Well, as hard as it is to believe, today I complete three entire months of retirement. Even though it still feels like a new reality, it is real, and has become an interesting “next life.” In celebration of three months, I thought I would look through the archives of our history and pull out some especially historic events that happened on a September 30. On this day:
In 1520, Suleiman the Magnificent became the Ottoman Sultan. He is known for the rebuilding of the Wall surrounding Jerusalem, as well really expanding the Ottoman Empire. In 1841, the stapler was patented. I wonder if they stapled the documents together… In 1659, Peter Stuyvesant forbid tennis playing during religious services (finally!) In 1927, Babe Ruth hit his 60th homer of the season. In 1955, James Dean died in a car crash.
In terms of television, in 1950, the Grand Ole Opry was broadcast for the first time. In 1960, the Howdy Doody Show ended, with Clarabelle talking for the first time, saying, “Goodbye Kids…” On the same day, The Flintstones premiered, and in 1984, Murder She Wrote also premiered.
In 1929, the very first manned rocket plane flight occurred (101 years ago!). In 1954, the USS Nautilus, first nuclear submarine, was commissioned. In 1968, the first 747 rolled out of the factory. In 1970, the New American Bible was published, particularly used in Catholic Mass in English. In 1997, Microsoft unveiled Internet Explorer 4.
Although there are plenty of other important events, like the first time, in 1864 black soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor, perhaps most important is that in 1846 – 174 years ago – anesthetic was used for the first time by a dentist.
For most of us, however, any particular September 30 will just fly by, or ooze by, or pass by in whatever form. We will wake up, get out of bed, have some coffee, see what the news is for the day, look at what we need to accomplish, and for some of us, get ready to go to work, or to school, or, in the case of the truly blessed ones – go to another day of retirement. Ah.
Let me say, however, that I’m not sure all of this is how God has planned for things to go. I’ve spoken before about the danger of giving our hearts and minds over to the numbing, hypnotic power of the routine. For many of us, we indeed may go through all sorts of action, from making breakfast to brushing our teeth, and later not even remember doing so. Minutes and hours seem to drift by, as we do what we have always done. Our three cats sleep for about 23 hours a day, awakening only to eat or use the little box, or look for a treat or a scratch behind the ear. Could it be that we do the same thing, just on a human scale?
What will be significant about today? What will we discover, or intentionally take on as a new or important “thing” before the day is over? It may not be a life or death event, and certainly there are millions and billions of events on September 30th that most of the world will never know about. But what will WE know as this day comes to a close? What important truth or insight or achievement will we do or experience that will make this day distinctive, and worth remembering when it is over? As well, what about tomorrow? And the day after?
The psalmist perhaps never knew the power of the words that he wrote when he announced to the world, “This is the day that the Lord has made – let us rejoice and be glad in it!” To recognize the significance of a day created, not by happenstance, but by the very hand and Word of God, is to set aside the numbness of routine, and claim the holy in the midst of the ordinary. If indeed, God made this day, then my life has no business in just moseying through it, half asleep, and unaware, only accidentally going through the motions of life. This day is one for me to claim, and even seize, and find the significant joy in, as I rejoice and am glad that is exists at all.
Each day of our lives carries the possibility of being a day of historic value. When we listen carefully, each day whispers in our newly awakening ear, “So – what are you going to do today? Beyond changing the oil in the car, and vacuuming, and having that peanut butter sandwich for lunch – what awaits you? How will you change the world, and how will the world change you before you sleep tonight?”
Of course, when we bother to think about it, we know that we live in a place and time of incredible possibility. Even with a pandemic, there is still much to be done and to be experienced. Perhaps – just perhaps – today will go down on a list of special September 30s, as we choose to live more fully, to love more fully, to challenge each other and comfort one another, and to intentionally make a difference in this day made by the One who made us.
So get ready – today is here, and tomorrow is coming! Don’t waste it. It’s history in the making…
Word for the Day: farraginous. fuh-RAJ-in-us. The word from Latin starts off as a very short noun: far. Not “far” as we know it, but instead, it was “spelt” – not spelled, but a type of very fiber rich grain, like wheat, that was ground and used in baking. Ok, what’s next? It then was attached as a Latin word, farrago, which means “mixture,” as it was ground and then combined with other grains. Eventually, it was seen as something disorganized or random or miscellaneous and became something that was farraginous, “like farrago.” It’s interesting that some dictionaries will define it as a hodgepodge. Of course, we know what a hodgepodge looks like, but the word is strange as well. A hodgepodge is a stew, made from all sorts of different ingredients. It means “everything in one pot,” which then relates to farrago. Hodgepodge, they suggest, comes from the Dutch words hotsen, which means “to shake,” and pot, which means.. “pot.” Shake up the pot, and you have a hodgepodge, which will look to all the world as something farraginous, if you know what that word means, which now you do.
I don’t usually run to the paper or the internet for something to write about, but an article showed up this morning that made me laugh, and also made me think, so with your indulgence, I’ll retell the story. Just to be honest and not plagiarize, the story came from the UK Mirror.
It seems that during the quarantine set up and lived out in Great Britain, due to the coronavirus, a number of pets and animals of all sorts ended up in shelters and such, as the owners could not care for them. Apparently, five African grey parrots were adopted by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Park, located on the east side of England. Lincolnshire is a well-known park, including one of the largest parrot rescue and sanctuary set ups, with over 1000 parrots. That’s a lot of squawking, and Pollys wanting peanuts.
Anyway, as the five parrots lived by themselves in quarantine/isolation, one of the parrots, it seems, had been exposed in its earlier life, and learned a number of what we might call “colorful” words. He began to teach his four comrades the obscenities, which of course grey parrots love to learn and pick up, and then repeat endlessly. It should be said that parrots don’t know what they are saying, but they do respond to the human’s response when they “say” a word. I guess for most of the time, the room they were in had a particular “blue” haze to it. You could almost imagine the parrots encouraging each other: “C’mon, Jimmy! You can let that cuss word fly! Think of all the teenage boys who will be thrilled when they hear you talk this way!”
I guess this is not uncommon. Maybe the people who own parrots simply like to swear a lot, but the CEO of the park said it’s not uncommon for this to happen and that he found it kind of funny when a parrot cusses at someone. However, to set up a small school for the birds to train each other was not quite in the park’s plans. The birds also learned, as humans laughed at them, to laugh at each other when one would offer a particular gem of obscenity or vulgarity.
When the park reopened to visitors, it was reported that it took about 20 minutes after the parrots were placed on display for the public to have reports come in of customers being cussed at by the quintet of stinkers.
Even though no one really got upset – apparently the British are pleased to have obscene birds around them – for fear of what the parrots would do on the upcoming weekend, when children would be coming, the birds, it was reported, were put in an “off-shore” enclosure in hopes that other parrots would teach them how to be more appropriate. The next plan was to put each bird in a separate area so they couldn’t “encourage” each other’s behavior.
