Monday, November 21, 2016

Here is a footprint story to amuse. A few summers back my wife and I tent camped in Grand Teton National Park. As we arrived at Jenny Lake campground the host told us there had been little worry about bear activity in the sites, however a big bull elk had been pestering folks by nosing around the tents. Feeling relieved about the absence of bears, we just smiled about the critter named Buddy the Elk. We set up our little mountaineering tent on the graveled pad and began to bask in the shadow of the mountains. We put up folding camp chairs in a flowering meadow and read and dozed. I heard a twig snap, and footsteps . . . doe, a deer, crept behind us close enough to touch. Sweet. (Also, foreshadowing, yes it happens) So by the end of the day we are feeling very relaxed and head for sleep as the sun sets. We sleep head to feet side by side in our snug, tiny blue tent. Our custom is to read for a while, which we do with glowing iPads. Laura gives out first and falls into a happy slumber. I continue reading my exciting and somewhat scary adventure story. Then I hear footsteps. Clop, crunch. Shuffle. Gravel grinds under very large feet, attached, by the sound, to something uncommonly large and heavy. The animal, whatever it is, stops on my left side. I sense something very large looming outside, only the thin fabric of the tent between us. Is it a bear? Where is the bear spray? Drat, down at my feet. I calculate how quickly I can unzip from my mummy sleeping bag, pick up and arm the bear spray, unzip the tent, and shoot. That action is not advisable, as there would be snarls, teeth, claws, blood and pain involved. Should I wake up Laura? I find I can’t move, and my heart is pounding, boom boom boom in my head. I close my iPad and lay still as stone. Clop, shuffle. Crunch. Scuffle. The whatever moves on. I lay in silence and breathe for some minutes. The crisis seems to be over. Of course now I am wide awake. So I open my iPad and resume reading. The story continues to be hair raising, probably not the best choice for the moment. After a few minutes, I hear . . . Clop, crunch. Shuffle. LOOM. Now the giant animal is standing on the other side of the tent, with Laura in between me and IT. I freeze again. I hold my breath. I quietly close my iPad. This is worse! Now if I try for the bear spray Laura will get eaten first! I am motionless, wondering how to wake my partner up without making any sound. In the absolute darkness I hear a big huffing breath from outside. I suck in a deep breath and hold it. I am just about to shout! But I don’t. Shuffle, Crunch, Clop. It moves away. Now I just continue to lay there in the dark. Time passes, and I fall asleep. (I also may have fainted). I sleep as though dead. The earth spins. Dawn comes. I crawl out and emerge from the tent. What a lovely, crisp, sunny morning! The sky is blue, and the Grand Teton is a towering morning glory. I fire up the camp stove and start the coffee brewing. I look at the site next door and see a lone orange mountaineering tent set up, with no sign of the young camper who arrived alone yesterday evening, California plates. Laura rises, we have our favorite camp coffee, and after a while meet the camp host again. I have already told Laura about the night visitor, and we inform the host as well that a beastie visited last night. She said it was certainly Buddy the Elk, who loomed at our absent neighbor, a wilderness rookie, after us, scaring him so badly he abandoned his tent, ran to his car, and drove into Jackson to sleep in a hotel. So, Buddy is attracted to the curious, big glowing mushroom things lit up by iPads, phones, and the like. He acts like a huge, antlered moth. He only stands and looks. He doesn't mean any harm. He is just following the light, maybe like the rest of us should.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I took some time to exercise, sprucing up around the church, and found myself singing "Come and fill my heart with your peace; you alone O Lord are holy . . . Come and fill my heart with your peace; Alleluia." After singing that a few times I opened the back door to sniff the air and spotted a magical creature tip-toeing along the sidewalk by our parking lot. A fox? It has a horn and wings. A foxicorn dragon? Whatever it is, it gave a big smile. As an answer to prayer, I will think of it as a manifestation of peace. When I thanked it for occupying our neighborhood, it thanked me, in return, in a small, musical voice. Its paw when it gently shook my hand was velvety soft.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I feel myself galvanized today, determined to be a contributor to a safer, more humane world. Rather than live and preach against what I disagree with, taking a negative, adversarial view in an American culture which has grown more dangerous in recent times, I hope to keep walking forward with my head up, eyes clear, and my arms open to conciliation. I invite my friends and readers to join me in a commitment to living by three simple rules. They are easy to remember, harder to practice, but potentially transformative. The three simple rules are: First, do no harm. Second, do good. Third, always stay in love with God. Doing the first well is an important beginning. I appreciate what Ruben P. Job says about how this practice of doing no harm affects my relationships with adversaries. "Each of us knows of groups that are locked in conflict, sometimes over profound issues and sometimes over issues that are just plain silly. But the conflict is real, the divisions deep, and the consequences can often be devastating. If, however, all who are involved can agree to do no harm, the climate in which the conflict is going on is immediately changed. How is it changed? Well, if I am to do no harm, I can no longer gossip about the conflict. I can no longer speak disparagingly about those involved in the conflict. I can no longer manipulate the facts of the conflict. I can no longer diminish those who do not agree with me and must honor each as a child of God. I will guard my lips, my mind and my heart so that my language will not disparage, injure or wound another child of God. I must do no harm, even while I seek a common good." I hope you will join me.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The rain has poured buckets on us here in Western Oregon this October. So wherever I choose to walk on grass or ground I sink and squish. I am not happy with the sogginess, but mushrooms are. I spied a large, orange cap across the church lawn and squelched over to investigate. The warm, wet conditions hatched a batch of very large mushrooms. King boletes are edible and delicious. Raccoons had chawed the largest one mostly to bits, but left a smaller one, a mere 10" across, well enough alone that I could pick it. I dismantled it in my kitchen and set bits to dry in our food dehydrator. The house has a wonderful, rich mushroom smell. I am not fond of grey skies and showers in general, but remembering, from my childhood wanderings, the fun of mushroom hunting in the woods lifts my spirits. When it rains, wonders appear.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

