Of Making Many Books

IT STARTED: It was early 1978. In a few short weeks everything fell apart. Someone I thought I was building a home with wanted “freedom.” To satisfy that we moved 2,000 miles. She took the kids and began the legal process that would ultimately take everything apart.

I had only despair. My livelihood was gone. I have never been so alone. In time I met a few friends. If I told you who you might be surprised. But I turned to writing for publication. Feature articles. Through those assignments I began to meet and interview a range of people. I began to see hope for myself. I could do something Maybe there was light, however dim it seemed now, at the end of this dark tunnel.

FORCING THE HAND OF GOD: Through this I turned to a crutch I thought I understood. My bible. There was a scheme popular at the time called the ABC’s of prayer. One had only to find the right bible promises in the bible. Ask God to keep those promises. Believe that He would do it. Then Claim the promise. Ask, Believe and Claim.

I began to carry around a sheaf of 3×5 cards with the promises written on them. I wore them out bringing them out of my pocket and reviewing the promises. Making a deal with God. Forcing God to do the right thing, to keep His promises. I honestly believed if I could only get God’s attention, to grab Him by the arm and get God to do what He promised, we could make a deal.

Then I began to realize what a foolish idea this was. Whatever God would do or not He would do. Many of my “promises” involved forcing someone else. I began to realize that God was not in the business of forcing anyone.

Let Barbara Brown Taylor describe it in her book “Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith” she writes:

“As it turned out the edge of the map was not all that far from the center. It was not as if I or anyone else had to take a mule train for three weeks to find ourselves in the wilderness. All we had to do was step outside the Church and walk to where the lights from the sanctuary did not pierce the darkness anymore. All we had to do was lay down the books we could no longer read and listen to the howling that our favorite hymns so often covered up….There was just the unscripted encounter with the undomesticated God whose name was unpronounceable –that and a bunch of flimsy tents lit up by lanterns inside, pitched by those who were either seeking such an encounter or huddling in their sleeping bags while they recovered from one.”

BOOKS: My center included a few books, even the brown leather bound bible which I had marked and carried into the pulpit for years. Now, I couldn’t look at it. It had become an idol and stood in the way of any honest meeting with God. To this day I’m not sure where it is and I can’t read that one. I put it on the shelf no help to me and no danger either. I have others now that have taught me many things. But that one seems so very wrong, too much a reminder of my trying to get God’s attention. As I write there are two bibles within reach but they are not ruined by my marks, instead they are ready to speak to me what they have to say.

DECENT PEOPLE DOING THEIR BEST: My journey has taught me that the bible is the collected thoughts, through hundreds of years of decent people just trying to figure things out. Just like me. They did their best. They collected what they thought was history. They wrote down genealogies that they hoped connected them and their tribes to God. They collected the poetic expressions that gave meaning to their worship. When they saw danger they wrote prophecies they hoped would turn people to their God. They did the best they could.

I learned to look at the bible then not as some code book, a collection of ideas about how to force the hand of God, rather as a collection of the best that my spiritual ancestors could share. They became a community of men and women all just trying to figure things out.

THE LETTERS: I relaxed and met these ancestors in a new way. After my Dad passed away I found a bundle of letters my mother had kept. There was nothing written by her. They were all from him written at the close of WWII from ships in the Pacific. He was courting her. He was smitten. The paper was fragile and sometimes there were mysteries. Wartime meant censorship, there were some things you didn’t say. But he said enough. In all the years we had together I got only one brief letter from him. But writing to my mother he expressed all the anxiety of the war, in times the optimism as it wound down and at last the end when a normal life could once again be hoped for.

In a few months they married. In a year I was born and a quiet life began. Mom put the letters away. She kept them all those years. When she died in 1993 Dad never cleaned out the house. He lived in his large motor home and the house became a time capsule until his passing in 1998. That was when I found the letters. I never had the chance to talk to him about them. He probably would have been embarrassed and said nothing. Today I just have to read them and treasure them for their place in family history. And I will find some grandchild thoughtful enough to pass them down. I hope they will be treasured.

Perhaps in some way the bible is like that. Love letters from the past. Words we can treasure about people and places sometimes we can only guess. Written for someone else but containing thought from which we can be inspired. Maybe some words we’ll never fully understand.

When I start these ruminations I really don’t know where they’re going to go. It may be enough here to say that ancient words can be healing or feel condemning. Let them be what they will be. See them for what they are and enter in. Join your ancestors, respect them and just be part of the family that has given you such richness.

Ordination: My experience, reflections

I’ve been reading Barbara Brown Taylor. She writes an intensely personal reflection on her transition to private life. Read on.

