Earlier this week, Adam, who has been working for a company here in Fargo from home for more than a year, came upstairs and calmly announced, “Well, I got another raise…” At 33 years old, he is now making more than I made after 24 years in the ministry. And this was not the job he actually hunted or searched for – but apparently, he’s very good as what he does, and the company would rather pay him than lose him. So goes life in the ongoing pandemic!
Also earlier this week, Aaron came upstairs, and mentioned that he had the first in a series of interviews for a college position in Wisconsin. Let me try to break down the significance of that statement… Aaron finished his successful defense of his PhD. thesis, and was awarded his degree in full in the spring of 2020. “Doctor Cross,” as we teased him, had taken a long journey, but indeed accomplished a pretty strong feat. Of course, the next step, which he had also been working on for more than a year prior to that, was to secure a tenure track position somewhere at some university or college in the US.
Guess what happened in March of 2020? If you answered, “The world shut down…” you would be correct. And in that world, the sphere of academia took it hard. There was turmoil in hundreds of schools, who cancelled classes, and especially, trimmed back costs to make ends meet “for now.” Part of the trimming was the almost across-the-board freezing or elimination of professor positions. Now, if you are a brand new PhD., with no experience or tenure beyond teaching the classes while you were gaining that degree, what was open just a few months before became a slammed-shut door. It was an emotionally crushing time, with no one to blame except the stinking virus.
Still, Aaron applied, and applied, and applied. Every week he would send out resumes and applications, although the openings went down from significant institutions of higher ed, to small, sometimes sketchy colleges. On top of that, we learned that, although you might even be able to get a job clear across the country as an instructor or lecturer, it would more than likely be only a one-year contract, and then you are stuck trying to piece together some other employment for the next year, and then the next. It was a bleak, and barren landscape.
Finally, after months of “no”s or no answer at all, in frustration, Aaron declared he was giving up teaching, and was going to try to find some other means of using his degree. Remember how long it was, going through the summer of 2020, and then the fall, and then the winter of 2021, and then the spring?...
Finally, as things opened up – a little – he was given the chance to interview at a couple of different small colleges – he even was flown down to one spot in the South, but nothing still materialized that was an actual offer or possibility.
That’s why it seemed like a hopeful sign when he told us there was a place in Wisconsin that was interested in him being part of the screening process, and then see about the next couple of stages of interview. It sounds like a pretty nice setting, with great compensation and some real hope!
So, wearing his suit – sans shoes and socks – Aaron yesterday had his screening over the internet, and seemed pretty confident about the way it turned out. That’s always a good sign, and we’ll have to see how it progresses…
Then Cheri and I went to the grocery store. When we got back – two hours after the interview, Aaron told us he received another phone call from Kentucky, from a small university there. The recruiter told him that the person who first was offered the position there had to turn it down, and that Aaron was the actual next choice. Talk about when it rains, it pours! Of course, there are always wrinkles. The second position is set to start in 16 days. That would mean interview successfully, then look for an apartment or some other housing, set up office after moving and holding the first class session in two weeks…
So – back to prayer. We have been praying for God to make a way where there is no way, but now our prayers become for discernment for Aaron to select the best place to work, and to live, as he leave home.
All this of course is happening, as we wait with care for the progression of Cheri’s mom’s cancer. When we look at the transitions that have happened in our family, and the ones about to occur, the best we can do is to pray for God’s sustaining and directing love to help us enjoy life, and to be prepared for what’s ahead.
Maybe you are going through “stuff” in your life as well. Maybe it’s joyful “stuff,” or perhaps it includes things you would never hope for anyone to have to go through. That’s life, and as I always say: it’s not what happens to you that matters – it’s what you do with what happens to you that makes all the difference.
Blessings in the days to comes, both for our family and yours. Keep faith.
Word for the day: noetic. Pronounced no-ET-ick. Not a word we hear often, but it’s rather a simple and direct word. Coming from the Greek, noesis, meaning “perception, or intelligence or thought”, from noein, “to see or perceive,” and lastly noos, which means “mind, or thought.” Something that is noetic is something that is of or relating to the mind. It’s not simply about intelligence, but it more encompasses our logic, our bearing toward the world, and our way of doing problem solving, or imagining what could be. It’s definitely not about just how we feel. It’s what we think.
Every family has its stories. Some are tragic, some are hilarious. Some of the stories are told frequently, and others, just when a condition is right, and everyone is ready to remember the incident. Parents of course carry so many of the experiences of when the kids were little, but even the children bring a special corporate memory forward. Like when we came back from Australia and spent a few days in Hawaii – it was there that I tasted pineapple sherbet for the first time. Or when we spent some time with the cousins in St. Paul, and took sofas cushions and rode them down the stairs like a sled, without breaking our necks.
Like I said, every family has and holds those memories. When I was five years old, or even a little younger, Dad sent away for an 8mm film camera and projector, to take with us in our two-year stay in Australia. It was really a stroke of genius, because he knew the entire family of eight of us, at that time, would never take another epic trip like that again.
Of course, the camera wasn’t limited to foreign soil, and Dad used a number of occasions to test it out, and learn the ropes of “Cecil B. DeMille” ing. The movies were shot on 3-minute rolls, which then Dad would splice together to give us a full-length movie experience, chopped up and changing locations and situations in rapid succession. There was the movie taken on Christmas morning, when all of us opened the presents of PanAm travel bags, which cemented our place as world travelers – in pajamas.
Also, before we went abroad, perhaps the signature, most significant movie ever shot on 8mm – even more important than the Kennedy assassination film – became part of the Cross family lore. For years and years, it was known as “The Mud Party.” The setting was simple – it was most likely one of those soggy Spring days in South Carolina, as the rains moved through like a monsoon. In their wake, they left huge puddles on the lawn – especially in the spot where the grass didn’t seem to want to grow, so instead of wet grass, we were presented with a mud pool.
Now, it’s a well-known established scientific fact that little boys love mud. Not just appreciate it – they adore it, they seek it out, and they most of all, love both the idea and practice of getting muddy. That spring day, the finest, sloppiest, messiest mud event presented itself. I’m not quite sure how it all evolved, but it went from the three boys in our family, to involving somewhere around ten neighborhood boys, who understood the historic significance of this much mud. What turned out was the equivalent of more than a dozen two-legged piggies frolicking and totally coating our entire little bodies with sticky, oozy mud. Everyone of course was just wearing shorts, with no shoes or shirts, so that the event could easily have been assumed to be on some foreign continent, in preparation for a sacred dance.