I don't remember the exact moment I decided to begin walking, but I do remember deciding to get up on my feet because my knees hurt from crawling. I've covered a lot of territory and left a lot of footprints behind me since then. I muse about this sometimes, and my thoughts go this way . . . let's imagine what would happen if person who rarely sits down averages a humble 3 miles per hour on average for 8 hours a day. In about three years of steady progress that person could walk about 24,000 miles, enough to circumnavigate the earth upon reaching their fourth birthday or so. Magic is applying, of course, from the get go, so not only can our walker keep moving seven days a week but they can also move equally well on water or land. More magic on the way . . . Suppose this child spied with a little eye the moon up in the sky and set off to get there. About 240,000 miles and thirty years later they could put a footprint in the lunar dust, and after another thirty years could arrive back on earth as a sixty year old. That's my life to now, and walking to the moon and back would be quite satisfying. But since we've already suspended the laws of life and physics and are well into fuzzy math let's go on . . . If we set our sights on visiting the sun, somewhere beyond 90,000,000 miles off, we could stroll there in a short 10,000 years. Suppose we get there and, finding our little star interesting enough, decide we want to check out the next nearest star for comparison. Alpha Centauri is around 300,000 times farther away from earth than the sun is. Moving on, we will arive in about 3,000,000,000 years . . . which is a span of time many times greater than the existence of the universe. If I want to see any more stars in my galaxy I'll have to speed up a bit since there are billions of them. And there are billions of galaxies besides this one, at unimaginable distances away. Which gets me thinking . . . in a creation so vast, isn't just about anything possible? Maybe all good things start with baby steps.

