Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Memorable 4th

In a way, this story begins on July 4, 2000. That's the summer one of our children had just moved to the hinterlands of New England -- actually, Boston -- and I was pining over the separation. I was also a bit uneasy about the unknowns of a big, eastern city and a child (albeit adult child) who was settling there alone. Graduate school was a couple of months away and, well, I felt helpless.

That Independence Day evening I turned on the television and we -- Cathy and I -- sat down to watch the big, 4th of July Gala with the Boston Pops from the bandshell on the banks of the Charles River. Funny, but every time I think about the beautiful trails along that river, I start mentally singing, "Down by the river; down by the banks of the River Charles...Well I love that dirty water; Oh, Boston, you're my home!" But that's another story.

Anyway, Cathy and I were sitting there, watching the Pops play their patriotic songs when I turned to her. "I want to be there next year and watch that concert in person," I said wistfully.

Sure enough, after lots of planning and saving, we gathered with all three of our children, spouses, some friends and Cathy's parents in Boston on July 4th 2001. Someone went early in the day to secure us a spot with good views of the bandshell. The concert is free and people show up with all sorts of shade structures to mark their territory for the evening concert.

That year was very warm on the 4th and most of us didn't even get to town until that afternoon. Combine the heat, the excitement, the travel (5 of us crowded into a small suite in Providence the night before and slept lightly, at best) fatigue and we were exhausted by the time the concert started.

The big-name guests that year were part of a funny memory. Being the middle generation supposedly left us to explain some things that the older and younger ones didn't know. One of our daughters: "Who's Debbie Reynolds?" Cathy's parents: "Who's Cyndi Lauper?" Our son, who knew about both stars, was far more impressed when he looked up in the afternoon and noticed Penn Jillette of "Penn and Teller" fame standing a few yards away. Me: "Who's Penn and Teller?"

I wrote this on Saturday afternoon. Not sure what the evening holds, but I may watch a bit of the Pops on TV this evening. If not, I'll just remember with a smile.

"Well, I love that dirty water..."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Happy Birthday and Thanks!

There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet an enemy.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Elbridge Gerry, Jan. 29, 1780

It is my privilege to serve alongside scores of families who, as members of our military and Homeland Security, help keep us prepared. Thank you all!

Happy Independence Day, United States of America!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What Was That, part 2

Continued from yesterday...

I carefully unzipped the flap and peeked out of our sleeping area to see a fully grown skunk rummaging through the stuff in the outer room of our tent. As it rubbed against the thin, nylon wall that separated us, I stood with the axe at the ready position. Now I was afraid to scare or intimidate the little animal, knowing what it was capable of. On the other hand, if it was aggressive enough to come this far, I wasn't sure what it might do next.

Fully awake, I waited as it turned over gear and tried to get into anything that smelled interesting. It seemed to take forever! Finally, convinced that nothing was worth further investigation, it sauntered out. When the rest of the family awoke the next morning, none of them was aware we had a problem.

That night, however, we all had a skunk experience. A heavy thunderstorm drove us into the cooking tent for dinner. We had little room to sit, so most of us stood around, eating our food and listening to the rain as it pelted down. Suddenly, a skunk was nosing around just outside! We grew quiet and still, sure that it wouldn't enter our lantern-lit room.


Impervious to our presence, that stinkin' thing walked right inside the tent with about ten of us standing there. It wandered around as we waited, stock still, scared that we might upset it. Finally, it left, moseyed around the rest of our campsite and departed into the night.

I have no idea if we caught any fish that trip. I remember little of our conversations and I don't know what we ate. I just remember skunks.

I was never so glad to head back to "civilization."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What Was That?

My recent, mountain fishing trip with some of the men from our church awakened old memories. After fifteen-plus years, I returned to a place that has loomed large among my camping/fishing memories.

The place where we camped is called a "river." For those of you in parts of the world where rain is common and regular, the term "river" conjures up mental pictures of wide, deep expanses of moving water. I remember my awe the first time I saw the Mississippi. I can think of highway bridges that seem to go on forever just to get across those places.

Well, in this case, "river" is something many of you might call "stream", "creek", or "crick", depending on what part of the country you call home. Here, where some highway bridges cross dry, sandy, washes that have the name "river" proudly listed on a sign, this is definitely a "river". Forget that you could jump over it in many places (if it hasn't rained recently).

At about 7,500 feet (about 2,300 meters to my European friends), this is the habitat of trout (both stocked and native) and (this year) a plenteous assortment of crawdads. It's also the natural habitat of a variety of birds and animals. It's a species of the latter that scurried to the front of my memory last week.

You see, a little over fifteen years ago, our family went to this same location for a vacation. Cathy and I, along with our children, were joined by my brother's family and our mom. We found an open area, pitched tents, and set up our camp with great joy.

During those days, my brother (who had spent a season as a hunting guide) loved to build a small village of tents for sleeping, eating and (occasionally) playing. If I remember correctly, on this particular trip, he erected a sleeping tent for his (then) tiny family as well as a food tent for cooking and (if necessary) eating during a summer rain shower. Cathy and I erected our own little tent, and I believe we had a tent for our mom. At least one or two of our children slept in our conversion van.