“And although I never found a church where I felt completely at home again, I made a new home in the world. I renewed my membership in the priesthood of all believers, who may not have as much power as we would like, but whose consolation prize is the freedom to meet God after work, well away from all centers of religious command, wherever God shows up.” –Barbara Brown Taylor, “Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith”

I am on the road to repentance. One summer day, in a pavilion with a couple thousand people watching. I stood in front and felt the sincere prayer of H. M. S. Richards lay his hands on my shoulders. It was a solemn moment.

I felt then what I still feel today and which I now confess I have nearly forgotten. This ordination was not for any particular church or employment. It was for a life. I allowed myself to be assigned this duty. And I accepted it. In subsequent years I was forced out of employment by functionaries but that didn’t change the fact that I had made a solemn vow.

That didn’t change my ordination. It has been many years, but I was ordained, that is stamped on my soul. I have accepted direction and duty. As the years went by I got a different education, I wasn’t tending day to day to any congregation. That didn’t change the fact that I had a life to live, that I had accepted being set apart. I was called upon to marry some couples. I returned to leading in worship and felt the weight of it. There was always a place in me that remembered my vow.

I have forgotten so much of this. But my life goes on. Perhaps I can still redeem the days with a servant’s attitude, perhaps my heart can still be broken. I have a lot of thinking to do.

‘I made a new home in the world. I renewed my membership in the priesthood of all believers.” I will begin by less grumbling about the people I meet in the supermarket. Instead I must see in them a life meeting the struggle, growing old, with frustrations and disappointments. People just trying to live.

Today the church I once served is locked in a struggle to treat women fairly. There are women serving around the world as ministers, pastors. They have been ordained by local conferences, people who know them. But the “World Church” being jerked around by a scheming leadership and a third world culture, have been unable to do the right thing.

Should I revoke my ordination in protest?  I’ve considered it.

The Steinway: Fur Elise

I woke this morning to the dulcet tones of “Fur Elise.” If you also got very far in those childhood piano lessons you also might have made it to Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” I found her in the soft easy chair, watching the sun rise taking coffee from her new Mr. Rogers mug. “I’m centering myself” she announced. I remembered when I could play “Fur Elise.” It was centering. It was a way to be satisfied with having my fingers could travel the friendly keys and create melody and those quiet meditative sounds from our 100 year old Steinway. Now it sits, another piece of furniture.

Metastasis made me get off my precious road bike that so often took me 60 miles round trip from the dry Inland area to the mouth of the Santa Ana River, to the Pacific ocean also took the dexterity in my right hand. I can no longer play “Fur Elise” except on the stereo.

Wife got this stack of CD’s from NPR, they came this week. The old war horses Rhona once called them. She’s gone now. So are the two elderly sisters whom my wife befriended in Washington D.C. They sold her the Steinway. Their father had once been “the Secretary of Agriculture” they proudly said.

Adeny moved the piano to Loma Linda. That’s where we met. I was intimidated by that piano…by her. I rarely played such an instrument. I was intimidated by her having attended the national conservatory in Buenos Aires.

In time I got the courage to sit down at that piano and discover it. And thankfully, I finally got the courage to discover her. We moved the piano to our new home in Loma Linda, and finally here to LaSierra. Here we raised five kids in a big old house where they all had their own bedrooms. One day we’ll part with that piano.

She brought us two sons. One of them used a toy hammer on the piano keys. Chipped the ivory a little bit. Memories. He’s married now to a beautiful lady. They live in New Mexico. He has continued his interest in keyboard. Their sweet Emma is five months old. She may learn to play “Fur Elise” on this piano. And send centering sounds across the Sandia mountains.

Facebook Posts

Showering past 70:

The problem with showers, they’re in bathrooms. And bathrooms have mirrors. Yuck. Past 70 we don’t look that good in mirrors.

I go into the shower, you really need to get naked, but it’s no party looking down at an emaciated body. There’s nearly 100 lbs difference between when I was too fat and now when I’m too skinny. Leg bones stay the same. But as meat grows less and less legs are just skeletons.

A year or so ago one of my sons installed grab bars in the shower/tub. He did a good job, solid and even. Now I need them. And I need the little aluminum and plastic stool that I take in and out of the shower.

And I sometimes make it on my own. But it is nice when my significant other helps me dry off.

Showering past 70. It ain’t for sissy’s.

