It has been a week of reflection here at this old house. Not only were we remembering where we were on 9/11 but we were also reflecting on the historic floods that hit the Front Range area of Colorado a year ago on September 12th. The view out the back window will never be the same, though our house itself was not impacted (with exception of one damp corner under the sleeping porch where we store the canoe). The irony was, it rained much of this past week, just as it had done a year ago although this year, the rain was less intense and turned to snow on Thursday night. People were a bit jumpy, especially when a water main broke on a major thoroughfare during a drizzling rain. It is interesting how once a path of anxiety or trauma has been tread in our minds, we can so easily and quickly return to that path.

The media has been writing all week about both the tragic 9/11 events as well as the state of the Front Range one year after the flood. With all disasters, it is easy to assume that once they aren’t reported on any more, life has returned to normal in the affected area. Yet, even some areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, which hit in 2005, are still waiting for restoration. Driving through the 9th Ward a year and a half ago proved that to me personally. Here in the Front Range, there are still people displaced. Many lost not only their homes but the ground that their home sat on. How do you continue to pay on a mortgage for a home that is gone and for property that is now a river bed? Some may never recover from the financial loss or emotional trauma they suffered.

Last weekend, John officiated at a wedding at a venue in Lyons, about 30 minutes from this old house. During the flood, the St. Vrain river decided to make a left turn through the property. Last weekend, with a few noticeable changes to the river bank, you would never know that the property had been devastated. The river had been forced back into its original channel and the grassy lawn had been restored. Just a mile up the road from there, highway crews are having to blast out sections of rock to move the road over as the river now runs where parts of the highway once did.

There are trails that have been re-opened but need a lot of restoration work. In Longmont, about 30 minutes east of us, there are still two bridges that have not been fixed. The road up Flagstaff mountain behind us is undergoing major work. Each day, it is closed from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM, impacting hundreds of residents who live up there. The road was so close against the side of the mountain that when part of it washed away, all they could do was blast out more of the mountain, pour caissons for a bridge, and rebuild in a way that future water will run safely  under the road. A lot of houses are for sale that were near creeks or up in the mountain communities surrounding us. I know one family that lived by a creek and barely got out with the kids and the clothes on their back as the flood waters rose. They can’t even hear the sound of water in their new house, nor do they ever want to again.

In the midst of all this, I bought a new German bronze. This one is a simple cross that says “Be Not Afraid.” That phrase is found throughout Scripture but seems to be forgotten by many Christ-followers. What with the anniversary of 9/11 and the floods as well as the current news coming out of Africa and the Middle East, the pathway of fear is one many of us tread regularly. How are we to live such that we are not afraid but yet also are not Pollyanna-like about the realities of the world we live in? That is a question we each must answer for ourselves. For some, it will be answered through creative pursuits, making beauty in the face of evil and ugliness. For others, it will be putting ourselves in the midst of the maelstrom,  trying to bring order and relief to those affected by Ebola or war. For others, it is intentionally meditating on the last chapter of Revelation, trusting that goodness will ultimately triumph. God does bat last!2014-09-06 16.03.22

Tomorrow, in church, we will be singing the wonderful hymn, “Goodness is Stronger than Evil,” a song that came out of the South African apartheid struggles. Desmond Tutu wrote these words during some of that country’s darkest days:

Goodness is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours, victory is ours
through him who loved us.
Victory is ours, victory is ours
through him who loved us.

Maybe it is a song more of us need to sing regularly. Or, as Ronald Klug’s third stanza in “Rise, Shine, You People,” says:

Come, celebrate; your banners high unfurling,
Your songs and prayers against the darkness hurling.

What song or prayer do you have to hurl against the darkness?

This morning, the furnace went on for the first time this season here at this old house. It was 47 degrees and foggy. Now, it is sunny and in the mid-70s. Wednesday, it had hit 93 degrees and tomorrow is supposed to be 83 degrees. We are in that wild swing of temperatures where the windows are opened and then shut and then re-opened again each day. Half of the windows in this old house are original. That means they either have screens in or are covered permanently in storm glass. When the screens are in, there is a significant gap between the top of the window and the frame. Also, the original windows are not square, they slope to fit the way the house was sinking before we shored it up. (Remember, it has no foundation!) That means there is always a breeze, even when the window itself is shut; we will never die from carbon monoxide poisoning due to the constant air circulation. Running the furnace when the screens are still on means that a lot of hot air escapes but it still takes the chill off and dries out the damp. Living in Colorado where the humidity is usually pretty low, I can always tell when we have been in a damp spell as linens don’t dry overnight.