Enter Roger B. DeMille. Dad apparently grabbed the camera with a new roll of film, and began to document the historic event. The picture is a little grainy, like they would have been in 1962, but the content is easy to figure out. Dad lined up all of us in a line, and panned the camera slowly from one end to another. Then, without sound, you notice all the mud boys listening, and then of course, turning around to show their muddy backsides, which again was captured on film in a slow progression across the line.
It was one of those perfect films, that captured what it meant to be the sons of military personnel, left to their own devices. Like I said, for years and years, when we would have family movie night, with the great director also in charge of running the projector, we would endure the films of walking around in Sunday clothes at Swan Lake Park in Sumter, South Carolina, feeding the black swans that were there, and seeing the pictures of the irises and azaleas and magnolia blossoms. We even watched the birthday parties and the sitting around outside in Australia in the back yard. However, the excitement built as we anticipated another favorite screening of “The Mud Party.” We didn’t need sound, because everyone in the room talked at the top of their voices, narrating the film, and laughing over and over.
Of course, even the film couldn’t catch all the history of that day. After the camera was set down in a safe place, it was necessary to make sure that the mudboys were not going to track the mess into the various houses on the street. Dad moved from filmmaker to executioner, it seemed. By that time, the mud had caked pretty well all over us, and so ol’ Dad turned on the hose with the jet nozzle, and one by one, we lined up again, so the loving father could blast the mud away with water that was probably three degrees away from ice. It was a strange sensation, to have both the sting of the water, and the freezing even on a warm Spring day.
Fast forward more than 55 years later, and all those memories and movies became even more cherished with Mom’s death. As we worked to clean out the house, the question kept being raised, “What happened to all the family movies? What happened to the Mud Party?” The sad realization came forward. Apparently, our oldest brother, Ray, at some point, had taken all the movies, with the idea that he would transfer them onto DVDs, and maybe even get a copy to everyone. That of course was the explanation offered. Unfortunately, a few years before Mom’s death, Ray suddenly died as well, and with most of his family estranged from the rest of us, the Australian Air Force Flag, the ammo box that held many toys, many of the Australian relics and the old library table seemed to no longer exist – their whereabouts were sketchy. As well, all the movies had vanished. The unhelpful assumption was that one of Ray’s children simply confiscated what he wanted, and perhaps just threw away the rest, with them having no value for his life.
So, as we have worked to gather the pieces and memories of the family life, we have had to come to the sad realization that the Mud is gone. It does feel as though someone stole the family silver, or something just as cherished and valuable, but there is really nothing we can do.
Except remember – to recall, and laugh at the memory of those images watched over and over, and to do so not in mourning, but in joy for what belonged to our family for a time. I hope that you have things to cherish from your own family, whether they are present any more or not. More powerful than the “things” of our live are the memories that are shared and recalled, and passed down for as long as they can be. Don’t let time go by without taking the time to either write down or verbally share the stories with others. Most of our families won’t be remembered by the great feats and accomplishments, but we can “remember” what has been between us, and to those who follow. That’s quite the treasure to have entrusted to our care.
Word for the day: opprobrium. Pronounced uh-PRO-bree-um. It sounds Latin, doesn’t it? It indeed comes from the Latin opprobare, which is translated “to reproach.” Further whittled down, ob, which is “before, or in front of,” and probrum, which is “disgrace.” When something is publicly disgraceful, or scurrilous, or full of reproach, or reprehensible, the noun that describes it is opprobrium, as in “He lived an opprobrium for his way of life.” It’s really a bad criticism for someone who has unfortunately earned it…
I know, I know… it doesn’t seem like a topic that’s worth writing about, but stay with me, just for a bit. Thursdays on our street are really sights to behold. Almost as if by magic, sometimes before the dawn, black heavy plastic cans with wheels and lids find their ways from inside people’s garages out to the end of the driveway, where they wait patiently for a great moment of our week – trash day. Oh, many houses also have blue cans as well, which, for the price of about another ten dollars a month, you can have them pick up your recycle materials. The thing is, I can drive a half mile in either direction of our home, and end up at a neighborhood recycling place, where I can dump off all the plastic, glass, cardboard and such for free, so it seems kind of goofy to spend $120/year to have someone do that for you…
But not the trash – when you mix in raw chicken trimmings, used cat litter and a host of other “nasties” and you put it all in a trash can, Thursday mornings can get to be an exciting time, if for no other reason than you have the chance to leave the garage door open for an hour or so afterwards, and air out what is otherwise a horrible topic of conversation.
So, Wednesday afternoon is when the call goes out across the house – “Trash Day tomorrow! Can you collect what needs to be thrown from around the house and get it into the can in the garage?” Now, I don’t make that announcement so Cheri can hear it, or that the cats can gather up their stuff for throwing out – it’s directed down the stairs, where we can never be too sure of exactly what has amassed over the course of a week – or two or so, if the “carrying upstairs” chore gets missed.
Some weeks will find the trash can with lots of room in it, for some reason. It’s then that you almost want to make another sweep around the house, just to see what else we could throw away. I mean, you hate to waste open trash can space! Other weeks, however, it’s a different story. Somehow, the can is chock full by Tuesday, which is troublesome, knowing that we still will have two more days to try to fit into the can. The work of shoving and cramming and almost considering climbing in and stomping it down, just so the top will close really should count toward cardio training for the week.
Now, it’s one thing to roll the can out to the curb on a nice sunny summer Thursday morning. It’s quite another, in sub-zero February, when you have to first shovel a path through the snowy driveway, just to get the can down to the street. I remember one time last year, when we had gotten a good six inches on Wednesday night – of course – not Thursday night… As I shoveled the trash path, I discovered to my surprise that it must have also dumped some ice before the snow, and so as I carefully rolled the can down the driveway, it hit the ice, and I found myself in a breakneck run to keep up with what was now a weapon, instead of a tool. The wheels worked fine, but the can ended up rolling at a less than 45 degree angle toward the street. That also gets your heart pumping, to tell the truth…
I’m not sure how it happens at your home, but “we” (I’ll let you figure out who the “we” is) will often take magazines and catalogs that have no use whatsoever, and instead of putting them into the trash, “we” will plop them into an open unused stoneware crock, which surprisingly can hold a rather enormous number of worthless catalogs. Why do we do that? We aren’t sure, but the time eventually comes when nothing more fits, and so “we” dump the entire mess into the trash to be thrown out. I recall one week in particular, when it seemed as though a good four months’ worth of catalogs ended up in the inside trashcan. As I lifted the bag to carry it to the garage, I felt like one of those Russian weightlifters trying to deadlift 1000 pounds. I got it into the big can, and then proceeded to roll it down the driveway. I thought the wheels were going to bend off.