There were two problems. Before they re-isolated the birds, indeed, a number of people (read: teenage boys) would swear at the birds to get them to talk dirty back at them. The second larger problem of course is the miscalculation that if you put swearing parrots in an enclosure of non-swearing parrots, the cussers will learn not to cuss any more. That’s kind of like saying if you diagnose someone to be infected with CoVid-19, you should place them in close quarters with a number of healthy people, which of course will make the sick person get better quickly. More likely, it won’t be health that spreads. I can imagine in a few weeks that they will find a number of new recruits to the parrots’ “blue squad!”
I never took up the hobby of cussing. Let me take that back: one day, when I was about 11 years old, for some reason I decided to try out the “d” word, and happened to do so in front of my mother. I did not expect her response. “Stop right there!” she said, “No -no-no! You are NOT going to start cursing! Use your imagination to find other words to express how you feel! To cuss is to be simply lazy, and to not try to be someone of high character!” I remember those words, and even though there may be have been times in the five decades that followed where I might be tempted to flip a word off into the atmosphere, I don’t want to disappoint my mother. Also, even though she is now gone, I never want to hear that lecture again.
The adage, “Birds of a feather flock together” rings true. We indeed are known by the company we keep, and when we involved in lives of excellent report, so too we will want to live up to that standard. At the same time, as we all learned from the story of Pinocchio, when we associate fully with jackasses (truly that animal), then we will more likely become one ourselves.
What is important to you in your life? It wouldn’t bother me at all if I never heard another curse word spoken in this world. That language, and some of the behavior that follows does not bring light to this world, and doesn’t portray intentional lives living to their high potential. How about you? What might others say about you? Would there be words of honor, and class and integrity, or would you be reduced to being laughed at like a group of grey parrots who don’t know any better? Something to regularly think about, as we make intentional choices in our lives.
Word for the day: palaver. puh-LAV-er. The word is Latin, and originally comes from the Latin parabola, which means “speech, or discourse.” However, it’s far more than “How are you? I’m fine.” It really refers to a “long talk,” or “much talk.” It worked its way into that meaning when sailors from Europe would land in West Africa and attempt to make trades with the tribes there. They would all sit in a typical African council meeting, and meet for hours, filling the air with “many” words. They were long talks, and the word, palaver, eventually came to mean talk that is profuse, or even idle. “Yammering” is a good synonym. One of my joys in retirement is that I no longer am bound to be part of meetings in which palavering is the showcase – what I used to say was that some people start talking, and find themselves enamored with the sound of their own voice – they fall in love, and each syllable becomes more adored than the last. Parabola or palaver – we should each be given ejector seats for those meetings…
Hopefully you will remember last week, as I wrote about the “hot potato” of when the leaves would fall. Well, the huge maple is still holding on, still with green leaves, although there is no need for shade since the weather for the last three days has been dark and cloudy. However, the ash trees have done their best to turn bright and beautiful yellow, and yesterday, with a slight breeze, they scattered the lawn and the street with a carpet of autumn.
Just like that, it seems, the season changed up here in the Dakotas. I know I write a good bit about the weather and the climate, but up north, that’s an important part of our life. We do have four seasons, but they aren’t in any way equal. Our Autumn lasts about 6 weeks, which is also about the length of our Spring. Summer holds pretty steady at 3 months, with ups and downs of temperatures. Of course, that leaves Winter, which only lasts six months – or so. I remember how odd it was, when we lived in Nashville, to experience Spring in February. Trees actually budded and bloomed soon after Valentine’s Day. Up here, we are blessed if they bloom by Mother’s Day.
Knowing then, that the long march of Winter is soon to come, it makes our Fall season a bit bittersweet. We through around words like “crisp,” and “fresh,” as though we were living inside a huge apple, but better words are, “Boy, is it cold out today!” “Are we ever going to see the sun again?” Which of course we are, during those sub 20 below days in January, when it seems too cold to have clouds.
Today, as I took Cheri to work, I drove with our headlights on, since it wasn’t quite dawn. There is now a constant breeze, and scattered rain showers about two or three times a week. They don’t water anything, really – they just act like you are being shot with the garden hose. And where last week I was boasting to my Texas siblings that we were almost warmer than they were, having had a high of 87, today we might break 54 degrees. Wednesday promises to keep us in the 40s. So, weather matters, and it not only gives us something to talk about, socially distanced though we may be, but it also evokes a change in the communal psyche and spirit of the people of the North.
Indeed, over the last number of years, we have seen a huge influx of new neighbors from all over the world, to the point that it is no longer an oddity to see a person of color in the grocery store. That wasn’t the case even ten years ago, when about 99% of the population was either of Scandinavian or German descent. It’s probably closer to 90 percent now, but the cultural identity is pretty pervasive and captivating. I had to laugh earlier this year when one of my Liberian pastors actually uttered the phrase, “Oof-dah!” as though he were from Oslo.
The psyche of the North is best described, I think, as foreboding. On that beautiful summer afternoon, with the grill smelling of wonderful brats, and a slight breeze ensuring that the mosquitoes stay in bushes, someone will remark, “Boy, it’s a hot one today, you betcha…” and all eyes will turn toward the voice, and then look down or away, almost to shun. Another voice will speak, “You won’t be saying that in a couple of months when your car won’t start because it’s so cold!” Every beautiful day brings the whisper of the Ice age to come. Someday, and sooner than we wish.
And so today, we commemorate the true death of Summer, and the momentary grasp of Autumn on us, knowing that it does so only to fling us deep into the Winter snowbank. That’s normal, and you can see the change in most everyone’s eyes – there is no more lingering, except perhaps for a moment to still look at the beauty of the changing leaves, before they drop to their deaths on the cold ground below. Happy days!
What we have not experienced, however, is the season change to Autumn along with the CoVid pandemic. For all Spring and Summer, folks have had to navigate through the nice parts of the year as though they were locked away from the world. It was not good, but you could still open the windows, and sit in the backyard and work in the garden. As the beast follows us into this new season, however, it’s as if it is doubling up on the gloom. The restaurants have opened up to outside dining, but when it’s 45 with a 20mph north wind, it all becomes take-out and drive home. Again. Some communities are discussing cancelling Halloween, but this year, with a Saturday Halloween, there is no way it’s not happening.
