Saturday, December 27, 2014

Celebrating

During this season when people around the world celebrate a holiday that has evolved out of an accumulation many festivities, I and my family celebrate Christmas, the memory of the birth of Jesus.  During this season one sees an uncountable number of ways to celebrate Christmas, from lights and music in areas where the reason for Christmas is hardly known to frantic shoppers whose ancestors have repeated the story of Jesus' birth numerous times to worshippers gathering to sing songs and worship Jesus and his God.

I have been and still am among the latter for seventy years.  Each year I learn more about the holiday and every year more traditions are added to the holiday to the point that the Christian reason for the season has faded to only a small spark among a decreasing number of people.  I wrote in a earlier blog about peeling away the excess to get to the true meaning of Christmas or any other tradition that matters.

Neither theology nor philosophy have ever been my forte, even though at one time I referred to myself as a mathematician, and early Greeks who wrote of mathematics were called philosophers.  Thomas Jefferson was one whom I chose as a philosopher for a paper during my Masters studies even though he probably never is found on a list of famous great philosophers.  Jefferson was chosen because he was a thinker, famous for other reasons, and not one who limited his thinking to philosophy.  Perhaps he remains my model but far above my frail capabilities.  So my thoughts pale among great thinkers and yet I continue to think.

On Christmas Day we attended a service in a Catholic church.  The service was full of traditions with which I am familiar and have held in high value.  It also included many actions with which I am not familiar.  As I reached for the meaning of Christmas or the reason for the life of Jesus or the message of Jesus, I saw much I could peel off to reach the essence of Christmas.  Chants, artifacts, postures and words created by man to define a relationship of God, most of which was unfamiliar to me, were all a part of this rite.

Even as I peel away this features, I appreciate and celebrate the vitality these features bring people, God's people.  These celebrations strengthen men and women and encourage them to strive to be better.  If only we could find the common denominator of all faiths and philosophies to improve the plight of all people.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Removing Excess

     The discussion at the Advent gathering last evening focused on a theme similar to the prior week when we discussed the reaction to losses and how it opened up new opportunities.  And what can we get rid of to streamline our lives and eliminate the things that hold us back?  This evening we started with a question, what could we give up of our past that would allow the future to be better.  I held my tongue because I'm a private person and fear that I do not articulate my thoughts very well. but also because I feel my thoughts and words would have been similar to talking about the existence of Santa Claus before a believing child.

     What transition am I amid that would render me different and hopefully better?  I continue to question everything: why are there seven days in a week, why is church service at 11:00AM, why do some churches serve Communion weekly while others do it monthly and some even just a few times in a year, like at Christmas and Easter?  Why do we do a Christmas tree, lights, ornaments?  How does this express love for either God or our neighbors? 

     Decorating with people is what Gail talked about in her Moment of Concern at church Sunday.  It was one of the devotions from our Advent calendar.  It's about sharing love with others even at the cost of not following some of the Christmas traditions.

     What I'm thinking is both so different than the traditions with which I grew up and yet so consistent with the values that I have come to cherish.  Why should I have to wait for some ordained person to offer me the opportunity to share a meal with my God or to remember how sharing a meal is the essence of sharing one's self?  I shouldn't have to wait for a paper from the government so that I enter into a relationship of love with another.  I shouldn't have to wait for the dark of winter to give of myself to others.  I shouldn't have to wait for a new calendar from the hardware store to resolve that I am going to respect the environment and help others less fortunate than I.

     Strip away the glister and the lights, the rites and the traditions, the controversial stories and theology, and just love God and our friends and foes.  Love God with a smile at sunrise and sunset, when a bird flies by or a tree waves in the breeze.  Love God at all times counting your blessings.  Love God by loving life and all those around you.


     Now you understand why I hesitate to say anything at the gathering.  I ramble.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What is Religion?

Religion is a scary topic to non-believers and sacred to those who do believe.  It must be an awfully powerful word to either scare or embrace people.

As I become one of those person whom I myself doubt, those who translate the words of the scripture, whether the Bible in its many versions, the Tora, the Koran or any other sacred writings, I find myself revisiting writings and reflecting on the value, the source and the meaning of these words.  So much of what we do is through words especially communicating with others but also in formulating our own values and sense of purpose.  Words are another creation of humans, much like religion is a creation on humans.  I didn't say God was created by humans, God exists regardless of humans' behavior or theories.

What we accept as valid, not even what we believe, but what we accept as a standard is not beyond questioning.  Seven days in a week?  Certainly, the Bible says through the creation story that God created everything including humankind in six days and rested on the seventh.  But who penned that story and with what validity?  But the entire world abides by this standard.  Really?

In a practical sense, it makes sense, just a sleeping or resting at the end of each day.  Our bodies and the bodies of most living organisms go through a cycle of extending energy and conserving energy.  So we rest on one our of seven days.  Actually we rest two out of seven, and we declare that the work of a week should be limited to 40 hours, almost as if it sacred and ordained of God.  Speaking of hours, did God ordain them also.  This makes sense, but why drag it into religion?

Religion is a ordered set of guidelines or rules and rites or traditions that one believes in.  Relating to God, and following God's intent is different, even though we fuse them together.  Even the Bible with its thousand of words and centuries of scrutiny primarily speaks of God's will for us is to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). (Your God? Do each of us have an individual God?  Again words become our nemesis.)  Jesus' paraphrase or restatement of our calling is to love God with all you have and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22: 27), which is so similar to the Golden Rule that most organized religions also quote and paraphrase.

