It’s hard to believe we are wrapping up another month. Even though we started out with 8 degrees wind chill, after today, I believe Spring will be in full gear, and we should have seven months before darkness descends again.
So, yesterday morning, as I usually do, I check my emails. Now, that used to mean loads and loads of messages that I would need to attend to, from all over. Nowadays, it’s more likely to be ads for Red Lobster, or invitations to stay at the Best Western in Aberdeen – not quite on my radar. Anyway, I clear them out, and then clear out the spam folder which usually has over 200 worthless emails, and then delete the delete, and finally it feels like I have a “clean” computer again – at least for the next hour or so, when I have to do it all over again. I remember back twenty years ago, when I first dealt with emails, that I got a message from the server or somebody that my whatever it was had gotten filled to capacity. I think I had a total of 500 emails, most of them in my delete file.. the program couldn’t take anymore. Those were the days. It was also more likely that I might receive an actual letter in an envelope with a stamp on it. Not so much today.
As I was checking my emails, however, I noticed that I had actually received on from the conference communications director. I don’t think I had heard from her in eight months or so. I first thought it might be a wrong address. But no – it was from her, to me, and she explained that a certain family from one of the cities I had served as superintendent wanted to speak with me. Now, these folks were not from any church – they were, how do you say, “pains in the neck.” One of their clan, a particularly pernicious individual, had perhaps ten or more years ago given to one of the churches both a set of metal wall hangings, and a gift of money, presumably as a memorial to a wife or a sister (or maybe both…). When I had finally gotten involved, it was at the point that the individual – not a church member – was no longer pleased with the church and the pastor, for some reason, and so he demanded the memorial wall thingies be returned to him. My counsel to the pastor was to go ahead and get rid of the problem. Then the fellow came back – after ten years – and demanded the gift of money also be returned.
Now, I don’t know about you, but most churches I know are not savings and loan institutions. I used to tell folks, when they would ask how much the church needed of their money, that we need all of it! The resources given to a church usually have a pretty quick turnaround for mission and charity. Of course, that was the case with this church as well. My advice to the pastor was to politely tell the fellow that the wall hangings could simply be taken off the wall and given back to him, but that the funds he gave – as a gift – had no strings attached, and had already been used in ministry long ago.
Well, this went on for a while, and then I seem to recall the fellow had a stroke, and the battle ended. And then I retired.
Anyway, the director was emailing me to tell me that the family had reared its head once more – now that both the pastor the superintendent had changed – and they were demanding from the director my contact information. Do you ever want to give someone four hours away a hug? The director simply wrote to tell me she had deleted my contact info from the conference directory, and all was well. My reply was a great word of thanks, and to also proclaim, “It’s not my job anymore!” That’s why I retired…
I went on to pursue my normal morning computer stuff, when another email popped up. This one was from a former fellow superintendent, who wrote to tell me that a church on his district wanted to get in touch with the conference Parliamentarian, and he have them my contact info. I have to tell you, after years of experience, that when a church out of the blue wants to talk with a conference leader – especially asking for the parliamentarian – it’s not good. Not at all. 999 times out of a 1000, they have come up with some action that they want to take that promises to be earth-quaking and very thorny. It happened all the time when I was on the job. I used to call it, “Churches and Pastors misbehaving…”
Now, as they say, my momma didn’t raise no fool, because seconds after getting the email from my colleague, I wrote him back, and shared that, indeed, for a number years I enjoyed the role of telling the bishop and the conference what to do – at least in terms of parliamentary procedure – but, I was clear to state, my name tied to that position ended the day I retired, way last July, and it would be up to the new bishop to name/invite somebody else to take on the role, but it wouldn’t be me. It was even more important that I made that statement, because five minutes after I sent that email out, my cell phone rang with the individual who wanted me to get involved in some convoluted process from their church that would involve the conference. The church, although very nice normally, had been appointed a new pastor last year, who, as some pastors are, believed completely in his own knowledge and wisdom and insight, and so most likely had stirred up the church to do something that very well could be “ill-advised.” All that being the case, I didn’t answer the phone and I deleted the message, knowing that my colleague would correct the information. I didn’t write, but I could have, “It’s not my job anymore!”
Now, I wasn’t being mean, or trying to be – but I have lived a pretty blissful past year apart from the burdens of the office I used to hold, or the job I used to have to do. I didn’t hate it, but once it was done, I found myself, as I do today, saying out loud, “Boy – I really don’t miss that headache, or those unresolved situations or unmet expectations.” By the way, the presence of those two conditions are the purest and cleanest set up for stress in life. If you are living with things unsolved, and under expectations that you can’t meet, I guarantee that you will often see the middle of the night, and end up taking antacids and Advils on a regular basis.
Not me – at least not in this area. I thank God for the intentional choices I have made and continue to make, which keep me from being pulled like a tractor beam into things I no longer have the authority, or the desire to try to fix. I offer blessings to the ones that followed me, and the ones that will follow them as well – but frankly, I’d rather spend time with you, and in whipping up a big mess of jambalaya tonight for supper! And don’t forget this afternoon’s nap…
Thought for the day: (I just like the balance this gives our minds…) If you expect the world to be fair with you, because you are a fair person, you are fooling yourself. That’s like expecting the lion not to eat you because you didn’t eat him.
In my “fourth life,” I find myself wanting to do more in the effort to develop a more precise use of words and their meanings. So today, I’d like to explore the difference between a “sign” and a “symbol.”
Let’s start with a symbol. I would guess that when you think of something as a symbol, it feels like it’s standing for something else. The old skull and crossbones stands for either a pirate or poison, although in recent times, whoever is in charge has attempted to use the “Mr. Yuck” symbol instead when we look at poison. They even have a little song that goes, “Mr. Yuck is green – Mr. Yuck is MEAN!” Apparently a green-faced, grimacing head is enough to symbolize something bad for you. For my sake, they could have used a simple lima bean to get that point across…
But we are awash in symbols – things that stand for other things – all over our world. Smoky Bear makes us remember to be careful with outdoor fires. Five intertwined rings helps us think about the Olympics. Last Sunday, we saw palm branches, helping us to recall the Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem. And, of course, the cross is the symbol for Christ’s resurrection.
