Well, yesterday’s to-do list was pretty well completed, including setting up the beautiful Christmas creche that came as a gift from Cheri’s folks – one piece at a time for probably 15 years of Christmases. The most cherished part, however, is the stable itself. You see, Cheri’s dad was a wonderful wood worker, and he spent time in his retirement years creating a just-right sized replica of the stable that they had for their much larger sized figures. It’s a beautiful work of art, and one that both Cheri and I love to see each year. Cheri’s dad died two years ago, so it’s doubly precious to us.
We/I also grilled steak outside, in the grill for our noon meal. Even though we have had some chilly mornings lately – down in the low teens – by late morning and into the afternoon, the temps have gone kind of nuts, with highs still in the low 40s. Now, that may sound freezing to you all if your address is below the Mason Dixon, but for us northerners, it’s time to put on shorts and flip flops…
The other thing that we managed to do, which for some reason doesn’t happen every year, is that we pulled out the Advent Candle holder, and put four new candles in the stand for this year. I have to admit that when I was traveling as a superintendent, the first couple of Sundays in Advent usually took me out of town, and there were times when we only managed to fit in the third and fourth weeks of the season, lighting the right candles. There’s another benefit to retirement – you can actually celebrate the season.
So I am reminded every year that, while the little pewter Advent candle ring is very pretty, and we have been using it for probably as long as the boy have been born – over 30 years – every year when we put the candles in place, the tiny slim, thin little tapers have two challenges. One, they are made differently than 30 years ago, and so they are just a little, wee, tiny bit slimmer than the originals. This creates, of course, a wobbly effect in the stand. Two, when whoever it is dips the candle in the final coat of colored wax – purple and pink – they allow the excess to drip off the non-wick end of the candle, which then produces a small, but critical bump on the bottom of the candle. The bump, along with it being too thin, creates a tipping effect, a wobbly effect, a going-to-fall-over effect. This does not make for a beautiful setting to think about Advent. Advent is not the season of worry and concern, unless of course you are Mary, the mother of Jesus. I’ll give that to her, but the rest of us need more sturdy and trustworthy holders for our candles…
So, year after year, I pull out what we call “sticky stuff” that normally is used to keep posters and things on the wall without nails. I make a small ball of the “stuff” and shove it into the bottom of the fairly shallow candle holder, and then shove the candle in, without breaking it off at the base. Sometimes it actually works, but for some reason, there is usually one candle that refuses to cooperate. This year it was the pink one. I seated the candles, stepped back to look and see if they were straight, and sure enough, pink started the slow lean like the Tower of Pisa. More sticky stuff. Didn’t work. Finally, I took a knife, dug out the years of sticky stuff, and put the candle in first, and then wrapped the stuff around the top of the holder. It sort of worked, and my – what a beautiful sight, to see a pink Advent candle held in place by a tan colored wad of you-know-what.
Still, it seemed to work. The boys came up from their basement fortress, and we lit the first candle of the season. What does that first one stand for? Faith. The trouble is, it’s been a tough year for that word. Especially for our oldest, who earned his PhD just in time for every college and university in the country to shut down, and cancel any hiring of new faculty. He continues to apply when he sees a job opening, but there is very little response. Kind of – no, really frustrating, to have gone through the work of earning that degree, and then have no way to use it, at least in an academic setting.
So, his was the first response to faith. I won’t go into the details, but generally, and this expands to the entire country, there is a feeling that, while God has the power to control everything, and do so much, that right now, the sense is that either God can’t do it, or has decided not to adjust or change the course of our culture and life for the good. Pandemics and riots and political garbage and such, along with self-imposed quarantines have sucked the joy and life out of at least a couple of people who live in our house.
It was then that I, the wise older pastor and lifelong theologian – didn’t try to sugar coat things for a change, or to help everyone look on the bright side of life. Instead, I think God might have even used me to frame where we are, and I’d like to share that with you.
Hebrews tells us that “faith is the reality of things hoped for, the proof of things not seen.” Anyone who tells you that Faith is very simple and forthright is someone who doesn’t understand what faith is. The word “faith” at its root means, “trust.” When we put our faith in something or someone, or Someone, we are saying that despite all that may be happening around us, and even to us, that we still put our trust – our lives – in the hands and care of some thing or Person beyond ourselves. But you see, the bleaker the world around us appears to be, and the more rotten a hand dealt to us gets played, the tendency of the human is to shift the trust from beyond me, to inside of me. I lose faith. Actually, what I do is that I remove faith – even from God – and I make the decision to only trust and have faith in what I can do by the force of my own will, with my two hands.
That’s a terribly sad decision, but it is usually made when I can’t have a clear view of what God has in mind. The fact that I haven’t seen something happen on my behalf tempts me to no longer hope that something will happen either for my good or the good of those around me. I take Hebrews and pretty well throw it away, and decide instead that “faith is when I get what I need or I want, and seeing is believing.” There are millions of saddened and broken folks around us, who have indeed pulled their faith and sit in the quarantine of their own loneliness.
What I told my sons is that the faith in this instance is completely backwards. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt for more than 400 years, held in captivity in Babylon for 70 years as a nation. Hannah, Elizabeth, Samson’s mother, Sarah, Rachel, and more were women who longed to have children, but waited in faith that God would act on their behalf. Over and over again in the scripture, we are the image, not that faith will make things be alright and fine, but that faith is the strength that allows us to wait upon God, for God’s perfect right time to rescue us. I often used Psalm 40 when I would speak with folks in tough situations, or while sick in the hospital: “I waited. I waited for the Lord, and He heard my cry, and brought me out of the pit, and put my feet on the rock, and put a new song in my mouth.” It’s a wonderful image, but hardest part was not being rescued – it was waiting. It was employing faith when it seemed to not matter. It was to see the things that have not yet happened, and know that the future is in God’s hand – that we are in God’s hand, and what God says to us each moment is simply and surely “Do you trust Me?” Do you trust that I will do what I have promised from the beginning, and the time will come. Your job is not to predict or manipulate your world. Your holy task is to wait in faith. It will happen, and it will happen in the manner that I choose, as your God. Have faith.”
So, this may have become a bit of a sermon today, but I won’t apologize. This too is living part of the intentional life. Living intentionally means not reacting, but thoughtfully acting in the honest, trusting and faithful way we can.
I hope you can keep the faith today, during this first week of our waiting for the coming of the Christ Child.
Word for the Day: versutiloquent. Pronounced ver-syoo-TILL-oh-kwint. It’s a rather obscure word, but has some power when we realize from where it comes. Of course, it’s Latin, and it comes from the word, versutiloquus, which come from versitus and loquor, and finally versus, which means “turned, or changed,” but also means, in a dance, to make a move that is a turn. The word sounds very aristocratic, but it boils down to mean “the act of speaking slyly, or craftily.” So, when you are versutiloquent, you will tend to start off saying something straightforward and true, and then in a subtle way, you “turn” the words to another meaning or direction, and so you slyly get a point across, or get someone to think a different way. The snake in the Garden was truly versutiloquent, as he got the woman to think differently about the fruit that she was not to eat.
Versutiloquent people are also very smug and proud of themselves. Not good people.
Well, yesterday concluded with a large part of the Christmas decorating completed. We got out the gnomes, and Christmas mice in their little sleigh, the crystal angel, the different Christmas prints that replace “normal” art in our home for a while. I especially like the print by Julie Lucich entitled, “Christmas Party.” It’s a landscape that includes a number of reindeer – but they all have a variety of candy cane antlers. Very nice. We filled the crystal bowl that the boys brought back from Prague a couple of years ago, with bright red beaded balls, that reflect the little twinkling lights of the lamp sitting next to it. I sure do love this time of year.
As I mentioned before, we will wait to put up the tree until after our Christmas birthdays, so for now, there is a large open space on one wall of our living room – an unusual sight, since we are prone to filling up most space with furniture or crocks or trunks or such. Still, the space will fill up soon enough by our “fake” tree.
The title of said tree, along with the others that preceded it, was given courtesy of Aaron, our oldest, when he was about six years old. Please note: since Cheri and I had been married in 1981, for fourteen years straight, we had an artificial tree, in part because we would often go visiting at Cheri’s folks after Christmas, and it seemed a bit scary to leave a live tree standing for the better part of a week with no water, and yet, I wasn’t crazy about taking down the tree an hour after we had opened presents on Christmas morning. So, artificial was the way to go. However, when we lived in Fargo before, on the north side, the boy scouts had a tree sales lot set up in the church parking lots adjacent to the parsonage yard, and one year, Aaron asked when we were going to get our tree. I absently mentioned that it was downstairs in a bit zip up bag, and we would pull it out in a few days. Aaron’s mind started putting things together. “How do you keep a tree in a bag?” I explained that it was the artificial tree that we had owned since way before him. Then the righteous ranting began: “Do you mean we don’t have a REAL tree? That we only have a FAKE tree? Fake, fake, fake? That is wrong! We should not have a…” and do it went for a little while, as our Christmas tree activist expressed his constitutional right to protest. It ended with the agreement that someday, when the artificial tree needed to be thrown out, that we would think about getting a “real” tree.
That happened when we moved to the Black Hills in South Dakota. The artificial tree did not make the trip, and so we found ourselves having to find one on a lot. We looked like a typical family in one of those movies. It was dark, and cold and snowy, as we scoured the lot looking for the right tree. We did find one – a real beauty! What I didn’t expect is that I would end up paying as much for the one tree, which had about a three-week life span, as I did for our good old artificial tree that had lasted us a decade and a half. Oh well – we brought it home, along with the new “real tree” stand, and decorated and lit and such. It did look nice.
That is, it looked nice for about four days. Despite our best watering and care, and no heating vents open near the tree, after that short amount of time, it turned from a Christmas green to a “ghost of Christmas future” grey, and the branches holding the ornaments began their rather rapid dropping of needle and collapsing of the branches themselves, so that by the time Christmas Day rolled around, the tree looked more like a nosecone of a rocket, with ornaments trapped inside. I held back on the temptation of taking Aaron by the scruff of the neck and saying, “See! This is why we can’t have a real tree!” I didn’t, but I thought it.
Over the next five years, we had “fun” going out into the hills with our tree permit to find our very own treasure, and to cut it down and bring it home like those Currier and Ives prints would offer. They lie. It takes the old Christmas cheer off the occasion as you have to wander through woods and snow, sometimes over your knees high, to try to find a tree that isn’t wonky, or 45 feet tall. There’s a reason they have tree farms. Trees in the woods look nice because they are surrounded by other trees. When you pull one out of its natural habitat – after you have already cut it down and used up your permit – when you get it to the car, it’s not a pretty sight. At least ours never were. One year we had a tree so big we had to cut it in half to get in through the front door, and the branches were 2-3 feet apart from each other. The next year we decided to get a nice little tree, which turned out to be small enough for me to carry in one hand. We did have a tree, or maybe two, that was fairly alright, but the best thing for the boys is that they got to have cocoa in the back seat of the car that Mommy had brought along, while ol’ Dad tried to figure out how to tie the tree onto the car for the 30 mile drive back home. These are memories, but I can’t quite say they are lovingly cherished ones…
We are now back to artificial trees, although I wish now that I could find one like our first tree, thick, lush, and wonderful looking. But no – most of the ones we have found look more like ones in the wild. We do manage to cover the things with ornaments we have collected, so it’s a nice sight when all is said and done, but it’s hard to fairly compare a current Christmas with the rose-colored memories of Christmas past.
Still – we will have a nice time in a couple of weeks finishing up the decorating, and getting ready for the 12 days before Christmas. I’m trying to be intentional about even how I feel this year. It’s up to us to initiate the joy, and not expect outside forces to en-joy us. It’ll be just fine, fake tree and all…
Word for the Day: racemiferous. Pronounced rass-uh-MIFF-er-us. It’s Latin, of course, with perhaps a touch of Greek, since Latin did borrow some words from that older language, the way a younger sister gets into her big sister’s closet sometimes. The word, racemus, means “cluster,” and the word ferre means “to bear.” So what we have is something that has a cluster or set of branches, usually meaning a racemus of grapes, or a set of flowers, like on a lily of the valley. The grapes you buy in the store are the remnants of racemiferous growth on a grapevine. Just hope they are seedless in their racemiferring. Keep this one in your back pocket – there’s bound to be a time when someone will be serving grapes at a meal, and you can comment on the racemiferous nature of their formation…
We turned on the outside Christmas lights last night for a few hours. They looked nice and bright, although it’s a bit odd to have them sitting on the bare brown ground. Like I said before, I am not complaining in the least that we have absolutely no white stuff, and not predicted until almost December 20. Still, the lights helped bring a brightness to a day that has the daylight end at close to 5:15.
While having the first cup of morning coffee, Cheri and I walked around and pulled all the Thanksgiving stuff off the tables, cupboards and mantels. They are waiting patiently on the coffee table to be re-binned for another year. I’m always amazed at the feelings that come from looking at decorations for different seasons and holidays. Before Thanksgiving, for instance, when we look at the runners and cloths with images of fall leaves and pumpkins, or the glass blown pumpkins we display, that came from a local artist, or even the stuffed animal turkeys that hang with their feet off the edge of different trunks and furniture, there is a sense of anticipation – of things to come in the couple of weeks before the big Day. However, yesterday morning brought a whole different feeling. They looked – finished with their work – and no longer bright and glowing. Thanksgiving, for as nice as it was, is over, and it’s time to say goodbye for another year.
Of course, you know what that means – Christmas is coming! That “most wonderful time of the year” begins officially with Advent tomorrow morning. Even though it’s the season of anticipation, with Christmas itself only occupying the 12 days of Christmas Day to Epiphany on January 6, it is still the season on light and color and glowing, twinkling, joyful decorations. I love it. I always have, and would jump full feet first into the season. Christmas songs are going to play whenever I can turn the radio on. This is not a time for silence – it’s time for cheer and smiles and special secrets and holy anticipation of the coming of the Christ Child. What more could we want than that?
Yes, I know in some homes and some places, all there seems to be is excess – too much, and it’s gaudy and crass and overdone. We have already seem some homes that have lit their outside lights almost since Halloween, and I can tell you, there are some people who should give the task of decorating their outside homes to someone else. Even a group of wandering capuchin monkeys could do a better job – they are a mess! However, it’s their mess, and there is no national standard of how things should be decorated or stylishly adorned. It’s Christmas, so knock yourself out!
So, later this morning, after Thanksgiving is packed, we will begin… and only begin to “pull out” Christmas from its storage in the basement. We have tons of little figurines, and garland, and evergreen chains and candles, and little twinkling lights and bright blue and red and green cloths and runners and tablecloths. We have, as a nod to Cheri’s heritage, a set of six stuffed gnomes – medium to large size – who used to sit on the piano every year, but we donated the piano to a church this summer to give us more room in the living room, so that will be a good debate to determine where they should settle. We used to have only five gnomes, but two years ago, we gave a gnome to Mom to decorate her room, and now, after her death, he came to live with us.
We will slowly pull out Christmas from its hiding place. Since we have Adam’s birthday on the 12th and Cheri’s on the 13th, I have made the arbitrary decision that we won’t put up the tree until after birthdays. Two reasons for that – one is that December birthdays often and frequently end up second place to the Christmas jazz, and that’s not fair. They deserve their place without having to compete. Second, is that it also extends the excitement of anticipating Christmas by having yet another day of decorating. I’ll tell you about our tree in a couple of weeks.
I must say that this has been a dark year – 2020. It didn’t start that way. For the first couple of months, it seemed like most every other year, with high points and low ones, but it all changed after March, didn’t it? Everything turned tentative, and needed to be examined, and boundaries and zones extended, and hands washed way more than they needed to be. And the face masks. Those stinking necessary face masks. And schools disrupted, and people told to work from home, which is not where work should happen, so some boundaries were built higher, and others seemed to disappear out of necessity. “They” even said we shouldn’t gather our families around a table for Thanksgiving, since that very act of love was a dangerous spreader.
So – we need a little Christmas, right this very minute. We need it come earlier than other years, for the darkness to get pushed away by silly bright lights, and candy canes and goofy looking reindeer. We need the Christ Child, to remind us that God is still in charge, and this is only a season, and not a sentence.
We are going to “put up” Christmas today. I can hardly wait. This is the time of light and hope, of “good cheer” and blessings. I am so ready to anticipate heaven as God brings us the best Gift, and for us to know, once again, that we are loved and cherished – even when darkness wants to push in and choke out our hope. That’s not who we are, and each decoration proves that.
Enjoy your own Advent – your own “getting ready” time, and know that, up here in the northland, we are getting ready with you. Peace this day.
Word for the day: palpebration. Pronounced pal-peh-BRAY-shun, it’s not a word you would likely guess the meaning of. Its from Latin, and the latin word is palpebra, which means “eyelid.” When we break it down further, we find the word palpa which actually means to touch softly, or caress, or even flatter. The verb that we find is palpetare, which is simply “to flutter.” It’s an intransitive verb, so you can’t “flutter” someone else. It’s your work. So, palpebration is the action of … winking. Now, remember that winking is different from blinking. Blinking is a near automatic response to a dry eye, or something getting in the eye. Winking, however, is a totally voluntary action, and it means quite a bit. I wink, and I send you a message of “we both know, don’t we?” or “Hi there – I’ve noticed you,” or even quietly showing your playful side. Hopefully it’s never used as a nasty thing, or invasive, but it does connect two people with the silent sign it sends.
So, if you are up to it, and have a good reason, go ahead and palpebrate today… and realize that one eye is better at doing that than the other…
Let me say first of all that yesterday’s turkey was probably the best one we have had in a decade. We always buy a fresh turkey, and we try to get one with as little extra “solution” added as possible. Some turkeys will have over 12% of the weight of the bird made up of basically salt water. It answers our human cravings for salt, but what a crazy way to fill up the stomach… For some reason, though, from the stuffing, to the cooking time to the carving – at was all wonderful. Since I was a little boy, I have always preferred the dark meat, since more often than not, the white meat was dry, stick-in-your-throat-like-trying-to-eat-a-graham-cracker-in-the-desert kind of experience. Not so yesterday’s bird! As I carved it, you could see the juiciness just pour out. I placed the turkey meat on the flow blue platter, circa 1890s, that Mom bought at auction in Australia when we lived there when I was a child, about 57 years ago. It was an all-in-all nice meal with our sons, and we did it all over again with turkey sandwiches in the evening.
It did get a little warm in the kitchen and dining room as we were cooking, however, so we opened up one of the windows to let the cool, nearly winter air exchange with the humid, hot potato-boiling atmosphere indoors. It was then that we began to hear the crazy sound of geese flying overhead. About every three or four minutes, we would hear incredibly loud, raucous honking, and we’d look out the window to see small groups of geese flying about ten feet above our rooftop! Now, we live between the golf course lake, and the artificial slough formed when they built the dike system to help us avoid sandbagging in the extra wet springs. I’m pretty sure there are hundreds of geese, and a nice squadron of ducks living between those two bodies of water.
The thing is those knuckleheads can’t seem to make a commitment about where they want to live. Throughout the summer, we will have pretty regular flyovers of groups of geese changing their reservations from the Hilton Dike Slough, to the Hotel Rose Creek – they must offer special deals, sort of like Las Vegas during the pandemic. So, these crazy (it’s hard to find a different word) waterfowl fly back and forth, probably test-tasting the buffets at the different spots. There are times it’s pretty interesting, when an especially large group makes the run to and fro.
However – and you may have realized it already – yesterday was November 26. The END of November, and almost the beginning of winter, especially up here in the northland. One of the maxims we all learned as children was “Geese fly south for the winter.” Now, I don’t know if they have condos in Arizona, or a nice little spot near St. Petersburg, Florida, but the rule is – they fly south. Supposedly. I have read, however, that the flying-south thing is less an issue of air temperature – they are originally from Canada, after all – as it is a matter of finding food. Where there are plenty of berries and grasses and other gunk to eat, geese will tend to get a bit lazy, and decide not to make the long flight south. It’s kind of like human snowbirds who move into a condominium where the snow removal is taken care of, and they buy a nice big hot tub that they put in a cabana to use year round. They tend not to fly south either…
I think this is our situation as well. Fargo must have a lot of food, and it’s accessible, even when the snows come. So the Canadian geese, and the snow geese, and the ducks have decided they will just enjoy a winter wonderland, and leave the commute to other, less fortunate, less urban gaggles.
However, the crazy (there’s that word again) birds still have an innate need to commute somewhere. Since there are more than one watering holes in the vicinity, they have spent their time when they normally would have headed south, and just fly back and forth between the ponds. I’ve counted up to 18 geese, formed up in a nice official looking skein (by the way, when geese are on the ground, they form a gaggle, but when they are flying in the “v” formation, they are called a skein), flying low and looking proud as they zoom over our housetop. I’ve also seen what can only be described as embarrassing messes. Two geese, or four or five, or even just one will also go careening over the top of our home, looking to try to hook up with a larger group. It’s really humiliating, however, when you only have one goose, and he is honking to beat the band, and no other geese are around. You almost want to avert your eyes in embarrassment for them.
Now, it could be that they are checking with our meteorologist, because after a chilly late September/early October, it’s been a perennial nice autumn – tomorrow will be 46 degrees, and there is no reason to fly south when it’s that nice. However, a month from today will be two days after Christmas, and you have to know that by then, the idea of “warm” will mean getting up to 25 in the heat of the afternoon. Although that seems a little late in the season to head south, when the ponds are all iced up and there’s a foot of snow on the ground that doesn’t melt, that doesn’t describe a goose paradise.
The good news is, I’m not on the goose-fly-south committee. It’s up to them, and for us, we have the comedy that comes as crazy geese go back and forth over the space of a mile, looking for either a hot tub and berries, or someone to fly with.
I’ve always said that “why” is the last question answered. Why haven’t the geese flown south? It’s not a question, for which the answer will be found. The geese aren’t putting out press statements.
Neither do most folks we know. There are times when the actions of others seems crazy too, or so random and thoughtless that we want to question the health of their decision making. The truth is, however, that they -- like us, will make their own decisions and choices based on their own set of reasons. In our effort to be intentional, therefore, we need to always be careful not to superimpose our thought process on others, and to proclaim that, since they have not thought things out the way we would, that they have not been intentional. That’s a mistake, and the best we can and should do is to respect their thoughts, and not try to run the show. Even if you think they are acting like crazy geese. That’s up to them. Our work should be to try to sort out our own crazy in this world…
Word for the day: vagarian. Pronounced vuh-GARE-ee-un, it can be defined from a gentle to a horrible description. It comes most fully from the Latin vagus, which means “wandering.” A “vagary” is a roaming journey that one might take, unsure of where you might end up. We’ve all done that before. A vagarian, however, is one who goes on a journey in his/her mind. Have you ever been with someone who will start to either tell a story or try to explain something, and pretty soon, you are just wondering how it’s all going to turn out?
So, in the nicest sense, a vagarian is a whimsical person, with great imagination, and not a great deal of internal mental discipline. In the worst sense, the title “vagarian,” is just a nice way to say “crackpot.” By the way, in the 1400s, someone with crazy ideas, or a lunatic, would be seen as having a “cracked” – faulty – “pot” meaning head, or brain. It’s not an endearing description.
So, the bird is in the oven. Nope – it’s not being deep-fried, or filled with donuts, or tied up with a sachet of fragrant herbals, or just finished up being dunked in a tank of salt and spices for three days. It was stuffed, and put in the roasting pan that we have used for the last 35 years or so, and it should be ready about 1pm, for the four of us to sit down for the feast. We always try to buy a fresh turkey – they just seem to taste better.
By the way, I watched about a half hour of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. In this pandemic year, they had to change a lot of things about the parade, but at the same time, I’m sorry to say, they also took the opportunity to change many more things. I won’t go into it here, but I really used to love the parade and the bands and lots of other things about it, but it has turned into a show that I just don’t want to watch any more. Sad, but changes occur.
A number of years ago, I was asked to speak at a community Thanksgiving eve event. It wasn’t a service – just a program, and so instead of writing a sermon, I decided to do some research on the whole first Thanksgiving. The more I read about it, the more fascinating it became.
The pilgrims landed in 1620, in early December. There were 128 persons on board the Mayflower. By Spring of 1621, only 50 were left, with nearly half of them being children and teenagers. The pilgrims indeed were saved by the kindness of the Wampanoag tribe, led by chief Massasoit, and with the aid of a fluent English speaking tribe member named Squanto. The Indians showed the pilgrims how to plant and grow successful crops in the northern climate, and they formed a mutual protection pact to stand against other neighboring tribes who would frequently attack.
Although the first governor of Plymouth was John Carver, who was responsible for writing the Mayflower Compact, and also brokering the peace treaty with Massasoit, he and his wife died in the early spring of 1621, less than a half year after they landed. The governor to follow is perhaps the best known – William Bradford. It is believed that it was Bradford’s idea, as the colony prepared to move into a second winter, to have a time of giving thanks to God for their survival up until then. This of course was fully appropriate, given the fact that the pilgrims were the first colony established as a place where they could practice their religion freely, instead of under persecution under the Dutch and English.
So, they decided to invite Massasoit and the tribe to their feast. Remember, there were only 50 pilgrims – probably no more than 25 men. Massasoit showed up with 90 warriors. It was also the tradition of the native Americans that when you came to a feast, you ate until ALL the food was gone. This meant that the pilgrims were in real danger of having all their stockpiled food that was to last through the next winter being eaten.
When the food looked like it was getting low, the chief sent warriors out and brought back five deer, which were completely used in the three-day feast. Here is a list of a probable menu served: deer, ducks, geese, swans. Mussels, lobster (although the pilgrims did not really care for them – they thought them to be bottom feeders), bass, eel (come and have some more eel, Willy!), oysters. They had pumpkin, onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, carrots, and corn, that was boiled and pounded into a mush that was covered with molasses. Also they had blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries, and of course, cranberries. That’s a big table.
The purpose of the feast was, again, to serve as an example of trust, that God would continue to provide, and that they knew their lives remained in God’s hands. So today, 399 years later, as our mouths are filled with turkey, and potatoes and corn and such, as the pies wait silently to be served later, we too should feast as an example of our trust that God will see us through this pandemic, and that we do so, intentionally knowing that our lives are also in the hands of the same God. Happy Thanksgiving…
Word of the Day: thymoleptic. Pronounced thigh-mow-LEP-tick. You could guess it is from the Greek, and is a medical term. Broken into two Greek words, thymo, which means the “thymus” or gland in the brain that controls mood, and lepsis, which strangely enough means “seizure.” However, it’s not a seizure that is like epilepsy. It means something that “seizes” the thymus, and takes control of the way it controls mood. Usually, in medical terminology, it denotes a class of drugs taken to ward of depression, or other mood disorders. They will prescribe thymoleptics, but the truth is, there are way more things in our lives that can serve the same purpose – of keeping the thymus from trashing our day. Something like… a great Thanksgiving dinner, where we eat until we are full, and then in about a half hour later, we are blissfully, wonderfully in nap-land, enjoying our day away. Have another plate of thymoleptics on me!
First of all, allow me to remind you that we have exactly one month before we awaken to Christmas morning. I expect half of you will look at that fact with eager anticipation, hoping for a light dusting of snow, and a starlit Christmas Eve, when you will drive home slowly from the Candlelight service and look at all the beautiful Christmas lights… except there is a better than even chance there won’t be a candlelight service, and CoVid gives us a better than even chance as well that the folks gathered around our Christmas eve table – where we have clam chowder every year – will be a much smaller group. Cheri said it best as we sat and had coffee this morning, looking at all the lists of presents: “This just isn’t much fun…”
So, I challenge you, as I challenge my own family to create new ways of “fun.” For instance, when we got a catalog in the mail earlier this fall, there was a red quilt with a snowflake design on it that Cheri remarked about. I thought it was pretty as well, and then she said, “I’ve been looking at this quilt for our bed for the last five years…” That was a signal. This was something the lady was interested in! I quietly went online and ordered it, had it come, and then set the package on the bed. When she came home after work, Cheri was thrilled, and then set about hunting for the just-right set of sheets to go with it.
This morning, on Thanksgiving Eve, she jumped things just a little and put the Christmas quilt and sheets on the almost-Christmas season bed. Of course, she had to tear it all off again, as she forgot to put the blanket on as well, but it was a grand and happy gesture – making our own “fun.”
Later on today, we will chop up things for the stuffing that will cook tomorrow, along with the fresh turkey that is resting quietly in the cooler, in the 40 degree temperature garage. We are also keeping the pies out there. It’s nice, up here in the north, in the wintertime, to have a giant walk-in refrigerator where we can store the overabundance of food. We just have to watch when it gets down to -20 in February, that we are careful not to leave the bottles of Sprite, or the unopened containers of grape juice in the garage. On occasion, we have experienced the explosion of frozen items… not good.
But we will work to have fun these days, and enjoy the holiday idleness of jigsaw puzzles and sitting in the dark by the gas fireplace as the day winds to a close – and just talk about things that are good to talk about.