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From a reasonable idea of God?
“…and if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to bring your tithe….because the place is too far from you…then you shall turn it into money…and spend the money for whatever you desire, oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves…and rejoice, you and your household.” -Deuteronomy 14:2
…..What does that mean, “If the way is too long?” Perhaps the way is too long because the “Priests” have become so strange, corrupt, so self centered, that you cannot bring yourself to their kneejerk support. Use your God given mind to simply do the right thing.

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What jobs did you do that no one would suspect?

For a few years I wrote freelance for LaSierra Today, and in house for The Loma Linda Observer. I also co-edited a monumental work for the California Dental Association.

But that body of work was not enough to get a job as grant Resources writer, for which the director wanted to hire me. The LLU Academic Vice President stopped the hire saying simply, “We don’t want to hire a divorced person for that job.” Clue. I later was instrumental in bringing to LaSierra University what was then their largest Federal grant…..and married the LSU Academic Vice President. Karma.

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From the memory hole. If a “B”level celeb like Billy Bush can “egg on” Trump….then what kind of pervert is he. Now he has the gall to defend “judge “Moore and tweeting against Al Franken….. let’s now review the long held rules about living in glass houses and throwing rocks, et.al……been in lots of adolescent locker rooms, adult locker rooms, never heard such crudities. Glass houses…. Franken has ASKED FOR an investigation, he has apologized. His is so far only one incident. She’s wearing battle armor…his hand appear to hover. Get real here. So Donald, when do YOU admit it and when do YOU ask for a thorough investigation. You’re a failure and boorish pig. You don’t have enough integrity to EVER do the right thing.

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Kenneth Field The main problem here is that our current president can only be held accountable for impeachable offenses. Otherwise, Cheney would be rotting in an Iraqi prison right now. Franken and Moore can be held accountable by the Senate Ethics Committee, but they’re all hoping he won’t win Alabama’s election, and they won’t have to do anything while expounding on all the things they “would have done if he’d been elected.” They’re liars, and they don’t care that we know it. Franken, however, is a decent human being caught by his own misbehavior. He has done everything such a man could be expected to do. He will probably suffer politically, whether the whole thing was a setup or not. Which is entirely what the plan was. I can’t help but think the GOP was involved in that somewhere, but it doesn’t matter. Franken made a big mistake, and it was caught on film, and someone accused him of it openly. He’s got to deal with it. I’m sure he will. Of all the senators in D.C., he is actually one that will try to do the right thing.

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WHAT WORK DID YOU DO THAT FEW WOULD SUSPECT YOU OF?

The junior year of high school I worked as the electricians helper. We wired a new chapel, rewired the girls’ dorm, and installed a telecomm to every girls room. I went everywhere, did a lot of the work independently. In the attic once the electrician wonder if some wires were “live” so he touched the with his fingers. Wow.

An Old Man’s Rumination

I want to walk in the Redwoods. One more time. Down that trail, behind the locked gate to the valley little known and little visted with those stout tall trees. The valley the rangers told us about. So green, so alive.
I want to see again the rocky southern coast of Oregon, the creatures that make life in the tidal zone.
I want to see that beach in Bandon Oregon where an old man and his volunteers rake an elaborate labyrinthe in the sand, washed out with the tide, then raked in again the next day.


I want to hike in the Yoemite Valley, up the trails to falls.


I want to walk the flowered meadows of Mt Rainier and the meadow North of Mt. Baker.


I want to ride the funicular up to Murren, hike the meadows above Lautenbrunner Switzerland and hear the cowbells again. See the Jungfrau across the valley. Visit the waterfalls I missed then.


I want again to glide on a ferry through the placid water of Alaska’s inland passage past trees with sentinal bald eagles and waters alive with humpback whales.


I want to look again at the now 100 year old rural schoolhouse that was across the road from us all those years of growing up. In front of it this kid sold strawberries to passing travelers each sunday in season.


I want again to visit Chartres cathedral with its windows of light.
I want to be in the top of the Eiffel tower and see again the City of Lights.
I want again to look out from that tiny hotel room across the Seine to the extravagance of Notre Dame then to the right to that humble chapel Eglise St. Julien the Pauvre.


I want to see again the happy people of Kirkenes, high above the Arctic Circle enjoying ice cream in the summer sun.
I want to see again the Coast of Norway with its fjords and islands and wonder which were homes to my ancestors.


I want to see my grandchildren grow up, build their lives and families as their parents have done.
I want the love of my life to go on, this blessed woman, her heart, her determined kindness and wisdom. This house, it’s memories, it’s views.

And this, from the poet,

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the day.”

—————Dylan Thomas

DACA and Me

Me and Dad

DACA and Me:
 
I may seem like a white bread Yankee American white man….but am I really? No matter where you stand on the issues of immigration, we all came sometime from somewhere.
 