I sometimes watch out my office window as they come to empty the cans into the big trash collecting monster. The monster stops by the can, poised on the edge of the street, and then a pair of grippers reaches out, grabs the can, lifts it up to the top of the monster, and then shakes it until all the trash in out of our can, and then dumps it back onto the driveway – usually, if it is raining, with the lid open so it can collect the rainwater like an old time rain barrel.
Well, that particular day, as I watched, the claws grabbed hold of the trashcan, lifted it up to dump it, but whether the sheer weight, or how it was crammed into the can affected it, but the can ended up slipping out of the grip of the claws and fell with all its contents into the sea of trash inside the monster.
I was glad at that point to have my window closed, because I can only assume the profanities voiced by the driver filled the Thursday morning air. He had to climb out of his comfortable cabin, go up the ladder, and actually climb into the trash sea, and finish dumping the can. He then took the black plastic can and threw it out of the vehicle, and let it fall the 15 feet down onto the driveway, and then he climbed down and drove off, probably still with curse words floating in the air.
Later that day, the sanitation department brought us a new trash can, one without a huge crack in the side of the can, and the wheels nearly bent off, and the lid unable to close. We needed a new one anyway…
Rituals exist across our world, in countless activities. Over and over again, the same or very similar actions and sequences of actions take place which help to bring order in most of what we do. Even trash day. It’s always a good thing to recognize the rituals, and most often, follow them – it’s also helpful not to be so tied to them that there is no room to do something new, of course. Look for your own rituals – things done over and over, like the same dance, or the same song sung. Respect the rituals, but now and then, sing a new song – dance a new dance, and find the freshness of living in doing a new thing. Just don’t miss Thursdays – that’s when the trash gets picked up.
Word for the day: encomium. Pronounced en-COMB-ee-um. We go back to the Greeks for this word. Enkomios means “belonging to the praise or reward of a conqueror.” Broken down even further to en “in” and komos, “banquet, procession, big party.” An encomium, therefore, is a expression of high praise for an achievement done by and individual or group. When we watch the Olympics, and view the medal ceremony, then handing of gold, silver or bronze, and then the playing of the top winner’s national anthem is a true encomium.
Ok –where you live, the idea of the outdoor temps being 80 degrees by 7:15am may not be so tough for summertime. However, the average high for Fargo, North Dakota in any day in July should be right around 83 degrees – a nice, warm summer day. Granted, that’s the average, so that means almost as many days in July could be a bit hotter, and some a bit cooler – for the high temperature for say, July 28.
As I enjoy my breakfast of bran muffins and coffee, I’d like to have the window open, and just enjoy some cool summer morning breezes blow through. Granted, there are indeed summer breezes this morning, but they are blowing 80 degrees, even after a wonderful early morning rain of nearly 1/3 of an inch. Usually that just cools everything down for the day – someone must have turned the water up to at least warm, because it ain’t cool – I can tell you that much.
So, the windows will be closed all day, as we take the temperature rocket up to the upper 90s before the day is over. You know, in years past, it always seemed like that second week of August was the scorcher, but our average high temperatures in July this year have been sitting right around 93 degrees. We are actually looking forward to it cooling down in August, when the forecast at least gives us temps much closer to what is normal, but this year will feel like a nice cooling off – only around 85 degrees, most likely.
Now, I’m not a whiner. I also know that all across our fair land, there is a ton of heat, for some reason. Dallas, for instance, will be 97 degrees today, a very hot day, but not unusually so for the lone star state. Four degrees warmer, when the city is 1100 miles south of here? That’s about four changes in growing zones – with the temps we are having this summer, we should be growing crepe myrtles and azaleas…
So, we hunker down inside our climate controlled homes, only creeping out to get into our climate controlled cars and drive to the climate controlled grocery stores to get our provisions. What’s funny, is that in about 6 months, we will be doing the very same thing, except instead of dodging near 100 degrees, we will carefully walk over the salt-encrusted sidewalks, hopefully to the car that needs no scraping of ice or frost, and make our way down the same streets to the same grocery store, except we do our best to spend as little time as possible in -15 degrees, with windchills easily in the -40 range. It really is quite remarkable that our cars function pretty well with 140 degrees shift in temps in 6 months. OF course, when we wish the sky would pour forth in rain right now – almost every day – in 6 months, we will be wishing it just won’t snow any more – at least for a month or so, since it does no good for anyone or anything, including animals. We should make up some t-shirts that say, “Rain Good – Snow Bad…”
I suppose, however, that there are few things in creation that invite us to be more philosophical than the changes of weather. It rains every afternoon in Hawaii, it seems, but they also hardly worry about screens on their windows, and the only storm windows are for the rare Pacific hurricane. But of course, Hawaii has no fields of wheat that are 500 acres wide, and you will never hear about the sugar beet and potato harvest in progress in the fall. Sure – pineapples and macadamia nuts, but when was the last time you had a nice hot serving of Swedish meatballs to warm you up in Hawaii on a cold January evening?
We are where we are, and we live where we live. The daily celebration of life in each of our lands invites us each day to stand in wonder, and even awe, of how God cares for us, and brings the weather we need, or that we can stand, and now ad then, the days that maybe even drive us a little crazy, but that’s only to reassure us that the schedule and the creation of the weather each day is not in our hands, and never has been.
I’ll pull the steaks out to be grilled on Sunday – it’ll be 83 at the high point, with nice northerly breezes. Should be a great day to be out on the back patio, enjoying the perfect day God will provide. As for today – well, we might not think it to be quite so perfect, because we are picky, but we can be reassured that it is truly the day that the Lord has made – even when it’s 93 outside. What remains is for you and me to rejoice, and be glad in it. You know next Winter we will be longing for a sweltering July afternoon….