I remember when I was in seminary, we had a beautiful Southern style large chapel on campus, which turned out to be where many young college women wanted to have their wedding ceremony. That was fine, but the rule was that however things were arranged in the chapel for the seasons of the church year, they would stay, and the wedding party would just have to work around them.
One time, during Lent, the worship folks managed to assemble a full-sized roughhewn, full-of-slivers cross that then stood inside the chancel area. It was pretty overwhelming. As one of the co-eds and her mother came to look at the chapel for the wedding in a couple of weeks, they were aghast that such an ugly thing would be part of the wedding. As they spoke with the head of the worship committee, they tried everything to get the cross taken down. Finally, the bride-to-be said, “I know it is a symbol and all that…” to which, the worship leader responded, “No – it’s not a symbol – it is a LITERAL cross!”
I wear a wedding ring that symbolizes Cheri’s and my covenant. Pictures of fireworks call us to the 4th of July; turkeys, to Thanksgiving, and of course, a manger and a star symbolizes Christmas. Dozens and dozens of things rise and fall as symbols in our lives. Two years ago, to see a face mask might help us think about a medical operation, or the hospital. Nowadays, we see CoVid. A barbershop pole has become a symbol, but centuries ago, the barber was also the surgeon, and strangely enough, after the operation, he would hang the soiled red rags on the pole to dry them, and to be used next time (not a lot of sterilization technique back then), so the white pole draped in red cloth symbolize the place where you could get a haircut, and maybe have you broken leg set after the horse kicked you.
Symbols stand for reality behind them. A remarkable part of our human mind is the ability to take a picture or form of something, and know it stands for something else. If you want a fun exercise, have you and a partner each take a sheet of paper, and give yourselves five minutes to write down all the symbols you possible can think of. No winners here – just a mind-expanding experiment.
So now, let’s move on to “signs.” The difference between a sign and a symbol, is that while a symbol stands for something behind it, a sign is created to point us to something beyond the sign, or to give us a hint of what is coming up. Traffic “signs” are installed to help us prepare for what is coming as we drive, whether that’s a one-way street, or a curved highway, or ice on the bridge. Yes, even words written on a piece of metal can be a sign for us – the ice is not the sign, but the word warns us of what’s is imminent. For a couple of years, as Cheri and I would drive to Grafton, there was a spot on the interstate that had a sign, “Bump.” We would always laugh when we came up to it, and I would do my best to hold Cheri in her seat as we drove, because when we got to the sign, there was a imperceptible tiny dip on the roadway. Driving the 120 miles, we frequently hit sometimes-jarring bumps that were never identified. For some reason, someone put that sign up, which without it, you’d never know there was any thing on the road. Also, just to be clear – what there was, was a tiny dip – not a bump. Some signs are not very helpful.
Signs like to believe they are pointing to something yet to come. There has been a eon’s old profession of a soothsayer, or seer, or fortune teller, who carries the reputation of being able to “see” the future, and to use all sorts of signs, from Tarot cards to chicken innards, to reading bumps on a head, or tea leaves in a cup, and therefore, help the person who had paid them good money to get a leg up on what’s going to happen – by reading the “signs.” Even in sheet music, the composer puts in numerous signs to prepare and direct the performer to make a change at points in the piece. Key changes, tempo changes, even codas and other things that send you back to the beginning, or launch you into another place in the music all use signs to get you to do what you need to do.
Of course, there are far more subtle signs. We sometimes read them on the face of someone we love and care about, signifying trouble ahead for the relationship. If you come home and find all your clothing tossed out on the lawn, that’s a pretty good sign that the near future doesn’t bode well… I remember, while applying for college, that opening a letter from a university required only reading the first two or three words, as a sign for my future. If it read, “We are pleased….” then I was in, and the rest was just fill in for what’s next. However, if the letter began, “We regret…” then there was not reason to read any more. The sign was clear.
One difference between the two words, is that a symbol is usually a fixed thing, and more static. My wedding ring is a symbol of the vows we shared. A sign, however, is more dynamic, and changing. It comes and goes, depending on what it is point toward. A dark cloudy day is perhaps a sign of rainy weather in the making, but the same sky can also become bright and blue as the winds blow the clouds away.
Think of the signs in your own life, either in the past or right now. Unless someone is totally clueless, you can read the signs that come into your life, and make a pretty good prediction of what’s ahead. Both of these words have come into existence as a way to describe the deeper, below the surface sense and understanding we already feel as humans. When we live intentionally (there it is), instead of just by accident, we are open to seeing the signs and symbols that have meaning, and inform us at a more profound level than just writing or talking about something.
Use that ability today, and let today be a more insightful and meaning-full experience.
Word for the day: trouvaille. Pronounced (with a French accent) true-VIE. Of course it is French is its origin. The word comes from the French trouver, which means “to find.” A trouvaille is a valuable or lucky discovery, like the time Cheri and I were walking along a rocky beach and she picked up a long, heavy gold necklace that had been pushed again a rock. Nice trouvaille! Of course, I would always say that the greatest trouvaille in history happened the day I met her. Can’t really top that discovery!
Another quick North Dakota weather update: at 6am this morning, it was 40 degrees outside. The wind is howling, and they predict it will reach 70 degrees by about 1pm. The average high this time of the year should be in the 40s, so besides the wind, it should be a great day. Tomorrow, however, the high temp is expected to be around 30 degrees, so it’s always interesting to have a 40 degree drop overnight. That, coupled with a full moon ought to make things interesting today!
So, over the weekend, as has been our practice (and I’ve written about a few times before….), Cheri and I cracked open a new jigsaw puzzle to put together. 1000 piece, with a pseudo picture of New Orleans – at least there was someone playing a saxophone, and St. Louis Cathedral was in the background, and a horse carriage was going down the street. Not a bad puzzle, with plenty of challenges to it…
As we moved through the puzzle, we were able to fill in most all the holes – except for one. The piece was kind of pinkish-red, with a light glowing on one end of it. Pretty distinctive, and able to be picked out among the other pieces around. Unfortunately, though, we couldn’t find it. We kept building the puzzle, still looking at the pieces to try to find the one we couldn’t find. Now, that’s not unusual, if you have ever done jigsaws – the piece you are looking for could be sitting right in front of you, and your eyes and your mind just sort of gloss over it, until finally what should be familiar becomes evident before you.