During the first or second night, Cathy and I were snuggled in our warm sleeping bags, when, in the middle of the night, something rubbed up against the outside of our nylon tent. "What was that?" she asked as I awoke, groggy. Whatever it was didn't go away, but moved to another side of the tent and kept investigating. Could it have been a bear? (This was bear country!)

I slapped my boot against the inside of the tent wall and yelled, "Get out of here!" Instead of leaving, the animal obviously made its way into the outer room of our tent, which didn't have a floor and could be reached by crawling under the door flap. Now, I was really scared. Was it coming in after us?

I grabbed a small axe, the only weapon at my disposal, and made it ready as I unzipped the flap from our sleeping room enough to shine a light into the outer room. There it was! My fear turned to sheer terror!

(to be continued...)

Monday, June 29, 2009


I was about Jr. High age when I first walked up to a pinball machine, dropped in a coin and started trying to score enough points to keep playing. I found I enjoyed the game and over the years have occasionally returned to a machine to spend a few, fun minutes competing.

I remember my surprise, though, when I first stood to the side and watched somebody masterful play. With deft touch, great players could just about make that machine stand on its side without the cursed "Tilt" lighting up. It seemed that I simply shifted my weight from one foot to the other and the whole screen would go blank as I watched the ball drop meekly out of my sight.

As a follower of Christ and as a pastor, I often see something go "Tilt" in the world of Christianity. For instance, there's the Bible study material a friend wanted me to look over. The more I read it, the more I felt my own internal "Tilt" light coming on. The problem was not so much in the doctrinal views espoused by the writer as by the authoritarian way they were presented. I get very cautious any time someone comes along with their pet interpretation of Scripture and communicates that no other view but theirs is right.

"Do you realize that scholars have studied the Scriptures over the centuries and arrived at different interpretations than this author?" I added, "Do you know that each of them backs their view with Scripture?" My friend was somewhat surprised to discover this and I'm not sure how this information will affect his use of the material.

Another "Tilt" situation happened just recently. I received an email from another state in which I was told about a Christian young lady who has grown very interested -- almost "I do" interested -- in a Christian young man whom her dad has found unacceptable. Someone wrote to ask me how to help this young couple navigate this situation.

I gave standard answers about how to approach the matter and, hopefully, reconcile the matter in a way that will be good for all. Then I found out more information. It seems the young lady is from a church that has set itself up as the end authority in every part of life. Their views run counter to almost every evangelical church in the world, but they have set themselves up as a small remnant who are right while everyone else is wrong. The only way the young man can ever be approved is to fall lockstep into their ranks.


Hot, June Night

"You give in to yourself too much," my mom told me when I was young. I often complained about felling sick when I was in Jr. High, especially when I didn't want to face whatever was happening at school. Mom's words have stuck with me these 45 years since she first said them and they serve as a stark reminder on occasion.

Like Saturday night...

...when I woke up a little before 1 a.m. and felt hot. I got up and checked the thermostat in the hallway outside our bedroom door. It said 81 degrees. It was set for 75. And the air conditioner was blowing like nobody's business. Warm air!

Living in the desert can be beautiful and comfortable. Many people who move here from "cold country" say they like it here because they find sunshine easier to shovel than snow. I never live in panic about our heater breaking down in the winter. In fact, we hardly use it.

The summer is another matter. A house that's a comfortable, dry mid-seventies can go to the mid-nineties in a few afternoon hours. I can tell you, it's miserable. And when you call your A/C repairman, you can have to wait a looooong time before he can get to you...

...because he's fixing your neighbor's unit. Or, like yesterday. Because it's Sunday!

I was hot as I prepared to leave for our first church service. I was feeling a panic come on. I wanted the thing fixed. Now! Cathy, ever practical, questioned how much more it would cost us to fix it on Sunday when we could perhaps spend the night with friends and get our repair company over Monday. Internally, I felt the sting: "You're giving in to yourself." I prayed, decided I would rather God take charge of this timetable and left for worship.

A couple attend our first service and she just happens to work for our A/C company. Cathy and I agreed that I would ask her how much their Sunday rate was. They weren't there yesterday!

I called Cathy, who was still at home. She said she would take the next step and find out much it would actually cost to have someone out on Sunday. Amazingly, it wasn't that much!

The house was cool again by the time we returned from church services.

I shouldn't have panicked.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Meaning of "Fishing"

First, a personal note to my sister Vicki, who kindly hoped I would have better luck fishing than our dad did. She obviously remembers the times he didn't catch much, but I tend to remember the times he did great and I remember the smile fishing brought to him -- it was a way he truly relaxed.

And my fishing? Well, I drove about 900 miles round trip to fish one day and my luck wasn't any better than dad's (on his bad days), but...

1. I got to spend three days with about 20 great guys from our church. I don't know some of these guys all that well and I really enjoyed it.

2. I stayed in the motor home with my accountability partner LJ and we had a super time to think about our lives. He's a tiny bit older than me and we both told story after story about our lives up 'til now.

3. I saw some of the most beautiful country on the planet and it rained and it was COOL. The daily highs were in the 60s. It's 109 at 5:30 Saturday afternoon as I write this back at home.

Cathy's cooking fish for supper. She probably bought it at the grocery store.