But that’s not what the title of today’s little writing assignment describes. Instead, let me describe what my computer screen looked like this morning. In my email, it’s always exciting to see a message in my Inbox. Well, often it’s exciting, except when I have used my email to order something online, since I really detest going out and shopping these pandemic days. Plus, it’s a whole other set of fun to order something, and a few days later, a big package is dropped on your doorstep! It’s sort of a surprise, even though you know what it is, and that you paid for it. It’s still fun.
The unintended consequence, however, is that since you wrote such a nice order to any company, asking for them to send you something in the mail or UPS or FedEx, they seem to think that you want to continue hearing from them. Daily. So, my Inbox ends up being their junk mail depository. “Well – since you ordered that very pretty Christmas quilt for your bed, we just KNOW that you will also want to order the gray, resin-molded long-legged frog with buggy eyes that you can put in your garden next spring after the snow melts, to bring the wonderful sense of whimsy and surprise to your outdoor world. Frogs and Christmas quilts were just meant to go together, so be sure to order today!”
Now, I am not one to run willy-nilly toward resin-molded frogs, even on my worst day, and so I respectfully decline the offer, and hit the “move to trash” button. That’s all fine, except the next morning, I run to quickly open up my Inbox, and find another email: “We noticed you still have not ordered the resin-molded frog yet, so we will give you 12% off your order if you make it happen today! While we are at it, we are sure you will also want the micro-flying drone that you can use inside to terrorize your cats and your spouse. This one’s a winner, so put that in the cart with the frog, and no one gets hurt…” Move to trash.
The next day, of course, I am ready to delete the junk email, when I discover there are two more junk emails, from two companies I’ve never heard of before. These folks, for some reason, have knowledge about my medical history, and want to make sure I have the chance to order pills that shrink fat, lower blood sugar and make my memory 500 times more powerful. And their friend decided to write me and see if I’d like to take a trip to Las Vegas, or go on a 7 day cruise. My finger gets a bit tired of hitting the “move to trash” button, but it happens.
One of my favorite things to click on in my email is the button that says, “block sender.” I feel like Oprah Winfrey as I click the button over and over – “You get a block! And You get a block! And YOU….” Magically, they disappear from my inbox, never to be seen again. What a wonderful tool.
However, like all magic tricks, it is only an illusion. It doesn’t really block all those emails from people I don’t know and don’t want to know. What it does, is, as the emails are making their way across cyberspace to my computer, a trap door opens, and they drop into “spamland.” It’s a category for emails that no one wants, needs or even wants to look at to reconsider. They become like email zombies – the walking dead.
Yet – they don’t know they are dead. They don’t know they are unwanted and unneeded. They keep getting sent every day, and they keep finding new friends to introduce me to, who also have something for me to buy. I block them too, but they don’t get the hint, and so it goes and grows. This morning, I had three new emails of junk that came to my inbox, but when I looked down at my Spam folder, I saw that overnight, I ended up with 235 spam emails, that just sit quietly on my computer, until I go through and delete them forever – sort of like jettisoning the zombies into cyberspace. The reason I don’t watch zombie movies, though, is that it’s always the same. You can’t get rid of them all. They just keep coming and coming and coming – all because you wanted to do something nice for your wife, and order a red quilt for the bed.
I suppose it would all end if eventually I never ordered anything online again. That of course would mean I have to go physically and shop in all sorts of stores that are ready to sell me things, but also put me in the contest for getting a free exposure to a pandemic virus. This is not fun.
Unintended consequences spring up at every turn in our lives. We can’t predict the future, and even with thoughtful intentional living, we can’t control each and every consequence, and indeed, they become spirals of things we never would have imagined happening. The best we can do is to calmly and carefully set up the fences in our lives that keep the bad consequences at bay. And, in terms of spamland, maybe just turn off the computer now and then – of course, only after you have read my column… Your life belongs to you. Intentionally, you can live that way.
Word of the day: oblivescence. Pronounced ob-luh-VESS-uns. We do find a couple of close cousins to these words in “oblivious” and “oblivion.” From the Latin, ob, meaning “over” and levi, meaning “smooth.” The word means literally to “smooth over,” except it deals with something in the mind, and not sandpapering a piece of wood. It is the state of simply forgetting, or the state of forgetfulness. What we should have as an image in our mind becomes smoothed over, and unrecognizable. Of course, part of what each of us is, is absent-mindedness, or forgetting things that may not matter, or no longer have value in our lives. Our minds have to reset from time to time, and forget. Some of us, however, have very quick reset buttons, and it’s like we can’t remember anything. Those are truly the oblivescent ones, and they are to be pitied and admired at the same time. Why? I forget…
First, let me talk about car batteries. One of the strange things about this pandemic time is that our four cars seem to be more like four horses that aren’t being ridden. They get either lazy, or poorly disciplined, and will surprise you by bad behavior just when you need them to be dependable. I suppose I drive my red Mazda more than any of the others, and since it is “Dad’s” car, it is always parked outside, rain, shine or snow. Since Adam found out he would be working from home until NEXT JUNE, he drives his blue car about once a week, mostly to just keep it in shape. Cheri’s white Mazda and Aaron’s silver Mazda – yes, we have three CX-5s – we could do a commercial about them – have not fared so well. I think the last time anyone filled up their car was perhaps a month ago. Most trips at all are less than ten miles round trip.
We have found with cars that are relatively new, that even when they are turned off, sitting in a dark garage, they still “run.” Apparently, the anti-theft switch is always on, and takes a little bit of juice from the battery. The remote start is a great tool, but it is always ready to go, and so it takes, maybe a little more juice from the battery. The clock, the radio and other items all seem to take their “little juice” from the battery, and if your longest drive in a week is about five miles or so, the alternator doesn’t have the time to “re-juice” the battery, even if it is a great battery, that should go forever.
At one time, I owned a little silver Mazda B2000 sundowner pickup. It was a weenie pickup, but it was good for hauling stuff. I bought it in 1985, and finally traded it in in 2000. It didn’t have much in terms of electrical modern stuff or anything. I remember, in about 1998, that I went out to start my pickup, and the battery was dead. Completely shot. I called our trusted car service guy to come and give me a battery jump, and while he was hooking up the cables, he asked, “So when did you last put a new battery in?” I thought for a few minutes, and then had to say, “You know – I think this battery is the original.” 13 years old, and this was the first time it hadn’t started. The car guy looked at me, and said, “I think you owe it a new battery – they are only supposed to last – in ideal conditions – about five years.” You learn things…
During our pandemic, as I mentioned, both the silver and the white Mazdas have… misbehaved. Everything is fine, until the time you absolutely have to be somewhere in just the amount of time you have allotted, and then the horse falls over and dies. That is, the batteries in both cars have decided that they are not going to be reliable. Dead as a doornail, they say, although I have no doornails, and am not really sure why they would be dead.
Anyway, the good news is we always have one other car available, that the person can take – which is usually mine, which means the mirrors and the seat, and the heater and the steering wheel positions all get messed up during the short drive by a member of the family. I remember my Dad, who was about 6’2” would always have special things to say after Mom, about 5’5” would get out of the car and not put the seat back… I know the feeling.
Well, setting all that aside, we still have the dead as a doornail batteries to contend with. I think it was years ago that Cheri’s dad gave me a used battery charger for some reason. It was a purely mechanical thing, with dials and switches that I never understood. When I needed to charge a battery in a car (not the little truck!), I would hook it up, all the while wondering if this would be the time when the car would explode and take out most of the garage… and me. It would charge for hours, and then when I guessed it had charged long enough I would carefully unhook it and put it back on the workbench until the next time. With the issues surrounding dead batteries lately, I decided to go all in and actually buy an electronic charger. I found and ordered a good one, and the most wonderful thing about it is that when the battery is fully charged, it simply shuts off. Who’d of thought of that little advantage?
So, it happens about every other week that a battery from one or the other car is dead. Realize – the white car is less than two years old, and the silver car’s battery is also less than two years old, so it’s a matter of “user error” and not the mechanics. I guess my job from now on will be to tell the drivers that they need to frequently take their ponies out for a ride about every third day, just to make them happy, and charge those stinking batteries…
Second, my life these past weeks has been used up in the hunt for some light bulbs. Not just any bulbs, mind you, but “specialty” bulbs. You will recall the accident when I sent our little Scandinavian light stand flying to the floor, which resulted in one of the ten bulbs being broken. No sweat, I thought – I had plenty of replacement bulbs in our tiny bulb drawer. Except I didn’t, having used up the last one last year. No sweat – I’ll just order another package from the tiny bulb store, and we would be back in business.
That is a workable plan in “normal world,” but apparently that’s not where we are finding ourselves lately. I’ve been given the chance to learn more about light bulbs than I ever wanted to. The bulb I am hunting for is not your run-of-the-mill bulb. It is tiny. Very much so. Bulbs are measured by base, voltage and wattage. This particular lamp has a doohickey that converts normal household current of 120 volts into a 12 volt battery current, so that the bulbs don’t spontaneously explode from the overage of electricity. So, 12v. Next, each bulb has a special sized base. Normal light bulbs have an E-27 base, or a “medium screw base,” as they like to be called. My “mini-candelabra base” is instead, an E-6 base, which appear to be one of the rare lightbulb sightings. So, E6. Further, most normal lightbulbs are 60W or 75W, or nowadays, with LED bulbs they are measured by lumens, not watts, so you can imagine how unique it is for my little bulb to produce. 0.9 watts of output. Blinding – not. However, when no other light is on, it only takes a little candle to chase away the darkness.
So my light bulb need, instead of a 120volt, E-27 base, 60 watt, is an E-6, 12v, .9w teardrop shaped candle bulb. When I looked at the package to find out the company I could order it from, I had my first concern. The .9w was written “,9w” which told me we were going to have to hunt for European bulbs somewhere. I began the search on the internet for my bulb replacement.
I believe it would be easier for me to locate weapons grade plutonium for sale than find these light bulbs. I have called and written across the US at dozens of Scandinavian stores, looking for replacements. I have checked the light bulb stores, the 1000 bulb websites, and all sorts of other novelty light bulb stores. Nope. No chance. I did uncover in one of my searches, the exact bulb I need! They are manufactured and sold by “Best Season/Star Trading” company. Unfortunately, the websites that sold them were in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and France. They were happy to ship bulbs to me, so long as I lived in Romania or Italy or Macedonia, but for some reason, they are unable to wrap up a few small packages of bulbs, and mail them at my expense to the US. I’m almost ready to get the State Department involved.
If I were being paid by the hour to hunt down these bulbs, they would have a street value in the hundreds of dollars. It’s just remarkable that not a single place in good ol’ America has a three-bulb package to sell me. I may have to fly to Austria, just to get some light bulbs…
So – sometimes things don’t work out the way, or with the ease you hoped they would. This has nothing to do with the pandemic, but it feels like it is. It’s easy to translate any frustration that arises lately into a “darn Co-Vid” feeling. Some might wish to use even stronger language than that…
Therefore, striving to live intentionally means that sometimes you have to cordon off parts of your life, and not allow one thing to affect every other thing you attempt to do. Sometimes car batteries die, and sometimes you can’t find what you are looking for in a store or website. Sometimes, however, you wake up and sleepily go out to the dining room table, and your beautiful wife smiles at you and asks you how you slept. I know which I intentionally want to focus on in my life! You should make that decision too, and find the way to live a joyful, and abundant life with what you have – even if the car won’t start…
Word for the day: cordon. Pronounced CORE-dun. Every single cop show or war movie will have somebody somewhere ordering that an area be “cordoned off” until something or someone or sometime occurs. Most of the time, we never see the word written out, and when we do, it may jar a similar word into the front of our brain. In that case, you would be right.
Cordon comes from the French cordon, which means – shock – “cord” or “ribbon.” The word turned from a noun to a verb when it became the practice of using either a line of police or a line of military troops to form as a barrier around a place or a crime scene – they became a living ribbon or cord, to make sure that no one without authorization would be allowed to cross the “cord.”
However, we also find “cordon” in other parts of French language. We may cook up some frozen, packaged “chicken cordon bleu” for supper, a delightful mix of chicken breast, ham and swiss cheese. That dish, however, is named after the famous French chef’s academy, known as “Le Cordon Bleu,” where the dish was invented. In this instance, the French words mean “blue ribbon,” or the highest award possible. The Cordon Bleu was first awarded as the highest knighthood, the Chevaliers du Saint-Espirit by the Bourbon Kings. A nobleman would wear a “cordon bleu” sash as a sign of distinction. Only later, when the cooking school was established in 1896, did it apply to chefs.
So, when you go to the state fair next time, and you walk through the pig barn, see who won the “cordon bleu,” which later may be what you eat…
Well, I was going to write about dead batteries, but perhaps that can happen tomorrow. Today I need to address a much more serious problem facing us at this time in our history – actually, it happens at every time in history, but for now, we have to do something about certain words and phrases that have crept into our language that we must stop using. We must stop. Please.
Now, I must admit that I am only one in a long line of persons who have detested “cool phrases” – like that one. They have been around forever, it seems. Just a couple of selections through the centuries: 1600s – to be “chirping merry” meant that you were feeling good while drinking with your friends. 1700s – if you are a “molly,” that meant that you were an effeminate man. You did not want to go near the “sheriff’s picture frame,” since that was code for the gallows. And if you “sluice your gob,” then you have taken a big swig of a drink. Lots of phrases about alcohol, I guess. The 1800s brought the phrase, “the bottom fact,” which we now call “the bottom line” in a discussion. If we really made a go of things, it would be a “lally cooler” or a real success.
Of course, the 1920s and on brought lots more words, like “23 skidoo” which meant to leave quickly, or at just the right time, or “Oh You Kid” which was really a song with the words, “I love my wife – but oh, you Kid!” Kind of tells you what might happen next.
The 1950s brought tons of new phrases – and not many very good. Daddio, made in the shade, ginchiest (meaning most beautiful), smog in the noggin (I forget), hip cat, wig chop (haircut) and of course, cruisin’ for a bruising…
Now, I’m sure there are hundreds more words and phrases I could have selected through the years. This year, it seems, and going back just a couple of years, did bring some of the more obnoxious phrases and words I believe have ever been uttered – these just seemed to rise to the top:
An entire category came into being when it became the habit, especially in meetings and around offices, to turn almost every noun into a verb. “Let’s calendar that,” “Let me flipchart that for you,” “we should dialogue about that,” or even “Let’s workshop that idea.” Perhaps the worst was, “I hunch” – not “I have a hunch” which is a feeling based on a guess, but instead, using a verb which originally meant to “raise your shoulders and bend your body forward,” as you hunch over – I remember sitting around a table and imagining everyone hunching, as though they had a hump in their back.
Phrases that have come up this year include “It’s not in my wheelhouse.” This is a part of a boat or ship that shelters the person at the “wheel” – now it’s supposed to mean “I don’t know what I’m doing?” We now apparently “binge” all sorts of things, when before it meant as a mental disorder to uncontrollably consume food or drink to a huge excess. Now it’s watching a lot of tv shows in a row. When we are in a committee meeting, sure enough, in the middle of a discussion someone will suggest we “put a pin in it,” whatever “it” is, which means we no longer talk about whatever “it” is, unless of course we “circle back,” after we have taken some time to “think outside the box,” or “take a 30,000 foot view.” Friends – all these are dumb phrases, which are supposed to make you sound “hip” or “groovy” or “with it,” but no – just dumb.
But if we aren’t careful, we will end up “siloing.” Yep – we will end up taking another noun, and turning it into the work of filling a grain bin with wheat or corn or such… Oh no – it means I do my work in my area of expertise and responsibility, when I should instead be ‘harmonizing” and “aligning” so that everyone “is on the same page.”
A particularly pernicious term being used lately is really a nod to good old racism. Someone – and it’s usually someone with a strong liberal aura – will say, “I know this person – he’s from a different tribe, but…” which could be said, “he comes from a different background, or a different organization” – but now, we have to use a term that is truly specific to particular community or culture. Even in biology, it is a category above genus, and below family. Now, once again, it is “rad” or “with it” to use it in an over simplified background reference.
There are a couple of other phrases that I have come to detest. One, of course, is a gift of our pandemic – “social distancing.” It’s a phrase that I am sure will last throughout the centuries, but it is an oxymoron. How can I possibly interact with you, but I have to stay so far away? That is, of course, unless you are of the Scandinavian bent, where here in North Dakota, two phrases have arisen: North Dakota – social distancing since 1889.” Or “Don’t ya tink dat six feet is yust a bit too close?” I expect if this disease goes on too long, that we will all be handed buzzers and flashing light that are radar triggered if we get too close in a grocery store…
The other phrase that I truly do hate is “It is what it is.” Actually, this phrase seems to have first been used in 1949 in an article that described pioneer life in Nebraska. It was harsh, hated anything weak, but there was no sham about living in that environment. The writer wrote, “It is what it is,” without apology. The phrase has come to mean “there’s nothing we can do about it.” It’s a defeat-mentality, where we give up any power or energy to overcome a situation. I remember talking once with a United States senator, and we were discussing nuclear arms buildup and the tension with the Soviet Union. When I asked him how he would be voting on a nuclear arms bill, his response was, “What can you do?” I was stunned – and it wasn’t until later when I realized I should have said, “Sir – you are one of 100 people in this entire world who CAN do something!” Had he been alive today, he would have probably told me, “It is what it is.” If you are a person who has courage, and the willingness to not just address an issue, but work to overcome it, then please exile this phrase to the far corner of your mind.
Now – not to leave you with doom and gloom, I do have a few phrases that seem to be worth keeping, and using as we can. There are four of them, and I will leave them with you, without comment. They speak for themselves:
We’ll get through this together.
I care about you.
Wear your mask.
Live intentionally folks – and use your language to change our world.
Word for the day: mettlesome. Pronounced pretty much like it is spelled: MET-ul-sum. It’s amazing what two pairs of letters can do to change words and their meaning. A word we often will hear or use, is “meddlesome,” from the early French medler, or the Latin miscere, which means “to mix or mingle.” Someone who spends all their time trying to mingle in the lives of others, or to mix in their own particular opinions is a “meddlesome” person, and someone to be avoided.
When someone is “mettlesome,” however, we are referring to the stuff of their makeup – their “mettle,” which from the 1600s was an alternate use of “metal.” A mettlesome person has an unbroken spirit – lively – willing to face danger. You see life shining through in a mettlesome person. Always look for that courageous, mettlesome individual.
So, in our Christmas outdoor decorating (in 45 degree weather, so I wore shorts…) yesterday, we indeed did come to the conclusion that the two wreathes hanging on the front of the house looked a bit lopsided, now that we had the overgrown evergreen bush pulled out from the corner of the house. So, we made the difficult decision that we needed to go buy a third one, to make things look nice on Meadow Creek Circle South. That meant a trip… to Hobby Lobby. It really is the best place to buy what we needed, so on a Saturday morning, along with what must have been every other person who lives in the lower Red River Valley, we forged our way to the big square store.
It’s not fun anymore to go shopping. First, I have to put on my strangling mask – which, when they say that a mask does not affect your natural breathing? They are lying. Outright, dirty-dog lying. Next, we have to begin the dance of social distancing, which on a Saturday at Hobby Lobby is like telling a nation of lemmings to make sure they spread out as they jump off the cliff. We avoided a cart, since we were committed to only looking at and buying one wreath. It was a constant game of shifting between aisles that were too tight for two people to go through, and then of course everyone else in the store was pushing a cart, and stopping in the middle of an aisle to peruse and gaze fondly at the “stuff” that makes Hobby Lobby famous. No, I didn’t call it junk, but I think you can surmise my impression of it all.
Well, we found a suitable wreath, even at 50% off the Saturday before Thanksgiving… I expect the first week of December they will start trying to sell the Valentine decorations… and made our way to the checkout stand. There must have been some sort of secret signal given to all the shoppers in the store – something like, “The Crosses are moving to checkout – it’s time for the 500 people in the store to get in front of them in line.”
So, we stood and stood, and finally made our way to make our purchase. Everything went fine there, but then the checkout person decided our big wreath needed to be in a small plastic bag to carry it 12 feet out of the store. I mentioned that I didn’t believe the bag was large enough, but strangely, when you cram and smash a good eight inches on either side of a 24 inch wreath, it will indeed “fit.” When we got home, we then spent a good 20 minutes de-cramming the wreath before we could hang it up. It looks nice, and our outside decorating is complete.
Except… a couple of days ago, Cheri read in the paper that somebody in the city stole a little Christmas tree that had been part of some outdoor decorations at a house. Now, even to report that as news shows how interestingly small our community thinks. I expect in many large cities you have to decorate your home with a barking dog and laser-pointing scopes on shotguns to make things merry and bright and not get stolen. Still, it bothered her that this kind of thing could happen in Fargo. She then transferred that to a concern that the pretty decorations we had put out were somehow on the radar for the now-to-be-named Christmas Grinch, Home Alone robbing Gangsters. I tried my best to explain – which of course I could be terribly wrong about – that our pretty decorations were by a house that was at the lower end of a circle of a development that only has one way in or out, and has cameras recording who comes and goes, and there would be probably 25 or so homes with their own pretty decorations that were far more expensive than our standing between the entrance and our house. I think we are pretty safe, as we have been for the last five Christmases we have lived here. I don’t, however, think it helped to say that I thought they had a greater chance of being smashed falling off the house with one our 45 mph winds than stolen…
Unfortunately, when Cheri has Saturday coffee with her sister, her sister recounted the fact that Cheri’s nephew, who now lives on his own in a townhouse, had a package delivered to his address while he was working out of town. Apparently, the package included a box of expensive football cards that promised to contain some very specialty cards. So of course, that package was stolen right from his front porch in broad daylight. You can see how it’s possible we are singing the first stanza of this year’s “Tis the season to be stealing…”
However – and it’s important to note – the nephew lives in an area of town that is very “dense” in terms of population, with lots of townhomes, and also apartment buildings, and he lives on a corner that sees a great deal of both car and foot traffic, as lots of folks walk from their apartments to catch the bus. There could be as many as 100 people walk by his townhouse every day, as opposed to our having maybe 20 walk by, and they all live in the neighborhood, and have a dog they are walking.
Still, the sense of safety for most of our lives rests with a reliable illusion. If we are out in the woods alone on a dark night, and we hear rustling nearby, the sense of safety is pretty low. Living where we do, how we do, though, let’s us think of our safety and that of our “stuff” as being pretty high. Until we hear of, or know someone whose safety was violated by the action of a punk, most likely.
We’ll get by all of this, and as the temperature drops and snow starts to fall soon, we can be assured that the “riff-raff” do not have the constitutions to riff or raff in winter.
So, that’s life in every town today. Safety threatened by just going to a store, or by hanging up something pretty, or even just hearing about someone else having something happen to them. Now, you and I know that reasonable steps should always be taken to make sure things are safe in our lives, but to try to nail down every single corner of our world will exhaust us, and make life just not worth living. We have heard the saying, “Trust, but verify.” I would turn that around, and say first, “fortify” within reason – but then “trust.”
Have a great holiday season. Enjoy yourselves, and intentionally create safe spaces for you – and your pretty decorations – and your packages – and your loved ones to exist and find joy in what you do. And watch for those wind gusts…
Word for the Day: wheeple. Pronounced, WHEE-pull. Not hard to say, but sometimes hard to do. We turn, not to Latin or Greek today, but to another location that has managed to put many different words before us: Scotland. Wheeple, or to wheep, are just words used to describe something that happens – they have no deep or ancient roots. Sort of like “auld lang syne,” they just conjure up a time and place where “mostly” English language goes to be messed with. So “wheeple” is the sound made when someone whistles – either feebly (and you know that sound, that seems more like the sound of air escaping) or shrill – like a piping of a boatswain, to welcome someone aboard a ship. Birds have the power to do a lot of wheeping, as to little girls who are running away from little boys – they wheep almost to the point of being able to bust your eardrums if you are close by. It’s always appropriate to ask someone to stop wheeping, so long as you distinguish that from “weeping,” which is a far different experience.
It was October 12 when I wrote about putting up Christmas lights. It’s hard to believe some folks in the neighborhood have had their lights up for more than 5 weeks now, and we are still a month away from the Winter Solstice, and five weeks more from Christmas. This means that those folks will have been “celebrating” Christmas, at least with the outside of their home for 20% of the year. Pretty good for a season that only lasts 12 days. Granted, we have mushed up Advent and Christmas seasons together, and we call it more likely the “afternoon of Thanksgiving after the turkey has been eaten, until the afternoon of January 1, where we have already made – and broken – our New Years resolutions” season. Still, if that’s what they need to do to get by, especially this year, and bring some different kind of light to the world, I’m not criticizing.
I have some time on my hands lately, so I have taken to tracking the weather at least in my area of the country. I have to say that October was an icky month. There was a terrible drop in temperature one weekend, and we said goodbye to 70 degrees, and hello to 40 degrees and falling. The temperature fell like the snow did, about every three days. I was concerned that, on top of the coronavirus, we were going to have to contend with living like the Antarctica’s little brother. Not what we needed.
It was strange and miraculous, then, to have November 1 roll around, and the temperatures start to rise again. Not every day, and we have had a few very cold mornings in single digits, which is the pits, but we have had a number of days in the 40s and even 50s, which for the northland in November is a remarkable and cheering circumstance. Now, I know if you check the weather sites, they will tell you that the average high in November in Fargo is about 38 degrees, but they lie. Maybe November 1st, but after that, you just want to open the freezer in your garage, just to warm up a little.
Hence, the miracle this year. The snow that fell so much in October has all melted. Granted, the trees are all de-leaved, and the grass has turned a nice shade of brown, but it looks more like an April morning than a November one. We count our winters by months, and when November 21 rises on a sunny clear day that is not 5 degrees out, then that’s a win.
So, with a high today expected to be 43, and without our normal 35 mph wind blowing straight from the north, we have decided that this afternoon will be the occasion of the setting up of the outdoor Christmas decorations. Frankly, it’s true that up here in this land, it’s more a matter of temperature than date. You know, when it is this temperature at the end of November, it makes no sense to say, “Oh, we should wait to put up the Christmas decorations outside until we have four inches of snow, and the wind is bringing a -20 windchill…” Instead, wearing sweatshirts instead of parkas, we will bring out and carefully place our white twinkling little stick trees on the front lawn in front of the low evergreens, our “slim noble fir tree” with red twinkling lights on the front entryway, and the big outdoor wreaths to hang on the front of the house between the garage doors. One issue we do have this year, is that we tore out the huge ugly evergreen on the corner of the house, and now that edge of the house is seen, so we might have to go buy a third wreath, which will not match the other two, but “one” of us is trying to convince “the other one” that we could just buy a different looking wreath and hang it in the center as a juxta point. What I’m afraid of is that “we” will get to go buy three new matching wreaths instead. Stay tuned.
Now, let’s be clear – putting out and putting up outdoor trees is not the equivalent of what other, weaker-willed neighbors are doing. We will put them up, but we will not put them on, at least until after Thanksgiving. Otherwise, they are Thanksgiving, or even Halloween lights. That’s dumb.
One of the nice things this year, as we put the trees out on dry grass, is that we can run the outdoor extension cords exactly where we want them, under and behind the bushes so it looks much nicer than being laid on top of a snow pile. Also, to show what a cool house we bought, when they were doing the inspection prior to our buying the house, the inspector found that the front outside outlet was dead. That was disappointing, and meant another thing to be fixed before we moved in. Then, the inspector said, “Wait a minute – can I go inside?” We agreed, not knowing what he was up to. He went in, looked around, and then opened the front coat closet, reached around inside a bit, and then said, “Aha!” He then went back outside, checked the outlet, and it was hot and working just fine. He explained that some houses will be set up with “Christmas decorations” outlets. You take all your decorations and plug them into that front outlet, and then, when evening comes, instead of having to go out in the freezing cold with all the snow on top of everything, you simply open up the closet door, find the hidden switch on the side of the closet, and it fires up the outlet, turns on the decorations, and the biggest effort you can do is smile. Dad would have loved something like that, except he probably would have forgotten it was there, and spend a half hour trying to get the stupid outlet to work…
So, by the end of today, that part of Christmas will be set up, and ready to go, and we can mark that one off the list. Now if I could only get someone to buy the Christmas presents, and wrap them and put them under the tree on Christmas eve…
Part of being intentional is to be thoughtful, and to make decisions not based on arbitrary external things, like a date on a calendar, but on what makes the most responsible sense. There is nothing wrong with keeping traditions – we won’t start decorating the inside of the house for Christmas until sometime after Thanksgiving, and the tree is the last thing to be put up – but when it is something like out door lights, it should be more intentional, even when doing something as simple as our decorating, to do so when it makes the most sense.
Think about other things that you do in your life – maybe give some thought about what makes sense, and act in that sensible, intentional, thoughtful manner. I guarantee the world will be a better place because of it. Slow down the chaos of rote habits and accidental, thoughtless actions. And be sure to turn those lights on when you want to…
Word for the day: vivificate. Pronounced VIV-if-uh-kate. Another great Latin based word, it comes from two very simple words: vivus, meaning “alive” and facere/ficere meaning “to make.” Simply to vivificate is to bring something alive, to animate or to enliven. Actually, some neat words are found with “vivus” – words like “vivid” – a lively color or an active imagination. It really means to take something and give it life, to make it lively, active, full of energy. What needs to be vivificated in your life today?
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.