We kept putting the pieces together, and Cheri remarked, “Do you think it fell on the floor?” That’s also not usual, because the table we use is best suited for a 500 piece puzzle, and working on a 1000 piece tends to have all the unplaced pieces spread out to the very edges of the table, until we get it under control. That, and the fact that cat Hermes likes to come up and see what we are doing, and sits on the chair eye level to the puzzle, and then slowly reaches up a little paw, and gently knocks a piece onto the floor, and then another, and another…
So, we are used to having to pick up wandering pieces. Also, if you have ever dropped a piece off a table, you know that the manufacturers of jigsaw puzzles have built into each piece the special ability to not just fall, but bounce and roll just beyond your reach, or under the table itself, so that you have to get down on hands and knees, or move the chairs all out from the area, in order to retrieve the escaped piece.
Well, we put together perhaps five or six search parties for the missing piece, figuring it may have rolled behind the crocks or under the mat by the back door, or some other mysterious action. We’d put pieces together, and then look for the missing one, then put others together, and then get out the flashlight…
When we finally put the last pieces in place on the horse-drawn carriage, we looked over the table – and it was empty of all ala carte pieces. We even checked to see if maybe the piece had ended up under the puzzle itself, or had trapped itself in the box when we dumped all the others onto the table a few hours before. Finally we came to the disturbing realization: our friends at Springbok puzzles had failed in their mission to put all the puzzle pieces in the box when they were assembling it. As the popular saying goes nowadays: “You had ONE job…”
Now, Cheri and I are not of the category of some folks I’ve heard of, where one person will quietly sneak a puzzle piece off the table, and slip it into their pocket, and then when all is done, they pull out the piece and pop the final one into place in the puzzle. I’ve been with some folks where we will have four or five pieces missing at the end, where everyone around the table has pilfered a piece so they can put in the last one. Kind of dumb, I know.
It’s an unusual sense of unfinished business to put together a 1000 piece puzzle, and actually only end up putting together a 999 piece challenge, with a hole in it. So, I went on the Springbok website, where we first purchased the puzzle and had it sent to us, to see what they might do to either remedy or reimburse us for the sad occurrence of an unfinished puzzle.
Now, don’t ask me why I was surprised, but I found that Springbok must expect this to happen from time to time, so they have developed a whole procedure for filing a lost piece grievance. I thought I could just say, “We bought one of your puzzles, put it together, and it was missing a piece – what are you going to do about it?” But no… apparently in order to file a missing piece report, and alert the puzzle police, they need a lot of information. They needed the title of the puzzle, and the size. Ok, fine. And then how much it cost (it’s their puzzle for crying out loud!), and when we ordered it, and when it was delivered. You’d think they might have that info in their card file or something… Then, they needed the product code, found on the box under a bunch of other numbers. Then, they needed the lot number, and the date it was put into the box. You could only find those numbers on the inside of the bottom part of the box, which would only be available to you after you tore off the plastic wrapper, which I guess would then prove that you actually own the puzzle in question. I was just glad they didn’t need a blood sample, or an essay written in long-hand about my feelings over not having the one piece of the puzzle…
So after a few minutes, we found all the numbers and information, and I sent the email to their company. What I next discovered was that their guarantee was that they would send a replacement puzzle. Now, the problem with that is that we just finished taking a few hours of our life putting the puzzle together already. It’s kind of like eating a big meal, or reading a book, and at the very end, there’s a problem, and so the people in charge give you the very same meal, or book, which by that time, you really aren’t interested in it. I don’t want to do the same puzzle again… and what do I do with the 999 piece thing sitting in the corner of the room? Do I throw it away? I guess I could sent it to a brother or sister, and not tell them there is a piece missing… heh, heh…
So, I expect we will have a couple of weeks to think about things, since it takes that long to send a puzzle all the way from Kansas City to Fargo. Those 602 miles are long, if you are going by stagecoach, I guess. In the meantime, we do have a couple more puzzles waiting for next weekend. Hope they are more than 999 piece…
Word for the day: dormiveglia. Pronounced door-mi-VAGUE-lee-ah. It’s actually an Italian word that has not English equivalent. From two words, dormire, meaning “to sleep,” and veglia, “wake,” the word describes that soft kind of space that exists between sleeping and waking, especially on a day when you don’t have to jump out of bed and get to your tasks. It’s a word of luxury, because it feels so good to “wake up slowly,” and drift back and forth for just a little while. It’s partner word is actually hypnogogic, which contains two Greek words, hypnos, “sleep,” and agogos, which is “leading.” This describes the experience of just before you fall asleep – that delicious, body-resting, drifting off time.
It’s reported that only 8% of American adults get adequate sleep these days, with the average of 5 hours being the norm. We have to do better – let’s get hypnogogical, and dormiveglian for a bit, eh?
I love words. I always have. The work of figuring out what a word means and where it came from and then following the delightful path of connecting a word with another, and another – it’s just a wonderful pastime. When I was in college, a bookstore at the mall was selling the Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, as a massive probably 8 pound book for $19.95. I have it on my bookshelf today. One of the more fascinating books I have read over the last twenty years was called The Professor and the Madman, the true story of the development of the Oxford English Dictionary, at that time in the mid-1800s, it was a 12-volume set of nearly 600,000 words. Today, the set is actually twenty volumes, and hundreds of thousands more words. It’s like sitting snuggled up on a huge overstuffed chair, eating chocolates and reading your favorite book. Just a nice thing.
My voyage into Latin and Greek and Italian and Spanish and a splash of Romanian in college only whetted my appetite for words, and how we can communicate with each other, either by writing or face-to-face. Words do matter, and the subtly of their meanings and use often make all the difference in the world.