Friday, October 14, 2016

So, I laugh at myself when I realize I have a lot of shoes. This small hoard from a guy who often forgets to wear them, whether taking out the trash in the rain, tromping in the garden, even showing up for church meetings (I'm the pastor! Well, what would Jesus do?) My son Phillip gave me a hand-me-down pair of black Vans last year, which started me down a path (hah) I have tread a long way on. Those first ones are now comfy camping and beach shoes. But I now have acquired four "dress" Vans I wear with different outfits. I'm hoping to get a pair for each color of the church liturgical seasons to wear as I lead worship on Sundays. I've already mostly abandoned my regular oxford-style dress shoes, though of course I keep a black pair and brown pair. At some point I decided I needed some Converse All Star tennis shoes, too. As with the others, I haunt Good Will until my size comes in. After a few months my black, low-top All Stars showed up. Now I have a continuing urge to create a rainbow set of these. I would never buy all these shoes new, of course. The Converse sneakers I wore for gym in Junior High only cost a couple of dollars; now they are stylin', are made in Korea, and most importantly cost more than canvas and rubber should ever be worth, in my frugal mind. So, besides finding myself amusing, I have also felt guilty about having so many shoes, and at odds with myself for having a brutal time ever throwing a pair of shoes away. I still have five or six old pairs of running shoes, for instance. One is still for running; the others are stashed for camping, several sitting in a chest on the porch, saturated with with mud and stained green from mowing the lawn. Yet why do I need three of those? Another curiosity: Boots! I have one pair. I hate them and avoid wearing them even when it would make sense to do so. You'd think boots are a good bet for hiking in rainy weather. I'd rather wear sneakers and have wet toes than stuff my feet into boots. Pedal Claustrophobia! Unhappy feet, unhappy me. Well a light bulb lit the other day when yet again I stood snooping the shoe racks at Good Will. Why Oh Why am I drooling over a pair of metalic silver Converse All Stars I absolutely do not need, yet am too cheap to pay out the $20 bucks for such an obviously AWESOME ride? I am also, in this process, preoccupied with an urge to buy shoes for my boys. So there is the clue. This is one of those things that shows up from a formative experience growing up. When I started elementary school, I got one pair of shoes, which usually happened to be Redwing boots, to last the whole year. I don't remember having any other shoes; yes we were poor at the time. So I don't like boots to this day. I dislike dress shoes because my first pair, over which we made a great fuss because it was such a big financial move, hurt my feet. I like canvas tennis shoes because of good memories in P.E. class. I cringe to throw away a pair of shoes that still have life in them, no matter how grungy they get, because of a neurotic insecurity about having shoes to wear at all. I like going barefooted because it is one answer to the shoe question. Who needs them, anyway? And of course I love to give shoes to my own children. Lots of them! Even if they roll their eyes. But I'm happy they love shoes for the simple sake of feeling good in them. So Dad can be silly. Does this scratch my itch about shoes? Naw! There is still room in the closet!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

I found a lost marble on my walk yesterday. A swirl of red and green, on white. Right away I felt a soft leather bag in my hand, weighed down with Grampa Smitty's marbles. I heard the rattle of glass, marbles large and small, plus the clink of a steely in the mix. The bag smells like an old baseball glove. I loosen the leather thong and dump the marbles on the rag rug. I see cat eyes, swirls of solid colors, little sapphire, ruby, and emerald spheres. There is an oversized bomb that looks like a many colored candy jawbreaker. By the way, I am now nine years old. The bag of marbles is my inheritance. Many of the marbles have chips in them, scars from warfare waged maybe during the Great Depression. I wonder if the phrase "losing your marbles" comes from those childhood contests, from a sad walk home with a lighter bag. I know I will never risk these treasures in combat. Like mist the memory dissolves. I am old again. Where are my marbles? Where are grampa's marbles? I have lost them. Literally, I have lost my marbles. Somewhere in the chaos of a splintering family, many moves, and time's torrent they are gone. But here is one. Someone else's lost marble. I will keep it. Just as someone, somewhere, keeps mine. Reassurance. Grace.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

