are listening to a certain political philosophy and are turning from “politics as usual.” In religious circles people following this path either seem to prefer a nondenominational church or their own brand of Spirituality.
Spirituality is that search for “God” in our lives. People seem to need some sense of a Supreme Being to give their life direction and purpose. Christian Spirituality follows a pathway to a simpler lifestyle, one that clears away the clutter of the material life in which we live, those things that can separate us from God. There are Spiritual disciplines to follow such as certain styles of prayer and the encouragement of reading scripture regularly. There are practices that include fasting as well as observing times of enforced silence. Each practice has its followers.
One branch of Spirituality that has become popular is Celtic Spirituality which springs out of northern England and the early saints who brought Christianity to the tribes of northern Europe, to a region that is called Northumbria. The history of Christianity in these regions is very ancient and is tied in with the bitter winds that blow off the North Sea and the rugged geography of the area.
In reading some books on this type of Spirituality I ran across a phrase that I really like. One author spoke of “thin places” in our lives. His explanation of that phrase was there are times in our lives when we are closer to heaven than others. That perhaps we can almost feel the flutter of angels’ wings against our cheek. I think a wedding service can be a ‘thin place’, at the time when the couple have spoken their vows before God and the congregation gathered and then receive a blessing. It is at the moment when the two become one that for a breath or two we are very close to what heaven is all about. Sometimes in the preparation of food I find a ‘thin’ place. All food is a gift of God’s creation and when I am using fresh ingredients, preparing a meal for friends or family or to take food to someone who is ill or a family who has experienced a death, it is then there is a thin place between the creator and the creation. The birth of a baby, the moment of death, an experience in nature, when we love another person -- God in those ‘thin’ places is very close to us. God is in the small things in life, those moments when our eyes are opened a little wider and we really see or really hear perhaps for the first time.
The true search for spirituality is not drawing away from God, rather it is plunging ourselves deeper into all that God has given us to know and enjoy.