Wouldn't it be awesome if we could peel away all the clutter of religion, or religions, and follow those simple straight forward concepts, even to let the man-made words to fall aside and just love as Jesus did.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What is God?

It's Advent, which some denominations consider the beginning of the church year; I've declared a new phase in my life to be less busy and more reflective, so I will start writing about some aspects of religion and "the church."

Why not start with God.  There are numerous writings about "What is God", "Who is God", "Knowing God" and countless others.  To become a minister in the Presbyterian Church, and I suspect in many other denominations, one must write a statement of faith.  Many, actually most, model their statement after the Apostles Creed which I remember reciting in church every Sunday as a child.  I believe in God the father, the son and the holy spirit or holy ghost.  I've heard said that the Trinity is the basis for our faith; without the belief in the "three persons" our faith could not exist.

Let's start there.  First, the Holy Spirit is difficult to understand and often plays an inferior role to the other two, even by those who profess the equality of the three.  Perhaps the Holy SPirit is merely our explanation of God influencing our lives.  Maybe a distinct individual is not a fact but our way of understanding and explaining a part of God's behavior.

Now we're down to two, and many persons and religions question whether Jesus was God or a great influential teacher.  Perhaps it doesn't matter what Jesus was, just that his message of love is relevant and powerful.  Besides if Jesus is the son of God and we are the children of God, how are we different than Jesus with regard to our relationship to God?  Are we not created in the image of God or are we a lesser sampling of the image of God?  We don't have to give up the message of Jesus by not considering Jesus God.

Now we're down to just God which is consistent with many other religions of the world.  If there's one God and all religions have some form of doctrine around the Golden Rule of "doing to others as you would have them do to you" maybe there are more similarities than differences among religions.  After all even those who claim Jesus as a source of their religious beliefs and doctrines have major differences.  Maybe we need to look beyond our family tree of religions for advice and consultation.

Finally there remains the question of the actual existence of a God.  Personally, as often as I try to claim there is no God, I find myself reflecting that God does exist.  However, I heard Steve King, the author, say recently in an interview that he believes in God because if God does exist, he's got it right and if God doesn't exist, he'll never know when he dies.  Another statement that I've heard repeated frequently, and probably only recently heeded its value or importance, is that as broken human beings we need to believe that there is a higher power that will help us be unbroken.  That in itself does not mean that there is a God, only that we think we need a God to exist to fulfill our lives.

So what would I include in my statement of faith?  There is a God.  It's that same God that all persons call God by their many different names and is described by their many different theologies.  Jesus is an awesome teacher as were Mohamed and Buddha and Moses and possibly but not necessarily God.  It's a continuous journey and with every moment there's an opportunity to understand more.  I rejoice with the seekers and sojourners and suffer for those who think they have reached the end of the journey and nothing can or will change.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

New Inspiration

Don't you just love it when someone, someone people seem to respect, stands in front of an audience and says what you are thinking and would like to say, and because the speaker has done research and has significant credentials, your thoughts transform from random to meaningful and supported.

While Dr Punya Mishra from Michigan State University. talked on different topics during his day of meetings, he hit a chord with me in the evening.  In part he suggested that math should be a fine arts subject in education.  It's fun, it's beautiful, it's creative - even though we have convinced our selves that two plus two is rigidly and always 4, but black is black in art and quiet and loud are always quiet and loud in music.

His idea of a mathematical word problem was similar to my idea of a good word problem.  He suggested panning the audience with a video camera, showing the clip to the students and having them estimate the number of persons in the room and their weights.  Mine is simply to ask long long does it take to get from here to Salem [Oregon].  In my case they would have to make and explain their assumptions regarding distance, speed, and mode of transportation.  These questions are much more authentic then when do two trains meet if they depart different towns at different times traveling at different speeds.

He also spoke of creativity, problem solving and critical thinking, a few of my favorite passions.  To emphasize his point he showed a Powerpoint slide of the word "creativity" which was the same upside down as it was right side up.  These ambigrams were the subject of an article by Martin Gardner in Scientific American some 40 years ago.  I have also created several ambigrams of family names as well.

One of his opening slides was "Creativity is not a talent, it is a way of operating."  His theme was around creativity, decreased creativity among school children and the need to foster creativity.  Amen.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Glorify

Our recently hired pastor at our church, Pastor Becky, will be installed at her installation service Sunday.  She's been grooming us as a congregation with songs that she will include in the service.  She's send our invitations and forwarded the order of service to all participating.  There seems to be a theme: what is the purpose of life.  This is evidenced by the collection of maxims on that theme.

One which is scriptural or Biblical and a part of the catechism has to do with glorifying God.  Glorifying is one of those words only used in church and religion, and seldom do we ask what it means in terms of people who don't attend churches.

Several weeks ago I was inspired to identify a path around our yard for daily aerobic walks.  Walking has always sounded like a good idea and walking on the road seems logical and reasonable.  However, the walk up the driveway to the road, a rather steep stroll, had us exhausted and discouraged and in pain before we turned onto the road.  Walking on the driveway around the sequoia tree was more level but monotonously short and one was always turned a corner.  So clearly some branches, mowed grass and created a walk around the house and barn and garden and over to the pond.  It's about a fifth of a mile and several daily laps seemed to be filling a great void.