Hopefully folks will be able to find creative ways of not being so isolated for the next 6 months and six weeks. It’s a bit of scary proposition, especially for those who are alone in the first place. My honest prayer is that, again, we northerners can be intentional about being with one another in a safe and life-giving way, and to recognize that this season, like all the others, is part of the cycle of life that God offers to us. Wherever you live, even if it is not a blessed place that gives you four seasons, I also pray that you will find grace in the way your life changes, even when it gets dark at times. It’s all part of life, in which God says, “This is My gift to you, My child…”
Word for the Day: macarize. No, it doesn’t meant to turn something into pasta. MACK-a-rize, with that “z” on the end lets us know it is of Greek origin. The “izo” in makarizo means the making of something. Makar in Greek means “happy” or even more profoundly, “blessed.” Macarize, as we write it in English, really means to call, proclaim and declare someone or something to be blessed. It’s like a holy congratulations! I declare to the world that you are someone who is blessed this day. What a neat thing to say to someone: I macarize you today. By the way, we find the most famous macarization in Matthew, when Jesus says, “Blessed are…” and we hear the beatitudes. What a nice word.
I will admit and confess that since the pandemic started, my exercise routine has been hit and miss. I will also confess that the same status existed prior to March, when I had other things to blame my sedentary (which is Latin, by the way, sedeo, which means “to sit,” or since the middle ages, “one who is not in the habit of exercise) behavior on.
I’m happy to say I haven’t gained weight – in fact, I’ve lost a couple of pounds, but I’m nowhere near that ideal weight that everyone who is at that weight talks about. These are also the people who have no compunction nor hesitation about lecturing about 3/4s of the world about their lifestyle that will end in death. At that point, I always want to find a bullhorn, and announce to them that their lifestyle will ALSO end in death – I don’t see any of us getting out of here alive. So there.
However, I do understand that blah, blah, blah, blah, and so in June, for our anniversary, Cheri and I ordered a little wrist-worn exercise monitoring device known as a FITBIT. It’s an unobtrusive little bracelet, that keeps track of your daily steps, and miles walked, and pulse and even the type of sleep you sleep, and whether you are waking up frequently, or having that good old REM or deep sleep and when that happens. It would also track your calories consumed if you wanted to log in everything you eat in the course of a day. I do not. I don’t snack, and I don’t drink enough water, but having to write down how many spoonfuls of corn I eat is way to intrusive for my taste.
It took Cheri a while to buy into the little device what peers into your very soul. Partly, she complained, the little rubber wristband hurt her tender and adorable wrist. I was able to find a place that sold fabric wristbands of a variety of colors that she could change depending on what she was wearing any given day, and so FitBit became a fashion item, and she has now worn it pretty regularly, although she still doesn’t wear it while sleeping. We are still to have that discussion.
One measurement of the device that I do consider unfair, however, are the steps recorded. Did you know that a 5’0” woman walks about twice as many steps in a mile as a 5’10” man who has long legs to begin with? When we take a walk around the neighborhood, I will register about 2500 steps, and Cheri will rack up 4000-5000! T’aint fair, I tell you… Of course, in her normal day working as a nurse practitioner, she will often top 10,000, while I from my perch in my office will walk slightly fewer. Let’s not define the word, “slightly,” today.
One of the tricky settings on the FitBit that I believe borders on bullying is the alert that you are coming up to the end of an hour of wakefulness, and you have not yet walked even 250 steps in that given hour. Now, of course, if you have walked that far in that hour, you get nothing – no praise, no “attaboy” and no word at all. If you have been typing at your computer for an hour, however, the wrist will buzz, and when you look at the dial, it will show you how far short you have fallen in doing even the minimal work of keeping your body from complete collapse. So, at ten minutes before the hour, which does give you enough time to “walk it out,” the buzz begins, and you will see that, oh, you need to walk about 180 more steps in the next ten minutes – get off your fat rear end, buster, and start moving that body of yours… it doesn’t exactly say that, but it does bully a bit, I would say.
Now, I know it sounds, and must look silly, but instead of putting my shoes on and walking around the block, or even around the house, I normally will get up from my comfortable office chair, and walk around in the various rooms on our first floor. Bedroom, office, hallway, walk-in closet, living room, dining room, kitchen, front entryway – they all provide between 20 and 40 steps as you move through them. However, when you find that at 10 minutes to go, you are buzzed and have to walk the entire 250 steps, since you have been sitting for an hour, well, that takes a bit of time. And it looks silly, but it gets back at the wrist monitor of my life. By the way, the other thing that does happen, when you walk the 250 steps after being warned you are slowly dying inside, the wrist again buzzes with a glowing, fists raised in the air celebration of a little person being congratulated because … you walked 250 steps? Yeah, look at what we need as Americans.
Perhaps the funniest picture comes when on the weekend, Cheri and I both have our little wrist devices buzz, and both of us have to walk the indoor marathon each hour, passing and meeting each other on our walks to health. Don’t forget – she has to cover about half the distance with those little legs of hers, and no steps count as you are turning around, so I lose about five steps with each turn. Not fair, but I’m not one to complain. No – not me. Of course not.
It’s been a couple of months since we started wearing FitBits. Some days are better than others. Some days turn out to be disasters, and some days I just plain ignore the bully, and decide I’m too far behind in a given hour, and I’m busy. We’ll see what happens as we move deeper into Fall, but I always have hope, and it’s not like I have so much more to do or accomplish – which would probably give me more steps in that activity.
Part of our makeup as humans is that we constantly find things to challenge us to do more and better, and to modify or improve our world, or to make our lives easier and to treat ourselves, even indulge. That’s why ice cream was invented. If indeed, however, we are intending to live that intentional life, it is critical that we keep that important balance between challenge and indulgence, between work and rest, between the things we must do, and the things we enjoy doing. To not intend, or to make do with any less or any other is really to give ourselves over to only what the world will give us, what may happen or occur. It’s like sitting outside when the autumn rains pour down, because we are too lazy to get up and go inside, and we hope it’ll stop soon, but it may not. That’s living by accident, and you already know my feelings about that. That’s a life not worth living. Be intentional, even if it means you have to get up and walk sometime. Whoops – it’s buzzing again…
Word for the Day: felicificative. fell-is-i-FICK-uh-tiv. Can you see the word is from Latin? The last part of the word we find in many other words. It’s “ficative”, from facere, which means “to make.” Words like affection, pacific, defective, infection and more all have “make” in them: pacific is “to make peace.” The first part of the word is also familiar – including the word, “felicity,” the Latin felicitas means “happiness,” but it also means “fertility.” The word felicificative means simply “tending to make happy.” However, the Romans also believed that the things that make for happiness are also the things that are productive – like growing crops. How nice to think that happy things are also productive of some sort. What are you producing in your life through your felicificativeness? By the way, the word “pauper,” we know to mean “poor,” but it also means “someone who produces little.” Have a happy day.
