Our weekend out of town; The Story

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Our weekend;   The Story.  I have a peridontist appointment about every three months, in a town about 2 + hours from where we live.  So we have turned it into a weekend getaway, and a visit with my mother who lives in a nearby town to the town where my peridontist is located.

Had my peridontist appt Friday and the report was good – some small improvement actually.  Not much improvement, but far better than deterioration.    Then we went to my mother’s home, spent the weekend. and then came home to our animals.   Our cat and dog remain at home, and so our time away is limited to a safe duration for the cat and dog to fend for themselves.

Now that my cat bite is healing and the cat is healing, life is returning to normal.   (A couple weeks earlier the cat was bitten by an animal, and in not knowing she was bitten, I picked her up, more rather tugged her out of her hiding place and she bit me…not at all her usual behavior, she is a very loving cat.   We didn’t see her wound at the time, but knew something was wrong with her.  Arthur spotted her wound, and we took her to the vet, who gave her a vaccine, and told me was more concerned that I get myself to hospital to treat the cat bite.  I did, was vaccinated and given antibiotics, the incident reported to County Health, the cat quarantined at our home for 10 days and we are both mending without incident, the primary concern being exposure to rabies).

When we returned home, our dog Jake resumed eating again.  He misses us when we are gone and gets sad – depressed.  Dogs have feelings.  Oh, and our cat too, she has feelings, misses us and glad when we return home.

After my peridontist visit on Friday afternoon we drove to my mother’s home, picked her up and went out to eat.  We live in a rural town, and there aren’t a lot of restaurants or places to eat, so we enjoy the opportunity of eating out at different restaurants on the days of  my peridontist appointments.  It’s an eating out together date we look relish.  Choosing a restaurant in the town where my mother lives proved not to be as obvious as it might seem.  We kind of scoured what we knew to be restaurants in her neighborhood, opted to go further away, settled on Black Angus, since I was hankering for a nice steak lunch.  We got there and it no longer has lunch, open for dinner only.  Must be the economy.  The hour was growing late into the afternoon, I was hungry now, and we had not eaten breakfast that day,  or at all, so we wound up at (oh yuck!) Old Country Buffet.   My husband likes the many choices of buffet restaurants, and sometimes so do I, but Old Country Buffet is not one of my favorites.  We both really enjoy the buffet variety of primarily healthy choices at  Sweet Tomatoes restaurant, but there were none the town where my Mom lives.

Saturday husband spent the day home, defrosted Mom’s freezer for her because it had become so full of ice that the ice on all the shelves were touching each other, no room for food.   He took care of some other taskings for her, then spent the rest of the day fooling around with installing stuff in his old fashioned computer.  Not the laptop kind, the big bulky kind.  Some guy he knows had given him some Linus software to download or told him about it.  Anyway, it was a dead computer (not working) and when he finished the download it sprung back to life, installed Windows XP and is sort of functional again.  He was delighted.  Still needs an audio driver and something else that would permit it to link to internet.  He was just intrigued that it started working again…kind of like a guy tinkering in his garage with his power tools, only Arthur likes to tinker with puter.

Saturday I took Mom to Farmers Market in Proctor area of Tacoma.  It is a district that more resembles Portland or some Seattle districts; organic, green living, conscientious choices – that sort of thing, and an amazingly cool, fun grocery store with very upscale item choices.  For a mere $309.00 you can purchase a wheel of gourmet cheese!  An experience in itself.  (I’m being a bit snarky – it would be very unlikely we would ever spend that kind of  money on cheese.)  We visited a new consignment shop in her immediate neighborhood – delightful items, colorful, fun, upbeat, cheerful.  I liked it.   But I didn’t buy anything, because in truth, neither of us need another thing!

