Sunday, June 4, 2023

Jump With Both Feet


A street in Cartagena
The flight was scheduled to depart at 5am. It was an international flight with a connection in Florida. I have TSA Pre-Check, so the security screening process is quick. One bag to check at the self-service kiosk. Being at the airport three hours early certainly did not apply to me!

I had difficulty sleeping, so the ride share dropped me off at the airline's departure doors at 2:10am. The self-service kiosk indicated I needed to speak with an airline service agent. It must be an error. The third time this came on the screen I decided to follow the instructions. Off to the rear of an endless line which moved at a snail's pace. Because my destination was South America, the airline's agent needed to verify and approve Colombia's entry form which I had previously completed online according to instructions. After receiving paper, color coded boarding passes for my flights the rest of the process went as I had expected. Note to self: there is a reason for the three hour arrival before your flight advice!

This was my first, solo international flight. I have never been to Colombia or South America. On previous overseas adventures, my younger daughter took care of the details and so I just followed her. It made travel easy, but I did not learn the details of such travel. This time I had no one to follow, so the learning curve and the anxiety were steep. One way to learn is to jump in with both feet!            

One of the hiking guides

After returning and processing what had occurred over my ten days in northern Colombia, what rises to the top are people. The various cities and landscapes held a unique beauty. Individual tours, as well as the five day group hiking experience were packed with information, as well as physical and emotional fatigue. Beyond the Caribbean music, the hectic and chaotic traffic, the lush jungle, and countless varieties of tropical fruit, images of individuals continue to surface in my memory.

Cecilia in the market
Women who cooked with basic heat sources and marginal cookware in a crowded market produced delicious food and abundant hospitality. One of the guides on the hiking trip was not only agile and strong, but made certain everyone was cared for both on the trail and in our campsites. Most of this caring was accomplished with less than detailed communication. The ride share driver, who though recently married, treated me as a friend making certain (due to the late hour) that my lodging was available and acceptable. A woman from Canada who noted her sixtieth birthday by sweating, hiking, and persevering over five days while never second guessing her decision. 

Seeing the terrain, landscape, and sites of another part of the world is awe-inspiring. Seeing and interacting with a wide array of individuals makes me plan the next adventure. I am glad I jumped in with both feet!                 

Not just people,
but personalities

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Haunted House

Our memories are ghosts. The houses they haunt are us.

"Forever" Pony Cars
The beautifully maintained 1964, Ford Mustang parked on the other side of the gas pumps was being filled by its owner of similar vintage. A new Kia Optima pulled in behind the Mustang. Its Gen X driver quickly scanned his payment card, activated the pump and began fueling. Gazing in admiration at the classic pony car he said, "That has to be awesome to drive." 

"An afternoon cruise around the area is enjoyable. If I was going on a road trip I would choose your vehicle.", was the reply.

"I thought the Mustang was supposed to be an amazing car?" asked Gen X.

"For its time it was innovative and exciting. Compared to the comfort, handling, and safety of today's vehicles it is a dinosaur."

The typical refrains of, "Back when I was your age, and In the good ol' days" are both descriptive and bromidic. The memories of bygone days invite us into a fantasy which is comforting, confusing, and heartbreaking. Take a look at the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man from the movie, Ghostbusters (1984). Fun and cute while providing distraction from the current chaos. Yet escapism is fleeting even when one chooses to reside in its fairyland. A one day pass to Disneyland starts at $104.00. Reside there too long and the expense will cause not only financial bankruptcy, but the inability to navigate daily life. 

I have numerous ghosts which haunt my being. The horrific ones include, but are not limited to needing to

Sheep in Cumbria, UK
end the lives of animals and pets on the rural acreage of my youth.  Some were for sport while others were for sustenance or mercy. No matter the reason, their eyes always seemed to be looking at me. My mournfulness was blended with the arrogance of power over other living creatures. 

In my recent past, the Red River of the North floods of April 1997, have dug a deep trench which is exposed when ancient Lake Agassiz seeks to reclaim itself. Initially my wife and I moved our daughters to a secure setting with friends. That security was fleeting! My wife and daughters drove hundreds of miles in order to reside with family. From their new location the rising, unpredictable waters were stories on the television news. I remained in the town surrounded by untested dikes. The Minnesota National Guard established an encampment within the town. Yet this tenuous security failed to provide restorative sleep. I was frightened that my fatigue would deafen my ears to the evacuation sirens if there was a breach of the levee. If that occurred the town would be multiple feet deep in water within minutes. 