I love caramel rolls. Now, I know there are lots and lots of people out there who, if given the choice, would select the arch enemy of the beloved caramel roll, otherwise known as the “cinnamon roll,” complete with cream cheese frosting. Now if I am honest, I must admit to having enjoyed my fair share of cinnamon rolls over the years, but only when there was an unfortunate absence of caramel rolls. I mean, there is really no comparison. Sure, you have the “other” roll loaded with cream cheese, but frankly, there is only so much of that you can consume before you start seeing dots in front of your eyes. Plus, there is always the inherent danger that the cinnamon roll will have cooked a bit too long in the oven, at which point it doesn’t matter how much cream cheese you slather on top – it’s just going to be gag-you dry, like an over cooked chicken breast. Don’t get me going on that.
Instead, let us draw our attention to delightful, always sweet enough, malty, brown sugary and buttery delight that is indeed the caramel roll. They are usually served warm, with that wonderful pat (sometimes scoop) of butter that melts and flows all over the caramel goodness. As well, unless you are horribly unskilled, caramel rolls are always soft and tender and full of life and goodness. Not so, you say? I refer you back to the first part of the last sentence, and that “horribly unskilled” phrase…
In full disclosure, I do believe that my beloved at times prefers the “other” roll. It is not my place to condemn that behavior, that poor selection, other than to hold a sad disappointment in an otherwise stellar personality. It’s kind of like going to a business banquet, and choosing the pork chop over the ribeye. You just have to ask “why?” Why go down that path, when the road to divine delight is found on the caramel way. I expect when we all get to heaven, St. Peter will have a nice warm batch of caramel rolls waiting for us as soon as we walk through the pearly gates. If there are cinnamon rolls, they will be on the ground outside, if someone really wants one.
With that bit of shared knowledge now resting between us, let me offer a tale that you may not actually believe to be true. About three weekends ago, that Friday afternoon brought visions of caramel rolls dancing in my head, and I suggested to Cheri that we go out early on Saturday and pick up some for breakfast. Wise as she is, she reminded me that our favorite donut place in town, Sandy’s Donuts, actually will deliver baked goods to your door, so long as you order them the day before. Since that was indeed the day before, I went online, and ordered a dozen caramel rolls to be delivered. I figured they would last at least until Sunday.
All night long, I slept in peace, knowing that a sweet breakfast was coming our way. Sure enough, at the appointed hour, there was a knock on the door, and a masked man (everyone wears masks) handed me the box of rolls. What I was not expecting was to have the box weigh upwards of ten pounds! For a dozen rolls. I hauled the box into the kitchen, pushed it on to the counter, and then opened it to try to figure out what little caramel rolls would weigh so much!
I made a mistake using the word, “little.” As I opened the 9x13 box, I couldn’t see the bottom of it. Instead, there in the box, staring up at me were 12 massive caramel rolls, probably a pound apiece, and slathered with tons of caramel goodness. It must have been how they felt when they first entered Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. For a moment, I thought I too heard St. Peter whispering, “Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about…”
I took a knife, carved out one of the rolls, put some butter on top, and heated it in the microwave for only about 30 seconds. It was a glorious caramel roll. Tasty, soft, caramelly, and just warm enough to have with a cup of coffee. Did I mention it was also big? Really big. About halfway through, I felt like I was at caramel roll Thanksgiving, and I hadn’t even gotten to the yams and the rest of the stuffing.
I finished the thing. Did I mention it was huge? I pushed the plate away, and estimated I would next eat sometime after 8pm that night. Maybe. After breakfast was done, with four of us in the home, I noticed that only 3 ½ rolls out of 12 had been eaten. More to enjoy on Sunday!
After Sunday breakfast, only 1 ½ more rolls had been consumed. The boys opted for an alternate meal plan, and of course, we know who only at ½ of the roll… With seven giant rolls left, I realized I had miscalculated the sheer amount of roll needed to feed a family of four. As we were approaching now the full second day of the rolls, I needed to take action to preserve them. Using freezer bags, and a strip of waxed paper on top of each set of two rolls, we sealed and saved them for another time in our garage freezer.
There they sat, forgotten by all the world, frozen in time for three weeks. Last Thursday, however, the caramel roll bell began once again to ring in my head, and I recalled the hidden frozen stash. Knowing that the quality of a roll degrades pretty strongly after a little time in the freezer, I still pulled out a package of two, and let them melt/thaw on the counter until the next morning.
Knowing they would be tough and dry, but that they still would have the semblance of caramel rollism, I put one of them on my plate, dropped the butter on it, and microwaved it. I sat at the table, took a bite… and lo and behold, through some magic or mystery – could it be St. Peter? – the roll tasted as good, and maybe better than its brother did three weeks before! It was glorious, and a wonderful way to get a sugar buzz for most of the morning.
We all hope for happy things in our lives. I don’t know anyone who says, “I hope I have a really sad day today.” Happiness, joy, peace, pleasure, satisfaction are woven into the core of our being. When we hear that we have been created in the image of God, we also hear that when God made everything, God called it “good.” That’s our hope too. We don’t just want fairy tales to have happy endings – we want each of our daily lives to be the same. I would guess that’s our intention, and it’s only when we become absent-minded, and not present in our here and now world, that we accidentally create pain and sadness and dry caramel rolls. I invite you to remain attentive to your life, intentional in your actions for joy and hope, and I believe that when we live that way, more often than we realize, God will bring showers of blessings – and maybe tasty rolls – to our daily lives. God indeed will bring life that is amazing and significant, so long as we intend for that as well.
Word for the day: dactylioglyph. dack-TILL-ee-o-gliff. Neat word, and sounds like others we have heard. At Hemingway’s Key West home, today you will find descendants for the first polydactyl cats, all having six or more toes on a paw. The dactyl, or daktulos means “finger,” or at least digit. The “glyph” we have heard in cave paintings or “petroglyphs” really talk about the Greek glyph, which is to engrave.
So, a dactylioglyph stands for either the one who engraves, or the engraving itself – not on a finger, but on a finger ring (as opposed to a ring one might wear somewhere else on their body). When we were going through Mom’s things after her death, in one box was a gold wedding ring. Engraved inside, seventy one years ago, was the dactylioglyph, “Ruth Roger 6/26/49.” It’s up to me now to cherish and care for Dad’s wedding ring, known by its dactylioglyph
So it’s Friday morning, which usually means I get to sleep in a bit, since Cheri doesn’t work today. “Usually” is used fairly loosely, since for some reason, instead of going some where else in the house, our lunatic Siamese cat went off on a tear, and must have shot across the breakfast nook, the dining room, the living room, and down the hall to make a quick left turn into our bedroom where he proceeded to sound like a howling banshee, and then took off again, flying through the living room like a real knucklehead. The sound of a cat’s battle cry is indeed enough to wake the dead, or at least the sound-asleep person in the bed.