So, every Sunday, Cheri and I will take copies of the LA Times crossword puzzle found in our paper or online, and spend some time going through the clues, and discovering new insights about words. The best puzzles are in between the ones that are too easy, and the game is over too soon, and those exercises that simply seem to be constructed to frustrate, with little or no way to really discover what the word might be. After we finish with the puzzle, of course, then we have to solve the Cryptoquip, figuring out which letters stand for which other ones that make sensible words. You can tell at our house that it’s a laugh a minute…
This morning, as we were making our way through the crossword, I came across a clue. It read “bit of bridge obedience.” Here’s the fascinating part of words. I thought it was talking about when you play the card game of Bridge, that there are some actions you have to take. Not so. Cheri thought it probably meant what you do when you cross a bridge. Not so. She then thought maybe it had to do with how you might take care of that dental appliance – a bridge. Not so. You can see how persons coming to understand the English language from another language are driven properly around the bend, with all the different ways we would use the same word. Actually, the word “bridge” is used in: structures, places, card games, films, music, musical instruments, electronics, fitness, health care/dentistry, math, transportation and finances, at least according to the online definitions. So, take your pick as you try to figure out “bit of bridge obedience…”
We took a number of trips by the clue, trying every which way to get the simple three-letter answer. Kind of frustrating, to say the least. Finally, however, we discovered that the on-line was not complete in the variety of definitions of “bridge.” We found one more. In my brain, a tiny door was opened to a little room that held my childhood experience of watching Star Trek Tuesday nights. As they boldly went where no one had gone before, a good deal of the scenes were shot where Capt. Kirk sat, in his swiveling command chair – on the BRIDGE. When I remembered that, it only took a second or two to realize that part of the obedience there was “aye,” as in “Aye aye Capn…” Crossword solved at last!
It just all adds to my fascination for the ways in which words are created, developed, adapted and deployed. Even today, with cell phones, people still “dial” the number, and then “hang up” when they are done, both vestiges of the rotary dial phones we all knew and loved in the mid-20th century.
So – you might ask – what word has the most definitions? And which one has the least? Good questions. Actually, the champion for decades was the word, “set,” with 430 different meanings to that little word, from setting your clock, setting a record, setting something on a table, to be set, to win a set in a game, to have a set of anything, or to watch the sun set – and 423 more. Unbelievable for us to be so “set” in our ways, that we would “set” our hearts on this word.
However, over the past couple of decades, the word that was runner-up in the definition race has been able to run past “set,” and “set” a new record. The word with most definitions is now “run.” “Run” has “run” the total to 645 different definitions and counting, from running a program, to running the race, to running into a problem, to run into someone, to having your watercolors run, to run away from a problem, to run down a solution, to run through the plan, to run over a bump in the road, to run over to get something from the store, to… well, you get the gist of it all. It’s a monster of a word, and grows each day – I just don’t want to run on and on.
Perhaps the rarest word, and one used thankfully the least in our spoken language could probably be “philodox.” The word describes someone who has an excessive interest in his own opinion, and doesn’t hesitate to be “set on “running” his mouth to tell it to everyone he “runs into.”
We all know that words can be feathers to tickle another human, or a club to beat over their heads. They are as gentle as a lamb, or a wild as a snake. Words are gifts given to us, and in turn, are gifts we give to the world. As always, if we are thoughtful, deliberate and loving persons, we will use our words to make a good, strong intentional difference in our lives and those we touch. Let today be a good day for your good words – and leave the others at home. We don’t need any more bad talk these days.
(Another) word for the day: torshlusspanik. Pronounced TOR-shloos-pan-ick. Sounds German, ya? And it is – actually, it comes from three different German words that translate to mean “gate-shut-panic.” From the Middle Ages, and the time of walled cities to protect the citizens, torshlusspanik is the true fear of getting locked outside of the city gates at nightfall. Not under the protection of the city, you would be at the mercy of robbers and ne-er do wells. It’s the same as “missing the boat.”
Today, it’s really the sense of alarm that rings deep in our hearts when caused by thinking that life’s opportunities may be passing – or have passed us by. Somehow, we missed our big chance, or we were snoozing our lives away while that great thing to come, came and went. It’s a horribly honest feeling. Our best course of action, of course, is to always remain mindful of our lives and the world around us, and not be dulled into accidental living. No reason to “panik” – the best is yet to be.
Here are a few statistics about North Dakota, just so you gain a bit more knowledge today – call it my public service, to educate America…
Anyway, North Dakota is about 71,000 square miles in size – larger than dozens of countries around the world. However, it is only the 19th largest state. But we have a lot of room to spread out up here, since we have the fourth least population, even with the oil boom, of about 760,000 people. When I have visited my family in Dallas/Fort Worth, population of over 6.2 million, you could fit North Dakota’s population 82 times in those cities’ limits. Even more, when you take our two largest cities – Fargo and Bismarck – they account for close to 250,000 people out of the 760,000. Like I said, there is plenty of room to move around in our state!
That’s why it was a bit of a sad pause, at least, to read this morning that in the last year, the death rate in North Dakota went up 26%. 26%. The actual number, granted, is pretty small, with only a normal death number of 6,600. But this year, it was closer to 8,300. That’s 1700 more people than “normal” who died in our state. And like I said, we don’t have a whole lot of folks to begin with, or many to spare.
I expect that around the country, many of these percentages have been repeated, often with way more actual numbers of dead – but when you figure that there are 9.7 persons per square mile in our state, this last year, deaths cleared out the equivalent population of 858 square miles – 175 more square miles than “usual.” It’s really a somber figure when you take time to think about it for a few minutes.
Of course, a huge piece of the blame goes to the coronavirus. And with a majority of our population consisting of older folks, who make up 16% of the population, a daily reading of the obituaries showed that over and over again, they succumbed to the virus. This past year, we read of dozens of folks over 90, just along the eastern edge of North Dakota, who died due to COVID. Over 8000 families up here had a loved one die, and many then were unable to even celebrate their lives in a traditional funeral, with friends and neighbors participating.
It is as if a huge chunk of our communal life this past year was dug out and tossed aside. Now, I’m not scared of death – really I’m not. As a pastor, I have had the holy privilege of being with dozens of folks as they died. It’s part of our life. However, when it “feels” like it has come too soon, or too quickly, or was caused by something other than the natural turn of events, it can be truly heartbreaking, and leave families and friends with hearts that are sad and wishing for something different.
These are all just statistics culled from some easily found information. And it appears things are getting better, and with the vaccinations (have you gotten yours yet?), we have a strong hope that, although dangerous, it can be managed, if not overcome.
But today, I take a moment to think about 26% more of my North Dakota neighbors dying this past year. That doesn’t even take into account the economic, and educational, and “normal” parts of our lives that have been thrown against the wall like raw eggs. But I thank God for the lives of those 8300 persons, whether dead by COVID or not, and for their families, who I pray will understand God’s love and consoling blessing surrounding them. We aren’t done with this yet, and so I pray for you as well, that you might not only be safe, but healthy, and able to care for those you love.