As I grew up on the farm my exercise was farm work and there was plenty of that.  While raising a young family on a subsistence farmette in remote Alaska there was plenty of exercise splitting firewood, caring for the livestock, maintaining a garden and putting up food.  Extra exercise wasn't necessary there either.  However, sitting in front of a computer screen the past twenty has suggested an exercise regime would be advisable.  Walking seems most pleasing and beneficial.

I discovered that as I walked I could exercise my arms, my hands and my mind.  I could pray, plan the day and philosophize.  So today's topic was, "What does it mean to glorify God?"  Some shout, some dance, some pray, some raise their arms, some sit quietly.  My thoughts rolled around until what seemed like the best answer to me was to just appreciate what I have, where I am, whom I see.  God doesn't need me kill a lamb, one of God's creatures, to glorify God.  God doesn't need me to follow what others think if glorifying God by dancing and raising my arms.  I think God is glorified, honored, respected, praised when I look at a tree and go "Wow, what a wonderful creation."  When I look at the stars and internalize God's love for little me in such a vast "forever."  When I look at another person and see God and a neighbor, someone to love.

In this simple romanticized answer a natural question is how does war fit this thought.  Again I oversimplify my response with "There are people who don't see beauty in trees or people."

Outside the window before me is a beautiful scene, created by God, despite my intervention to chance the landscape, and every second it chanced with the moving breeze, the changing lighting from clouds and sunlight, and changing colors through days and seasons.  Thank-you all who offer my comfort and peace.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Fall is Coming

The weather remains summer-like, dry with day temperature in the eighties, but it feels like fall is coming.  Maybe it's the earlier sunsets.  Maybe it's the appearance of the fall crocus yesterday.  Maybe it's the maturing of the garden, the ripening and gathering of blackberries and raspberries and the grapes  turning color.  Maybe it's just an instinct as people talk about school starting soon and church choir starting up again.  Maybe it's the undeniable aging of a man who has enjoyed seventy years of life.

I could fuss about what's not going well or I could dwell on the great blessings of life.  Our full grown mature has but one pear, yes, just one, we counted them, this year, however, the younger pear tree with its five varieties grafted into in base - only two varieties remain - is over loaded.  The Barlett variety seem nearly ready for picking while the Oriental variety are rock hard and far from being scrumptious.  The blackberries which grow in the neighbor's ground and hang over our sagging fence within easy reach for me especially if I use a ladder.  With long sleeves and a heavy gloves, I gently move the vines within reach so the other hand can pluck the berries.  Blackberries don't ripen all at the same time so once a week I pick again the vines I picked the week before.  Washed and spread out on a cookie sheet, the berries are frozen and bagged before being stored for the winter.

The cycle of the year, at least as years have presented themselves in the last decade, suggests that I will soon be returning to the front of a university classroom, this fall to teach Website Design to and for teachers.  I have always looked forward to this time of the year, in fact for many years there was no break as I taught year round.  Now I ponder if I even want to teach another term past this fall.  I love the benefits of teaching, first and foremost working with students, but I regret and try to deny, I'm tired.

For now I bramble on about the arrival of fall and give thanks for the health and energy I do have.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Pictures of Final Work Day

Enroute Home

This will be the final post of our adventure in Honduras. In the planning development is a video which will be posted later.
Now is the time to pull together the thoughts and reactions of the previous week. Again I feel as if my reactions may not reflect those of the entire group. We would agree that we didn't have much interactions with the locals and that we worked very hard and there was clear evidence that the construction of the church moved forward. We'd probably agree that the accommodations were pleasant and comfortable and that our driver made us feel ore comfortable with his interpreting for us than his driving; but he hit nothing and none of us fell out so that is good also.
The team members were all very hard working and very compatible and we know each other better but I very reached the point of close friends or family; never was a hug exchanged. Everyone provided care for each other and were concerned about their safety and well being.
Personally I'm wrestling with some of the rituals, symbolism and interpretations of Christian churches and leaders. For example we visited the Basilica de Suyapa, a huge Catholic Church in Tegucigalpa. Why would we as a society out so much money into a structure when were is so much poverty, hunger and disease in the world. To the glory of God. I no longer think God wants our money or extravagance; God, if there is one, wants us to demonstrate the love God has for us.
So where does that out me. During the week I have been reading Brian McLaren, a modern Methodist theologian, although the word theologian in itself is scary, I'd rather think of him as a reasonable person carefully reading the Bible and writing about his understanding of its stories. He supports the idea to be alive in God is to be in service, and do it without arrogance. I hope that I have responded to all that I was called to do this week and that I did quietly with no call for recognition. I hope that my feelings and caring for each of the workers was genuine and serious, and was received in that spirit.
We came to work and during the week we received bruises and bumps, bled a little, ached at times and sweat in the heat of the sun. We bent lower with heavier loads then we have for some time, many forever. I saw no crying but we felt the pain of the workers whose shoe's sole fell off and labor was heavy, now we return to our comfortable homes and we have to ask: what's difference did we make this week in expanding God's kingdom. And when we think we have found the answer, we have failed in the expansion.
Forty thousand feet below lies southern Mexico and there is no connection to the technology to post this message at this time. It will be posted when we arrive in Portland after midnight.
May the spirit of human and natural love, and the love of the God as you understand God be with you all.

From the pad of Denvy & Gail

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thursday continued

(Sorry for the interruption.)

Continued ... The discussion around this situation involved the budgeting process for this project, how much there is in the project fund, the offering to buy and play for the lumber to continue. Depending on the view of the situation it was either a routine issue of mission or our first real road dump. A couple of us went with the minister and purchased the lumber and we were back at work and proceeding well. Today we actually worked until 4:00 which was our self-imposed timeline. It was a long hard day but good all the way around.

Pictures to follow.



From the pad of Denvy & Gail

What We Learned on Workday Four

So what DID we learn on this our fourth day of work? The front of our toes hurt from restricting gravity as it pulls the full wheelbarrow down the hill. Moving sand and gravel in the cool(er) of the morning is better than the heat of the afternoon. The drive from the hardware store is far shorter than the drive to the store; it must the one-way streets and boulevard dividers. Walking under four-foot high scaffolding especially when carrying long boards is a major pain in the back. When you run out of lumber and there no constructing to be done, picking up garage is meaningful. Sandy, the local coordinator, says we're the hardest working team. I agree, my body will verify that.
The issue of the day was that we ran out of lumber to make the forms. The discussion around ... (More later)


From the pad of Denvy & Gail

Wednesday pics

Wednesday Continued

(We had guests join us for our evening meal, the pastor, his wife and son, the translator/driver, the cook/housekeeper and the four cloacal construction workers. So I was not able to continue writing last evening, besides since then several things have changed, for example it rained last night.)

The day started with two of us being assigned to dig trenches for additional footings. One trench required a pick to break up the hard ground, the other required more shoveling as the soil continued to slide back into the trench. It was filled with broken tiles, glass and softball-sized old concrete chunks. The sun was hot and direct on our back but fortunately it was early morning. Others were moving dirt other places, cutting wires and bending rebar.
Mario, the foreman and the one who the wood working for concrete forms and scaffolding, gave each of us a chance to pound a nail into a scaffolding frame and cut a board. From that point on I was high jacked as one of his helpers deducing my chances to take excessive water breaks. Mario is a great one to work with. I am so blessed to learn from him.
Another new task was to straighten the nails. They have a box of new nails but they save by reusing the old ones. Those bending the rebar also broke the jig used for bending. Oh, those strong women and they don't even come from Lake Wobegon where all the women are strong.
After lunch six persons were assigned to moving the gravel from on top of the driveway down to inside the existing building to where the mixer is located in wheelbarrow. This was very physical and exhausting so we quit for ice cream and naps at 2:00. And we did all nap.
About six we rearranged tables on the patio - yes, there is a patio where we are staying; apparently this was someone's house originally - so we could all sit around the same table. Brian and Julie translated. We thanked them, they thanked us. Each of the workers told stories about their families. The pastors had some interesting stories about gangs and the time gangsters broke into his house. I'll try to write more of these stories later. Now it's time for breakfast.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hump Day - Wednesday

The weather forecast for Tegucigalpa for this week even a month ago is and has been thunderstorms, scattered showers, with temperatures ranging from day highs in the upper 80's and nights in the seventies. This is typically a rainy season and so this may be an annual forecast. The temperatures have been correct and there have been high scattered clouds but no rain this week or any time recently. They claim to be entering a drought. This is work for working outside but not for the water supply.

More later.

From the pad of Denvy & Gail

Day 2 pics

Tuesday - Day Two at Work

Can't say that today was much different then the day before except there was good progress, no problem with crooked beam discovered and we had a radio for background music playing oldies from USA. Gail and Julie went shopping for tools with Pastor Lupe. They bought some magnets to pick up the hundreds, maybe thousands, of little wire ends from the rebar tying process. They sell the scraps for money for food.
We had two power outage at the lodging but they were short and a cold shower after a hot actually felt rather good. We extended the tradition of having ice cream after the days work to twice.
It's breakfast time, 6:30, now so we can work in the cool of the morning and have the ice cream about three or four. Eggs, pancakes, French toast, juice; we'll see what it is this morning. Only one and a half coffee drinker. I find that interesting.

From the pad of Denvy & Gail

Monday, August 4, 2014

Day Uno Photos

Monday - Workday Number Uno

     The intrigue of the day probably was the end of the day; as we were approaching the end of task for the day, the pastor, who has been hanging around since late morning, walked over to the project and noticed that one of the beams for which we were creating the rebar reinforcement was not straight.  Oops!  Maybe today was practice and tomorrow may be to take apart and then put them back together again for real.  We're just the workers and we assemble or dissemble as told.
      So what did we do.  Breakfast at 6:30 and on site by 7:30 before the sun turned the site into a sauna.  The gate was locked and there was no key so one of the four workers who live there used the bolt cutters on the chain.  After some introductions - Norman, Mario, Rafael, and Roberto - two were sent to bend rebar into "rings," two were handed shovels to fill buckets of sand and gravel to make concrete for a couple pillars, and the remaining four we put on the scaffolding to wire rebar together.  There are two horizontal beams where long rebars were wired to the "rings."  By noon the first beam was finished.  By three the other beam was on the route to completions when the dogleg in the beam was detected and all work ceased.
       The reward of the day was ice cream and supper at 6:30 was fish and mashed potatoes.  Yummy!
      I will try to upload some pictures in another post.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The holiday is Over

