Important Correction to “Finding and Losing Words”

A note to those of you who subscribe to these posts by email:
Something happened in that I hit “publish” in the last post before I was able to complete it.
Because I’m more of a “word” guy and less of a “tech guy”, I don’t know how to remove that post and send you a completed on.

To that end, you can view the new and improved version by clicking here.

I am honored by the grace you show me in your willingness to read my words.  I do not take that for granted.


On Losing… and Finding… Words

One of the highest privileges I’ve received is that of serving as Pastor for the community of The First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights for the past 26 years.  In 2010, this group granted me a four-month Sabbatical from my ministry for a time of recharging and renewal.  In 2019, they extended that offer again – so I’ve got three months to wander, wonder, and join in life in a  different way.  This time has been divided roughly into thirds.  For three weeks, my wife and I ventured through 8 states and many, many National Parks on a great RV adventure (chronicled in the June 2019 entries).  I spent virtually all of July in Africa, learning about and experiencing partnership in mission (the July 2019 entries).  In August the game plan changed once more – mostly time alone, and (mostly) 21 nights in the same bed – as I entered into a sanctuary known as Seneca Lake State Park in Eastern Ohio.  While here, my focus will be mainly on the interior life: reading, thinking, praying, and so on…

In 2007, the Oxford Junior Dictionary underwent a significant revision.  This 10,000 word volume is the standard dictionary offered for elementary school children in the United Kingdom.  That such a revision took place is not surprising at all.  Language, like most other living things, evolves and changes.  While the language that British schoolchildren use in the 21stcentury is the same as that used by the scholars who translated the King James Bible, the vocabulary is not.  We all know different words now than our grandparents did.


Yet this change caused something of a controversy.  It was a non-issue at first, but it has grown into a protest and even a debate.  An alert reader noticed that many of the words that were removed from the “new” dictionary were associated with wonder and the natural world.  Words like “acorn” and “buttercup” and “cauliflower”.  They were replaced by terms like “analogue”, “broadband”, and “cut-and-paste”.  A group of literary figures such as Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale and others) and Sir Andrew Motion (former Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom) decried the loss, pointing out that an increasing amount of research indicates that having familiarity with and spending time in the out-of-doors is essential to the healthy development of children (one study indicates that 40% of young children never play outside!).

Ten years after the change was made author Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris responded by producing a captivating volume entitled The Lost Words: A Spellbook.  It is, my friends, a thing of great beauty.

The first page reads as follows:

Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children.  They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no one noticed – fading away like water on stone.  The words were those that children used to name the natural world around them: acorn, adder, bluebell, branle, conker – gone! Fern, heather, kingfisher, otter, raven, willow, wren… all of them gone!  The words were becoming lost: no longer vivid in children’s voices, no longer alive in their stories.

You hold in your hands a spellbook for conjuring back these lost words.  To read it you will need to seek, find, and speak.  It deals in things that are missing and things that are hidden, in absences and in appearances.  It is told in gold – the gold of the goldfinches that flit through its pages in charms – and it holds not poems but spells of many kinds that might just, but the old, strong magic of being spoken aloud, unfold dreams and songs, and summon lost words back into the mouth and the mind’s eye.

I don’t know that I have ever read a “spell book” before, but this one is amazing.  First, it is large – perhaps 11 inches by 15 inches.  But more than that, it is visually stunning. For each “lost” word there is an incantation – a poem, a song, a hymn to that which has been named, and then a two-page watercolor.  Each image is more arresting than the last!  And the text? Ah, it is musical as well.

The image for “Dandelion” in The Lost Words.

The first entry is for “Acorn”:

The watercolor for “Acorn” in “The Lost Words”

As flake is to blizzard, as

Curve is to sphere,
as knot is to net, as

One is to many, as coin is to money,
as bird is to flock, as

Rock is to mountain, as drop is to fountain,
as spring is to river, as glint is to glitter, as

Near is to far, as wind is to weather,
as feather is to flight, as light is to star,
as kindness is to good, so acorn is to wood.