I had an unexpected but welcome drive through beautiful wine country today. My errand was to meet my boss at a church in a nearby town and deliver two black clerical robes, which belong to me, to my District Superintendent for loan to visiting bishops and clergy at General Conference. Many of them were unable to pack their robes, so asked for some local ones to borrow. What is really nice about that is that one of the robes was given to me by Harrell Guard, a dear friend who passed away several years ago. Harrell was a big, physical guy, red-headed, jovial, tough, and a survivor of polio, so faced pain and physical limitations daily. He also had served various roles in the greater United Methodist connection, and, if he were here, would be excited about our whole wide world General Conference coming to Portland. Where footprints comes in is like this -- at my former parish, Harrell put me on his donut delivery rounds. Once a week I would hear his distinctive tread coming up the stairs, through the fellowship hall, and up to my office. He always sang happily to himself while doing this, a meandering, tuneless "Doot de doot de doooo". As his footsteps drew near, I would look up and see his smiling face peeking through my open door. I would invite him in, and immediately receive a fresh apple fritter on my desk. Then he would sit and visit, listening in a unique and caring way to whatever I needed to share in the moment. To say he was one of my best friends ever hardly describes how special and important he was to me and my family. Anyway, somehow Harrell had inherited a black, Wesley-style clerical gown from someone. The robe was brand new, a rather expensive make, and a size 61, tailored for a very tall person. I wear a size 54, to give you an idea of the difference. Of course I can never wear it without tripping all over myself. But now, that gown is on the way to Portland, where I hope some very tall bishop or pastor from another country will be delighted to find a beautiful robe just his or her size, ready to wear for whatever occasion is needed at General Conference. Harrell, when he gave me the robe, asked me to keep it for some unspecified use or gift to another pastor. I've kept it in my closet for a number of years, and never came across a need for it until now. As Harrell was involved in the governance of the church in previous years, I think he would be pleased with the use the robe will be put to. And may it infuse compassion, caring, and good horse sense to the person who wears it! (The second robe on loan is my 35 year old, care-worn garment I've used my whole ministry career. Whoever puts that one on might feel like he/she got the bottom of the barrel. Then again, it might cause the wearer to want to grab the nearest available electric guitar and attempt to rock General Conference.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