       The day, Sunday, started before the night was over.  No one seems to know what it was but about 1:00AM, again at 3:30, and about five additional times before 6:00, some horrendously loud obnoxious noise, something like a car alarm or a malfunctioning water pump, blasted in the neighborhood for about 2 to 3 minutes.  So ended the night and started the day.
      Breakfast was pancakes with condiments and juice.  Brian picked us up and darted up and down and all around the windy and delivered us to the church which was also our construction site.  The final driveway was dirt, steep and narrow.  The front of the van stopped at the edge of the construction site at the level that would some day be the third of four levels.  To our left was a steep hill and to the right was a deep steep valley, so the lowest floor walked out the back to ground level and the front also lead to the ground level from the fourth floor.  And they said they bought this lot because it was "level."
     We walked down a ramp to the second level which is to be the parking area and then down a stairs with no banisters when the congregation was gathering.  After being thoroughly greeted by the pastor and his wife, we were ushered to the chairs in the front row.  Rigo, a regional supervisor for the Methodist Church, led us through a mostly Spanish service - but with some English translations.  The room was beautiful and highly technical with three laptops, a projector projected on the wall and a great sound system with an electric piano and guitarist.
      The pastor gave a 40-minute Spanish sermon with interspersed English translations.  Communion was by intinction with three bun sized breads.  Prayers were very heartfelt and songs were full of passion and compassion.  After the service we chatted with some of the congregants, which we could cross the language barrier.  One guest was a student from Boston College who had bed here years ago.  The stories of the individuals are too extensive for this blog; maybe some later.
      Back to our rooms, off to a restaurant for pupusas and tacos which were more like a fajita and on to a village about 45 minutes out to shop for souvenirs.  The roads wound through the hills, small mountains if you will, with roadside stands and numerous shops along the way. Souvenirs were not a top priority but visiting this town which had been a gold and silver mining town converted to a tourist destination was worth the visit.
      Back at our residence for the week, we had our evening meal and sat around sharing stories before we headed to bed knowing that breakfast was to be a 6:30 and work would start bout 7:30.  Good night.





Some pictures from Honduras

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Honduras - it could be Mexico

Our team of eight, we'll refer to them as the Awesome Eight, not because they're awesome in any theological or philosophical way, but because there are eight and I like them, arrived in Tegucigalpa on schedule at 12:30PM.  Before we left Houston we heard the story that pilots landing in Tegucigalpa had to have special training because it is among the top ten most dangerous airport in the world.  Add that to the United Nations' characterization that Honduras has the highest homicide rate in a the world and we are feeling so confident that everything will go well.
       Our contact at the airport was delayed because traffic was heavier than expected.  However, she, Sandy, arrived before anyone panicked along with Brian who transported our luggage and will be our guide, interpreter and driver for the week.  A really cool young man.
       Expecting an traditional fare for our noon meal served in the afternoon, we were instead served order-out pizza, which could have been downtown Monmouth.  Soon after we were winding, literally winding, through the hillsides of this capital city forward a statute of Jesus with outspread arms overlooking the city.  From that vantage point we could see rows of small metal-roofed very small homes, the area still not redeveloped after a rain-drenched mudslide from hurricane Mitch some years ago, big businesses and estates as well as the now infamous airport which is very short and essentially in the middle of the city.
      The detail of this statute which must have stood a hundred above us was fabulous from an artist but I'm skeptical if it a very good likeness of Jesus.  It's the artist's idea of what a perfectly looking Jesus might have been.  Fine artwork bit with little theological relevance.
      Deep fried chicken, tortillas, flavored rice and a cabbage cole slaw was ready for us at six.  Several pictures from the day were viewed, several reflected comments and the Awesome Eight after no real sleep except for catnaps on the plane headed for showers and sleep.  And here I go also (without editing this).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Packing

Gail presented information about our Honduras trip in church yesterday.  She seemed to stumble for words when she talked about our safety.  She probably didn't want to concern them too much.  After the service I mentioned to several that Honduras had the second highest murder rate of any country in the world.  Last evening while reading about Honduras online I discovered I was wrong.  It has the highest rate of all countries.

However UMVIM is sending teams in and out of the country on a regular basis so we project that we will be safe.  Most murders are connected to gangs and drug trafficking, and we don't appear to be related to either.

Other major events of the months are past and we are packing.  Prescription to prevent malaria, sunscreen, anti-diarrheal pills, water filter, flight insurance papers; yeah, I think we have the safety measures covered, not that there are any.  OK, so there are precautions that one must take.

With the list in one hand, the items are spread out across the table and room and we are moving forward.  Batteries, chargers, cameras all charged and ready.  Fortunately the electricity is the same there as here; so I've read.  Baggies are overfilled with clothes and flattened before closing them to minimize space.  Special towels that take very little space and dry quickly, and shirts that don't stink even after a week of wear are on the pile are on the pile.  Passport and tickets are in safe and ready-to-go locations.

And there are the lists for home: what the house sitter needs to know about watering plants and feeding animals, what we need to do before we leave to ready the place for the house sitter and our absence, what we need to do for committees and volunteer work before we leave, and what we want to buy to take and leave for the children and people where we are staying.  Back-to-school sales are best at this time of the year.

There's also the posting on the blog to keep people informed or over-informed.  Check!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Preparing for the Honduras Mission Trip

The word "mission" is used in many ways, similar but somewhat different ways.  A determined child with a specific goal may be on a "mission."  A particular action of a military unit may have a "mission."  A missionary works within his or her "mission."  The goal or purpose of a church may be its "mission."  And a group of individuals traveling to another region of the world with a specific purpose are on a "mission" trip.

So it is with this group of eight from Dallas, Oregon, mostly members of Dallas United Methodist Church, who are headed to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to help build a church/conference office building.  As outsiders to this group, being members of Christ's Church Methodist and Presbyterian United in Monmouth, Gail and I don't know that much about each individual, but then that's one of the products of an eight-day trip working and living side by side: to get to know each other better.

Don, our leader, who has taken the Dallas church from four years of talking about an international mission trip to a reality, has a book store on the coast.  Julie, the second wife of a student I knew at WOU over 15 years ago and a mother of two, is so full of energy.  Jim and Lola are her parents.  Kellie has been designated as our official photographer and comes with great equipment, and a couple children she will leave at home.  Craig, active at Dallas UMC, has taken on many leadership responsibilities.  As a choir member he has been identified as our song leader.  Gail and I will be participating in our 22nd "mission" activity or trip, and for essentially the first time, not as the team leaders.

Honduras has been designated as a very dangerous country having the second highest murder rate in the world.  It is also identified as one of the sources of children illegally crossing the borders into the United States after walking, hitchhiking and bussing a thousand miles across Mexico to avoid poverty, death, rape and slavery in Honduras.  These are phenomena we may gain insight into, at least I hope so.  Even now as I write this, I feel pain for these children and their families.  We have dreams of being a benefit to the people in Honduras, but only time and patience will tell if our dreams will come true.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Good Day

What makes a good day?  Or a bad one for that matter?  The answer varies with each person.  For most of us waking up in the morning, just being alive makes a good day.  Having loved ones whom you love and who love you in return makes it a good day.

I'm compelled to be productive, so I must do something beneficial.  Often that means benefiting someone else, someone besides myself.  It does also include something for myself or at least something that I value as important.

Today was a good day.

I like waking early and so I did today, about 6:20AM.  It was overcast expecting some baby needed rain.  Before 8:00 I have read and answered my emails-very few today-and had a breakfast with fiber and fruit-cold cereal, and I was on my way to mow Sarah's pasture.  All went well including seeing Sarah, one of her delightful little puppies and serving as a scratching post for one of the four horses.  By 9:30 I was done and home, with a plan to mow some of our pasture but also to clean up around the trees in the pastures.  I have never really cleaned up this area, I merely mow the tall grass to help with wildfire prevention.

This also goes well.  I get lots of exercise, stretching, walking, lifting by moving broken down branches and cleaning up weeds.  Gail joins me after lunch which makes the day nearly perfect.  About 5:00PM a light mist starts and I do small tasks cleaning around the yard.  By six I'm on the computer labeling pictures and writing emails.  Now after a small glass of red wine to help the blood flow and a light supper, I ready to sleep.  And so I will.

Good night after a good day.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

It Happened Again

It happened again tonight.  I stepped outside after dusk had fully become night.  And it hit me.  Nothing literally hit me; a thought, an idea, a feeling hit me.

I live far from the sounds of the village, or city.  At this time of the day, early night if you would, there's enough light in the sky, either from a receding sun, stars or the moon, to see the black shadows of tall Douglas firs reaching high over my head.  The only life besides that of nature is behind me in the house I just left.  It's cool, quiet, hardly a the rustle of a leaf in the trees, if even that.

I'm alone.  Not alone because I stepped out with no companion; alone because at that moment there is nothing but me and the ball I standing on, a ball so large and diverse that I will never see it all.  There may be billions more like me standing, walking, sitting, sleeping on other parts of this ball but because I am only me and can be no one or anything but me, I am alone--in myself.  I am singular.

My pace is steady, the strength is adequate, for living on this ball for seven decades I feel darn good.  The feeling I had is of comfort, of peace, of happiness, even a form of satisfaction.  There's something out there, not behind the Douglas fir or lying in a bush, something greater than all I know, greater than all collectively can know, something that makes me want to shout out that I am glad to be able to step out and be hit by this feeling.  Someone once called this something God; the name stuck.  Others have given it other names and because it comes to each of us individually and separately, none of us can fully understand or explain it.  One once wrote that "God" merely said that "I am."  So it may be.

Now I prepare to sleep through this night and as I lie down, before I become unconscious to this world, I will say "Thank you for another day on this beautiful earth among these wonderful people."

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Remembering Friends of Freedom and Peace on Earth

It's a good thing that I'm sitting home in the privacy of our living room, even Gail's left the room.  I hate to cry in public much less sob.  OPB is broadcasting the Memorial Day National Concert.

I'm never been in an army and certainly not in a war.  Nor were my brothers, father or grandfathers.  But, yes, I have friends and many acquaintances who have served in the military and also experienced battle.  Several completed their service far from their home and loved ones.

I hate war.  I never want to be a part of it.  I dream of a better way to end international differences, but, oh, how I appreciate those who think differently and are able to literally fight for our freedom.  We call this activity service, military service, and I think I understand service, and if I don't, I hope that I can move to a fuller understanding and an expression of the ultimate service.