Many of the words refer to birds.  My favorite “spell” in the entire volume is for Heron:

This is not the best photo of a Great Blue Heron I’ve ever taken, but it’s the best I could find today…

Here hunts heron. Here haunts heron
Huge-hinged heron. Grey-winged weapon.

Eked from iron and wreaked from blue and
beaked with steel: heron, statue, seeks eel.

Rock still at weir sill. Stone still at weir sill.
Dead still at weir sill. Still still at weir sill.
Until eelless at weir sill, heron magically…

Out of the water creaks long-legs heron,
old-priest heron, from heron in all sticks
and planks and rubber-bands, all clanks and
clicks and rusty squeaks.

Now heron hauls himself into flight – early
aviator, heavy freighter – and with steady
wingbeats boosts his way through evening
night to roost.

I fancy myself a wordsmith, and I recognize that in holding this volume I am in the presence of one who is far more skilled than I could hope to be.  I drank in the spells, and I fawned over the images.  And when I had read, or re-read, or re-re-re-read this volume, I put it down and I couldn’t stop thinking about the words that I use and those that I hear.

To which sounds will my lips give life? With what vocabulary shall I seek to offer, reflect, impart, share, and live out the blessings under which I’ve walked for nearly six decades? I am aware that these words were edited out of the children’s dictionary because someone decided that they were not helpful or useful in preparing children for success in the 21stcentury.  And I have no quibble with making sure that children know what a “blog” is and how to access their “voice-mail”.  Yet I want to live in such a way that the old magic is not lost, and that the children who follow me will know the music of the wren and the wonder of a dandelion and the slipperiness of a newt.

This is a photo of a Dark-Eyed Junco (western coloration) I took in Grand Teton National Park in June 2019.

True story: in February I took my five-year-old granddaughter to a nature program at the National Forest near her home in Ohio.  The children’s presentation was about “hibernation”, and the Rangers had a variety of animal skins and other props on hand to talk about this mystery of the natural world. As the presentation began, one of the Rangers described hibernation and then said, “Of course, not all animals hibernate.  Here in Ohio there are some animals that do, and some that don’t.”  He asked the children to call out names of animals that might hibernate – in Ohio or elsewhere.  Bear, turtle, frog – the list was compiled.  And then he asked for examples of creatures that do not hibernate.  My granddaughter’s arm shot up.  “Dark-eyed Junco!” she exclaimed with pride.  The Ranger stood still for a moment until his colleague said, “She’s not wrong, Bill.  Juncos don’t hibernate.”  The first Ranger said, “I know that, Karen.  Of course I know that.  It’s just that I’m trying to remember if I ever heard a five-year-old use the word ‘junco’ in a sentence before…”

That’s my girl!

Listen: God has given us the gift of speech and the tool of language.  My deep prayer is that in my daily life, I am demonstrating concepts like love and justice and commitment and compassion and forgiveness and challenge and hope and faith and grace and reconciliation and integrity.  My deepest prayer is that each syllable I utter may be a benediction:  a “good word” or a “word of blessing”.  I’m not there yet, but then again, I’m not dead yet.  I hope that you will join me in choosing to use and to inhabit these words so that the children around you will surprise the folks in their worlds as they demonstrate these concepts each day!

For more on this remarkable book, visit this site.

Africa Pilgrimage Update #12

I like to be in control.

I like to know what’s going to happen, when it will happen, and who will make it happen.  And, most of all, I like it to happen the way that I think it should happen.

I’m not necessarily proud of all of that, but it’s the truth.  And, to be honest, it’s not a particularly admirable or helpful trait in one who seeks to characterize himself, at least occasionally, as a “pilgrim”.  Remember, pilgrims are those who are willing to step outside of themselves in order to encounter God and experience the richness and presence of the Holy.  “Stepping outside of myself”and “being in control of the entire situation” are in many cases mutually exclusive.

I learned something about that the hard way last weekend.