Current flooding on the Red

Intermingled with these images are the ones of friendship, courage, camaraderie, laughter, and hope. Numerous relationships were created and strengthened. On the fatigued and forlorn faces were glimpses of consolation and compassion. While becoming an island surrounded by raging waters, the core of people created a community. Any dream of long-term, interpersonal kumbaya faded slowly as the flood waters receded. When the crisis was past the conflicts resumed. Yet, these memories open many doors in my internal house. Abiding with the haunting are the helpful.

The memories which cruise the avenues of my life have the power which I choose to given them. Primarily, I embrace the present. This is where I live with the freedom and the foolishness for the road trip which lies ahead. 

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Beauty Surrounds Us


Transition Time
There is no abrupt beginning or ending to the seasons. As much as I wanted winter to conclude in early March, it continues to hang on with schizophrenic characteristics. The increasingly intense warmth of the solar radiation, while welcomed, is creating a landscape of potholes, puddles, and porous piles of decaying snow. All the thawing and freezing accompanied by weather systems of frozen precipitation, strong winds, and ice underfoot creates an endurance event instead of a celebration of spring. These random swings are not limited to the external climate. The vacillation of feelings and perspectives have established a solid foundation within myself, as well.

In my ever increasing, normative chaos came words on a Facebook post.  The poignancy of the author's perspective touched me immediately. Going to the eclectic variety store for which she is assuming greater responsibility in downtown Fargo, North Dakota, while being an enjoyable experience did not provide the satisfaction I desired. A note left at the store followed by a couple of text messages provided Josie's permission to share her writing. Here it is:

There is still beauty in this broken world. Sometimes you find it after a hard run under a recently felled tree; in the leaves and fragments of what used to be. It's in between the challenges, it's before the cold, it's after the work. It's all around us simultaneously finding its place amongst the pain, the heartbreak, the anger, the uncertainty. It's part of a whirlwind of wants, wishes, wonders, and woes. Sometimes we have to actively search it out, but mostly it appears like a respite, a relief, a reminder of hope. Beauty isn't something that comes at the expense or suffering of others. It's not found in karma, or greed, or irony. It's infinite, and open for interpretation. It's in movement and stillness and song and quiet. It's man-made and nature's gift. It's long-lived and fleeting, monumental and nearly missed. It's universal. It's mine and yours and ours to share. If we keep navigating through the thick of the troubles and trials the beauty will always tread along the same track. Beauty surrounds us, in this broken world, we just have to let it in.

What if we recognized that we must wilt and wither in order to root and rise? What if we accepted that our life is more than just one bloom?                   Josie Danz      April 3,2023

Multiple Blooms

If I seek beauty only in that which provides pleasure or serves my specific needs, I constrict and constipate the vast offerings surrounding me. During transition, during frustration, during celebration, during life itself, beauty surrounds me!

Look for Josie at Zandbroz Variety, 420 Broadway N, Fargo, ND. I have known her for years, but under appreciated the depth of her insight about many aspects of life. We first met through the sport of running.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Enjoyable + Creative

Chocolate Chip Caramel Bars
They need work.
My mother was non-traditional. She did not fit into a predetermined mold. Cooking, cleaning, and laundry were activities everyone could and would do. Of those tasks I gravitated toward cooking. Maybe it came from my desire to eat, but I also enjoyed the creativity and experimentation associated with cooking. The machinery and mechanics of the farm held little interest for me. Cooking? Yup, I could do that and enjoy it! Rarely did I throw my work into the trash. Even if it did not come out as intended or look like the picture attached to the recipe, it could usually be consumed. 

The enjoyment of cooking continued. It cycled from creative to common. With the arrival of a family there were times when basic foods needed to be prepared. The reality of places to go and activities to attend meant that culinary creativity was shelved for the sake of consuming calories and sating hunger. Added to this was the 
Prehistoric pressed chicken
changing palate of the children. Dino Nuggets, mac and cheese, and tots were in the rotation along with corn dogs and frozen pizza. Creativity crept into the corner and covered its eyes!  However, it was enjoyable to be with my children. Creativity transferred into the art of parenting.