I believe in service and I see the military doing service far more than fighting.  I regret that we have to shroud our service in the name of a country rather than all mankind.  I pledge my allegiance to peace on earth and all those to work to achieve it.  I pray all the families who have lost members in war and all servicemen and women who have sacrificed for a better world.

Remembering war is terrible; remembering friends, relatives, and those we don't know for serving in a way to protect our freedom, my freedom, is a honor.  You too can honor these heroes.  And don't forget for every heroes that crosses the seas to a foreign land, that are even more heroes here at home supporting them and each other.  In memory of all of them, I reach up and wipe aside my tears, not away, just aside.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Day One of a Non-travel Mission Trip

It's being viewed as many different types of events, one of them is a mission trip that requires no travel or money for accommodations. It has no official title but unofficial but descriptively it's called the Polk Community Interfaith Hospitality Network Pilot Project or something like that. It's an experiment, it's the first of many such events, it's a inspiration for future events. It is a week of providing housing and meals for three families who otherwise would not have a place to stay or an guarantee of the next meal.

While the planning and preparation has been going on for months, yesterday morning the first actual activity started when two pickup trucks delivered 18 mattresses to Christ's Church. After worship service scatter rugs were placed in several rooms followed by tables, lamps, easy chairs and the mattresses. Later in the afternoon food and volunteers started arrived and the bustle elevated.

Around 5:15 with high five and random introductions three families piled out of in two vans. Sergio and Maria, whose Spanish is more fluent than their English, with their six children aging from two to 14 moving into the room upstairs. An eight year-old girl exclaimed to her mother as they stepped into their space, "We each have our lamps. This is mine and the big one is yours." Mom turned to a volunteer, "This is the best. It's so nice to have our own room.

James claimed the third room. He was alone in his adjoining room with three mattresses because his partner was in the hospital with a kidney infection and the three year-old son was in a Safe House for Children. She'll probably join the group today and their son the next day.

Orientation which was routine for this veteran of this form of living was followed by meatloaf, baked potatoes, green salad and cookies hustled up by a half dozen volunteer cooks. The designated host for the evening offered thanks for the the day, the fellowship and the food. Guests and hosts chatted as they ate and ran back and forth from the counter of food. The children quickly ended up on the braided rug in the corner stacking and bumping over towers. The routine is not new to these families, so they soon moved to quiet time in their rooms knowing that the wake-up call would come at 6:00AM.

Not knowing what to expect, although with eight children one might expect some expression of high energy and possible misunderstanding, it was a bit out of the ordinary to find the building quiet by 8:00PM. With all the counters wiped down, lights dimmed and doors secure, we started the night on uncomfortable camping cots. Just before locking the doors the Susan, the food coordinator, came by with her husband and daughter to see how the evening, walking in the door said "There's a sweet smell of the Spirit through the building." Yes, thirteen persons including toddlers and teens were sleeping in a warm dry place with full stomaches. God graciously works through our neighbors.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Schedule for next weekend

Good afternoon, Debbie,

The DPNC met after church today to define a schedule for your visit to Monmouth/Independence and Falls City.  They decided that they would like to have more time with you and are asking if you could meet they at Christ's Church (412 W Clay St, Monmouth) at 2:00PM Saturday, March 1.  The Seventh Day Adventists use the building that day but there is a recess during which you can tour the church.  They will collaborate with you for a visit of the manse and the Falls City area and church.

They are inviting you to a dinner at the home of Carol Brown at 6:00PM that evening after which you will be able to retire to your hotel room which they are booking for you in Salem, I believe.  Sunday morning we will meet you at the church in Woodburn.  After the worship service we would like to share lunch with you in Keiser.  Eileen will be arranging a meeting between you and the COM probably for that afternoon probably in Keiser.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Another Snow Day

It's not that there's nothing that I can do without electricity, it's just that when you have a power outage, the routine is upset. Shoveling, walking, cooking, eating, reading, writing, sleeping, stoking the fire; none these require electricity, but not having electricity means that if I want to check the weather forecast on either the Internet or television, or the news for that matter, I can't. Of course, today that means I can't watch the Olympics.

I didn't even know the electricity went out. I was letting my fingers do the work on my computer while I listened to some music. The music seemed to come to the end of the CD, the room was bright from the subtle outside light of a outcast day, and everything was fine until I tried to check on the Internet for some information. But I continued my writing as if nothing had happened; while start a new CD when I get up.

Then it hit me that the refrigerator would start turning bad after several days. Gail called the neighbors down the road who reported that they did have electricity. That probably means that it's a minor problem and easy to fix but probably a low priority. So, dig out the candles and flashlights and create a new what will I do with myself this evening. By tomorrow, if things go as forecasted and projected, the snow will have abated so that we can drive to town to recharge computer batteries, watch the rescheduled basketball games and attend the PNC meeting. The driveway which I cleared this morning is down to gravel and so driving to the mailbox is a snap.

The evening lighting is settling in so only gross activities are now an option; fine detailed projects like painting and sewing cross stitching are out. Playing piano remains on the list.

Statistically, the snow measured about 16 inches this morning before the drips started coming off the roof and an hour ago that same site was about 9 inches. The sidewalk is bare but wet where shoveled. Until the electricity returns this post will sit quietly in my computer.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Snow Day

Snow days are very common this year as the Midwest and eastern half of the United States have had a record number of recording setting winter storms, dropping snow and temperatures beyond what many have seen in their lifetimes.  So titling this blog snow day is not novel or unique unless you live in the Northwest where the weather has been springlike and abnormally dry this winter.  Until this week.