Word for the day: jeremiad. Pronounced DJER-uh-MY-ad. This term is an offshoot of one of our Biblical personalities, Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah, I have to say, was quite the whiner. Born around 650BC, most of his life was spent condemning the Hebrews for their false worship and a broken society. There is even an entire book of the Bible called Lamentations – Jeremiah’s lament on the state of the Hebrew world, just before the captivity in Babylon. He’s kind of a pessimist, but some would say that was his calling. Not someone you often will put at the top of the party list, for sure.
A jeremiad, then, is a prolonged lament or complaint – originally seen as a warning to the people of what was to come, but today… is just more a complaining spirit. Lots of two-year-olds, and teenagers are expert jeremiads – as are others who have decided they would rather be petulant than humble. Not a great adjective to be connected with your name…
The first time I said the phrase, I was playing pool in the basement of Wesley UMC in Grand Forks, with the senior pastor. We would have our “staff meetings” around the pool table in the youth room, where we would talk out thorny issues, and decide on the direction of church programs and such.
I ended up with a very difficult shot to make. There was a greater chance that I would sink the 8-ball and lose, rather than drop the ball I wanted to hit into the pocket. Now, for those of you who have played pool in your lives, please imagine two very novice pool players, who spent more time hitting the cue ball into the pocket than actually making a good shot. Anyway, as I lined things up, the best and only phrase I could say was, “Well, if you don’t live, you can’t die.” With that, I hit a masterful shot, and ended up sinking the 8 ball.
The shot was not at all memorable, but the discussion that followed was. The senior pastor looked at me with a great puzzlement on his face, and said, “What are you talking about? That doesn’t make any sense at all!” But in that moment, somehow it did. It figuratively meant that if you if try something and utterly fail – at least you tried… at least you lived. To never approach something that is likely impossible might be the conservative way, but then, in accordance with the saying – you never lived in the first place. If you don’t live, you can’t die. 36 years later, I still proclaim that when I’m about to do something that has almost no chance of succeeding… almost no chance, but now and then, I “live” instead of never living.
We all have our favorite saying that we keep in our back pocket until we need it. Sayings like, “Better safe than sorry,” or “better late than never,” or “what have you got to lose?” or even, “Let’s just play the cards, and see what turns up.”
One phrase I learned while taking Latin in college is really just the first part of a longer statement that I have long forgotten, although I remember the joke. The Latin is “Ut quisque suum,” which is roughly translated as “To each his own,” which we hear often in our world, especially when someone is about to do something or enjoys something that we’d never want to be even close to. However, the punchline, in Latin is, “dixit domina eius praedixisse matri oculanti fertur bovis.” I can imagine you laughing and falling out of your chair, even as you read it, aren’t you? Talk about a funny saying!
Well, if your Latin is a little rusty, after the first noble point of saying, “To each his own,” we find the next translation to be, “said the woman as she kissed her cow.” Talk about Latin humor! That’s a real kneeslapper, don’t you agree? Ok – maybe not the world’s greatest joke, like “Ole and Sven were walking out in the wilderness when they came upon some tracks. Ole said, “Wow – those are moose tracks!” Sven answered, “No, ya dope – those are elk tracks!” And so they argued what kind of tracks they were – until the train came by and hit them..”
So – what special phrases do you own, that you pull out and use when you aren’t sure even what else to say? The phrase helps to define you. Dad used to say, (in his non-profane times), “Lord love a duck!” or “For cryin’ out Martha…” to this day, I don’t know what they mean, but they are 100% Dad’s special sayings. I am sure you have yours, and it’s helpful, and self-exploring, I think, to discover those and claim them as part of the way you express yourself to the world. I would of course hope that the ones you realize are not ones that couldn’t or shouldn’t be shared with people around you, but whatever they are – they are you.
When someone around us dies, we lose a bit of that richness, but hopefully there are those who come after who will bring their own special way of expressing themselves in our world, that we will always have an abundance of unique and even quirky ways of talking, like the German Russians here in North Dakota would say as they turned their English around: Throw the cow over the fence some hay…”
Enjoy those around you, who enliven and create interest in the ways they approach life and describe it. It’s not always intentional, but it is truly who they are. For if they don’t live, they can’t die.
Word for the day: furphy. Pronounced FUR-fee. It’s actually from Australia, but in a strange way. Furphy and Sons was a company that manufactured water and sanitation carts during World War One, for millions of soldiers. As has always been the case, those on a little break would stand around, and tell stories – some of them rumors, others, just a bunch of baloney, and others, outright lies. After one would be shared, often the soldiers would say, “Oh, tell us another furphy!” And so the water unit came to be the center of gossip or rumor. It’s interesting that it is also close to another word we have looked at: scuttlebutt, when on ship, the cask that held the drinking water would have a large hole cut in the top – the scuttle – with the word, “butt” being the barrel that held the water. Sailors would stand around, getting a drink of water and sharing the “scuttlebutt” of the ship. Of course in offices, we have “water cooler gossip,” when the same thing happens. Today, however, we are given “furphy” for our education…
It’s time once again to look back on a pretty regular day in Summer, and to discover some interesting goings-on for this day in history. So here goes:
In 1529, Pizarro (from Spain) was given a royal warrant to “discover and conquer” what is now Peru on the western edge of South America. Pizarro was a true “conquistador” – conqueror. He conquered and pretty well destroyed the Incan Empire of South America, executing the emperor Atahualpa. Of course the three major things he sought were power, land – and gold. He was probably the worst example of Spanish exploration.
In 1267 – nearly 760 years ago – Pope Clement IV also decided to wield power in a strange and terrible way. He ramped up the Inquisition, first established by a so-very-inappropriately named Pope Innocent III. It was meant to combat heresy, which meant anyone who was a non-Catholic, including Jews, Arabs, and later one, even the Lutherans in South America. Basically, if you were not a card-carrying Roman Catholic, you were toast, by either being tortured until you “saw the light,” or starved, imprisoned and executed. Not quite the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.