Fine – I’m up. A cup of coffee (or two) and a scan through the important news items on my computer, all the while having a conversation with my dear wife. “Maybe we should go grocery shopping while it’s still early…” Please recognize that, while I had to get up earlier than I wanted to, Cheri wakes up without an alarm – even on her day off – at about 4 am. By the time I woke up at 7am, she had already had her breakfast, done a dozen little tasks and even did the work that she brought home from the clinic. By 7:15, she had nothing else on her list to do, except go grocery shopping. I actually had other plans, like writing this column and other ways to slowly enter the day, without wearing a dumb face mask. I politely declined her idea, and though we could as easily go out this afternoon.
Silence. As I was pouring my second (or third) cup of coffee, she quietly began her campaign. “I can just go to the grocery store all by myself if you don’t want to.” “Maybe I’ll just get dressed (she already was dressed) and go run some other errands (which would end at the grocery store…)” I swear she is perhaps the sweetest person who ever lived, but she is also dramatically persistent. The game was over with two moves. I went and got dressed, and we headed over to what perhaps is in my list of ten things I hate to do during the pandemic. I won’t go over the list, but you can imagine what they happen to be…
So we grocery shopped, and had a grand time. Frankly, for the past number of months it felt less like getting groceries as it did laying up provisions. After spending way more than we needed or I wanted, we completed the task and began our drive home.
It was there that I saw it. Lying all by itself in the passing lane of the street was a tiny, very cute black and white tennis shoe. It was the size shoe that would never wear out, since the owner of the shoe most likely spent more time on his or her (probably his) knees crawling than actually walking. I would guess that the owner was about 12-18 months, maybe younger. We laughed when we saw the shoe sitting there, and then both of us said at the same time, “Oh no – how did it get there?”
Imagination is a fun tool to use at times. We started speculating about different things that could have happened, but the one with the highest plausibility was that it was THROWN there. Thrown out the opened passenger window by little hands and strong little arms that decided they didn’t want to wear the little shoe any more, and after it got pulled of the tiny foot, the only reasonable place it could go was to be fired out the window, while Mommy or Daddy blissfully drove along, unaware that part of a wardrobe had just left the building…
I then began to think about what was next. After they got home, and the packages were unloaded, it was time to unstrap the kid from his car seat. It was a tossup as to whether the parent noticed the one-shoe-off, one-shoe-on look as they picked up the child. My bet is that if it were the dad, there would have been blissful ignorance. Whether it was at that moment, or after they got in the house, the same question, which parents for years have asked, was uttered, “What happened to your other shoe?” Foolishly thinking that it just came off in the car (which it did, before it was chucked out the window), the parent went out to retrieve it from under the seat, or by the car seat, or somewhere. Not there. They retraced their steps into the house, thinking that it fell off during that trip – maybe it rolled under the car, or fell off by the shelving. Nope. The shoe at that point became AWOL, and the perpetrator of the devilish act wasn’t talking. He was probably just trying to get the other shoe off.
So now, you see, they are going to have to go buy a new pair of shoes, with masks and stores that have all sorts of rules. All because SOMEBODY threw a shoe.
What we do in life has consequences. Every time. Some are small deals, and some are huge, and some fall in between. Still, it alters our lives, just a little. We are changed when someone throws a shoe out the window, at least in what must become another chore, another task, another expense. Sometimes it huge, as when the other person says, “I do,” and you reply the same. Those consequences have holy shades of light and dark to them.
We can’t escape them, but I believe with all my heart that the more we are able to act intentionally in life, even when we can’t predict every consequence, at least we can expect them to fall closer to where we planned the future. When we do so accidentally, however, nothing is predictable, except that we will most likely find ourselves trying to figure out where that darn shoe is. I’d rather expect joy than frustration. And to do so intentionally. Blessings on today.
Word for the day: churlish. Actually, I found the word “nabalism,” but the only reference I could find was that it meant “churlishism.” So, I searched out what it meant to be churlish, since it is notably an adjective, a descriptor. CHUR-lish. It’s one of those words that was very simple to begin with, but then collected shades of behavior over time. The word comes from Old English, cierlisc, which of course means “of or pertaining to churls.” So, a churl is also Old English, ceorl, which meant simply, “peasant.” More specifically, it was the lowest class of freepersons in English society, just above a serf, a cottager, of a slave, who all were under the thumb of the ruler.
Churl over the years took on the meaning of the behavior of the churl – they were most often rude, vulgar, boorish, even sullen and surly. It meant the opposite of royalty or even culture. They came from the ground, and no one expected anything of them. To be churlish, then, was to be just plain rude and vulgar, and to act poorly in front of others.
Strangely enough, through time, the word also flipped over in its meaning, and in French became “king.” Our best example is a relative of mine – Charlemagne, which is not only from Charlie (meaning “freeman,”) but from churly. It probably meant king of the people. All you Charles out there – try not to be too churlish.
We have a ritual, up here in the Northland, that perhaps you share in your own communities. It’s called “Spring Cleanup,” and it’s basically one week each spring where the city invites the citizens to go through their homes and backyards and identify the junk they no longer want, and then place those items on the curb in front of their house. It really is a beautiful sight, to see the worst of someone’s home set out before the entire community. What happens next is that the brave members of the sanitation department, in addition to picking up the trash in the trash cans, and the recyclables in the recyclables trash cans, and the yard waste and branches, spend the week throwing a fourth category of garbage into huge trucks to be carted off to the landfill. It’s one of those special times of the year.
This year, however, for some reason when the coronavirus hit, the city decided to postpone spring cleanup. I have to tell you that I’m not sure the purpose behind the postponement. Maybe they thought the virus would be on all the garbage people had, or maybe it was a nice opportunity to take the week off. We were all shut down for a number of months, but the sanitation department still picked up the garbage each week. It’s a puzzler, sort of like locking down one of the entrances to Walmart, so that… you could cram everyone even closer together by making them all go in one set of doors? The pandemic has been a mysterious and curious time. The school administration, after having the junior and senior high schools all open with face-to-face classes for three weeks just announced that they are going to switch to distance learning for the upper grades – for two weeks. And it will begin two weeks from now. Now, I know that “why” is that question answered in any case, but it is really hard not to ask why in these situations…
So anyway, the city decided that the Spring cleanup would happen in the Fall. That makes sense. Sort of. The word filtered through the community, and everyone was encouraged to put their junk out on the curb on the day their trash was going to be normally picked up. Except – what wasn’t broadcasted was that, for some reason, we wouldn’t have Fall Cleanup Week. Instead, we would have Fall Cleanup Weeks! Yes indeed – Somehow, the pandemic meant that everyone had twice as much garbage as last year? I don’t know, but hidden on the website of the sanitation department was the master plan and map, dividing everyone into either “A” or “B” week – kind of like dividing the classes at the elementary school. Our neighborhood ended up as a “week B” pickup time.