I’ve kept my eyes open and my feet moving lately, but as it turns out a good footprints story belongs to someone else’s feet this time. This is a story about a wedding. This event was a lot of fun, with two families from worlds apart connecting because a couple of their young adults fell in love. The congregation numbered about 50, fairly equally split between white Americans on the groom's side and bronze and brown Cambodians on the bride's side. We had to have rehearsal for the Saturday wedding on Thursday night late, because the couple would have a Cambodian wedding ceremony on Friday evening, the usual time for wedding rehearsal. So we were missing a few of the wedding party on Thursday, most significantly the flower girls and ring bearer. Come Saturday the children came with their families. We would have a very young, short little boy, Anthony, in a vested pin-stripped suit with a clip-on tie, a second-generation Cambodian, serve as the first of three flower children. He would enter first, followed by a pair of equally adorable little girls, Angela, a doll not much taller than Anthony, and Jessica, a twiggy 12-year old cutie with jug ears and hipster glasses, and a glowing smile. None of the children had the opportunity to practice their bit. So, as I like to say, we cannot do anything wrong, so whatever happens, happens. The groom's white, nervous mom is seated; then the bride's mellow, dignified Cambodian mom is seated (after the young woman who was in her spot figured out she needed to scoot over). I then walked up to the chancel steps with a terrified groom. Pachelbel's Canon is cued up on the sound system; I nod to the Wedding Coordinator to begin the processional. Anthony steps into the doorway of the sanctuary, and stands at the head of the aisle leading up to the chancel. All eyes turn to look at him. He glances around the room, and at all the eager faces looming over his head. Then he calmly plucks a single red rose petal from the small basket he is carrying in his right hand. He holds the petal up in his left hand, studies it for moment, looks down at a place on the carpet, and gently drops the petal on the aisle. He continues to do this for each and every petal. He thoughtfully places each and every one, as though each petal has an opinion that must be respected. Step by step, petal by petal, a white one, a pink one, another red one, he slooooowwwwwlllllly makes his way up the aisle. At last he reaches the step up to the platform, where the groom and I are waiting. He continues to take one step and drop one petal right up to the shoes of the groom. Anthony would have kept going right to the far back wall, except that I knelt down, told him he did an awesome job, and gently turned him around to stand and face the congregation, right next to the groom. By now, the song has run down and Kyle, my sound guy, has looped it up again from the beginning. Now is the time for the flower girls to come in. Since their only model was Anthony, they assume that how he did it is how they should do it. So now two little girls are slooooowwwlllly coming down the aisle, dropping one rose petal at a time, apiece.  A wonderful thing has happened while the little ones are savoring each beautiful moment, step by step, petal by petal, and Palchelbel's Canon is looping on endlessly. Everyone is smiling. And all the white Americans and brown Cambodians are smiling at each other, and together. From then on, we could do nothing but have a spectacular wedding. At the conclusion, when I pronounced the couple husband and wife, I needed to very quietly ask them what they had decided to do about the kiss. At the rehearsal, the bride felt too shy to practice that part . . . not something one would do in Cambodia, in front of family and friends. So we left rehearsal undecided, with options to smile, hug, high five, spin around and fist bump, or whatever. Now the moment is upon them. The groom is facing the bride, who is lovely in her beautiful white gown, a gossamer veil still over her face. I whisper, "What did you decide?" The groom, who has looked and stood nearly petrified during the whole ceremony, suddenly grows very animated and says, loudly, "We are going to kiss!" Then he lifts his bride's veil and plants one. Applause and cheering ensue. I am so breathless with wonder that I can barely utter the blessing. After the recessional, I thought rose petals in the aisle of the church looked so lovely and so special I asked the folks to please leave them for the people on Sunday morning to see and enjoy. “Are you sure?” “Yes, I am sure.” * * * Come Sunday, several people felt nervous that the floor was littered with now dried up rose petals. I gently forbade any of them from getting out a vacuum, and assured them there was a reason for the petals to be there, and it had to do with a very sweet and special wedding held in our sanctuary the day before. So people came in to worship wondering about the rose petals, and many looking forward to a story. So I told the story of the beautiful wedding, just as we were gathering for worship, having entered the sanctuary with rose petals at our feet. When I finished, the whole congregation applauded. As was completely correct.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

So, I am out and about the other afternoon and got a deep, spiritual craving for potato chips. But I have no actual cash or spare change, and decide it would be silly to use my debit card for such a small and selfish purpose. So I manned up and decided to tough out the afternoon without potato chips. Sort of. Because I also planned to stop at BiMart for a cheap wine purchase, and realized I could easily add a bag of chips on that purchase. So I get to BiMart and it happens to be Lucky Number Tuesday. In case you don't know about this, every Tuesday at BiMart you can see if your membership card number matches the selections of the week and maybe win something. The numbers are seven digits long, so the odds aren't good for winning any of the big prizes, like a power saw or a tent or a microwave or such. But there is a low tier prize level if you match the last digit of your card. So I walk in and check the number board, and behold the winning number is 2, which is the last number on my card. So I win! I win . . . potato chips! Such small things stand as proof that God loves me and wants me to be happy.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

So, on this beautiful sunny, dry day I let my road bike out of the stable for a ride in the wine country. I had no other aim but to get out and move and metabolize some much needed vitamin D. I had, for the moment, given up on my small quest to hear a strange, disturbing, high-pitched sound that has puzzled residents of Forest Grove for a few days. The story of the unexplained racket has been picked up on national networks; theories as to the source of the sound abound, and no one has figured it out. Last night, after a meeting, I drove around the neighborhood where the sound has been heard; I let my windows down, shivered a bit in the cool shadows beneath a cloud shrouded moon, and . . . heard nothing. So I came home and forgot about it. Anyway, today, I'm about two miles into my bike ride, 3:30 in the afternoon, just getting warmed up, the sun low in the sky and causing me to squint like a mole . . . when a harsh, multi-high pitched sort of shriek drops on me from seemingly everywhere. The noise was absolutely awesome and genuinely disturbing. Now keep in mind I am whizzing along at nearly twenty miles an hour, which is enough to produce a doppler shift effect with a sound from a stationary source. Ordinarily. This noise continued for about three seconds, constant in tone. This is one of the strangest things I've come across. I can understand why folks are a bit freaked out. Someone will probably figure out what is causing the noise before too long. But I kind of hope not. It probably isn't someone harvesting immature mandrakes, even though I did hear the sound while cycling by a local nursery . . .