And more for the hunt of treasure than because either of us need anything more in our homes, we went to a few garage sales. What was being offered wasn’t the kind of garage sales we were looking for – more like junk sales.  We had fun anyway because we toured many of the University Place neighborhoods, the million + $$ homes with breathtaking views of the Narrows water, Narrows Bridge, the outlying island.  And alongside the million + $$ homes, are more modest ranch style homes.  You can be on a ‘house of dreams’ street and turn to go down the the next street which could well be a quiet and modest street of different ranch style homes.    University Place neighborhoods are in interesting mix of income levels.

After our tour of neighborhoods,  I took her to visit Charlie at cemetary where his ashes are placed.  It is a beautiful, peaceful cemetary, a place of quiet serenity amidst the hubbub of getting from here to there.  Nice place to quietly reflect on life.  I know, it may sound like a strange juxtaposition to reflect on life when at a cemetary where the dead are buried…..but that is how it works for me.

We went back to Proctor district that evening to have dinner at a niche Mexican restaurant (not a restaurant chain) because Mom said she heard good things about the food and atmosphere there.  Lively atmosphere with mix of old and young people dining.    I had a Taste Assault dish called Chicken Mole, although it would be better named Chicken in Mole (pronounced molay) Sauce, because the sauce was Outrageous –  6 ingredients, and I can remember plums, almonds, mole (an unsweetened chocolate), and some other ingredients.  It wakes up your taste buds like wowza!   Not hot or even spicy, flavorful would be the word I would use to describe it.  Flavorful with each bite.  My husband took a menu and will experiment at home with making the mole sauce because I liked it so well.

Sunday we took Mom to her church (St Andrews Episcopal Church).   A bit of history here; my mom lost half her sightedness recently and is vision impaired now.  Mom had been saying she felt she needed something inspirational amidst all the doctor appointments and bad news.  We are lay preachers at our local Episcopal church, and along the way, I decided to call the Priest at St Andrews to talk to him about Mom.  When she was a child, she attended Episcopal church in Spokane.  I explained to him her childhood church exposure, and her current medical condition with being sight impaired, being told by her doctors not to drive anymore. He agreed to visit Mom immediately and arranged for someone to pick her up and take her to church on Sundays.

She has been to St Andrews now, a few times, and wanted us to visit her church.  We wanted to visit it also, as I enjoyed the upbeat conversation with the Priest – he was energetically young, even though he isn’t young.    That Sunday they had special guests, a singing group who livened up the entire worship service with renditions of the hymns done to foot tapping music.  Guitars, tambourines, horns, and one of the gals playing guitar was barefoot!   Felt like we were at a campfire gathering!  Geesh!  But the worship service having a combination of traditional liturgy, the laying on of hands for healing, the Eucharist, and the lively music with a welcome invitation to all does reflect ‘The Emerging Church’.

We loved the church, it had accommodations our little church building isn’t equipped to have, and if we lived in that area, we would likely attend that church.   Afterwards we ate at a restaurant in her immediate neighborhood that she is fond of – an old fashioned restaurant left over from approximately the 1950’s era.     So lots of eating this weekend, way too many calories, and Mom had a nice weekend.  So did we.

Oh and at the Farmer’s Market I bought some snow peas that were priced below what is usually charged for snow peas, so I bought enough to freeze.  Bought a couple of tomato plants already bearing tomatoes, and a basil plant.   I didn’t plant a vegetable garden this year, and haven’t spent much time outside with the herb and flower gardens, so keeping it light this year.   Weather hasn’t been too cooperative where we live – cold, rainy, then unseasonably blistering hot, then cold again.   At the market, I found a growing salad bowl planter that I wanted and Mom bought it for me for my birthday gift.  The planter has growing  lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro plants  – salad ingredients, and that is the extent of my vegetable garden this year.   Except all the herbs I have been growing for a few years now.

And I was delighted to learn about a lovely tasty sauce called Chimchurri  – tasted some at the market, and just had to buy one – lime Chimichurri.  Great to use as braising sauce for grilled vegetables, on meats, or just straight on healthy chips or fresh veggies.   Taste delight!