In 1775, after the British had successfully managed to nearly destroy the mail system in the colonies, the 2nd Continental Congress – a year before the Declaration was written – established the US Postal service, under Benjamin Franklin, which establish actual offices where people could send and receive mail, instead of dropping it off at the pub and hoping it would make it to its destination. I just hear yesterday that the Postal Service will be raising stamp rates to 58 cents and ounce. Maybe we need ol’ Ben Franklin back…
In 1847, the nation of Liberia was established – the name means, of course, “land of liberty,” and was created by the immigration of free persons of color from the US. Realize, however, that it wasn’t an empty spot, waiting to be filled. In fact, today there are 28 different ethnic groups and languages, so in many ways, this first African republic came into being as, once again, foreigners took over tribal lands and created a country.
In 1908, the precursor to the FBI was brought into service – before that, I guess no one investigated anything…
Oh – forgot to mention that in 1896, the very first, permanent, for-profit movie theatre, called the Vitascope Hall, opened in New Orleans. Before that time, movies were shown all around the country, but in temporary set ups for the townpeople to come watch. More often, they would borrow or rent vaudeville houses with a big stage, and project the movies on the back of the curtains or sets. This one was the first time it was built and used exclusively for movies. They probably served rum punch at the same time – or maybe it was chicory coffee.
Let’s also not forget that it was 1920 – three HUNDRED years after landing at Plymouth Rock, that the 19th amendment was ratified, which then meant that women actually had the right to vote. 18 Amendments passed before this one. Granted, the first 10 were the Bill of rights, but there were still 8 more, including the 15 Amendment, which prohibited denial of the right to vote, based on race, color or past slavery – so long as you were a man…
In 1931 on this date, it was not a happy summer in the Midwest, as the onslaught of grasshoppers chewed up millions of acres of crops – and everything else. It began in 1930, when after a number of years of farmers plowing up native grasslands to plant more and more wheat to break even after the wheat prices plummeted, the drought hit, and things dried up and blew away, and what was left was destroyed by the grasshoppers. What a mess.
Of course, there were dozens of other events that happened on this day – some were notable, like the US, Britain and China demanding the surrender of Japan with the Potsdam Declaration. Of course, today we are suspicious of China, and we are watching Japan host the Olympics. How time changes things…
So, to bring to down from world-changing events, it’s always good to ask, “What will I do today to change the world – for the better – even in a very small sphere like my own life?” What is waiting for your hand, or your word, or your efforts to intentionally improve who we are, and who we will be in the future. You see, it’s not enough to say that you made it through the day, or through the night. We have a purpose. WE have a calling, and it is in living up to that call, that whisper in our ear that proves not only that we are chosen to change the world, but that we are also chosen to change ourselves, as we stretch and dream and then act to become that very person who helps reveal the world in a new and more powerful way. The Romans would say, “Carpe Diem” – pluck the day, or seize the day. Don’t let the sun go down on just good intentions – lay them up again true actions that change the world. Today
Saying for the day: (I’ll give you two…) Stop saying, “I wish,” and start saying “I will.” And The key to change… is to let go of fear.
When in the course of human events (I know I use that phrase a bit, but Thomas Jefferson came up with a very cool way to start a document – it’s much better than, say, “So – here’s da ting….”), it’s going to be another scorcher outside today, and that always reminds me other summers – and Sundays – when it was equally as hot, and for some reason, that meant Mom pulled out her world-famous Guamanian Chicken recipe that she somehow pilfered back in the early 70s. Now, I have written about this delicious, just-spicy enough recipe that moves us beyond your typical fried chicken, or barbequed chicken on the grill. From the sound of the recipe, you might think it has all sorts of mouth-burning, flame throwing heat – but you would be wrong. In fact, the only thing even sort of hot is a tablespoon of black pepper, and if you can’t handle that in an entire mixture, then please just boil up a hot dog, put ketchup on it, and call that your spicy meal of the week.
So, this morning, after enjoying a nice breakfast, some great cups of coffee, and the time to complete both the Sunday crossword puzzle, and the cryptoquip, a puzzle where you have to figure out which letter actually stands for another letter as you try to solve the puzzle which gives you pretty much a pun. Part of the answer of today’s puzzle was “… shaman chanted evening….” But it’s fun to work on and Cheri and I do them together, so that’s fun, too.
Anyway – after that frivolity was finished, I went to work on doing the prelim for Mr. Guamanian… it required sliced up onions, and lots of other sauces and spices mixed in – I put it all in a Ziploc bag, dumped the trimmed chicken in, and put it in the over for about 6-7 hours. By then, I figure the guy next door will have finished mowing his lawn – again – the third time this week, when we have received really not rain, and his lawn, like everyone else’s, has not grown at all, but for some reason, he is obsessed with walking his very loud lawnmower over every square inch of his lawn, which does nothing but use up fossil fuels.
But I digress – it’s his lawn, so he can just knock himself out – it’s just that it is SO loud, and you really can’t sit outside without having earplugs of your own, an entire lawn over, to avoid eardrum damage. So, after he is done with his itty bitty lawn mowing, around 5pm this afternoon, I’ll crank up the grill, and turn plain chicken thighs into an international delight.
That’s kind of a nice thing about summer – and about being retired. I’m not looking ahead to see what meeting I need to attend in some church basement this week, nor what pastor or parish is in meltdown about something, that, had they simply used some decent communication skills, and work at solving a problem, instead of attacking individuals, they could have taken care of it all, and created a much stronger relationship after all was done. I do believe a great injury to the Church nowadays is that persons – including pastors – take their hurt feelings and tough experiences in their own lives, and carry that “stuff” into their life in the church, and decide without really deciding, that they are going to raise a ruckus, because, it just seems to be a easy place to light a match in a room full of gas. They somehow feel better when they can stir everything up over an issue that is really not worth stirring – it’s kind of like throwing rocks at a beehive, just to see what happens. The bees were fine and dandy, until the rock hits, and then they go all ballistic, and the result is that the humans find a way to destroy the hive, because somehow they – the bees – have turned evil and dangerous. No one looks at the rocks. Churches are like that, unless emotionally mature leaders step up, and tell them to put the rocks down, and respect the hive in the first place.