Peace to you today.
Word for the day: retrouvailles. Pronounced reh-tru-VAY. If you guess it might be French, I would say, “Oui!” It actually is one of those words that has meaning deeper than a definition. But let’s define it. From French retrouver, it means “to rediscover, or to find again.” Retrouvaille is in its simplest form, a reunion. But as they say in French, “there are moments that don’t fit time.” More than just getting together, it is the experience of seeing someone you love and care for who has been away, and now has returned. In 1970, the Omaha World-Herald published a full-size picture of when Dad came home from the Vietnam War. All seven of his kids were surrounding him, but the photo focused on the huge kiss and hug Dad laid on Mom, right there on the tarmac in front of God and everybody! All you could say was, “Retrouvaille” – and “nice job, Dad!”
I rolled the trash can out to the curb before dawn this morning. It’s hard to know exactly when they are going to come and pick up the trash, so better early than never, I guess. I must say it’s also MUCH easier to roll a filled trash can out to the end of the driveway when you are not having to trailblaze through four or five inches of snow. I guess Spring indeed has come – sort of.
This morning, it was still in the teens as we woke up. It was kind of a cold turn back in temps from waking up and having it in the 40s right away. Today’s high will barely get into the 40s, but then again, next Monday holds the promise of another 72 degree day. It seems everyday is an adventure, and a great opportunity to rotate coats and jackets, even in springtime.
For the last four days, apparently, we have been riding on the edge of either a cold front or a warm front or some other front, because the wind has been relentless. I know it’s windy everywhere, except for perhaps New Orleans, where I lived and for most of a year, it seemed that the wind never blew, and as a result, never shuttled away the consistent aroma of outside trashcans cooking three-day old chicken. It just all settled down on us, like a stinky blanket. But here in North Dakota, it’s not that we pride ourselves on the wind, but it just seems to be a fact that, without many trees, and with a landscape that is a little flatter than the pancake you fry on Sunday morning, there is nothing to hold the wind back when it decides to blow. That is, there is nothing to hold the wind back from the upper regions of the Northwest Territories near the Arctic Ocean in Canada, as it begins to blow and then picks up speed over Alberta, and then rolls in like a runaway basketball across the Dakotas plains.
Yesterday, for instance, it was supposed to climb into the 50s in the afternoon. In the morning, however, it was about 30 degrees, but when we walked out of the house, and came around the corner of the garage, the north wind that had been hiding out there, waiting for us to come, pummeled us with 35 mph winds, and gusts before we could get to the car of over 50 mph. It makes a difference which way you park your car in the North Dakota, as to whether you will either be able to open the car door against the north wind, or have the south wind on those days when nature decides to change things up, to nearly tear your car door out of your hands and fling it against the poor car next to you.
Now, I’m sure there are other places in our beautiful country, like West Texas and the slopes of the Rockies, where similar winds blow without any concern that they might be stopped by, oh, let’s say, a tree… Up here, however, when we check the forecast and it says it might be breezy, that means it’s a good idea to hang on for dear life, because the wind is unrelenting. It’s a little better in town, because you have buildings, and even some trees planted that slows the onslaught, but yesterday, when I headed out to a new part of town, where nothing had been planted, it was – well, it was really windy. I could barely open the door to the building I wanted to enter.
Now, we kind of like the wind in the summer, because with it blowing that strong, no mosquito has a chance to land on the back of our knees and suck our life’s essence out of us. But in the winter, it’s horrible, and in the early to mid-spring – it’s still the pits. The wind just never stops!
That’s why this morning was a near miracle. With 19 degrees on the thermometer, I walked out, and rolled the trash can to its destination, and then walking back, I realized: there was no wind! I looked carefully at the empty tree branches, and they were completely still. I looked across the street to the side of the neighbor’s house where their furnace exhausted, and the vapor just sat there, without whipping around to the back of their house like usual.
I almost wanted to bring out a folding lawn chair, and sit and enjoy things for a while – except it was 19 degrees, and I needed to start the car to warm things up a bit before taking Cheri to work. Still, I walked slowly back to the garage, almost savoring the sensation of not having to lean into an invisible force. It was close to delightful. I know – kind of a silly thing to remark about, but you have to live here to understand that feeling. It’s like when it rains in the desert, or when the skies are clear over Los Angeles, instead of smog. It’s a calm day here in the Dakotas.
Yes, I know – tomorrow we can expect snow and rain, and winds up to 40mph. But it’s a pretty nice day today – if it gets above freezing.
Each of us has our “normal” day. For some, it’s an usual pattern of weather, like being able to play golf every day in Palm Springs. For others, a normal day requires the same or similar tasks to be done, or things to be observed. Yet, there are some days when it all changes, or what we are used to, is no longer true. I was driving yesterday in town, when I suddenly had to slam on the brakes, because Mr. and Mrs. Canadian Goose were waddling across the street. It’s Spring here, and we have been inundated by the birds returning from somewhere in the south. Many have become quite urban, and there are quite a few unfortunate meetings of car and bird, and I at least had the awareness to pump the brakes, in part so the car that was hurtling toward me at the rear of my car might also slow down and let the geese go by. Certainly something I wasn’t expecting! Kind of like a nice calm day in Fargo.
I hope you have the opportunity to experience something out of the ordinary in your life today – and a good something. I hope you find yourself surprised by what comes to exist before your very eyes, or you feel a significant change, at least temporarily. In our COVID time, as I’ve mentioned before, it seems nothing ever changed. Perhaps it’s time to do a new thing, to experience a new thing, to live a new life, and to discover indeed what God has in store for us as a surprise – even if it is a calm day…
Word for the day: fatidical. Pronounced fuh-TID-ick-ul. Doesn’t it sound Latin to you? It is, and comes from one simple, and two very simple Latin words: fatidicus, which is also broken down into fatum, meaning “fate, or what is spoken,” and dicere, “to speak.” So, fatidical really means to “tell the fate,” or to be prophetic in some way. Now, there have been fatidical speakers from probably the beginning of time, as humans crave the knowledge of what “might be,” or “will be.” There is nothing more satisfying than having our own “fatidical” utterances come true, as though any of us has the real ability to look into the future, and see conclusively what will happen before its happened. Sometimes Cheri and I will read our horoscope, when we get a paper. Sometimes, when I read them out loud, I will switch ours around, and read to Cheri her horoscope, which is really mine. Either one sounds very plausible, like “You may get a special phone call.” (Notice the word, “may…”) or “Be careful with your money this evening.” (So, otherwise, be foolish with it at other times?)