The weather forecast was for some snow starting about midweek which it did.  There were two fingers of snow coming in from the Pacific, one north of us and one south of us.  We watched TV and both wondered what all the fuss was about and why we were so blessed.  Thursday we went to a couple university basketball games (WOU won both the women's and men's games) with just a inch of snow on the ground.  Coming out of the game we drove through about three inches of fresh powder with some concern about getting up the hill to our place.  We made it.

Friday only I drove to Monmouth for some Skype interviews for our new pastor at the church.  After watching it snow throughout the interviews by the time I drove home there were a couple more inches. Conditions were essentially white-out except for the weeds in the ditches.  Again we held our breaths until I slowly with a steady pedal made it up the hill.  It snowed through the evening so when I shoveled out the walkway this morning, I put a tape in the snow.  It measured a bit over 13 inches, the most we have seen in Oregon in our 19 years here.

Thinking there would still be a funeral at 2:00 this afternoon, I got out the tractor and pushed some snow aside.  After a half hour and viewing the main roadway, I decided it was impractical to try to get to town for any reason.  That was moments before Gail walked up behind me and said that everything was cancelled. With the tractor back in the barn and me in the house, we have resolved to join the rest of northwestern Oregon and just stay home.  There is a time to acknowledge defeat or at least when one should choose not to fight the weather.

Now the snow continues outside the window before me as I let my fingers do the walking and thinking and my hope is that the weatherman who is forecasting rain and warmer weather is a couple days is correct.  There are things to do beyond the end of the driveway, but for now it's time to rewarm the hot chocolate.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What a Retired Denvy Does

So what does a retired person do throughout a day?  More specifically what does Denvy do in a day this week?

"I'm up to watch the sunrise," I state, which around Ground Hogs Day allows me to sleep, or at least lay around in bed, until the summary of the local news just before the "Today" show comes on.  During the warmer months of the year one has to roll out before the 5:33AM Stateman's Journal electronic news is delivered.

There's the early morning routine answer to the call of nature integrated with the awaking the computer and checking the overnight spam interspersed with some meaningful emails.  It's these good emails that dictate what happens for the next couple hours, well, these emails and the ones on the to-do list which were formulated during the evening transition to sleep and the morning's awakening time.

There are responses to Wendy, a recent college grad, who is creating a new non-profit organization to help educate orphans in Africa, and specifically a new website on a new server.  And the responses to Kirk, a former student, who is updating a website for the community baseball team he coaches.

Depending on the time of year and month, emails are exchanged with Katie for programming for the Western Compass campus ministry, with members of the pastor nominating committee regarding the status of candidates, with people helping setting up a pilot project to house and provide meals for homeless families, with church members for the Peace Justice and Mission business, with supporters of the Relay for Life fight against cancer and with those dealing with the computers at the Polk Community Free Clinic.  The good news is that I really like what these groups are doing.

Then there's time to open the iPad and play a game of solitaire or check the weather or read parts of a book.  That's my quiet time.

Did I mention starting the wood stove, bringing in firewood, preparing and eating breakfast, washing the dishes, feeding the dog, cat and chickens.  Some days washing clothes, watering plants and cleaning house split into the agenda.

Then there's an opportunity to write policies and job descriptions, create rosters and contact lists, and contact people about volunteering for the homeless project.  We received a letter yesterday indicating that our request for a $500 grant for this project was granted.  Laying out plans and agendas for the pastor nominating committee are a part of this time in the day, and this can extend throughout the day.

This week Monday only had a weekly PNC meeting in the evening and Tuesday had a PJM meeting with a presentation on a proposal to introduce a health system similar to the Canadian system into Oregon.  Wednesday had a 2-hour meeting with Wendy and the weekly bell and vocal choir practices.  Thursday was full with a meeting with some interns in the morning, WC meeting at one, meeting with Kirk at four, dinner with WC at SingFay at five, and college basketball games at 5:15 and 7:30.  However, it's snowing and everything is cancelled (waiting for word on the basketball games) and so there's time to write this blog entry.

Continuing on with words about the remainder of the week, there are four Skype interviews with pastoral candidates between 9:30AM and 3:00PM on Friday.  Saturday has a funeral at two, a Valentine Day dinner at Falls City at five, and two basketball games that evening.  Sunday seems routine except for Dr Lace apple cider making event about the same time as church and so we will miss that.

It's nice to catch some lunch about midday and nicer still if it's at 1:00 so we can manifest some silliness by watching the archived Zorro show.  Today the show interrupts an ongoing news broadcast following the snow storm which has closed schools, businesses and highways.

For variety in the day there are opportunities like pruning trees, mowing lawns - even in the winter, cutting firewood, working in the wood shop, pulling weeds and the like.  During colder days there's organizing pictures, writing the family history, painting on the paint-by-number project - for color blind non-artists, or stoking the fire.

Evening, if there's no meeting or scheduled event, may see us watching Dr Martin or a Blazer's basketball game on television while Gail does some handwork and I play at website design.

Oh, there is the final act of crawling into the waterbed and falling asleep as Jay Leno talks to himself.  That is what a monologue is, isn't it?