Sometimes, I try to imagine what it would be like to have to get up and make a fire when it is cold. I fear I would have been a very bad pioneer! I so appreciate the thermostat that ignites the central heating in this old house. A few years ago, when we had to replace the furnace, we added a humidifier to it so that moister air would come through in the winter to help the sound board of the piano not dry out and crack. We have a Knight studio piano  in a rosewood case. It had been in Colorado for twelve years when we bought it so we knew that the sound board was OK and that the rest of the wood in the piano had acclimatized as well. Musicians who play wooden instruments, like pianos, violins or recorders, need to keep them moist or at least oiled in dry climates. Cracks can effect the integrity of the sound. They can also be expensive to fix and so humidifiers are not luxuries. In the summer, sometimes our humidity is in the single digits. I can hang a load of clothes up outside and, if it is hot enough and the humidity is low enough, some of the clothes are dry in 20 minutes. In the winters, we get lovely dry, powdery snows. In the spring, our early rains come in the form of heavy, wet snows. Our snow days from school usually happened in March or April when a 30- inch heavy wet snow would shut the city down for a day, taking out tree limbs and even power lines. But the powder in winter is what makes the skiing so good.

Colorado has over 300 days with sun or partial sun so I have memories of standing in boots and a sweater, hanging clothes outside to dry in a winter sun. Amazingly, the clothes would be about 80% dry when the sun went behind the mountains and I brought them in to finish drying inside. Winters in Colorado are lovely. Rarely do we have two gray days in a row and when we get to three consecutive gray days, everyone is cranky. Even though it can be quite cold out and the furnace is running continuously, the sun makes it feel warmer than it really is.

Meanwhile, a few leaves have turned color up on the meas and the hummingbirds are beginning to head south. While fewer in number each week, they are still active at the feeder, stocking up for the long flight ahead. The apples lying on the ground will be bringing the bears into the neighborhood soon. Bear scat has been showing up here and there on the trails as the chokecherries are now fully ripe.

A corner has been turned. Nature is beginning to shift into winter through the preparatory season we call autumn. We humans will adjust to her shift, uneven as it will be.

It is Labor Day weekend here at this old house. There will be some labor, some fun, and some labor that is fun! Cooking falls into the latter category for me. I got a new recipe that I am making for tomorrow. It is my turn to host the neighborhood Mah Jongg group and that is a good place to try out new recipes. This recipe requires me to make four eight-inch meringues and a whipped-cream infused lemon curd filling. After making an alternating tower with those two things, it is now in the freezer overnight. Tomorrow, I will pull it out shortly before everyone gathers for the game and pour a lemon syrup over it. It sounds wonderful though I have been mulling how one might cut such a creation into pieces. Meringues don’t slice easily like a cake; they tend to break and crumble. Maybe the lemon curd filling coupled with the lemon syrup will soften the meringues enough to allow the them to slice more easily. I will have to see. Fortunately, the neighborhood Mah Jongg gang is a forgiving group who likes (most of) my experiments.

Labor Day is meant to celebrate work and workers, the gift given by God at the beginning of Creation. Through the Fall (see Genesis 3), work and pleasure have not always been synonymous as they were intended to be. The ability to labor creatively is not a gift that everyone has. Some people have no work. Some have work that is drudgery or demeaning. Some have work but not enough compensation for the long hours they sacrifice doing it. The ability to have both united is a real gift.

Fr. Jim Martin writes about this in “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything”:

  1. Vocation is different from work or a job or even a career. You could say that work is the labor required to do a task. A job is the situation in which you do it. A career is the long-term trajectory or pattern of many jobs. But   vocation is deeper than each of those concepts…Vocation overarches our work, jobs, and career and extends to the kind of person we hope to become. It is what we are called to do, and who we are called to be.

             2. Clearly some people are able to find God in their work. But what if you’re stuck in a career that feels stale, a job that doesn’t seem like a vocation, or work you don’t enjoy? [In the Ignatian tradition, you can find God in difficult  or boring work] through the people you work with [celebrating life with them, being community with each other], by understanding that your job is directed toward a larger goal [caring for your family and others], by working as leaven in unhealthy work situations [seeking to do what you can in small ways to change the work environment].

In other words, we may not always have control over our situation but we do have control over our attitude. Maybe your joy and purpose in life is not found in your job but in the things you do outside of your working hours: volunteer situations, spending time with family, teaching through your Church community, singing in a choir or doing community theater, taking art classes, traveling. If your vocation is to be a disciple of Christ, then that cuts across all lines of duty and pleasure. That can happen in any circumstance of living and working!