Well, that was quite a digression from grilling chicken, don’t you think? I guess what I would like to think is that, especially now in my retirement, I can put my energy to those things that truly bring joy, and contentment, and peace. No – it’s not Nobel Peace Prize level work – it’s just taking the opportunity to dial down the static that seems to scream out of so many different corners of our lives today. The stuff of today’s world appears to be so conflicted, and so much clashing of different opinions, which end up with one side telling the other they are totally wrong, instead of just holding different opinions. I have to tell you, there is not much to be gained by picking fights, or by demanding everything change to accommodate your own particular perspective.
Maybe we can once again listen to Thumper’s mother, who taught the little rabbit, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Granted, there are times when true injustice, and true wrongs are committed by one person or group to another, but truly, those instances are rare, and far between. Most often, when looked at carefully, what we really see is simply someone or ones not getting their own way, and then getting fussy and unnecessarily hard to live with…
But – back to the chicken. I can nearly guarantee that sometime between 5 and 6pm this late afternoon, one of the best places to be will be on our back patio, just enjoying the aroma of our friend, Guamanian, which will only be outdone by the taste and enjoyment of a great Sunday summer meal.
You are certainly welcome to stop by – I always prepare way too much. Just be sure, if you come, to leave crankiness and self-centeredness in the car, and only bring inside at least the image of someone we would love to spend time with. That’s the only requirement of finding joy today, which is really the key to an intentional and significant life. Blessings.
Word for the day: capricious. Pronounced kuh-PREE-shus. This is not a word of virtue or to be used in a compliment. The word is actually defined as, “the tendency to be impulsive, to go off half-cocked, to be unpredictable in a not reasonable way, to be erratic – to not act by reason.” Well, that’s the pits.
The word, caprice, comes from the Italian capriccio, which again, is translated as “not a sudden desire, but the reaction that comes from a shudder of fear.” The word further breaks down to capo, which we know is “head,” and riccio, which you may not know is translated as “hedgehog.” If you are capricious, it is as if you have “hedgehog head,” where your hair stands on end, like hedgehog spines… in that state, you and I tend to do the first thing that comes to mind, which often is not thoughtful, but reactive, and usually turns out to be in impulsive mess.
Invite persons, when in a tense time, to let go of their “capricious” tendencies, and try to find a good and peaceful path through it all…
Not to apologize, but yesterday we left early and spent the day up in Grafton with Cheri’s mom. I hadn’t been up in two weeks, and I was truly amazed to see how far the disease had progressed in that time. It was hard, to say the least. So, there wasn’t much time or energy available afterwards to write a column. Hopefully, you will enjoy this next week’s creative work.
I started out this morning with a hot cup of coffee, sitting at the dining room table, checking the various news and weather sites around the area. It’s actually kind of a rare thing to have something that is drastically different from the norm on the news, but I like to check it out anyway.
So, as I sit at the table, with my beloved across the table, working as always on her schedule of patients for next week, inevitably the question arises: what do we have on the menu for evening meals? It’s still a functional remnant of the hopefully-over-and-done-with pandemic, but the idea of creating a menu that everyone will like and everyone will eat, that has the slightest bit of imagination to it almost makes your brain hurt first thing in the morning. It’s like when you were in school, and while eating breakfast before leaving home, the shocking thought runs through your brain – you are having a quiz today, and while you had the entire weekend to study – you didn’t. Now, those tons of hours have shrunk into a precious number of minutes that are already supposedly used up with getting ready and getting to school and all that mess.
Can you feel that in the pit of your stomach? Do you remember that sense of almost insurmountable work your brain has to do? That’s what it’s like when someone asks, “What are we going to eat this week?” You see, if I just have to select some meals I’d like to have, that can usually be over and done with in a couple of minutes – but every time you add one more person into the mix, like a wife who likes variety, and one son, and then another son with their peculiarities of meal selection, it’s like you almost can’t win. You see, I like hot dogs, and could have them every week. I also like frozen burritos, and grilled cheese sandwiches and steak. And barbecued chicken. And some other things. But, apparently, there exists a national meal law that says you are forbidden from having the same foods two weeks in a row. When I was in seminary, I would boil up some noodles, pour in a can of tomato sauce and some minced onions, and all would be well. I could eat that maybe three weeks in a row, with no pressure to my decision making lobe.
I can’t do that now. I get the comment, “I’m not feeling that tonight,” or “Didn’t we just have that two years ago?” Now, I know what you are thinking, that if they aren’t satisfied with the menu at hand, they can fix a meal. Nice try – but it’s a foolish concept. When you turn over the reins of the kitchen to them, what ends up is that we have to buy $100 worth of exotic and never-used-twice foods, from spices, to special meats, to sauces that involve anything that is incredibly expensive. No – they don’t buy it, and you can guarantee it will be too spicy for Cheri to eat, and is way too gourmet for even my palette. Even worse, they will hand me a recipe for a meal this week, and beyond the thirty different ingredients, none of which we have at home (who uses avocado oil?), there are also about 45 different involved steps which will take the better part of an entire afternoon to prepare. This is far different that putting butter on two slices of bread, putting some cheese in between and grilling for about three minutes.
So, no – that’s not a good option, although Cheri will sometimes quietly ask them to find some recipes they might like, as a way of getting some buy-in. But when that means having to fix goose pate, wrapped in prosciutto, and served on saffron rice, I just know it’s a disaster – an expensive disaster – in the making.
Well, this morning, we went through the exercise of picking out some meals. Hamburgers on the grill, marinated chicken on the grill, store-bought frozen lasagna, and soft-shell tacos – not a bad menu, although I have also learned not really to share it with the sons before the food is purchased, or we end up with having to do major (read: expensive) changes. How about macaroni, tomato sauce and minced onions?
Well, Cheri and I will go grocery shopping later on this morning. We will not invite the boys to come, because they don’t believe in a food list – they believe in “putting things in the cart that look good and tasty, and the folks will pay for it…”
So, they don’t come, usually, which saves us tens of dollars.
As I read back over this column, it sounds as though I am just a cheapskate. I’m not – I’m frugal. It’s hard to splurge on one meal, when it seems as though you are splurging on 7 meals in a week. Well, however we make it work out, we will at least have food to be served, and stomachs filled, and we will make it through another week, until we again have to ask the question, “What’s for supper?”
Intentional grocery shopping is like everything else – without it, it’s all accidental, and usually becomes a true mess of sorts….