I got to remembering a few nights ago those now gone but real people that I know now live in me, my children and grandchildren.
 
The year was 1634. A flotilla of ships appeared in a New England harbor and on board one was an excited boy of thirteen, John Viall. The son of a rural English clergyman, John’s passage was paid by a more wealthy family. As an indentured servant he would spend the next eight years working in their custody until age 21 when he could register with the colony as a “Freedman.” He soon married and started his own family. John Viall was my first American ancestor.
 
In 1860 Annie Anderson traveled unaccompanied from rural Sweden landing in New York and making her way to a colony of fellow Swedes in Minnesota. She became my Great great grandmother. One might speculate about an eighteen year old girl making such a journey alone, but probably some incident “you don’t talk about.”
Alas, as the politician has  said, “They don’t send us their best, they send rapists and murders.”  Or as my people, they bring tumble weeds. Here’s the story.
In Nineteenth century Russia there arose a new queen, Katherine the Great, Czarina. She was a German powerhouse and among one of her initiatives was improvement of Russian farmers. She enticed German farmers to settle and many Amishmen started farms in the Ukraine.
As the years went by there arose a new Czar who was recruiting young men for his armies. The Amish found a way out so in 1874 over a thousand left the Vilhainaya region for the United States and Canada. My great grandfather settled  his family near Yankton South Dakota.
These Amishmen brought their precious seed grain and therein were the hidden seeds of Russian thistles, tumbleweeds. Tumbleweeds were not native to the Americas, and though they had previously been seen in the colonies they did not take hold like they did in the vast open prairies of the West. You might say my people were among those that brought tumleweeds to the American West.
The bible has a Jesus parable about weeds and tares, and of enemies causing mischief by sowing seeds of weeds. The farmers found this new weed in their fields and were sure that these Amishmen were intionally sowing mischief. Remember, Immigrants “Don’t send their best.”
Other, now my great grandparents were teenagers in a new world, Christian Albrecht and Annie Sutter, part of that Amish migration, who married and began their family, My Grandfather was their third child, the first boy, born in 1887. Sometime after the fourth child, Jack, Annie died.
Christian married again, Annie’s niece, whose name was also Annie Sutter. They went on to have six more kids. As a sidenote, my granfather reappears in 1900 as Albright, and later adopted Sutter. To his dying day he carried grudges against his family that he wouldn’t talk about. Tumbleweeds, thistles, the troublesome weeds that are easily rooted out if you have the will and catch them before they get too big.
Around the turn of the century my great grandfather Knute Nelson was brought as a teenager from Norway. His family settled in Minnesota and when he married a descendant of Anna Anderson, of Sweden they produced my grand father LeRoy Nelson.
We can follow the Viall family through the Revolutionary war, the civil war and finally the marriage of young Katie Viall, my grandmother to LeRoy Nelson. And they made mom.
I am a mixture. One grandma I haven’t spoken of traces to Swiss Amish stock, The Sutters and Albrechts to the Ukraine. The Andersons and Nelsons to Sweden and Norway, the Vialls from England and most certainly to France.
We’re here. The people I’ve talked of all came as minors, brought by their parents. Who know what these kids wanted. It was not their choice.
And there’s one more, I’m married to an immigrant. My wife Adeny was brought here from Aregentina by her parents at age 17. She has told me she really didn’t want to come here and she tells me stories about going to a new school, feeling out of it, not understanding the public speaker in the hallways making announcements. And though she returned to Argentina for one more year she came back to the US for college and a masters. And finally, in 1982, for me. She went on to become college professor, finish her PhD and a career that included College Dean and Academic Vice President.
We all come from somewhere. I’ve shared with you some of the kids that make up ancestors. Kids who at this moment in history would be subject to the very strict rules for DACA, Deferred Action on Child Arrivals.
In DACA Ameria has a sound and reasonable, even compassionate program to take care of kids.  And they are proving to be the Best of the Best. We are a big country, let us have a big heart and do the right thing for 800,000 kids who have had no say in where they were taken, settled.  Yet they are building a life.  They are contributing paying taxes yet they cannot collect benefits. They are the best. We need them.
 .

Trails

I early learned in Cascade glaciers and snowy mountains to use the “Rest Step”. Climbing included a slight pause with each step. One always needs to have enough oxygen. But also the grip, how a foot is planted, the body steadied. Then ready for the next.
 
These sunbaked lower mountains and hills that surround us here in Southern California don’t have snow. But the trails are not always friendly. There are erosion ruts and cross slopes that can make walking more a chore even than the ascending or descending itself.
 
And there are the pebbles. Our hills are decomposed granite with granite boulders poking out here and there. The decomposed granite, unlike trails elsewhere with layers of organics which cusion the sole, these trails are all mineral and the tiny pebbles act as ball bearings on the slopes.
 
And so that “Rest Step’ which in other conditions allows breathing, here it is steadying and traction.
 
I was raised in a tiny church community where I had the privilege at a critical time of a young pastor who loved the mountains. His parish of our two churches included many of us baby boomer teenagers and he clearly cared for us arranging hikes and climbs that took us into our Cascade mountains.
 
Sometimes as we hiked through tall trees or fragrant meadows Tom would break into song:
 
“I’m pressing on the homeward way,
New heights I’m gaining everyday
Still praying as I onward bound
Lord plant my feet on higher ground
Lord lift me up and I shall stand
On heaven’s table land
A higher plane than I have found
Lord plant my feet on higher ground.”
 
He did it so often it was his anthem for hiking and the happiness of life. To this day, the rhythm of hiking will send that song into my mind.
 
It’s a good sentiment. Religion, having a religion, isn’t worth much unless it makes me better. Aspiration, a “higher plane” is my goal.
 
And once again it came to me on the hill behind my house. Find your anthem, collect and treasure them as the soundtrack you can draw on for inspiration and comfort. Make these anthems the music of your life. Let them carry you through journeys of mind and memory. Be happy.

Gulden Spicy Brown Mustard

I was the chicken whisperer in our house. My job? To routinely go into the coop and gather eggs. I wasn’t very big when I started this role and full grown hens are rather proective of their nests, and their eggs.

I learned to pull my hand inside my sleeves to cushion the attacks and persist. I got personally acqainted with these hens.

So when it was time to reap, I became their angel of death. My scythe was a long cedar bean pole with a wire hook, just right to reach out and grab them by the leg. Then carrying a flapping hen by the leg we made our way to the chopping block. There my Dad carried out the sentence.

We usually took three or four at a time. One for fresh and freeze the rest. It was messy business but farm kids learn you have to kill what you want to eat; deer, cattle, goats, fish and chickens. That’s how it is.

I am glad for you if you live the vegan life even to the point of defending poor animals. That’s a good ethic. Increasingly the world needs your spirit to keep feeding the world. Animal products won’t do it. Even open ocean fishing is starting to fail. Here in California which suffered a horrible drought the animal business with feedlots, chicken farms and animal food production all sucks water that thirsty people will demand. Worldwide water wars are on the horizon.

My dietitician in helping me negotiate kidney insufficiency, next step is dialysis, continually cautions against red meat and beans …BEANS!…  She concluded that I’ve not been getting enough protein.  Many protein products include sodium and potassium which bring their own problems.

Her direction is fish and chicken white meat. Although I grew up with lots of fish, years of vegetarian diets have destroyed any appetite for fish. That leaves me…. And I really do turn my stomach at the ways the chicken industry abuses animals…. with chicken.

I sit here next to a cold chicken sandwich, allegedly “organic,” open pasture, from Sprouts. But you can see how enthusiastic I am given I’m twaddling on my computer and not getting down to sandwich.

Even if it does have Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard to enhance or distract from the taste. We’ll see.

Soap is Slippery

I didn’t drop the soap this morning.

That might seem trivial to you, but it’s a big deal for me. Soap bars are slippery. For a few years I’ve found independence in using a sponge and squeezing out a little liquid soap. Easier to hold onto.

It wasn’t that long ago my unsteadiness meant I needed help in the shower. She stayed by to sometimes watch me from falling, soap my back, dry it. Such loss of independence is demoralizing. Everyday actions that were automatic for years become compromised. This is aging. This is chronic disease.

Now I feel confident and safe even with her not around. I’ve learned the work-around; use the sponge.

For a long time after the metastasis landed in my cerebellum, radiated and leaving only scar tissues, I couldn’t manage something so simple as a bar of soap. Having it slip out, however, did make me bend down to pick it up and that too is progress. The liquid soap on a sponge became the standard.

Last August we traveled; stayed in a variety of places. At Mt Rainier, The Paradise Inn Lodge, the room had a modular one piece fiberglass shower. It’s uniform white color combined with rounded corners gave no sense of depth. Just standing required extra care.

Later at my nephews house the shower had a tile grid pattern that was reassuringly orienting. The things you don’t think of.

So this morning I reached for the ordinary bar soap. Got the job done. And didn’t drop it. I’ll still use the sponge, it is soft, and it has a comforting confident feel. Still it’s nice to celebrate; I didn’t drop the soap.