Currently there is a push for perfection in many aspects of life. Restaurant quality, chef curated cookware is promoted. Subscriptions to meal services provide gourmet ingredients and instructions. Competition, whether it be on a cable channel or social media is normative. Unique, one-of-a-kind adventure vacations need to be a part of family life. If not, we run the risk of just being ordinary. The mantra which is not subtle is, "Live your best life." I see this in part as capitalism working its magic. Without projecting a need which has to be filled or a deficiency for which restoration is necessary, products would not be sold. We are prodded and brainwashed 
Cover of my calendar 
into believing that our best life is a few purchases, a few experiences, or a few investments away. I believe the questions need to be asked: When will the illusive best become reality? Who decides what is best for me? How will I know when I have reached my best? What if my best already occurred? Is the concept of best meant to be a fluctuating destination so that feelings of inadequacy drive me to increase spending? Can the best be purchased? 
I believe there is a marked difference between stagnation and activity. Does improvement in education, salary, housing, and possessions with the increase in activity which is necessary for these things to occur provide the measurement toward becoming my best? I also sense there is a belief that acquiring and strictly following formulaic instructions will provide the desired outcome. All of this striving, all of this vision narrowing is performed at the expense of enjoyment and creativity. I ask myself often, "Tim, did you experience some enjoyment today?" Creativity, in my opinion cannot be stringently defined. However, it can be applied to all activities. Creativity and enjoyment are intertwined. I enjoyed the process of attempting to layer caramel over a bed of cookie dough and covering it with cookie dough topping. The outcome was not what I anticipated. It was an experiment. If attempted again I will change a few things. However, it was enjoyable on many levels. One of which is a dentist's dream whether it be producing cavities or pulling loose a filling! The infusion of sugar into the blood stream has some enjoyment, too. I chose not measure this baking venture in terms of my best. It was simply an enjoyable and creative enterprise. 

I may be more like my mother than I care to admit. I have no desire to fit into a "best" mold. I would much rather enjoy the journey while being creative in the process.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

HELL - Yes & No

High Plains Drifter
Most of us have a concept of Hell. It is a place of eternal punishment and unquenchable fires,with wailing and gnashing of teeth. This image was actively taught and vividly described in my early years of Christian Sunday School. Or we became familiar with Hell through reading Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Divine Comedy. Another lasting image of Hell came from High Plains Drifter, a movie (1973) starring Clint Eastwood focused on the beneath the surface cruelty of the people in a mining town named Lago.

Over the years the concept of Hell has changed from a place of eternal confinement to a current condition of life. I have experienced any number of soul-sucking situations in my life. There have been short-term summer jobs, especially one with an asphalt roofing company which lasted six hours.  A couple of pastoral ministry settings, that at first glace appeared exciting which quickly became an abyss of despair. Feeling confined by the expectations of my peers and profession, as well as needing the benefits provided for my family, I allowed creativity and appreciation to trickle out of my life. It was not a massive, consuming fire, but the ever increasing flame which deadened by spirit. There have been personal relationships in which I could not muster the energy nor face the perceived consequences of "ripping off the band-aid." My lack of action kept me enclosed emotionally and spiritually. The relationships were not physically harmful, but there was no enthusiasm or exploration in them. 

What has occurred cannot be changed. Reliving the past does not serve the present if it is only a
Late Night - Seth Meyers
rehashing of guilt or "should haves." I have realized that "hell no" is a response to be used frequently. It is in the action of "Hell No" that the freedom of "Hell Yes!" can take root. Daily life does not have to be routine. Discoveries, as well as diving deep into activities that provide perspective furnish opportunities for personal productivity. The willingness to take a risk while enduring short-term pain keeps me out of the pervasive and periodic entrapment of a lived hell.  

If a sign is posted to indicate my life, I have not formulated the words to attach to it. However, if it had to be done today I want "Hell Yes" listed first and "Hell No" directly underneath it. These words express freedom in my current setting, not eternal confinement. All I have are the choices I make today, eternity can wait!


Saturday, February 25, 2023

The ONLY Way


Along southbound I-29, just beyond Exit 86 at Gardner, ND I noticed the billboard pictured on the left. This was not the first billboard of this genre to capture my attention. A simple search on the internet indicated the providers of these billboards {(83) FOR-TRUTH}is an organization called "Christian Aid Ministries." On their donation page the following is written: "we cannot buy our salvation or pay for the forgiveness of our sins with money. ONLY through the blood of Jesus can our sins be forgiven and only by believing in Him can we be saved from eternal damnation. We are not soliciting funds; however, if you would like to make a donation to help us put up more billboards across the USA, we are making it possible for you to do so."  While my belief system is placed under the heading "Christian", I do not endorse nor do I condemn the work of this organization. What peaked my interest was the word, "only."