Our sister congregation is in a town called Ntaja in Southern Malawi.  While it’s not necessarily “the bush”, it is a fair distance from most of the other partnership congregations and it is in a much less wealthy and developed part of the country.  Because our visits there require a fair amount of moving around over the countryside, I generally prefer (OK, let’s be honest – I insist) on driving myself there and back.  I do so because there are not many vehicles available to the church in Ntaja, and there are fewer that are big enough to hold a group AND safe enough to drive.

So when our itinerary came together, I began casting around for possible solutions.  I can often borrow a car from a friend here, but unfortunately that one has no engine at the moment.  Our friends at the Naminga’dzi Farm Training Center heard about my quest and offered to rent me one of their vehicles.  I liked this idea because it would put a little money in their pockets and give me a chance to return it with a little more petrol in the tank.  There were some initial snafus, but hey – this is Africa.  That stuff happens.  I got the keys, we loaded our team, and drove northeast to Ntaja Trading Centre.  The vehicle ran like a dream and we got there just around dark.  The next day we used it as I’d anticipated – driving ourselves and some Malawian colleagues around town and to various events – saving everyone a lot of time and a lot more steps.

As a point of reference, let me invite you to join me on a drive down Main Street in Ntaja.  Notice all of the Nissan Dealerships and Advance Auto Parts franchises…

Saturday afternoon, however, that plan – and my control of the situation – evaporated in a heartbeat.  We were on our way to greet our friends at the Naperi Prayer House when I hit a small bump in the road that led to tremendous vibration throughout the vehicle.  It was loud, it was shaky, and frankly it was a little frightening.  I was able to stop the vehicle, and we all suspected it was a blow-out.  I dreaded this because I had already noticed that while the truck came with seatbelts and about eight ounces of diesel in the tank, it had only 1/2 of a jack and no spare tire.  The good news was that it was NOT a flat tire.  The bad news was that flat tires are about the only automotive repair I’m qualified to do.

Our situation attracted quite a crowd by the roadside!

Yep, that’s me, checking on the situation. You know, because I am so knowledgeable about cars and such…

I nursed the vehicle to the side of the road and, not surprisingly, a crowd gathered.  Obviously, no one in our truck could have seen what had happened.  However, several bicyclists and pedestrians who noticed our difficulty turned around and told us that they’d seen the front driver’s wheel tilting and shimmying like crazy.

At first, I was filled with panic and a little anger.  What in the world was I supposed to do now? How was I supposed to proceed with the program? Would I be able to get our team back to Blantyre safely? How could I fix this thing?

The answer, of course, is that I could not fix anything.  But while I was having an existential crisis there on the side of the Muluzi Highway, my hosts and friends were doing something gracious and hospitable.  They were talking to the folks who had seen what happened.  They conferred and agreed that Maxwell, a member of Mbenjere CCAP, was a fine and trustworthy mechanic who should be consulted.

I transferred our team into my friend Fletcher’s small car, and I gingerly (and slowly) drove a couple of the elders over to the church where Maxwell had gone for choir rehearsal.  He came out with a big smile and said “All right, let’s go to my place and have a look!”  We limped a few kilometers over to his house, and the first thing he did was pull out his nicest chair and set it in the shade for me.  He changed into a jumpsuit and crawled under the truck.  As he did so, I was frantically trying to get control of the situation.  I did this by (ever so helpfully) calling the folks who had rented me the vehicle and letting them know that I was none too happy.  I called my friend Davies – who was preparing to travel outside the country – and asked him to help me generate some plan of action.  And, stressed out, I waited.

Maxwell – a.k.a. “The Service Department” – diagnoses my problem.

After 25 minutes or so, Maxwell called me over and invited me to take a look.  “You have a bad bush,” he said.  “You see there? The bush is gone.  We have to put a new one in.”

This is a bushing. You can buy them in the States for $25 or $30. Oddly enough, a “bush”, or bushing, is housed in the part of the steering assembly that is called the control arm.  Control arm?  There’s not too much irony here, is there?

“Ah, great googly-moogly,” I thought to myself.  “It’s Saturday at 4 pm.  Where in the world am I going to get a bushing for a Nissan Patrol in Ntaja?”  I eyed Maxwell hopefully.  “Is there any chance you happen to have a bushing for a Nissan Patrol?”