Go ahead and enjoy your own fatidical exercises – just avoid taking yourself too seriously…
Twelve angry men. Well, actually, there were only seven of us – and three of them were women, and no one was particularly angry, so…
One of the things I have discovered in my first year of retirement is that when I do venture out, I find that my time appears not to be worth near as much as before. In the midst of looking for a job, I was invited to be a part of a mock jury panel today, and work with a law firm to help them better figure out how to win a civil suit. I won’t go into detail, since I sworn an oath on threat of imprisonment and torture that I would never discuss the case so long as I live, and I really don’t want to end up on Alcatraz for spilling the beans, but I can tell you that somebody somewhere had a non-life threatening accident, and as a result is suing two other companies for the accident. He did lose wages, and can’t do the job he used to do any longer, although it was only a shoulder injury, so…
So the seven of us strangers gathered in the windowless room, all in facemasks, and all having signed our legal penalty documents, with a blue pen, so at 9:00, the lawyer made his presentation, giving us all plenty of time to ask questions and to even ask some pretty stupid questions that had nothing to do with the case. More on that later.
After a couple of hours, we then were left to “judge the case.” Our task was to decide who was libel for the accident (which means it’s not an accident, because it was someone’s fault…), and even more, how much the liable party or parties should pay the victim in terms of lost wages, of future lost wages, of past pain and suffering, and future pain and suffering. Always a delightful way to spend a Wednesday with strangers.
Deciding who was at fault wasn’t terribly hard – basically, there were some really boneheaded actions that could have been avoided if anyone had been paying attention, but it ended up the victim opening up a door in the dark, and stepping into an 8-foot deep hole, injuring himself. He could still walk, was able to get out of the hole, and actually didn’t go to the doctor until the next day. But perhaps I’m telling you too much of the case – you could probably guess it by now, if you had ever heard of the case before, which I’m sure you haven’t. Anyway, the companies were certainly at fault, and so after a third trip to the restrooms by everyone (don’t these people have bladders in their families?), we got down to the hard work of deciding how much money needed to be doled out.
That’s one thing about civil suits: Money. Somebody somehow ends up winning the injury sweepstakes, and just like Publisher’s Clearing House, they are usually set for life. Now there are two parts to that money splash – the first part makes sense, when we had to decide how much the guy probably lost in wages while he was laid up, and even the part that calculates how much money he probably won’t be able to make until his retirement, since he can’t do the work he used to do. You can fudge back and forth with those numbers, but it’s frankly way more than you might imagine it to be, if you are talking about someone who could work another 10 years before retirement. Well, it’s not that the person can’t work – it’s just that they can’t do that particular job, and so the evil companies need to pony up with the bucks. We probably spent about an hour on those deliberations, and then another break for the toilets (really? Maybe stop drinking so many of those little bottles of water!).
The next round was the old “pain and suffering” award. Now, let me say first of all that I have a personal dislike for this kind of award. I’ve actually served on three different civil trials with this component, and it’s really hard for me to open someone else’s checkbook and pay a person tons of money for their “pain and suffering” – with a couple of exceptions. I mean, if anyone should be paid it should be our disabled veterans who have given body parts and futures for our country – like my dad and my brother. Or perhaps little children, whose lives are broken for their lifetime by the stupid acts of others. The only other category should be to pay someone if another party – on purpose – did something that brought a lifetime injury or death to another. I really believe that just being stupid and forgetting to do something, and someone gets hurt ought to bring a far different penalty, like taking out a billboard or a national TV ad that says, “We were just stupid, and did a stupid thing – don’t do business with us anymore…”
So, there we were, all not-quite-angry people, trying to convince each other of our particular beliefs when it comes to pain and suffering money. By the way, do you KNOW how many meetings with congregations I have had to go through when people felt completely free to insult and defame me on behalf of the conference? I should have gotten a slice of that pain and suffering pie!
What I have discovered, however, is that not everyone in this world is equally intelligent nor emotionally mature as everyone else. And it’s those folks who tend to use the loudest voice to try to prove their point. Granted, this was a mock jury – sort of like practicing opening up presents for Christmas a week early -- but for crying out loud! The amount of money – even fake money – that at least two of our group of seven wanted to give the guy with one hurt joint was bordering on silly, or a satirical skit. First, they thought the companies should pay a third of a million dollars for three years’ worth of surgeries and rehab. Seemed a bit excessive, since he was also getting paid for not working those years. But then, when it came to how much he should get for the rest of his life – when he was able to do upwards of 100 different jobs, just not overusing one joint – they together announced that he should receive $2.5 million. That’s US dollars. Almost makes you want to fall down a hole…
I tried to explain that there was no paralysis, no blindness, so head injury, no loss of limb – just “something else” (see how I’m not telling you the case!), and that he was going to get another job anyway… didn’t matter. It was those companies fault, and they needed to PAY for their misdeeds – they needed to be crushed beneath the weight of the justice system. For shame!
Well, since we were only a mock jury, we were able to leave without coming to full agreement, since it was all fake anyway, but it left me actually a bit sad, that this was an honest rendering of our system of justice. It was really the worst incarnation of “intention,” because they were wanting to intentionally destroy even two businesses due to a stupid and unintentional action.
The fact is, since I did the mock jury this time, it’s possible, they say, that they might call me again. I’ll have to think about that. After all, I did make a cool $60 for half a day in a room with a bunch of strangers, but it they do call, I hope it’ll be a while from now, so I can forget the idea of getting $2.5million for falling in a hole…
FACTS for the day: I thought I’d change things up and give you more trivia for your life. All of these have been gleaned from the internet, so you know they have to be true:
If you bang your head against the wall for an hour, you will use 150 calories.
Cherophobia is the fear of happiness.
Movie previews are called trailers because they used to be shown after the movie was over.
Only 5% of the ocean has been explored.
The average male will get bored after 26 minutes of shopping.
Crocodiles can’t stick out their tongues.
“Almost” is the longest word in English to have all letters in alphabetic order.