Unfortunately, many, many, many people did not get the “A or B” memo, and so last week, when the Spring, Now Fall Cleanup extravaganza began, lots of folks in our neighborhood hauled out the piles of garbage and dutifully put them on the curb – a week early. I must say that the landscape of the neighborhood has changed over the last two weeks, as the garbage sat in the sun, and then the rain, and had to be mowed around, or if placed on the driveway, driven around. At least we got away from the sight of boring old neat and tidy front yards.
Two observations: First, it is always amazing each year to see what people throw out. From the looks of things, no one has any living room furniture left, or light fixtures, or toilets for that matter! It looks like they have given up mowing, or the edging of sidewalks, and certainly, in our neighborhood at least, more than 75% of the homes are committed to no longer grilling, as dozens and dozens of gas grills are on the curb, in a variety of states. People are also sleeping on the floor, I guess, since mattresses and box springs are spread out by the street. No one is going to celebrate Christmas this year, since dozens of Christmas trees with garland on them stand ready to be chucked in the back of the truck. There is also a huge amount of – I guess it’s just plain junk, without form or substance – that people have lovingly kept safe in their basements or on back patios. It’s just remarkable.
The second observation is to watch as the vultures and hyenas descend on a neighborhood. Part of the game of cleanup week is that indeed, one person’s trash is another person’s – well, it’s still trash, but they see it as treasure. Did you know it’s not illegal to go through someone’s trash pile as it sits on the curb? Apparently that’s part of the festivities of Cleanup Week. We have watched (for two weeks now), as vehicles of a variety of makes and styles, but all strangers to our development drive ever so slowly, peering at the piles of junk, and now and then stopping, so that a passenger can leap out, rummage through the precious items, and often pull out something that they want to keep, or to own as their own for the first time. I guess it’s an informal way of recycling, and if they can use it, go ahead. The only problem of course, is that while the vultures are rummaging through the items, they have no concern about the structure of the piles out of which they pull things, and so after their time, and they have driven off, usually the landscape looks worse than it did!
Now I have to admit that sometimes, some really good stuff is thrown out. I will even admit that two years ago – in the Spring – I was driving home, and looked at a pile of stuff to my right, and there, perched on the top of the pile, was what looked to be a late-19th century mantel clock! Being the antique collector that I am, I slammed on the brakes, got out, looked at it, and put it in the back seat, all the while looking around as if it were a police sting in process. When I got it home, indeed it was overwound, but fixable, and it included both the counterweight and the key! Somebody must have awakened that morning and thought, “Dang it! I need to be more mid-20th century, perhaps Danish influence – that clock has to go!” So it has a new home, on our mantel.
The cleanup crew just went by – huge dump trucks, small scoops, even a large Caterpillar with a giant front grabber. It’s all quiet now – the curbs are clean, the trash is gone, at least until next Spring, or Fall, or sometime, and life goes on.
We live in interesting times, of changing times. I remember when I was little, going to visit my grandparents in Omaha, that in the mid-60s in their backyard, they had a large barrel where they, like all their neighbors, burned their trash. Now we have it hauled away. I don’t know how long this yearly celebration will continue, but it’s for now, and who we are, at least in this community.
I think it’s important to be aware, and realize what the rituals and celebrations of our lives happen to be, where we live. In some ways they help to mark the season, and in other ways, they are simply curious or interesting things that we humans do. Never assume something is just normal – it’s only accepted where we find our homes, but it’s always special, and unique, even if it only involves picking up trash. As our eyes are open to the unique, or what could be so, our lives lighten up, and we find the reason to celebrate life each day. Have fun finding your own special part of life.
Word for the day: cainotophobia. Pronounced kay-no-toe-PHO-bya, it finds it’s roots in the Greek, kainos, meaning “new” and of course our old friend phobia, which means “fear.” Cainotophobia is the neurotic fear of newness, or specifically change. I may have some of that – I mean, I hate it when every time I go to buy shampoo, they have changed the ingredients and even the bottle, so I can’t simply get what I once got. Maybe not so much fear, as annoyance. The fact is, we are living in an era of radical change. Some experts cite that in 1900, the totality of human knowledge doubled every 100 years. It is possible, with the internet, that today, all knowledge is doubling every 12 hours! In his book, Future Shock, Alvin Toffler talks about the difficulty of most humans, not to change, but to keep up with the change in the rate of change. That means we more likely to see something new, than something we are used to. So much for Christmas fruitcake…
We had a toy when we were little called “Hot Potato.” They still make them today, but the ones made today are all squishy and safe. The one we had was made of hard, heavy plastic, which left nice welts on your arm if you were hit by it. Ah, the joys of growing up in the 1960s..
Anyway, the game started when someone wound the timer on the back of the potato, and then began passing it around the circle of potential victims. The goal was to NOT be caught holding the potato at the end of the timer, when a large buzzing sound occurred. Although you might not think so there was a strategy in playing the game – did you just quickly pass the potato on, so to avoid most any chance of it buzzing you? To do that, of course, meant that the potato could easily make its way around the circle, and catch you on the second time around. Of course, another strategy, usually played out by our big brother Ray, who was a bit of a bully and had a sadistic streak in him, was to simply hold on to the potato for way longer than should be held, and then at what seemed to be the last second, pass it along to the victim to your right, a millisecond prior to it buzzing. The best time we played it, however, was the time Ray held on to the potato just a moment too long – he was kind of cocky – and before he could pass it along, it buzzed him. We all laughed uncontrollably. Do you remember the “welt” factor? That was an occasion when the potato moved from a toy to an indoor missile. It was still worth it.
So, you ask – what does that game have to do with the title of today’s column? The fact is, we are in the midst of a huge game being played out in our front yard, even as we write. The game is called, “When?” and the center of the game is the 30-year old maple tree standing in our front yard. Autumn of course is the time when the weather changes, and the temps get crispy, and the sun comes up way after 7am – and the leaves fall. Oh, they fall big time. If you were to walk around our yard, you’d notice a variety of trees, and you could gauge the rate and timing of the leaves getting shed. Of course, the ash trees are the first to go – they start dropping leaves right after Labor Day, it seems, and although a pretty yellow hue, they drop fast and furious, long before any others start thinking about de-leaving. Next would probably be the fruit trees – apple, pear, cranberry and such – who really do turn lovely shades of red and gold, and those leaves seem to linger a bit on the trees even after changing.
Finally, we come to the maples and the oaks. We have a silver maple in our front yard, which is probably 30-35 years old, and is more than likely over 25 feet wide, and what looks like about 100 feet tall, although I could be exaggerating. It just sits there, like Ray hold the hot potato. Actually, at this point, all the leaves are nice and green. It almost looks like it is still summer, but you and I both know that deep within that trunk of that tree, the computer motherboard is churning out the mathematical formula which, if properly applied, will bring a massive amount of work to the front yard. I’ve gone online to figure out approximately how many leaves are attached to the one single tree, but everyone is scared to make an estimation, apparently. One brave soul did write that, with a tree this size and this old, there could be anywhere between 250,000 and 500,000 leaves. On one tree.