Whenever someone uses a word which denotes exclusivity and superiority my rebellious nature rapidly surfaces. This has been a characteristic since childhood.  My father or an older brother would tell me the way something had to be done. I would comply in their presence. Once that person was gone I would attempt the get the same result in my own way. Imagination, creativity, problem-solving, and innovation are options which are contrary to "only."  When I hear the word or get the sense that someone or some group is stating there is only one way, which they possess, my immediate reaction is it means power, control, and protection.

I am nearing completion of a book entitled "Liberating The Gospels - Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes" by John Shelby Spong. I have found it to be insightful, irritating, thought provoking, and persuasive. On page 299, he writes, "We have nothing to lose by looking at new possibilities unless we yearn to hide inside the hysterical prison of self-deception. For some religious folk, that is exactly what they seek to do. They no longer believe in God in any real or genuine way, but they still are convinced that they believe in believing in God. Hence they seek to protect, not their God, but their believing in God behind a fortress-like barrier of significant emotional defenses. Such an irrational belief system cannot be discussed openly, and incredible anger becomes obvious when such believing is disturbed." This statement can easily be removed of a religious context and placed into politics, economics, lifestyle, and most any topic currently under the umbrella of culture wars. Objectively looking at the data, at science, and placing it into context seems rationally appropriate. However, our anger is more about protecting personal power,control, and ego than it is the specific issue. 

Northern Scotland

Where will the water flowing over the rocky terrain gather? Eventually it will enter a stream and make its way into the ocean. It will then go through the cycle of evaporation and condensation. The multiple descending flows provide significant beauty to what in fact is an ordinary process. I believe the creativity and innovation which provides beauty in our relationships is functionally impeded when we believe our perspective has to be defended at all costs. Life becomes focused on raising and reinforcing the bulwarks we believe will keep us safe.  

My ONLY desire is to be an incomplete work in progress.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Good Idea, Once Upon a Time

The final portion of the house tour was viewing the partially finished basement. Upon entering a room with finished walls and an uncovered concrete floor, the console television, turntable, and AM-FM stereo radio combination captured my attention. The person giving the tour of the parsonage stated that the unit has not worked for years. Due to it being a gift from a family in memory of a loved one, no one dared to dispose of it. The tour occurred in 1981. I wonder if the unit is still in the basement?

Memorials, those gifts given to organizations in order to secure a loved ones name will be recorded somewhere. While I could not find the origins of memorial gifts on an internet search, I decided to seek another source. A mortician friend reinforced my suspicion that memorials began as a way to assist a family during the transition following a death. Maybe the monies helped pay for the funeral expenses? Maybe the cash provided a small cushion for the family if the deceased was the primary income provider? This was a practical and helpful gesture necessary to care for others in a concrete way. 

During the Annual Meeting at Hillsboro United Parish, I wondered about the longevity of the Memorial Committee. Fewer funerals are conducted in the church. The nature of ceremonies at the end of life are changing. These insights were shared with the aforementioned funeral director. I was told that the idea of memorials continues to haunt families. Once discussion of a service or gathering begins there comes a time when the family asks, "What about memorials?" It is now an expectation that monetary gifts are a part of

death rituals. Looking at various obituaries many included the phrases, "in lieu of flowers" or "memorials can be given to." It appears that what was once a expression of kindness and support has turned into an expectation. One obituary stated that memorials could be designated to the church's elevator fund. My thoughts are if an organization believes something is important enough to have or maintain, why is there an ongoing fund? Is a brass name plate going to be placed in or near the elevator recognizing the deceased? 

As in many things, what was once a good idea has served its purpose. Most people no longer need help with funeral expenses. Other societal safety nets assist with maintaining income during a transition period. I believe there are many needs in our society. I am not opposed to providing financial support to organizations I find meaningful. I also choose not to wait for someone to die in order to make a contribution. The beverage

services which can still be found in many congregations rarely get used. Weddings and anniversaries are held in other venues. Being served by someone else is rare in a self-service society. Many people bring their own beverages to various events. No one tells the story of the person whose name may adorn the platter, if anyone even remembers that person. Yet like the behemoth piece of entertainment furniture in the parsonage basement it cannot be discarded because of an unknown memory associated with it.

I would appreciate your insights and feedback on this topic. You can leave comments on this site. Or go back to the Facebook page and add a comment. 

I will be taking a couple of weeks away from blogging. I plan to post again on February 26th.Thank you for reading and responding!