Word for the day: pertinacious. Pronounced per-tuh-NAY-shus. You right away have an idea about the word, because it sounds like what it does, sort of … to be pertinacious is to be perversely persistent, or tenacious, or unyielding. A pertinacious person adhere to a plan or purpose of design, with no exceptions and not debate. It comes down the line from the simple Latin verb, tenere, which means “to hold.” When you hold through everything, it is pertenere, and the experience of it all is to be… pertinacious. Of course, from this word, we get “tenacious,” but we also get “tenure,” or the right to hold a position. Pertinacious is always a virtue when I do it – when you do it, it become just a pain…
I can’t recall if I mentioned before having visited the Church of St. Anne’s in Jerusalem. It was over 20 years ago now, but the images, not only of St. Anne’s, but all over Israel were powerful and lasting. The church itself was built originally in 1131, which makes it slightly older than anything in Fargo (!). It was built over a grotto that was believed to be the birthplace of Mary, with her parents Anne and Joachim living close by. You see, we have romanticized where births happened in the Bible, even coming to the point of displaying Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus in our creche scenes settled into an alpine looking stable. When you go to Israel, you quickly learn that there really are no stables as such – I believe Luke, who never visited Israel, had some of his facts a bit askew.
Women had their babies in caves. The reason being that the whole childbirth experience was considered ritually unclean (which is why they went through a time of purification after the baby was born). Mary never would have been in an inn, because it wouldn’t be allowed, ritually. Women had the babies in the caves, and then could leave the place without having to go through a purification process for the place of birth.
That’s why when you go to Bethlehem, and visit the church of the Nativity, you see a huge structure, and then take the steps down below the altar to a little cave/grotto, where it was believed Jesus was born. If you go to Ein Karem, the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah, if you go to the church/shrine there, you again take the steps below the church into the cave, where John, the Baptist was born. And again, the Church of St. Anne’s has the grotto underneath, where Mary came into this world. Someday, when things get more settled disease- and politics-wise, I’m hoping to take Cheri there, to enjoy getting to know our biblical heritage.
Back to St. Anne’s. Like most every structure before the Middle Ages, St. Anne’s is built out of stone. Though unassuming, it carries a powerful image as you walk in, and realize that for much longer than 1000 years, this church has existed in one form or another.
It also has unbelievable acoustics. The sound reverberates for what seems to be forever. When each tour group goes into the church, they are given the opportunity to sing. Just before our turn came, a group of what seemed to be very self-assured Christians struck up their song – they sang “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Unfortunately, that upbeat, march tempo and loud singing of their hymn just created a huge mess, sound-wise, as the singing notes seemed to almost crash into each other against the walls. After they were satisfied with their work, they left.
Our tour guide just shook his head. He said, “You must understand where you are, and what gift you can offer this morning.” He said, “I want us all to become very quiet for a moment, and then we will sing – slowly – “Amazing Grace.” In the silence, we began to sing the hymn slower than I had ever sung before. Yet, instead of becoming impatient, we began to listen to the echoes of our own voices against the stone. As the song progressed, the moments of pause between the phrases made us gasp. I’m not sure what it will sound like as we sing to God gathered around the throne in heaven, but this must have been close.
When we finished the stanza, no one spoke, as the sound continued to reverberate and fill the church with a holy, joyful sound. It was incredible. The guide said, “What God wants from us is our attention, and our thoughtfulness – not our noise.”
A few years later, as I attended a seminar in which the leader offered a theory of echoes. He tried to explain that in every and any room, unless it is one built to be sound dampening (like a room where one would have their hearing tested), each sound will echo at some level, and the sound will continue to bounce off the walls, continuing to reverberate, even far below our ability to hear it with our human hearing. He said that if we could develop an instrument that was sensitive enough, we could nearly go back in time to hear the sounds of the past that continue to echo at smaller and smaller levels, but never completely disappearing from existence.
That’s always been for me a fascinating and intriguing concept – that whatever is spoken, or yelled, or sung or whispered in any room continues on forever, even when very quickly our ears can no longer pick up the vibrations. Every song I have ever sung, from Vacation bible School to being part of university choirs, in a thousand different arenas and halls, still continue… not only that, but in a room like St. Anne’s, the sound of more than a thousand years exists – just to quiet now for us to hear, but still adding to the songs of the ages. What a powerful thought!
As well, then, we have to consider all the other places where we have brought sound into the world. How many cries of laughter, or quiet words of love and blessing – or, sadly, words that carry that angry or destructive tone to them also continue to live in a room. We are blessed with the gift to offer the sound of life that may exist for hundreds of years to come, so long as the room itself exists. Will we sing of God’s amazing grace, or we will offer curses and angry exchanges? Will our echoing legacy be that of joy and laughter and hope and again, blessing, or will we fill our part of the world with hatred, or those horrible three parts of speech – profanity, obscenity or vulgarity?
I think back of the different rooms in this world that hold the vows and promises that I have made in life, from marriage, to ordination, to baptism – to even funerals. How powerful and humbling to realize those words continue to exist, even beyond my ability to hear it. They are part of our history together. As Jesus said, “Let those who have ears to hear, listen and understand…”
May your day today be filled with speaking and hearing words of joy and love – let’s not fill the space with anything else. Blessings.
Word for the day: smorgasbord. Pronounced (in the English sound) SMOR-gus-board. Up here in the Northland, this is a favorite word, used much more often than “buffet.” However, like many words, it has gone through some significant changes over the years. The word is Swedish, broken down into three smaller words: smor, which means “butter” (in a number of good ol’ Swedish homes, the butter dish has the word “smor” on it, which you hope is something far tastier than it sounds..), gas, which means either a slab of butter, or “goose.” The bord is simply the table, or the boar on which the food is spread out. So, you have a “butter-goose-table,” which makes no sense, until you know that the smorgasbord was originally a small table of cold foods, like bread, butter, goose, fish or other tastes that were offered before the main meal – what we might today call an offering of hors oeuvres – just a little something prior to sitting down for the feast.
Over the years, however, as it became more anglicized, like most meals, it became much larger and complex, so that today, a smorgasbord is truly a buffet, with loads of different hot and cold foods, and lots of breads and butter.
In some of our more Swedish-based towns, or even Norwegian ones, when there is a noon big spread at the café, it’s a smorgasbord. Enjoy, and kom og spis! (come and eat!)
When, in the course of human events, we turn the oven on to pre-heat before baking something of probably a true delicious nature – and it stinks. It smokes a bit, actually, and when we open the oven door, it’s plain to see that the floor of the oven, which in our case should be a nice blue color, is black and greasy – and smoky.
Now, let me say from the outset that during the period of time when Cheri was working up here in Fargo, and my headquarters was in Rapid City (I know, I know – the singularly dumbest thing I have ever done in my life, to live away from my wife for three years… stupid, stupid, stupid –but that’s another story…) I used the oven regularly as I lived on Limelight Lane. I mean, three or four times a week, by my estimate. Isn’t it odd that over three years, I had to clean the oven ONE time, and it wasn’t particularly dirty then – it just had spilled over when I baked some lasagna, and after wiping up the spill, it still had a burnt residue, so I ran it through the self-cleaning cycle. One time in three years.
Why is it, then, that about every three months as we all live together in Fargo, does the oven get to the point that it appears to be imitating the Canadian fires burning up north these days, with constant smoke? I won’t go into the details, but any logical detective would probably surmise that SOMEONE, or SOMEONES seem to be baking things that constantly spill over with greasy messes, and instead of quickly cleaning it up afterwards, just let it keep building up until the grease burns like Rome – you can almost hear Nero fiddling in the other room.
Now, if I flashback to when I was about 8 or 9 years old, I can remember coming home from school, opening the door, and suddenly being hit with an odor similar to what they must have sniffed at Chernobyl. Coming around the corner of the kitchen, there I would see that sight: Mom, on her knees, with rubber gloves up to her elbows, spraying “Easy Off” oven cleaner all around the inside of the oven. While they still sell Easy Off today, for the five ovens in America that are not self-cleaning, they now make the formula with a “fresh scent” – like wildflowers or roses, and the way they must smell when they are hit with a flame thrower. Also, they say that they have developed a “fume-free” sprayer. Right. All I know is that back in the 60s, we all understood toxic fumes. What we didn’t understand was how the mothers of America didn’t all find their IQs dropping by 50 or more points from inhaling that mist. I remember Mom’s gentle encouragement for us to “Just get out of here!” as she hosed down the interior of the cooking instrument from which were pulled birthday cakes and pizzas and the like. Like I said, Chernobyl had nothing on our kitchen…
In today’s world, however, domestic technicians have invented what they like to call a “self-cleaning” oven. And in a purely literal sense, that’s what it is. You spin the dial, push all sorts of buttons, and you hear a giant “click” as the oven door is sealed, much like the interior door of a submarine that caught a torpedo, and they have to close up an entire section, sadly leaving the poor victim sucker sailors trapped inside, banging on the door to let them out.
I find amazement in two specific processes of a “self-cleaning” oven. First, I am always shocked by how bloody long it takes to go through the self-cleaning cycle. Once you push the final “start” button, and the door is sealed, you will notice that it will take a good four or five hours, of super-hot temperature, before it decides it has reduced all matter inside to ashes. I always thought, if I had to get rid of some evidence from a heinous crime, that I could stuff it into the oven and hit self-clean. Nothing would remain.
The other amazing thing – is how much it stinks. Man, those four or five hours are pretty terrible. I remember not thinking one time, and starting the self-clean cycle in January up here in the Northland. The smoke and destruction were so tough, that I knew any moment that the smoke detectors were going to go off, and it was about 10pm, and so the only option I had was to open the outside door closest to the kitchen, in hopes that the smell would intermingle with fresh air, and save us all. The trouble is, that particular gambit only works when you have a nice spring or autumn evening, where the temperature outside is not too hot nor too cold. Otherwise, you end up filling the house with either sub-zero air, which causes the furnace to run like you are living in the Antarctic, or it fills with blast furnace air which is already the makeup of the oxygen in the kitchen, and so the air conditioner then runs, with the sound of whirring electrical gauges telling you that your summer vacation trip is now postponed so you can pay the electric bill instead.
Well, after supper last night, when SOMEONE used the oven to cook up some greasy, drippy mozzarella sticks, I went ahead and started the whole cremation process inside our oven. After about two hours downstairs watching television, I began to have the acrid smell of burning whatever float down in straight into my nostrils. We opened the back door, but unfortunately, the breeze blew air INTO the kitchen instead of sucking it out, so eventually, the entire upstairs smelled like the aftermath of a Canadian forest fire – smoke and all. I turned on two fans in the bedroom, and just hoped that the sleep we would have would not turn into the sleep that had no end…
The good news is that nothing bad lasts forever, and this morning, as I opened the oven door, all I saw were the white ash remains of past indiscretions. It made me want, for a moment, to buy a nice red velvet rope and brass stands, and cordon off the oven from future use, but I know that’s a pipe dream for sure. It’s only a matter of time before SOMEONE decides to throw a grease bomb into the oven, and the process starts all over again.
We live in a world of repetitive chores, don’t we? I mean it seems we are constantly having placed before us the work of simply maintaining a place to live, from straightening and vacuuming to doing dishes to dusting to making beds to cleaning bathrooms and sweeping out garages, and mowing lawns and on and on and on. What I forget of course, when faced with the to-do list of stuff around the house, is that we actually have a house to “do stuff around.” We have a very nice home, that needs our attention completely – it’s like a perennial newborn, but doggone, we love the little thing, even for it being more of a pain to take care that to enjoy sometimes.
But that’s life lived in a wonderful world, and complaints, even over a stinky self-clean oven, should always be replaced with a word of thanks to God, from Whom all blessings flow. Our lives will always be richer when the work we are called to do extends from the gratitude we have for the gifts God has first blessed us with. Have a great day, make sure to clean that oven!
Word for the day: foison. Pronounced (in English) FOY-sun – like the word, “poison.” It actually means a plentiful yield, like a crop, or anything that is plentiful, It’s not an actual measurement, but it stands for an abundance of something. It actually comes from the Latin fusio, which means “an outpouring, or a flood.” Even more primary is the Latin fundere, which means “to pour, or shed or cast.” Interesting the foison – a plentify something, is also tied with another English word, “fusion,” which is the merging or blending of two disparate items into one larger something. Probably not a very common word to use, but sometimes, when you want to substitute talking about a “whole lot” of something, you could simply remark that it is a “foison” of something, or somethings. Makes you sound smarter, at least.
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.