He laughed and laughed and said, “Ah, no.  We must go see the shoemaker.  It will be fine.”

Of course.  Because what else would you do when you need a bushing for a Nissan Patrol but go to the village shoemaker?  And yet, because I was fresh out of answers, I said, “Sure.  Let’s go.”  Maxwell said, “Because I have removed the control arm where the bushing is, I will drive.”  I looked a little shocked and said, “Are you supposed to drive without a control arm?” and he smiled and said, “Ah, no, not really.  But I can.  It’s ok.”


We drove a few more kilometers and discovered an ancient man sitting on a porch putting a new sole on an old shoe. Maxwell went to him and showed him the control arm and the worn out bushing and came back to me and said, “It’s ok. He can do this.”

I said, “So what do we do? When should we come back?”  Maxwell laughed.  “Come back? No.  We will remain here.  He will do.”

The “Parts Department” at Saturday’s auto repair shop…

And this aged Muslim shoemaker who speaks a language I cannot understand and who probably cannot read or write in any language took a walk around the side of this building an walked up to an ancient Caterpillar tractor tire.  He cut a large hunk of rubber from that tire and returned to the porch, where he spent the next half hour shaping into, well, a bushing.  He made a cylinder, and then he began to carve a hole on the inside – stopping every 30 seconds or so to change knives or to sharpen his current implement.  At one point I asked Maxwell, “But how will he know what size to make it?”  Maxwell exploded with laughter.  “He knows! He can do this.”

The tool box.


…and sharpening…

…and pounding..

…and trimming.

The finished product housed in the control arm.

When he had gotten the rubber close to the right shape, he began to pound it into the control arm, and then put the center core in place.  Finally, he trimmed the edges and presented it to me as though it were a DaVinci masterpiece (which, upon reflection, he had every right to do!).  I hadn’t noticed, but Maxwell had changed back into his jumpsuit and and jacked the car up right there in the shoemaker’s yard.  He reinstalled the control arm with the new “bushing” and said, “It’s ok.  We can go.  But first, you have to pay this man.  He is asking 4,000 Malawi Kwacha for this (that comes out to about $5.06).  I was incredulous and said, “But it has to be more!”  The man shook his head, and finally I was able to give him MK5,000 ($6.33).  We drove back to the church, and I asked Maxwell for his bill.  He refused.  I finally pressed MK5000 into his hand and said that it was his problem now – he could give it to the blind man who was begging by the road or put it into the Sunday collection or buy his family a case of Coke.

Another satisfied customer!

Maxwell, the best mechanic in Ntaja!

The next day, we visited the church, we went to dinner at a friend’s house, and we attended Bible Study without incident.  On Monday we were not only able to drive unimpeded to Blantyre, but we took a few hours to explore the Liwonde National Park as well.  All on a “bush” that was made from a “useless” tire that we’d have shredded long ago in the USA.

I learned something that day about the creativity and resourcefulness of my Malawian friends, and about the inadequacy of my own world view.  I am always learning something of grace and hospitality and trust and community when I am in Malawi, and this episode demonstrates that indeed this old dog can learn some new tricks.  I am filled with gratitude and wonder which, unlike my desire for control, are characteristics that are extremely well-suited for pilgrims! Thanks be to God!

Africa Pilgrimage Update #11

As I write these words, the 2019 Youth Pilgrimage to Malawi is already on their way back to Pittsburgh.  I’ve remained behind in Malawi, where I am preparing to join a few leaders from Blantyre Synod for a visit to our partners in the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC) in Juba, South Sudan.  More about that in a few days. What’s important now is to update you as to what has happened with our team between the ending of the host church visits and their stepping onto the plane.

We all reconvened at Grace Bandawe Conference Center sometime on Monday 15 July.  Some folks came back a little earlier than planned because one of our team members wasn’t feeling that well and we thought it would be better to err on the side of caution with an early arrival and more rest time.  That strategy proved effective, because by the time I arrived with the Crafton Heights team, our group had rested, eaten, and was eager to know “what’s next?”