As we mark the end of summer with the three-day weekend, consider spending a few minutes reflecting on what is your vocation and how it is or is not being lived out in your work, job, and/or career. And may you find some moments of joy and pleasure in this holiday weekend.

 

 

There is a major thunderstorm happening outside here at this old house. A lot of people got caught on the trails and are soaked. Some are running through the driving rain; others have given up and are just walking, wringing out sopping wet shirts as they go.

We have had a fair amount of rain this summer, always a blessing in a semi-arid, high desert environment. Our relatives in California are in a severe drought. Their town is nearly out of water and they are making plans to begin hauling water in from somewhere far away. A water tank will need to be installed in the neighborhood and cost estimates for all of this are high. Those lawns and swimming pools are going to be even more expensive than they are normally.

The American lawn is an environmental nightmare in so many ways. The fertilizer and water required to keep it green and the weed killer needed to keep it pristine are not ultimately wise choices. Run-off of the chemicals make their way into our streams and rivers and finally, our faucets, affecting fish and other wild life along the way to their impact on us. Using our yards to grow fruit trees and vegetables or to graze animals makes so much more sense and is actually historic.

This link is a fascinating history of how green lawns got started in America: http://www.american-lawns.com/history/history_lawn.html. Originally, it was just the wealthy who could afford groundskeepers to scythe the grass who had the expansive lawns that seem so normal now. Even the White House used to have sheep grazing on the front lawn. It was the English who loved their lawns and as Americans traveled there in the early part of the 20th century, they came back with the idea of doing lawns here. Combine the interests of the US Golf Association with the Department of Agriculture and suddenly research on grass became big business.The American dream of the 1950s and 1960s,a house in the suburbs with a big lawn, suddenly became possible.

I grew up in one of those scenarios. No one ever seemed to be in their front yards except to mow or weed. Even we kids played in the backyard. It became another level of social isolation as many backyards were fenced or surrounded by bushes that kept people apart from each other. Imagine if in my childhood neighborhood, women were out front working vegetable gardens during the day. It seems to me there would have been more socializing that took place naturally and the whole phenomena of no one knowing their neighbor would not have taken such deep root.

Besides wasting water, another reason for us to convert our lawns to food production is that, as we get further away from producing our own food, we become out of touch with what food is supposed to be. We think that so many of what are really edibles are the same as food. For example, Cheetos are edible but are not food. We allow a lot of bad things to go in our food that we aren’t even aware of! Many of us have lost the sense of what things are supposed to taste like and so we don’t realize how bad our food really is. The classic example is the grocery store tomato picked weeks ago and trucked to a store hundreds of miles away. It can’t be picked ripe as it would rot so they are artificially ripened. If you walk outside and pick a tomato that goes straight into your salad, you are eating it at its peak ripeness, sun finished and tasting as Mother Nature intended it to. How many people really know what a tomato is supposed to taste like? Also, the homogeneity that comes from hybridization sets us up for crop failure, among other things. And, what we might gain in length of storage, we lose in taste.

I had a first-hand experience with this when we went to France. I am non-celiac gluten intolerant and eat gluten-free. I had heard that the food in Europe is “cleaner” and that many non-celiac gluten intolerant people can eat the bread there. I found it to be true. I ate everything in Europe and felt better than I do eating gluten-free here. I could even drink red wine at night. Without the sulfates, it didn’t bother me like it does here. Europe understands that food need to be local and fresh to taste good. They use minimally processed ingredients in many of their dishes. [Note: one has to be careful talking about processed food. Peeling a potato is a form of processing it. The problem becomes when food is highly processed. A potato chip is a far cry from its origin as a potato.]

Some are sounding the alarm that we may be coming to a crisis with our food sources. Agri-business, with all the chemicals used to sustain mono-crop farming, may be behind the bee colony collapse. Farmers dependent on a certain kind of herbicide for a genetically-modified crop sets up the potential for massive crop failure when the insects mutate around the effectiveness of the herbicide. It seems we may have to convert our grass lawns into gardens at some point soon. Wouldn’t it make sense to get a head start on that before a crisis hits? Even those who live in apartments can often find a place to have a pot of herbs or a tomato plant on a balcony or in a window sill. Anything you can do is useful and will help raise children with an awareness that food is a product of the earth, not the local supermarket.

Someone once said that human life survives on earth because it rains and there is 6″ of top soil. May we do all we can to care for and celebrate both.

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