This will be our sixth fall in this house, and I have seen the maple take two different approaches to dumping its leaves. One year, the leaves trickled off the tree like a small bubbling brook. It was constant, but consistent. Another year, however, it appeared that all quarter million leaves decided to fall within a two-hour time span! Of course, that was also the year when the first five inches of snow fell at the same time as the leaves, and covered the leaves with a freezing coat, and then the snow never melted until April. That was such a fun spring yard cleanup… after two years, the grass has finally grown back.
So I have my eye on the maple. Right now it’s a standoff, with the ash trees dropping their tons of leaves as a precursor. But the maple knows – and I know – that we are 8 days from October, and that means the hot potato is ticking. You can’t really feel it in the air, since we have a very unusual warm front over the last few days, and today will again be a high in the 80s. Will that lure me to let down my defenses? Oh no – it’s only a matter of time. They don’t call it “Fall” for nothing…
If we were to take a good look around our lives, we might be surprised and amazed at how much of our world we have no control over. Granted, it might feel like every time I get the car washed on an afternoon, we have an evening rain, even if it were not forecast, but more likely, it’s just gonna rain. The weather, the wind, the creaky joint one morning, or the lack of sleep one night all are part of the way things are, it seems. They are all hot potatoes, just ticking away, until they buzz and we are given the consequences of things out of our control.
Does that mean we are living accidentally? No. It is true that we don’t live in a vacuum, and that the actions of nature, and of other people, and sometimes just the random action of the world on our lives certainly seems to question whether we have control over anything as we live our lives. It feels like the entire universe is a hot potato, ticking along.
Our challenge, and our responsibility as thoughtful and perceptive persons, is to take that randomness, and active intentionally on it. Instead of thinking that we are helpless in the face of a world that seems to be against us – who asked for a pandemic anyway? – we are invited to make good decisions, not in reacting to anything and everything that comes to us, but carefully responding to the world, and sometimes taking the first initiative that fulfills our own vision for how our world could be more loving and hopeful, and full of joy, the way God intended.
Those leaves are going to fall – its up to me to then decide “What next?” and to act with courage and grace, no matter what occurs in my own life. I hope you will follow that same path – thoughtful, intentional and trusting in the God who loves you.
Word for the day: ramage. It’s an easy word to pronounce – it rhyme with damage – RA-mudge. It comes out of the Latin word, ramus, which means “branch,” and so the first right definition is “the boughs of a tree,” or the branches that hold thousands of leaves, ready to fall. However, ramage is a multi-definition word, so it also means “the sound of birds singing in the trees,” allegedly sitting on the branches as they do so. But it also means the line of descendants from a certain ancestor in a family “tree,” as in a “branch” of that tree. Our family of four is a ramage of four different ancestors, both my mom and dad, and Cheri’s mom and dad. It doesn’t take much to build those ramages.
Finally, the word, ramage, means “wild, or untamed.” This one shoots off in a different direction, but I guess it’s related to branching off on one’s own way… either that, or it describes the wild and untamed dropping of leaves…
The task awaits. Multiple times a year, I’m given the job of wrapping presents. I’ve been wrapping things since I was about 7 years old, although then, the occasions were limited to a present each on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – one year, I wrapped a lamp and gave it to Mom. I remember she was speechless. You don’t score that kind of present just any Mother’s Day. The other time of the year, of course was Christmas, where all seven of us kids gave each other presents, including ones for Mom and Dad. Eight presents, which often included a number of Slinkys and gyroscopes, since they were cheap, and they also were sold in small, square boxes. Perfect for wrapping.
There have been times when the wrapping was a challenge. Besides the lamp, there have been cannisters of goodies, which are easy to wrap in the first step, but trying to make the ends look good is troublesome. Even worse when the wrapping involves a ball of any size – I can tell you right now that the look will be anything but professional. Some folks like to cheat and just wrap the paper all around the ball, and then pull the extra paper all together like you are tying a ponytail. There’s no integrity in that – you have to instead make about 500 little folds on each end, and then lay a piece of tape over it all. Of course, when you do that, it becomes fairly easy to guess, especially if the person had been asking for a bowling ball for their birthday.
Trapezoids, triangles, half-moon shaped, and more all seek to thwart the gift-wrapping exercise, but patience and enough paper will get you through it. I also wish that I had been in on the ground floor of wrapping paper sales. I know my oldest brother went through a hippie time, and once wrapped everyone’s presents in Sunday comics paper, but by and large, my wrapping over the last five decades has been limited to the tried and true, off the shelf, fancy wrapping paper. We used to put bows on the gifts, but when our cat Caesar was part of our family, he had an uncontrollable desire to chew on bows, and when presents were left on the coffee table, he would run amok, shredding and destroying the bows. So, we got away from using those.
I do take issue, however, with one trend that refuses to die. It was invented by a woman, I’m sure, who thought it would look cute, but the method of giftwrapping is to take the item, unwrapped, and put it in the bottom of a fancy colored bag, and then stuff some tissue paper on top. They call it wrapping, but I call it lazy. I’m sorry, but when no tape is used in the wrapping – it’s just bagging, like a bunch of groceries at the store. Have some self-respect. Ditch the bags.
So, today’s work, on this first day of Autumn, involves Aaron’s birthday gifts. Our eldest, and the only birthday that falls in Fall – it became a bit more unusual in basically ordering gifts on his list online this year. I know it’s basically possible to go shopping at the stores, but frankly, I’m not a big fan of masks, and the sheer work of having to go around and try to find things made tapping keys and entering credit card numbers much easier. Still, they come unwrapped. I know I could ask for the wrapped option, but I kind of like to look at the gift-to-be before paper goes on it, just to make sure the item doesn’t turn out to be a box of paper clips or something…
I was going to wrap stuff up this morning, but instead, I just wrapped one simple gift. Our tradition is to give one present to start the day and then the others will come more in evening. With Cheri away at work for the day, Aaron will just have to wait…
There is a true sense of ritual in selecting, and wrapping and giving gifts. First of all, there is an effort to create the setting when you actually give something to someone, especially to celebrate a special event or holiday. The ritual has power, because it says to the one receiving the gift, “I consider you special, and of value in this world, and to me.” With presents piled in front of you, or simply one gift, gently handed to you, the result and the meaning are the same: of everything that exists in this world – this is for you. This has been chosen for you, whether it is something extrinsically valuable, or just something that will mean something to you, and the best you can do is to cherish it, as an intentional act of caring, or even love.
Imagine God’s work of wrapping presents for us. Granted, God doesn’t have to toy with cutting paper to the right size, or putting bits of tape on divine fingers that then will seal a gift. God uses light, and darkness and wind and other people to carry gifts to us each day. These are never accidents, never out of style, and never the wrong fit – they are perfect presents for you! They are surprises, or hoped-for things that come into our lives, but they are never what we have earned, or raised money for. They are meant for each of us, perfectly suited to, and ready for you to open and enjoy as part of living as a child of God in this world.
Try to count the gifts you receive today from God. Don’t forget each breath, each holy thought, each interaction of love to each other. It might be as fun to try to count the gifts you can offer to another, as you serve as the gift wrapping for that special present that is you. Have a great day, and don’t waste the tape…
Word for the Day: hapaxanthous. Pronounced hap-a-ZAN-thus, you can guess it’s Greek by the “x” in the word. It breaks down to hapax, meaning “once,” and antho, meaning “flower.” Simply, it’s a plant that only flowers once and then dies. Some types of palms and even some bamboo may live almost 100 years, and then when it flowers, it dies.
Hapaxanthous’ close personal friend is semelparous, which is a Latin word, pronounced se-MEL-pah-rus, which breaks down to semel, “once,” and parous, “producing offspring.” In this case, the word describes animals, not plants. Examples of things that produce offspring and then die would be cicadas, mayflies, and even Pacific salmon, who make a herculean effort to return to the place of their birth in order to spawn, and then die. Think about that the next time you order the salmon…
What a strange season of life we are in right now. I remember no so long ago, as I’m sure you do as well, where fall meant so many things, from school gatherings, and football and even getting ready for the blitz of holidays that were always fun to celebrate. This season, however – and I do hope and pray it is only a season, and that there may be some way we can reclaim at least most, if not all the joys of this time – this season unfortunately feels a bit more artificial than it should. Yes, the school buses are running, but only half full, and the classrooms’ main effort is to seemingly keep students away from each other. The big winners seems to be the hand sanitizer developers, or the face mask makers.
It’s different – and it was different with graduations and proms and such. It was also difficult in my former profession of ordained ministry. Spring and summer called up the rituals and celebrations of all times in the life of ministry. We met to examine and credential persons new into the ministry, and to license and commission and ordain those who would take on the role of clergy leaders. We remembered and celebrated with thanks the lives of our clergy leadership, those who have gone on to glory, in a time of worship.
We also – and this is where I come in – took time at each of our yearly gatherings to recognize and honor those pastors who after decades of service made the decision to retire from active ministry. I’ve mentioned a bit before that I had totaled up 43 years of working in churches and settings to strengthen the church, and so this year, 2020, was the time where I would also receive that recognition. And it happened – sort of. It’s what I call a virtual retirement. It’s interesting that the word virtual comes from the Latin, virtus, meaning force or fact, and yet now it comes to mean the actual opposite, as we employ ways of having something be totally untouched. We might be better off calling what we do in this situation a “hypothetical” retirement.
So we had a video clergy session in June. We did so then because we needed to approve changes in statuses before the new appointive year began in July. We voted on persons to come into the ministry – although no one ever heard my voice as I gave my approval from my home office desk, and we also approved the retirements of a number of pastors – including me. With that vote, I was practically retired, and that was all fine.
There is more, however, to retiring than just taking a vote. A great part of our tradition was to allow those retiring to address the conference, and to offer their parting remarks. Some have been short and sweet, and some have been insufferably long and boring, but that’s who we were. Back when I was brand new in the ministry, retired persons would offer a speech at our banquet. In recent years, pastors were given time on the floor of the conference plenary session, with the idea that they would have an entire three minutes to address their lifetime career. Seemed a bit terse.
This year, with the “virtual” nature of a conference, they moved the addresses of the retireds to a “virtual” worship service, and their first plan was to give each of us 30 seconds to speak. I know pastors who take 30 seconds to clear their throats! With that silly restriction, I bowed out, and told them I wouldn’t be a part of the festivities. Apparently others did as well, because they changed it to be a sort of roundtable discussion with all the retired persons – close to 12 of us – and there would again be a very limited time to speak, via a videoconference. I again declined the invitation, and decided that I was retired enough.
Sure, I got a nice book, and a certificate and a pin that tells the world I am no longer active, and I have put them all away for safekeeping, since they have little sentimental value. I did receive a couple more gifts and letters from folks, but by and large, the loudest sound was the gentle shutting of the door.
This seems far grimmer that I had planned, and so I need to say that I am very happy to be retired, and the years of ministry I lived out have hundreds of stories. I feel an integrity to my status now, and I’m happy not to have to go through the challenges of so many pastors and churches, both with the pandemic and distancing, and with, in our case, a still-looming general church debate that needs to be offered next fall. My only regret, I guess, is that I didn’t get to go to prom. I didn’t get to celebrate that peculiar rite of passage. There really was nothing besides the counting off of another day, and what has become a very quiet and isolated time. Yes, there is nothing that keeps me from connecting with others, but I do find it odd that others have not sought to connect with me.
So, I repeat daily what is the title of this blog. The Fourth Life. I’ve explained in other places the different lives I have lived, and what I have discovered. This time, I believe, is the fourth life of my life. I don’t want to adapt to what happened before, or to accidentally slide into a revision of my third of second lives. Not that I am anything like Jesus, but he went into the wilderness in preparation for his ministry, and spent time in silence and loneliness, the temptation to be like everyone else. That was important for him – critically important – and as I take up this new life, I am more than willing to assume similar discipline and similar challenges. My hope is that God will also lead me through whatever valleys or mountaintops I need to walk, and that what results in all of this is that I find and claim a life worth living – even in my old age.
To do anything less would be to accidentally stumble through retirement, with regret and an artificial life. My life is too important to end up that way. It’s time to be intentional, and to find the joy and hope each day through God’s grace.
Word for the day: galactic. I chose this word because it is a great example of a word’s original roots being completely hijacked and used in a totally other way. When you hear, “galactic” – pronounced as it is written, “gull-AK-tic” – I’m sure you have in mind Star Trek, or supernovas or black holes or incredible distances, and of course, Space – the final frontier.
But, you would be mostly wrong. What I have learned is that the use of galaxy is a borrowed use. The actual word comes from the Greek, galakto, which means “milk” A further word use gave us galaxias kyklos, or “milky circle,” which of course is the way Galileo in 1610 described the large and wide cluster of stars in space around us. It became the Milky Way Galaxy, but still it had it roots in “of or pertaining to milk.” We just took his descriptive adjective, and turned it into a term for space itself. Fascinating, eh?
By the way, the Milky Way has a visible diameter of 170,000-200,000 light years, and an estimate of 100-400 billion stars, although no one has really counted. That’s a lot of milk.
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.