Monday evening we were welcomed into the home of the Lanjesi family for a delicious dinner.  My friend Davies is my counterpart in the Blantyre Synod partnership structure, and even though his work required him to be out of the country on Monday, his wife Angella and daughters TK and Chiko were gracious enough to receive us.  I had such a good time that I forgot to take photos!

We had set aside Tuesday as a day for shopping and tying up loose ends.  As it happens, one of those loose ends was appearing on Mibawa TV to talk about the partnership and its impact.  Chikondi, Coleman, and I were interviewed for a twenty-minute segment, and our entire group was invited to offer a few reflections on this journey.  The program was broadcast live, and you might be able to see a recording of it by visiting this link:

A rather grainy screenshot of the television program discussing the partnership and this journey in particular.

Our team ready to “meet the press”!

Rayna offers a response…

Following that experience, we got on our faithful bus and headed to downtown Blantyre to give the young people an opportunity to purchase handicrafts and also to take an excursion to a Malawian grocery store.  You might guess that some of the folks were eager to dive into the crowd and haggle for a great deal whilst others found that type of interaction to be challenging if not draining. Again, I don’t have many photos because I was working hard to keep track of the young people as we scattered through a few adjacent stands to worry about snapping photos, too!

Greta, TK, and Chiko grasp a great deal from the curio market.

When most of our Malawian kwacha  had been spent, we returned to the Conference Centre to engage in the work of debriefing the trip.  During breakfast and following, we had begun this process by telling stories of our time in the various host churches: Mawila, Chonde, Mwanza, Balaka, and Mbenjere.  We continued that work by reflecting on the situation in which the Israelites found themselves in I Samuel 7.  They were in a jam, and they were clearly on their way from one place to another both geographically and spiritually speaking, and so they turned to Samuel.  He taught them some spiritual practices such as fasting and praying and challenged them to take steps forward in faith.  They were delivered, and Samuel set up a monument stone – he called it “Ebenezer”, meaning “up to this point, the Lord has helped me”. We considered the fact that the Israelites were at a critical moment – they knew that they had left a certain part of themselves behind, but they weren’t sure who they were becoming.

The pink post-it notes contain some “things that cause me anxiety as I plan for a trip to Africa”, and the yellow indicate “things that I’m excited about!”

This was a situation with which our group of young pilgrims could identify.  This trip has put them in some amazingly wonderful places as well as some downright uncomfortable ones.  They’ve seen the world through different lenses, and confronted some of their own stereotypes and notions.  Each of us realizes that we must have been changed by spending this time, but we’re not sure that such change is apparent or comprehendible as of yet.  And so we decided that maybe that Tuesday would be a good day to raise an Ebenezer – to claim that so far, God has helped us… and now it’s time to move on to the next spot, confident that the Divine Presence will be there when we get there.  Using some materials we developed during our orientation retreat, we talked about advice we’d give to our younger selves (of 6 months ago) who were anticipating this journey.  We then talked a little bit about the kinds of people we’d like to become in the next 6 months.  It was a good and rich and powerful discussion.

Not long after those conversations ended, we proceeded to the Limbe CCAP church, where we celebrated the journey with a farewell banquet.  The food was delicious, of course, and the conversations rich and lively.  There were approximately 100 people in attendance, many of whom have participated in the partnership in the past quarter-century.  We were presented with gifts of keyrings, a seed mosaic, and some Malawi tea.  We then took the floor and were able to offer these tokens of our appreciation:

  • a gift from Pittsburgh Presbytery to the Synod Youth Department in the amount of $500
  • a gift from the 2019 Youth Pilgrimage team to the Partnership Steering Committee in the amount of $800.  The hope is that this can be used to help defray the travel costs for one or more young people from Blantyre Synod for an upcoming journey to Pittsburgh.
  • a preaching robe and vestments were given to the Zomba Theological College via the General Secretary

In addition, we made a formal announcement of our earlier delivery of 700+ pounds of medical supplies to the Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission.