It was a rather sweet weekend.  Last year around this time, we had visited Mom and she and I went to Lavender Festival on Vashon Island, ferry ride over and back, a beautiful, clear, sunny day, making the waters deep blue and picturesque. There was a Farmer’s Market there too, and we visited that Farmer’s Market.


It Is American Migration History

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I am not sure why I found myself agitated after reading the book, and in talking to my husband who has written and published his own book ‘And Should We Die’ on the same subject, I came to realize some of the reasons for the agitation. My husband, is a descendant of one of the ancestors of the Martin handcart company; Mary Jarvis, who married James Crossley, thus my husband’s ancestral lineage. He did not know that when he wrote his book, and the sensitive and tender manner in which he handled the characters and subject is one of his many attributes which attracted me to him.

In appreciating, respecting, and admiring that he has such a proud ancestral heritage and lineage, I began to feel like I needed to learn more about my own lineage. And I set about to do so, learning of a strong maternal Norwegian emigrant lineage and an equally strong paternal German emigrant lineage. But that is as far as it got for me – people’s names but not so much their stories. I have to admit I envied my husband who had actual accounts and stories of his emigrant English lineage in the Mormon migration under Brigham Young . Having learned of and read my husband’s book, I had a great empathy for the hardships the people of the handcart companies endured in their pilgrimages, with the Willie and Martin handcart companies enduring the unendurable.

Reading the later book by David Roberts, ‘Devil’s Gate, Brigham Young and the Great Mormon Handcart Tragedy’ I found myself in an uneasy place in recognizing this historical migration does not belong strictly to Mormon history but more appropriately belongs to American history. The unease for me, I think, comes in the efforts by the LDS Church to minimize the extent of the cruelties and hardships endured by the emigrant migrants in making their way from native countries to the great Zion of Salt Lake Utah by a means prescribed by one man – Brigham Young and adhered to by his ardent followers – the early Mormons.

Essentially I am struck by how it was conceivable in his mind (Brigham Young) that women, children, men should travel in approaching winter months across the Rocky Mountains with so little in the way of clothing and food; much less the tortuous manner of travel in the energy required to be exerted in pulling handcarts minus anything resembling conditions facilitating the necessary amount of sustenance required to do so day after day.

With an inaccurate record of the recorded deaths along the treks of both the Willie and Martin handcart companies, it is nonetheless considered by history to be one of the greater tragedies of the American migration westward, with an exceedingly high number of (un-necessary) deaths. The number of deaths from the combined Willie and Martin handcart companies could be put at approximately 200, exceeding the number of deaths on the historically famously known Donner Party pilgrimage.

In what appears to be a long term historical effort by the LDS Church to turn human travesty and needless suffering into a story of faith and testimony elevating the LDS Church and beliefs, at the expense of the real faith of those who suffered, I find that I have come to resent the presentation of this history that has been so guarded by the Church in a false belief that it belongs to Mormon history. As long as it is permitted to belong to Mormon history, the narrative of the story is colored by the agenda of the LDS Church. That I do not resent, but rather understand and permit that the Church like any other institution wishing to present itself in a more favorable light will write the narrative to it’s own agreeable satisfaction.

However, the history of the Willie and Martin handcart company does not belong strictly to Mormon history, nor does the LDS church have ownership of the narrative. It is a history that better belongs to the whole of American history, and not in the glorious form of hardy, valiant and persevering souls as is presented in Mormon history but to be added to the numerous tragedies that abound in the American history of westward migration.

I recommend the book and even taking into consideration that the author wished to compile the content in a way as to point to accountability and culpability of Brigham Young and his adherents in this fatalistic crossing, one cannot help but come away from the book disturbed with the mechanisms that fostered the horrific conditions suffered by the people of these two handcart companies who undertook the journey. Their Personal Faith is a testament to Faith with a capital F. I am not sure it is a testament or testimony to the belief set of the LDS Church or Mormon beliefs, but I absolutely know it is a testament of Faith.

How dare the LDS Church take credit unto itself for the strength and determination of the personal faith of those pioneering souls!They came and they persevered with an internal and personal faith beyond the comprehension of the LDS Church. I claim their courage as a testimony to human capacity of internal faith that fosters extraordinary human endurance in the face of great odds. I believe such faith rarely belongs exclusively to any Church but is unto itself the depth of which faith can help humans to persevere in the face of much adversity.


Where is the Shepherd?

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Speaking for the Lost, Shepherding the Lost

This sermon was prepared with anniversary of 9/11 in mind. Also this sermon was filmed by Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Seattle correspondent, Lee Hochberg.

Liturgical Verses for Sept 12, 2004

Exodus 32: 1, 7-14

1 Timothy 1: 12-17

Luke 15: 1-10

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.

We always begin our sermons with prayer; May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable and today I need to repeat this for my own sake, one more time. I look to the Lord to give inspiration and strength to my words today.

Welcome. This is a somewhat unusual Sunday for us at St John’s. We have a few more guests and visitors than usual. It is typical for us at St John’s to welcome newcomers and I want to do that before I plunge into the sermon. A welcome to Lee Hochberg and the Newshour crew from Seattle. We thank you for being here today. (Intro to the other guests attending by name)

As a kind of explanation, our worship service is liturgical and we follow a liturgical calendar in the selection of the verses that are used each Sunday. There are 3 verses, called the Lesson, the Epistle, and the Gospel, as well as a reading of the Psalms. The sermon then attempts to pull meaning out of the assigned versus and hopefully tie them together to see how they connect.

Sometimes that is not an easy tasking. It always gives me an opportunity to reflect, ponder and deepen my own understanding, deepen my own personal relationship in a spiritual context. Having said all that, let me get started and a tiny warning; my sermons are just about the right length, today’s will be a tad bit longer, so patience please…

Today is Sept 12, which means yesterday was Sept 11, the 3rd anniversary of 9/11. This week the fallen soldiers in Iraq exceeded the 1,000 mark and stands at 1,007, the wounded number 7,000 and the civilians – fathers, mothers, and children that are not being numbered – ranges between 10,000 and 30,000. Let’s take a moment in silence in honor and rememberance for all who have made sacrifices with their very lives and bodies.

Silence. Amen

Let’s look now at today’s verses, and we have in Exodus Moses engaging God himself in direct dialogue advocating for the people and asking God to set aside his wrath, his anger, and his plan to destroy the people. We have in the parable as told by Jesus, a shepherd actively seeking out a lamb lost from the herd, finding the lost lamb and restoring it to the whole. There is also rejoicing at the restoration in this parable. We have a second parable that mimics the first with a woman who has a lost coin and actively seeks to find it, rejoicing also upon finding it at the restoration.

We have 3 instances of different people taking Responsibility, Accountability, and Actively taking action steps to advocate, recover, restore and rejoice that their actions brought about a change. I would say the 3 verses have in common these aspects:

— an awareness of something lost or about to be lost.

— and upon that awareness or awakened awareness, taking deliberate and immediate actions to intercede.

The shepherd acted to immediately go and seek out the lost lamb. The woman acted immediately to search for the lost coin. Moses acted immediately to attempt to sway God away from a decision of destruction on the people. Moses continued to lay out his arguments until God changed his mind.

The interesting aspect of the story with Moses, is that he had NO need to intercede on behalf of the people, as God had already said to Moses that he was found favorable in God’s sight. It seems God was prepared then to make a new nation our of Moses. Yet Moses did take decisive action to Intercede and pleaded for restoration of the whole.

In the Shepherd parable, there are already a number of popular interpretations as to the meanings: the idea of the sacrificial lamb; the idea of compassion in seeking out the lost lamb; the concept of reconciliation and restoration which is a popular theme in our church; or as some see it one must leave the herd to find their own way — to be found.

A little word play here; the shepherd must leave the herd to find The One. If that were the end of the story, that might be okay, but the story goes on to show the shepherd finding the one lost sheep and returning to restore it to the whole, then rejoicing in the restoration.

I had to think some on what sheep and herding and the role of the shepherd might have mant to this people of ancient times, the ancient tribes. So I asked my husband, Arthur, who spent some time sheep-herding with his grandfather when Arthur was a young boy. I asked him – what does this look like? – you are herding 100 sheep, take a head-count and find you’re down one – what do you do?

He explains – you go out immediately and find out what happened to it, see if it is injured, hurt, damaged or caught up in a ravine or brambles and can’t navigate. So I asked him – well why would a sheep stray anyway, what would it be looking for? He said – sheep graze and look for food and a sheep might be following a food trail, and not notice the herd has moved on. The sheep might get caught up, injured or have become prey for a predator.

I asked him – well, it’s hard to see it in our modern times, you’ve got 99 left, why not cut your losses, consider it the cost of doing business, or collateral damage. Why did you leave the rest behind to go look for it? He told me – because his grandfather expected it of him and that he would be accountable to his grandfather, not only for it’s where-abouts, but also for the amount of energy and the degree of earnestness young Arthur put into searching for the lost lamb.

If his grandfather ascertained that young Arthur had done all within his power to locate and restore the lost lamb, then grandfather would be satisfied it was a job well done. If young Arthur did a lazy or careless job, then grandfather would ascertain that as well.

So I next asked him – well then back there in ancient times, why was sheep-herding and the role of the shepherd important? So much so as to be used in a parable from Jesus. Arthur explains – it is commerce, the livlihood and well-being of the tribe depends on their wealth and prosperity.

I then conclude that a shepherd who does a poor or lazy job then is not likely very respected by the tribe. There is a relationship here in the tribe to the shepherd, the shepherd to the tribe, and the well-being of all depends on the dynamics of this relationship. An inadequate shepherd is quite likely not given charge of too many herds, likely released from his duties as incapable or unable, and quite likely receives some amount of ostracism from the tribe.

He has not failed just for himself, he has let down the tribe and fallen short of expectations. He has damaged the relationship and dynamics that are inter-dependent on each other.

I’m looking now at the parable and seeing that Sacrifice of the One is not the point, rather responsibility and restoration to the whole is the point. I would suggest to you that a good shepherd, let me say that differently, a person good at the job of shepherding does not sacrifice one lamb, does not accept easily the idea of collateral damage, and acts immediately with earnestness and conscientiously to find that which is lost and restore it to the whole.

Bring this forward now to our own century. Look at the different roles our verses show us today; Shepherd, lost ones, Intercessor, Manager of resources. Look at each story and be reminded that in each story the people took immediate action. They did not wait in prayer or meditation and hope God or someone else would take care of it. They acted and acted in accordance with their sense of accountability to the recovery, and restoration of the whole.

As you well know, in my family, we have 2 young men with families of their own deployed to Iraq, where they spent 15 months. You know this because my sermons make reference to it often and frequently. It is my daily experience, it is never out of my thoughts. They are, as of August 2004, now back to their bases in Germany. Two weeks ago we were finally able to deliver my daughter and her 3 children to the airport to, at last, after 18 long months, fly to Germany to be re-united as a family. You know because we have included these ones in our weekly prayers. But let me tell you now, a different side to that story.

Where was their shepherd in all this? Who shepherded the soldiers while they were in danger? And who shepherded their anquished families at home?

Where was their Moses? Moses willing to advocate and argue with God on their behalf … even though Moses already had a secured position with God.

My daughter lived 18 months alone with 3 children, in a small-town, civilian community just 30 some miles down the road aways from us. She put up her yellow ribbons and the flags in her yard, on her house and it was pretty clear to see this was a family with a loved one deployed. In 18 months not one person in that town reached out to her. In 18 months not one church – and there are a a good number of churches in that community – not one church or church member reached out to her. Where were the shepherds?

In her own family, some of us did shepherd her, reach out to her and too large a number of her family did nothing; did not phone her, did not check in with her to offer up moral support; did not send cards of encouragement… Aunts, uncles, cousins and even some more direct family abandoned her during an incredibly difficult 18 months. Where were the shepherds?

I don’t share this to point fingers of blame, or imply a sense of guilting. I am a military family. I speak out in support of the troops by bringing them home and ending this war that we know is a product of lies. I am a mother now who goes to bed each night with a prayer that our loved ones will live though the night and be alive in the morning. My reality is completely altered by the fact of this war, the fact of loved ones deployed, the fact of young mothers (fathers) with children left alone to fend as best they can while each moment they pray their husbands (partners) will live another day. My reality cannot return to a time before deployment, it is irrevocably altered.

I’m not unfamiliar with military life, military code that is to be followed. I am a military brat, raised in military life. I was young wife to Vietnam veteran who did not choose military enlistment but was drafted into it and sent promptly to war. We raised our 3 children in the shadow of Vietnam.

I know from years of exposure that military families are expected to suck it up and respect that soldiers will follow the orders of the Commander-in-Chief and in public speak respectfully of their duty and their commanders. I know this and I choose to break with that code, question and challenge the value or need of this war, advocate for soldiers and their families who have little room for their own authentic voices.

I break with the long-held military tradtions to instead take action in calling out for recovery of the lost sheep, whom Jesus does not instruct us to sacrifice; in restoration of the lost to the whole. I take pride for just a moment today that not unlike Moses, I follow an example that teaches us to speak out, to advocate with God himself if need be, for the restoration of the whole.

We must act as the shepherd did, we must act as Moses did as we are shown in these verses that we are indeed charged with a responsibility to act once we become aware that something of value is lost, be that life, commerce and prosperity, cultural values, or whole communities of people about to suffer the destruction of wrath, anger .. unchecked.

God is not an angry, vengeful God, and as we interpret biblical scripture, we cheat ourselves if we view it in literal or even linear terms. We choose then the lazy way, we become a lazy shepherd. The bible taken as God’s absolute word leads us to a lazy interpretation that quickly begins to sound like rhetoric; easily borrowed to further a personal agenda or even a popular campaign.

One can look at the example in Exodus today of Moses arguing with God. Was that Moses being persuasive, was that God willing to relent or is there a more subtle teaching to be taken? Did God then perhaps test Moses as a shepherd to his chosen people and discerned from Moses outspoken-ness in advocating for the people that, indeed, Moses was competent in his duties as a shepherd?

Remember God had thrown in there that no harm and, in fact, prosperity would come to Moses. Is this God being so disgruntled, so hot with rage as to reach out and destroy his people or is something else with more nuance going on in this story?

We cannot say on one hand, I am a Christian following a Christian path and say on the other hand war is justified. Jesus did not teach war. Rather much the opposite as when his followers and disciples who were seemingly eager and ready to take up arms, Jesus told them No – his and his Father’s ways were not the ways of mankind. It begs us to think and consider our own actions with regard to this war.

A silent voice is implied consent.

St John’s has reached out to Cambodian and Laotian refugees who came to our community. St John’s has reached out to Hispanics who came to our community. As our President has said these are historic times, and perhaps it’s time for St John’s and all other churches to act historically and reach out to a new set of refugees – our own war-torn military families.

Families who live with the reality of deployment, the returning soldiers who survive the ordeal but will have ongoing new personal battles for themselves and their families. Perhaps it is a historical time to act not unlike Moses did and advocate for all God’s people, and plead not for destruction, but for recovery, restoration of the whole.

Perhaps we can act competently as a good shepherd and seek out the lost ones. Perhaps if we do not see ourselves in the role of the shepherd, we can ask, as Moses did , that the shepherd then who Is tending the flock, act in accord as a good shepherd. Competently, and with regard for all the flock he is charged to attend and perhaps we too can ask that wrath, anger and destruction be laid aside that God’s people might live and we are all God’s people…


sermon prepared by Lietta Ruger

Sept 12, 2004