Go ahead – try to think of something you have never imagined could be true. I’ll wait for you… it’s a difficult task to perform, actually, because we normally live and breathe and function within the circle of what we have known and experienced. Truly, if we are honest about it, we tend to live our lives with such patterns and behaviors that we do so nearly absent-mindedly. Most days, especially since the Co-Vid lockdown and my retirement, I enjoy taking Cheri to work and picking her up afterwards. Cold and snowy, or rainy, or really hot, when she is done with work, there waiting for her is a climate controlled car and a chauffeur so she can rest her mind for a few minutes from her task as a nurse practitioner. What’s odd about it all for me is that I’ve driven that 20-minute round trip so often that I can actually get in the car, pick Cheri up, drive home, go inside and not recall any part of the trip, except talking with her. Accelerating, braking, turning, blinkers on, radio off – every part of it is forgettable, especially since I didn’t think about it in the first place. For many of us, that normal, forgotten, simply a pattern activity fits most of our days. When we do think about, we start to ask ourselves, “Did I shut of the light in the garage?” “Did I remember to fill the cats’ water?” And other questions that simply prove that, we aren’t attentive to things, it’s possible to live what I call the accidental life. It all happens well enough, but without thought or even being present to what is occurring. Perhaps the scariest or most concerning aspect of all of this, is when we realize, not that we don’t remember the details of the car trip we took – but we also don’t remember anything significant about the last week of our lives. The days were all lived within a pattern, and it’s as if we turn the off switch to our active awareness of the world around us, and it appears we have been sleepwalking, wide awake.
I believe living accidentally is a true tragedy. It’s not that it’s evil, or even sinful – it’s just such a waste of time and a waste of life. We’ve all seen those movies where someone wakes up after years in a coma, or in a frozen state, and they have to experience a huge period of time that they missed, and all the news and events and inventions and social changes. That’s what happens to us when we live accidentally. Now, honestly, we can’t be aware of everything, and sometimes our mind is filled with thoughts of things that are other than what we are doing at the moment – that’s ok. It’s rather, when our minds are completely empty, and we still go through the motions of living, that we are then living the saddest of existences.
The remedy to it all is to instead be determined to live intentional lives, as I’ve mentioned before. Intentional means that we indeed are alive to life itself, to all of the wonderful and mysterious and quirky parts of our days. What we do, we intend to do, even if we don’t quite know how everything turns out. We soak in the experiences of living, and we act in a thoughtful response to life when we need to do so. When I posed the challenge of thinking of something you never could have imagined to exist, that exercise taps into our waiting, unused attentiveness as we begin to look around our world for “what’s next?” We sing the song with lyrics of “I never would have thought of that!” to help us get into the rhythm of a world that is constantly surprising, and often can make us laugh with joy and head-shaking disbelief, since what is so odd and strange for us, is really something very normal for another – we just hadn’t thought about it before…
Which brings me to the hot dogs of Tabor. Back around 2006, when I did my first round of serving as a superintendent for The United Methodist Church, I cared for most of the southeast part of South Dakota, seeing to all the large and small member churches and the pastors who were appointed to them. That meant a lot of driving, and lots of meetings and happy and hard visits, often done with people I have never met before, and who only knew me by my position. One of the things I discovered, and was constantly reminded of, was that no two communities and no two churches were alike. I could not assume that what worked well in one setting could be duplicated. The job forced me to learn creativity, and how to approach and be present and listen and not be too quick to act and bring a solution forward. I even had to learn the styles of the cultures, since many parts of the Dakotas were settled as miniature countries and nations all on their own. Norwegians and Swedes and French and Polish and German and Czech and English and other cultures by and large in small towns have remained fairly untouched, and undiluted in their heritage approach to the world. They also were very interested in knowing where I came from, and some were disturbed when I would say I was “at large,” coming from an Air Force family that had lived all over country and the world. I sounded like an alien to them, I’m sure.
Back to Tabor. Tabor is a small town, population 423 near the Nebraska border, a few miles west of Yankton in South Dakota. It’s the home of Czech Days, which were cancelled this year due to the CoVid, but normally held about the second week of June. If you were to go, you’d experience things like kolache baking, hot wax egg decorating, glass beaded ornaments, chainsaw carving, Bohemian tractor pull, the big Polka dance-off and of course, the crowning the of queen of Czech Days, as well as lots of food, dancing and fireworks. Tabor’s population is divided in part as Czechs and Czechoslovakians, which tells you far more about eastern European history than you might want to know. Tabor’s catholic cemetery is called St. Wenceslaus Cemetery. Quite a lot, packed into a third of a square mile…
Tabor was on my district, and I went to an all-church meeting in the fall. It was a nice meeting, of little consequence, and then we got down to the real business: the potluck dinner. There were probably 30 people at the meeting, and it seemed like they brought about 100 variety of foods! I went through the line as the guest, having learned long before how to take tiny samplings so as to not fill the plate to over-heaping. I finally came to the serving platter stacked high – with hot dogs. In amongst all the ethnic foods were plain old hot dogs. Folks around me encouraged me to take a dog, which of course I did, and then sat down to eat.
I have to say that the hot dog was pretty good, and I commented about it. Their eyes lit up and they said, “Oh, they are the best in the world! The butcher here in town makes them, and they are well known in this entire area...” It seemed odd that they would all be so invested in the hot dogs, as though they were personally responsible for their existence. Then they said, “You know, whenever there is a celebration – a graduation or confirmation or such, you will find our hot dogs. Actually, they are served at most weddings, and of course, when we have a funeral, they always have the Tabor butcher’s hot dogs…”
Remember when I talked about finding joy in being surprised? I just laughed – and ate the hot dog. Years later, I can’t remember anything about the church’s meeting, or even what we were there to do – but I have re-told the story of the Tabor hot dogs a hundred times or more – eating hot dogs at a funeral lunch…
We are gifted with this life. We are also presented with a world, though filled for a time with a pandemic, still one that has the ability to fill us with wonder, and head-shaking laughter, and sometimes a reverent silence – but certainly one that deserves our attentiveness, our intentional awareness and presence, as we live in a truly awe-some place. Live it today.
Word for the day: sneeze. I know it sounds rather normal, but it’s nothing to sneeze at. Sneeze seems to have come from and Old Norse word, fnuse, which means “to snort.” Passing over to the Old English, the “f” was dropped, leaving the word “nesan.” (Not the car) Later, an “s” was added to make it a “snees,” and later, a “sneeze.” Funny looking word. Also back in the day, snuff boxes were all the rage, which carried a little powder that was “snorted,” and a sneeze would result. The use of the boxes became a way of showing disrespect or disdain for what another person might be saying in the midst of a conversation. The use of the sneeze was meant to show that the one sneezing was higher class, more important, and the words of the speaker were like blowing one’s nose. So, when someone would indeed say something profound, it could be agreed upon that it indeed “was nothing to sneeze at.” By the way, the powder in the snuff box is known as a “sternutator,” or sneezing powder. Sneeze is still a funny word.
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.