General Secretary Alex Maulana convenes the Farewell Dinner.

Not all of us are ready to go!

Wednesday morning came far too early! After breakfast we departed for the airport, where we were surprised to see a busload from the Balaka CCAP.  They got up early and drove down simply to see this group of pilgrims back onto the plane.

This is the group from Balaka that came to wish us a safe journey!

Even though he’d been out of the country, Blantyre Chair Davies Lanjesi met our team as they were changing planes at the airport in Lilongwe, Malawi.

It has been a good trip – a very good  trip.  I would encourage you to spend some time with one of the travelers, if it is someone you know, in the weeks to come.  Give them some space to wander around inside some thoughts that may have been disoriented.  Encourage them to continue to ask big questions and look for fresh insight.  And be grateful that you live in a world where such reflection and growth is possible!  Zikomo!

We Were Wrong…Let’s Not Do THAT Again

One of the highest privileges I’ve received is that of serving as Pastor for the community of The First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights for the past 26 years.  In 2010, this group granted me a four-month Sabbatical from my ministry for a time of recharging and renewal.  In 2019, they extended that offer again – so I’ve got three months to wander, wonder, and join in life in a  different way.  These entries will help to describe that experience – the sermons return in September.

While walking through the landscape of the Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, a sign caught our eyes.  Neither Sharon nor I thought to take a photo of it, but in retrospect it was rather profound in its honesty and humility.  In describing a technique that attempted to control a potential problem with many of the local trees, the sign said simply something like, “This was a mistake.  Many acres of healthy trees were ruined by this mismanagement of our resources.  Park Managers now approach this situation differently and the environment is better for it.”

It struck us as a bit profound: most of the signs and monuments we see are erected in those places where we were right,  or were something great happened, or where some great victory was won.  Who likes to memorialize their mistakes?

I spent the day on June 17 exploring an entire landmark site commemorating one of the most shameful chapters in our nation’s history.  The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center near Powell, Wyoming, is a monument constructed on the location of one of ten “Relocation Centers” built by the United States Government to incarcerate its own citizens during World War II.

Posters like this went up in communities all across the west coast of the USA announcing the imprisonment of Japanese Americans.

A typical anti-Japanese cartoon and a photo of a US Citizen being arrested by the FBI for the crime of having the “wrong” ancestors.

On February 19, 1942 – about a month and a half after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that propelled the US into World War II – President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order # 9066.  This led to the forced removal of 120,000 Japanese Americans – at least two-thirds of whom were U.S. Citizens at the time – into what our government called “Relocation Centers” or “Camps”.  A bad political decision fueled by an agenda-driven media that played on public fears meant that United States Citizens were forcibly removed from their homes on the West Coast, deprived of their possessions and livelihoods, and forced to live in places like, well, Powell, Wyoming or Topaz, Utah or Jerome, Arkansas…the middle of nowhere.  They were crowded into uninsulated pine barracks covered with tar paper and forced into routines that disrupted their family systems and attempted to shame them for their heritage.

Residents of nearby Cody were reluctant to house what many termed “the yellow peril”.


This is not what we usually think of when we talk about “sending a child to camp.”


Internees at the camp were assigned rooms based on family size – there were 4, 6, or 8 people in a single room. Each room had a coal burning stove. Latrines were outside (in the Wyoming winters) and meals were taken in common mess halls.

A total of 14,025 people lived at the Heart Mountain site from 1942-1945.  That made this concentration camp the third-largest city in Wyoming.  The citizens who lived there were not allowed to vote in Wyoming – but they were permitted to vote by absentee ballot in the state from which they had been removed! They were deprived of their livelihood, and yet they were subject to the draft.  800 of these men and women served in the US military (some with distinction in all-Japanese units that were deployed in the European Theater); others were translators for the government that accused them of harboring sympathy for the enemy; and 85 protestors refused to comply with the draft.  Many of these were convicted and sent to  federal penitentiaries.  Some of the quotes I read indicated that these men thought “Go ahead – arrest me. I’m already in jail.”  One comment reminded me of Cassius Clay/Mohammed Ali’s stance on the war in Viet Nam: an internee at Heart Mountain said, “Why should I go over there and fight for democracy when I haven’t seen it at home?”