I really think the announcement should have been full-banner, above the crease, big bold capital letters! The Fargo City Council, who apparently has been imbued with the responsibility and privilege of dictating large portions of the lives and livelihood of the citizens of this fine fair city, decided last night… to do nothing.
Doing nothing is really an interesting approach to life, as I have mentioned before. Many individuals make choices in their lives to not make choices, that is, they may want something to happen in their lives, but rather than take a definitive stance, they instead kind of hold their finger up to the wind, and “decide” they will not do anything, but instead follow Doris Day’s song, “Que Sera, Sera” – “what will be, will be…” I’m just going to sit here, on this rock all day. If the wind blows strong, maybe it will blow a blanket on me to cover my shoulders and keep me warm. Que sera. Or if it starts raining, instead of a blanket, maybe somewhere, somehow, a nice poncho or waterproof tarp will end up over my head, and .. que sera, sera…
This is the purest, and worst form of living accidentally. I just hang around, hoping and expecting that the forces of nature and the random events of the earth will somehow end up benefitting me, and I in return will basically do nothing either way to create a change in the universe. Frankly that’s the life philosophy of a rock. “The future’s not ours to see…” there goes Doris again. Instead, eagerly wait to see what the world has in store – or maybe not eagerly wait – just wait, and keep part of an eye open to what might be ahead, as that blanket comes floating out of the sky to take care of me.
When we wake up in the morning, put our feet on the floor, and our first question that will guide what we do next happens to be, “I wonder – what will the world bring to me today?” – well, it borders on selfish, as though the world has a responsibility to me, and it is well in the area of laziness, since, outside of toddlers, who are busy learning things, like walking and skipping and going to the bathroom at the right time, we are given the huge gift of making a difference in our own lives, and the lives of those we touch. Even more, we can dream and plan and make huge mistakes, and wonderful victories – but it only happens when we give up the vain and silly idea that this world, and our future, is just something that is somehow going to wash over us, and take us where it wants us to be.
I remember when Cheri and I took a (so far) once in a lifetime trip to Cabo San Lucas for a week in the middle of winter. It was a great idea, by the way… Anyway, one of our last days there, we went down to the beach, and the waves were huge. We started by standing on the edge of the ocean, feeling the sand pulled out from under our feet as the tide pushed out – and then it came crashing in, up to our knees. Of course, we waded in further, and pretty soon, we were standing waist deep, feeling the incredible power of the ocean sucking the water away from us, and then making a fist out of the wave that was coming in, and clobbering us over the top of our heads with a wall of water, knocking us down and making us laugh. We laughed if course, because we were nearly helpless in the face of such a strong tide. However, we still stood there – yes, getting beat up, but standing, and doing all we could to go toe to toe with thousands of gallons of water.
Of course, I hope you understand that to be a metaphor for our lives on this earth. We may get knocked down, and sent flying underwater to the gritty sand sometimes, but our best effort is to stand – to intentionally, with all our might and our heart, withstand what is being thrown at us. Instead of “what will be, will be,” we do our best when we sing at the top of our lungs, “This is what I hope it will be, and will do all I can to make it happen!” Not very lyrically, but it has a good beat to it.
So today, as you stand waist deep in the ocean, knowing the wave is about to crash, instead of buckling your knees and getting ready to pushed around, it’s better to lock those knees, strengthen that back, make those fists, and tell even the waves that are coming, “Not if I can help it!” That is an intentional heart, and an intentionally bold and significant life.
So – back the Fargo City Council… a number of months back, when COVID was basically out of control, and it seemed our society could only shut everything down in hopes that when the waves crashed, it would only take out a small percentage of our friends and family, the Council “boldly crept” (that’s a phrase I made up for how many organizations and groups act – boldly taking one tiny step after the other…) into the future, and said that within the city of Fargo, if you went inside anywhere, you needed to wear a mask. Now, they called it a mandate, but it had not enforcement, and no penalty, except for the blaming eyes of others when they noticed you were walking around bare faced. Up here in the Northland, the peer pressure has been strong enough that we probably have had a near 100% compliance, except in the bars and such, where apparently alcohol is stronger than societal pressure. So, truly believing in a way that “the future’s not ours to see,” we agreed, and went out, or ordered millions of dollars of face coverings.
Now, for me, the mask seemed to be successful. I never contract COVID – of course, I also barely have gone out into the public, doing most of my work from home, but it did stay away from our doorstep. Week after week, month after month, I have had to make a conscious decision whether to go grocery shopping today, or whether we could put it off a few more days…
Anyway – we have lived under an unenforceable mandate and most of us have survived both the mandate and the disease. Remember – hardly anyone is alive who went through this 100 years ago.
Well, back a few months ago, the Council decided to keep things just the way they are, and to extend the mandate for another couple of months. Do you hear the boldly creeping? Their rationale was that it wasn’t quite the right time, and they weren’t going to go first in lifting the cap.
But yesterday was March 22. It’s spring, and even more, lots and lots of people are getting shot with a variety of promises that the pandemic will no longer hurt them. Deaths are indeed down, infections are pretty well “under control,” which means they aren’t overwhelming the capacity of hospitals and clinics. And it’s gotten warm enough to open up outside eating and drinking places, so a number of folks have decided on their own that they don’t need any more masks.
So the Fargo Council took the bold (insert creeping) step last night – to do nothing. The mandate was set to expire at 11:59pm last night, unless the Council voted to extend it. They didn’t, but they didn’t do anything else either. Instead of taking the courage to either extend the mask thing, or to intentionally end it, they chose not to vote. Perhaps this was so no one could come back and criticize their actions, but they never said a word. They just let the mandate expire, all on its own, and told folks to pay attention to what individual stores and businesses were saying they wanted to do with masks.
Perhaps there is nothing wrong with that kind of approach – but doesn’t it sound a bit passive, a bit accidental, and not at all intentional? I think so, and I am disappointed when leaders could – and should act with a greater action, a greater intention, a great courage of heart to make a stand – even against the waves that might knock you down.
So – we move into Spring. I carry a mask in my car, and depending on where I will go, it will stay, or go with me. I’m also half-vaccinated, and don’t plan to make a life out of going back to shopping anywhere and everywhere I want. I do hope you will continue to be safe, yourselves, and to ensure that your decision as to how you will protect yourself will be informed, and sensible – and intentional. Have a great day – mask or not.