Friday, February 12, 2016

So, I was practicing what I call Goodwill Hunting a few days back, this time on the prowl for a pair of running shoes. I stopped in about every day for over a week to check the shoe aisle. Day passed to a week with no luck -- close on size, but not quite right, some the right size but bad brand for me or a little too tread worn. So eventually one afternoon I walk in, head straight for the shoes, and a staff lady walks up whistling and sets a perfect pair of Asics Gel Nimbus VIIs, a neutral support shoe of the type I wear, in hand's reach. They probably sat on the rack for about two strides worth of time before I picked them up, discovered them to have never been run in, and the perfect size 10.5. This happened on a Wednesday, so with my senior discount I got them for $17.99. At home, I did a search and found the shoes were the new model about ten years ago, and sold for $120.00 new. So I have kind of a like-new pair of vintage running shoes. I've taken them out and they are great, the shoe almost identical to a pair I did my first marathon training in. So anyway, I have this feeling the shoes were waiting in their box in someone's closet for a decade until they could get to me. So then I start wondering what the story is. Did someone buy two pairs, as was common advice back then -- either meaning to rotate them, or because the buyer knew the company would modify the shoe the next year and the new one would not fit as well? I have had that happen, then couldn't get what had been my perfect shoe. Or did a person make a New Year's resolution to run a marathon, and these were the shoes they never got to wear because will failed or they got too sick or got divorced or had a death in the family, or died themselves, and a partner or parent or child kept them all these years in memory until they realized the shoes had a chance for a life - and maybe I am running someone's race they never got to start? Whatever the back story is, the continuing tale will be told now by my footsteps. Perhaps I'll have some really interesting experiences to share as I get back to the roads and trails. I'll be watching with extra anticipation during this season of Lent.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My mom has been on my mind the last week, which included the anniversary of her death on January 4th. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was a favorite birding place of my mother's, so I was thinking of that place and her love of birds and unspoiled places. Not long ago I read about how invasive common carp have infested the Malheur Reservoir, destroyed much of the wetland habitat favorable to migrating birds, and so reduced the seasonal populations drastically. The carp were apparently introduced into the waters with some benefit to people in mind. Now they have to go, but getting them gone is tricky. Can't just poison them without hurting a lot of other creatures. So the hope is that fisher people will take bait, rod and reel to them and hoist them out one at a time. Hardly anyone likes to eat carp in these parts, though, no matter the claim that they taste like cod. Once, on a fishing and birding outing with mom at Fern Ridge Reservoir in Eugene, she snagged a 12 pound beast on her little spinning rig. She took about 15 minutes to land it, with last second help from me hoisting it to the reedy pond bank. We took it home and cooked up some fillet of bottom feeder, and if that tasted like cod I'm a Beaver. Well since then some folks have made themselves invasive to the habitat. Kind of like carp, they are quiet bulky entities that can't seem to help being what they are. Their reasoning about the U.S. Constitution and Congress's role in land management is terrible, not based on history or fact; but their beliefs override any other view and so there will be no changing their minds. Unfortunately, what they are doesn't fit the context of American life any more than carp fit in the Malheur Reservoir. They probably won't go home if politely asked any more than a bull carp would. At the moment, there are only a few of them and they won't do much damage if let be. But if they reproduce, then we would have a problem. For starters, I recommend rising to the surface where there is light and a clear view of our Constitution. If there is no other positive to be had at the moment, my getting a prompt to read the document for myself was fantastic. It is really quite amazing. I think Captain Moroni and Co. must be reading it through magic glasses that only let them see what they already believe in and feed their minds on, which amounts to stuff on the bottom.