In the “Reflection Room” at the Heart Mountain Center there is a photo of the camp’s barracks in front of a barbed wire fence. Visitors are encouraged to write remembrances of their relatives or friends who lived at the camp and post them on replica ID Tags.

When the war ended and the camp closed, each internee received a “free” train ticket and a whopping $25 in cash.  Many of these folks recovered and built healthy lives; but others never recovered from this experience.  In 1988 (yes, more than four decades later), President Ronald Reagan, speaking on behalf of the US Government, apologized for the imprisonment of Japanese Americans and said that it had been a mistake.

One of the things that shocked me as I prepared for this sabbatical was the number of people who, when I mentioned that I hoped to visit Heart Mountain, said something like, “Oh, no, Dave.  We didn’t do anything like that.  That never happened in America.”

One of the Guard Towers that was manned by armed Military Police at all times.

And yet, my friends, it did. Fearmongering politicians emboldened those prone to racial prejudice and manipulated an often-compliant press into paving the way for this travesty of justice so that it seemed right and prudent to too many Americans.

President Roosevelt rightly declared that December 7, 1941 was a date that would “live in infamy”. The attack on Pearl Harbor was cold, calculated, and evil.  We cannot forget that.  And neither can we forget February 19, 1942 and the days that follow – or else we run the risk of repeating that shameful chapter in our history.  Let us, beloved, stand firm in our resolve to ensure that all Americans retain the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let us resolve to be our best selves in all spheres of life.


Let’s Roll! Another Sabbatical Update…

One of the highest privileges I’ve received is that of serving as Pastor for the community of The First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights for the past 26 years.  In 2010, this group granted me a four-month Sabbatical from my ministry for a time of recharging and renewal.  In 2019, they extended that offer again – so I’ve got three months to wander, wonder, and join in life in a  different way.  These entries will help to describe that experience – the sermons return in September.

The first leg of this journey involves spending time with my bride of 37 years in a part of the country we’ve never been before – the great western part of the USA including the states of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota, and Colorado (I think!).  Our home away from home is a 19 foot motor home that suits us just fine.  I had thought about bringing dashboard Jesus (CHUP folks will understand) along with me, but when I considered the many people who might be using our vehicles while we’re away, I thought it best to leave him on the job in Pittsburgh and I just bought the extra insurance on the RV.

Now THAT’s what I’m talking about – the open road (and 19 feet of all the necessities for living!).

Our first campsite at Antelope Island.

After getting acclimated for a day in Salt Lake City, Utah, we collected our vehicle and headed north.  First stop was Antelope Island State Park, located right in Utah’s Great Salt Lake.  WHAT A BLAST we had!  We rode some “e-bikes” (you look like you’re pedaling, but there’s an electric motor that does all the hard work) and took a “sunset tour” of part of the Island.  Between the things we saw there and the things that presented themselves at our doorstep at the campground, we were seriously wowed!

The view from our first campsite…

We were eating our dinner and this wily coyote wandered by in search of his own! No roadrunners around, though!

All together now… “Oh give me a home where the buffalo (technically American Bison, but that won’t rhyme…) roam…

… and the (mule) deer…

…and the (pronghorn) antelope play…

…and the skies are not cloudy all day!” (but the mosquitos are fierce, so you’d better dress accordingly!

Sharon, the well-dressed cyclist, spends a little time up close and personal with this bruiser…

One more, because they are so amazing…

Sunset over the Great Salt Lake – a great ending to a fantastic day!