Word of the day: oblocutor. Pronounced ah-BLOCK-you-tor. One of our great Latin words, used mostly in law. It’s fairly obscure otherwise, although it would be a nice one to pull out when you have a disagreement: “I don’t mean to be an oblocutor at this point, but…” The word has the deepest root with loqui, meaning “to speak.” When you drop the prefix ob before it, you end up speaking against. An oblocutor is someone who employs obloquy in the sense that they deny or dispute what is being said. It’s the defense after the prosecution has presented their case. As an oblocutor, my job is also to show where your presentation is untrue or faulty. In its worst sense, the word also can mean “evil speaking, or slander.” An oblocutor will take the good you have offered, and speak ill or slander it, in order to at least tarnish, if not invite others to not believe you.
It’s a word that has its value, especially when something being asserted really isn’t true, but it always takes up a combative frame of mind. So don’t be an idle oblocutor – our world doesn’t need any more of that…
He just came in to say hi. Every morning, at least when I am sitting at my desk, Hermes comes in to the office, makes a tiny little purr-like squeak, and walks over to my chair, where it is expected that I will stop whatever I am doing, and scratch his head and back – for a while. This comes after – every morning – that he somehow has to make sure Cheri is up way too early by walking all over her until she stirs. He and the others then follow her out to the kitchen, where there is a hoped-for treat, or at least fresh food to start the day long before dawn. While Thor, our skinny Siamese, has to then crawl onto Cheri’s lap while she is working at her computer, Hermes instead takes stock of the house, usually ending up sprawled on the living room carpet. He doesn’t really go back to sleep – it’s more just sitting/lying there, letting time go by. Of course, he and his brother, around 6:30am, start getting fidgety and waiting at the top of the basement stairs, until somehow they hear Adam stirring in his bedroom. Often they will trot on down, and stare at him until he makes a move to come upstairs. You see, when that happens, then treat #2 for the day occurs, and they each get a little dab of cream cheese. This was Adam’s big mistake about two months ago, and now he is stuck with that morning exercise.
After they are done with that, it’s back to the food dishes and the water dishes, and then it’s back to quietly lying in the living room, waiting for the warm sun to start beaming in and roasting them. However, for some reason, a little after 8:30, when I am at my desk, Hermes has to come in and get his morning scratch, look around at a room that hardly ever changes, and when satisfied with his security check and he has been fully scratched, at least for this part of the morning, he quietly turns around and leaves. That’s all – he will then go out to the couch or to the bed, or even to a silly little box that we have to now keep in the dining room for him to crawl in, and look like he is a poor, homeless box-cat. Thor, on the other hand, after cream cheese, goes directly to his rocking chair (I don’t think anyone else has sat in it for over five years now), curls up and takes his first marathon nap of the day. Phoenix can be found in a laundry basket in our walk-in closet, next to the heater vent, nestled in among the never-worn bathrobes of the past.
Now, we never taught them to do these things. It is completely, 100% of their own devices, but they are as consistent as the sun coming up in the morning. In fact, we have come to know when/if something is wrong, when the patterns are broken at all! They say cats sleep between 80% and 95% of a day, and ours are no strangers to that requirement. Except that at 8:30, and if I’m still working at the desk at around 2pm, Hermes comes to check to make sure things are running smoothly – and then back to sleep.
Now, we will tend to chuckle a bit at the patterns of animals in our lives, as they seem so deeply engrained into their existence, but you and I both know that it only takes a moment to examine our own lives, for us to find the near-rigid, almost never wavering habits and designs we follow. I remember Mom saying how she missed, just before bed, to hear my dad brushing his teeth, and ending with three taps of the toothbrush to knock off any left water on the bristles. Not four times – not two – precisely three, and he was done.
I know, in my case, with the pandemic, and often living out the same days, or nearly the same for weeks at a time, that I have plenty of things that I do, that I no longer even think about. I can wake up, take care of bathroom things, walk out to the kitchen, pour a cup of coffee, and then sit down with my phone and iPad to check on the news and weather without even remembering that I did it at all. I would expect you have your habits as well, and they make for a simply comfortable and predictable living out of most of our days. In fact, in those times (rarer as of late) when something else is on our plate, or we have a first thing in the morning special trip or task or such, it’s amazing how possible it is to get a bit out of sync for the better part of the day! Now, when I was traveling quite a bit, the “first things” were way shorter than when I have time to linger with the start of my morning. Now, however, like I said, the patterns carry me, and put a framework around what I do, like Hermes doing the walkthrough at 8:30.
Much of that is just fine, of course, since I tend to believe that without some pattern to our lives, we probably would slide into either a paranoia, or some other form of insanity, since with no structure, all we have is randomness. However, let’s be clear: if all we do is the same thing unendingly, then it’s probably time to start asking some important questions, like, “Am I truly satisfied with this existence?” “Have I lost my ability to be creative, and perhaps do a new thing?” “Am I driven by boredom, or fear, or laziness?” “What else might I do with my life?”
Even in simply asking those questions, we open our front lobes of our brains to some new unexplored rooms. We move from accidental in everything, to perhaps a modicum of intentional, at least to begin with. I believe that is not only healthier, but necessary for us to live abundant lives, and lives that are significant and meaningful.
So enjoy that cup of coffee in “your” chair, and blow your nose the same way, and check the weather in whatever way you do that. But don’t do only that – do more, and be more, and think more intentionally… I believe when we do that, we begin to live in a more powerful way, even during the age of Covid…
Word for the day: yird. Pronounced Yeerd. Many of our words that today begin with “y” have their roots in Northern England or Scottish language. Today’s word is no different, although it can go many different ways. The word originally meant “soil, or topsoil.” It was dirt, but one version from the Scottish word gard, from which we have gard-en, was the patch of ground around the house. It doesn’t take much to then move from gard to yird – to yard. The word also means “to bury, or inter.” No matter what, it all comes back to dirt, doesn’t it. However, another version takes us first to an Old Saxon word, gierd, which is a measure of length. It originally meant a rod/staff/stick which was used to make a fairly uniform measurement. It was first a length of about 5 meters – a rod. However, later on, it became three feet, or what we call a “yard.” A yard stick doesn’t measure dirt, or even your yard, but it belongs to us anyway. Make sure you yird your plant roots in your yird, but don’t go a yird underground – or is it under-yird?
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.