From there we drove a few hours into Idaho (the “Gem State”, in case you were wondering) and stopped at Shoshone Falls in the Snake River Canyon.  We had a delightful picnic lunch and celebrated the beauty of God’s creation.  After lunch we drove a bit more and arrived at The Craters of the Moon National Monument near lovely Arco, Idaho.  This landscape bears the scars of volcanic eruptions as recent as 2,000 years ago – and it truly looks other-worldly.  We clambered over rocks, up steeper hills than folks in our condition should attempt, and in general thought that we were in another place altogether…

The Snake River Canyon near Shoshone, Idaho

Shoshone Falls, Idaho

The eerie landscape of the Craters of the Moon National Monument

We had the chance to wander into a “lava tube” – a cave formed by the molten lava thousands of years ago…

…even more importantly, we found a way OUT of the Lava Tube!

In the foreground, “young” volcanic rock; in the middle are hills that are formed by the same rock, but older and therefore beginning to sport some vegetation; and in the background the snow-capped Rocky Mountains

And yes, I found a few birds out here. I added five to my “life list” today, including this male Mountain Bluebird.

…which, when you think of it, is the point of Sabbatical, isn’t it?  To be somewhere else, doing something else, as we continue the never-ending journey of becoming someone we have not yet been.  I am truly grateful for the ways that this trip has afforded me time with my wife and in God’s sanctuary of creation.  Odds are, as you read this, you are NOT on Sabbatical.  My hope for you is that you might be struck by a moment of awe, wonder, or joy this day and think, “I did NOT know that yesterday… I’m growing.  And that’s good.”  Joy to you!

You Are Here

Well, the travel portion of the 2019 Sabbatical got off to an inauspicious start, to say the least.

I mean, our flights were great, and the travel was fine… and so far, it appears as though I only forgot one thing.

My dining room table.

You see, up until recently, my dining room table held a treasure trove of maps and research and insight and question marks and post-it-notes.  And then that got set aside for “Camp Grampy” and a few other reasons.  And so all of that collected research, invested study, and penciled-in hopes are now safe and sound in the 15205.  And my bride and I find ourselves on the opposite side of the Continental Divide in Salt Lake City.

In some ways, I was literally “all dressed up and no place to go.”

But then – a wonder.  As we walked (OK, Sharon walked, I moped) down the street in Salt Lake City, we came across a public art installation entitled  “Point of View”, located in front of the Salt Palace Convention Center.  This work features more than 150 signs – “standard” road signs in form if not in content, each with a pair of diametrically opposed ideas or phrases.  As we wandered down the sidewalk, we were struck by the pairs: “Act/Do”, “Swords/Plowshares”, “Mountain/Molehill”, “Apples/Oranges”, “Flat/Phillips” and even “Tomato/Tomato” (think about that one). Some of the signs had an odd red painted over them.  Only when viewed from across the street can you get the full effect – all of that red points to a bench – and it would appear as though the viewer of, or the participant in, the art must decide… “Who am I? What will I choose to do/think/act/be today?”

if you look hard enough, you can see that I am, in fact, “here”.

There was nothing I could do about my dining room table, with its collected wisdom, ambition, and hope.  And yet there was much that could be done about my choices relative to the fact that I had made a mistake.  And as we contemplated those signs, it was easy for me to think about which ones I might have chosen, and to empower myself to choose my afternoon’s energy expenditure in light of who I wanted to be, rather than what I was afraid I might become.

To that end, we continued walking down West Temple St. until we got to Temple Square, and we toured the grounds that are so important to the Mormon community.  We walked through a number of tableaus featuring both Biblical and extra-Biblical scenes, we met some amazingly kind people, we learned a lot about the Latter Day Saints, and we even had the chance to hear an organ recital in the Mormon Tabernacle – regarded as one of the most acoustically perfect buildings in the entire world.

In front of the Temple, with the gold statue of the Angel Moroni glittering in the azure sky

The “Assembly Building” was constructed from the stones that were left over when the Temple was finished!

And, thanks to a good friend who has not only a key to my home but an understanding of how my brain works, I now have a few photos of the maps I left at home.  And I’m betting that there’s an AAA not far from here.  So in this case, I think I can go with “either/or” and it’ll come out just fine.  As it so often does, thanks be to God.

There’s a plan…

Read more about “Point of View”: