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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Chicago In My Heart

I’ve been back in Chicago for the first time in awhile. I’m attending a conference tomorrow that supports my Louisville Institute project and is addressing some concerns about issues that are important to me. And so I built in some time to see old friends and enjoy this old haunt of ours. Chicago is a city of significance for me. I went to College here, I went to Seminary here, I did my internship at a Covenant Church close to the University, and I was the University Chaplain for the 5 years prior to our moving to Sweden. Chicago has the been the birthplace of some of the most deep and abiding friendships I’ve ever known. It’s a gift to return, to feel the nostalgia of this place we called home, and to remember many, many wonderful times.
 Doug and I met in Seminary, got engaged at the Swedish restaurant that is across the street from the University (perhaps a fore-shadowing of what our life would be?!),  and were married in the campus chapel, newly built during my first year as chaplain and the first couple to celebrate our nuptials there.  The corner of Foster and Kedzie on the north side of Chicago has shaped my career and my family and I am grateful.
Big changes have occurred during the years we have been away, most significantly, a big, beautiful building went up. The Nancy and G. Timothy Johnson center for science and community life has transformed the center of campus and it was a thrill to see it up close.  My parents had both died when the campaign for this building was happening and my mother happened to know the G. Timothy who the building is named for and so in the midst of our grief and sorting through all that went along with dealing with their deaths, Doug and I decided that we wanted to make a gift to the campaign in memory of my parents. They both studied sciences, and valued education so it seemed a fitting memorial.   We had not seen the building nor the donor wall so it was pretty neat to get to see it on this trip. In addition to our own connections to this campus community, my mom also went to this school and taught there for awhile and Doug’s folks also attended this university so it is really a place of significance for us. I loved walking around the campus, seeing the spring flowers finally in bloom, remembering so many deep conversations I had with students, the countless chapels that we executed and the theological studies that helped shape and form me into the pastor I am today. I used the library for a couple of days as well to get some work done on this book project I’m forging ahead with and it was such a gift to have that made available to me. I spent some time with the current President of the University who was the CFO while I was chaplain and an ardent supporter of me and it was so good to get caught up on his life as he prepares to finally retire after 29 years of faithfully serving this place so many of us love. The University Ministries offices are in a completely different place than when I was there and I loved seeing the prayer chapel, open to students, to drop in for a quiet moment, to share a request, to meet with God in a still, small place. This cross was fashioned out of a mulberry tree that had to come down in order to build the building. 
I have enjoyed connecting with a variety of people, including a student I met as a freshman who I hired to work with me in University ministries after he graduated, a woman who was part of the student life team and is now the dean of student life, a couple whose kids I had in my first youth group and who I roped into going on a mission trip with us one year, a woman who I worked with at the church during my internship who has graciously opened up her home to me to let me come and go as I please, another woman who was a student when I was chaplain who now works at the University who has shown me immeasurable support through the years. It’s nice to have fans who affirm and encourage you. I have been able to spend time with dear friends from the church that Doug served before we moved to Sweden, one family who were our next door neighbors, another who have just suffered a great tragedy, having to bury their beloved and wonderful 28 year old son due to an unexpected medical condition. Hard, heartfelt, loving, connected conversations with friends I hardly see but with whom I enter right back to a place of closeness and understanding. I spent an evening with my best friend from University days, a woman I met as a freshman almost 40 years ago! Went to church at a place where countless other relationships from this amazing community were present to reminisce and reconnect with me. It has been a joyous love fest of celebrating deeply woven relationships for which neither time nor distance have torn down. And of course, I ate pizza!
 I don’t know if I could live in Chicago again...it did snow just last week! And the traffic is epic for sure. I did enjoy re-tracing my commute, roads that I drove on zillions of times in all kinds of weather. The muscle memory was there for sure! So who knows what will bring us back this way. But no matter what, I will always welcome with an eager heart the opportunity to stop by the Windy City and feel the deep resonance with this city of my heart filled with friends of my heart. -

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

04/04 for the 4th time

     So it’s been 4 years now since my dad died. The past week has been kind of rough as Facebook reminded me of the journey through his final days on earth. It’s still touches a tender spot in my heart. Tears come easily. Grief returns. I still miss him most days. 

     Today is also the 50th anniversary of the murder of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Until this year, I had no idea that my dad’s death corresponded with this significant event in history.  Of course, the assassination of King is a much more significant event in history than the death of my father but my own personal history is much more deeply affected by the untimely passing of my father. 
     So what can I say today, 4 years down the road? I still miss him. I feel very thankful for the gifts that he and my mom left to me and Doug, gifts that have allowed us to build the life that we have here in California. He would’ve loved that we lived in both London and Paris since leaving Stockholm. He would’ve loved seeing Maddie and watching her grow. He would be all over every renovation we’ve done to the house and to the yard. He would’ve loved this year’s March Madness with all the upsets and the fact that Loyola Chicago got to the final four. He would’ve loved that I’ve learned to make pie crust from scratch and he’d be up for eating pie whenever I felt like making it. He would be up here with us all week watching the Masters. He would be thrilled that the Angels acquired Shohei Ohtani and would be excited to watch almost every game of the 160 game season! And he would’ve reflected deeply on the death of Martin Luther King, acknowledging his amazing legacy, one that helped him to love the underdogs in our society, most notably the young Hispanics that he took under his wing and helped them build their businesses and establish their lives in the US under somewhat hostile circumstances.
     I wish he was still with us but I also must admit that I wish he was alive as the younger, healthier man that he was. Admittedly, it would not have been easy to watch the aging process continue to take its toll, but I wanted him around for at least a few more years. I wish we were getting together regularly to play cribbage. I wish we were watching sports on TV, yelling at the refs, cheering for our favorites. I wish we could’ve gone on an Alaska cruise together. I wish we lived in the desert full-time while my parents were still living. Yeah, I wish for many things.
     But even in the midst of the grief that I feel, I feel grateful that we shared the relationship that we did. We understood one another pretty well. We thought a like on many things although not all things. I inherited his intensity in all things and while at times I wish I were more mellow in my reactions to things, I’m also happy for the deep feelings that he taught me to exhibit. 
     I am grateful that his impact was deep in my life, but also in so many others. I still hear from former players, in fact, got a great note from one of them today, who acknowledge the role he played in shaping their lives. I still wonder if I will ever attempt to tell the story of Coach Moon and his championship teams through the eyes of his players but that’s a project for another day, probably another year. 
     So, for me, the 4th of April will always be mostly about my dad and his passing and not the other very significant event that rocked the US 50 years ago. I will always journey through this time of year, especially when his death date lands so close to Easter as it did this year, with sadness and gratitude. His final days were so awful for me, so unexpected, so hard to believe that in many ways it’s taken me 4 years to even understand how deep the wounds went. Both of my parents have their fingerprints all over our house in obvious ways, like the 52” TV that hangs in our house that came from theirs, like the lovely 2012 Honda SUV we drive, like the ways in which the sale of their home helped to pay for the renovation of ours. But even beyond these physical gifts, their fingerprints are all over our lives as we seek to be generous and loving to all we meet, as we reach out to those less fortunate than we, as we try to leave a positive imprint on others in the way that they so deeply and effortlessly did in so many other people.  
     I had great parents. And for all who knew them, I’m confident that they thought the same. Incidentally, the 5 year anniversary of my mom’s passing is in just 3 short weeks so April is pretty much a month of remembering my loss while acknowledging how much I gained through their very beings. Peace to their memories. And wow, do I have a treasure trove of them. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

And Her Name Is....

   ICYMI, we got ourselves a little yellow Labrador retriever on Monday. She is a doll and admittedly we are falling in love even though the sudden halt to our life of leisure and independence took some getting used to. We had not intended to get a pup quite this soon but Doug saw the ad for these puppies on craigslist and there were so many things that were right about this situation for us. So we drove out to the breeder’s house and I knew within 10 seconds that we had ourselves a dog.The puppies loved shoelaces and all of them were busy working on mine at one point!
  There were 7 pups in the litter, one of the female yellows was spoken for so that left our little nugget along with two males. One of the males was rowdy and reminded us a bit of Tanner. Charming as he was, we kind of thought that a bit smaller and perhaps less intense this time around might suit us better! People say that dogs choose their owners and well, I kind of feel that way about her. She was so sweet, wanting to be picked up and loved, and she was tiny, a very petite little girl. 
So that was that. We said yes, we paid for her and off we went with her in tow, which was a huge surprise to me that we were bringing home a dog on Monday, February 19, 2018. 
   We still had all of Tanner’s stuff so the only thing we really needed was to stop and buy food, dog poop bags and a few chew toys. Crazy that we were back in dog ownership and even crazier that we were back into puppyhood. You do forget how demanding these first weeks are but slowly but surely we are figuring out the drill. It’s much easier working with her from a house with patio doors that lead directly outside than from the apartment we had in Stockholm and of course, the mild climate is an advantage as well although it has been unseasonably cold out here with a lot of wind. We look forward to hanging out on the patio with her although she already seems quite at home on the chaise loungers!
 So really likes chasing a tennis ball and jumping around the backyard. She likes her monkey toy the best. And of course, she is interested in chewing shoes, my red toe nails (note to self, next pedicure, get a more subtle color 🤣) and anything with strings. She seems to be responding to no but it’s early. We do have to watch her like a hawk as she’s fast and determined. She eats like a champion and she is smaller than Tanner ever was and also much more mellow. She wants to play hard but then she’ll crash out on your lap for hours. She loves being close and we’re happy to be her cuddle buddies right now.  We are trying to be strict, not letting her jump, not letting her sleep over night with us, saying no, but it’s hard to not want her on our laps all the time. 
So of course, the great debate was her name. Because she was unexpected in terms of the timing, we hadn’t really thought about it. I have always wanted a dog named Zoey but Doug nixed that over and over again. Very disappointing for me but what can I say? We tried out Annie. It didn’t stick. Other candidates included Harper and Sandy but again, neither of them felt right for them long haul. We moved away from Nordic names since our connection to Sweden is in the rear view mirror. And we tried to think of something related to our travels or food but calling a dog baguette while cute, didn’t really seem all that practical! We wanted a strong female but naming a dog after Jo March in Little Women when your name is Jodi seemed a bit over the top. Female names have always been harder for me so I just wasn’t feeling drawn to anything.
   Then Doug came up with Madeline/Maddie, inspired by the children’s books set in Paris and that seemed quite viable. We also enjoyed, in Paris, the amazing company of an 8 year old Madeline last spring so that was a good connection too. But I wasn’t sure. So I did a little more digging and came up with Sydney as it suits the global nature of our lifestyle and is a beach city. I could’ve gone with Cali based on our new home or something related to the desert but again, nothing really stuck for both of us. So we tried out Maddie and Sydney. I put the question out on Facebook and while there was lots of support for both names, Maddie was a bit of a front runner. I began to get concerned about saying sit Syd and Sydney didn’t quite have the strength we wanted. Then I was watching the US women’s cross-country sprint team comprised of Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall, beat out the Swedes and Norwegians for the first gold medal ever in cross country skiing and suddenly Jessie was appealing! But again, the alpha male in the household didn’t like it at all. So after all of the back and forthing and wondering and garnering opinions from everyone we know, Maddie was making a strong case for herself. Then, the US women’s hockey team won the gold medal in large part because of the stealthy play of goalie MADDIE Rooney and well, that was an excellent connection as well. 
So meet Ms. Madeline, Labrador extraordinaire, curious, strong, adventurous. It suits her and we love it. Nicknames will surely include mad dog and Madagascar and we couldn’t love her more. 
And with all of our beautiful photos of Paris, we just might have to recreate our own series of books with this Madeline’s adventures in Paris. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine’s Ash Day

The calendar lands us at a strange juxtaposition of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. I jokingly told some Pastor friends that maybe they should impose chocolate on people’s heads this year instead of ashes. It’s tough to give up chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Another Pastor friend posted this on FB: Cracked me up. But really, the two days have the gift of love at their core. On the one hand, Valentines invites us to express our love to those who are dear to us. Ash Wednesday reminds us of a love far greater than our human love, the love that God has for his children, that while we are yet dust, sinners in a sometimes very evil world, God sent his son to die for us so we might know the deep love of redemption and forgiveness. Love is painful and involves sacrifice. Valentine’s Day is painful for a lot of people. For the single person longing to know the joy of committed love, it stands as a stark reminder of their aloneness. For those struggling through the pain of a broken relationship, the cards and flowers and candy hearts only point to their own broken heart. And for the one who had a Valentine for more than 50 years but their beloved has passed on, it’s an unwelcome road to be on, to face this day alone. But even committed love has its share of pain embedded in it. We fight and disagree with the one we love and who loves us. We hurt those closest to us. We take them for granted and push them aside for selfish gain. Perhaps on Valentine’s Day we would do well to sit with the pain of the way we disappoint our loved ones in order to be further propelled to love better. That’s what Lent does for us. It prepares us to experience the love of God in Christ better, more fully. But first there is some pain and sorrow. Because Ash Wednesday is pretty painful. It is a stark reminder that we are but dust, from the dust we have come to the dust we shall return. It ushers Christians into the season of Lent, a season of reflection, repentance, sorrow of our sin, fasting or giving something up, a time of solemnity when we set aside celebration to sit with our failure for just a bit so we might know the victory that is ours in Christ when Easter arrives a few weeks down the road. In church on Sunday, at the end of  the service, the pastor pointed out that all of the hymns we sung had alleluia in them and that as we enter Lent there will no music with alleluia in it until Easter. We put that away for a season so that we can learn to sit with pain and shortcomings and failure. And that’s not very much fun. But it is necessary in order to experience more fully the joy that Easter and resurrection bring. 

As for us, Doug gave me a bouquet of beautiful yellow tulips  and I asked his mom to bring some of favorite malted milk balls from MN since she arrived yesterday. There will be cards and expressions of love. There will be ashes on our foreheads after noon when we attend a midday service. And we’ll probably have something yummy to eat tonight. And I’m thinking about my single friends and the longing that they have today and wanting them to feel loved even without that special someone in their lives. 
Yes, today is a painful day for many for a variety of reasons but it’s also a joyful day because our pain is promised to be redeemed. So maybe it’s quite all right to celebrate Valentines and Ashes on the same day. Because if you are hurting today, know that there’s compassion wanting to meet you. If you are joyful today, soak it in even while acknowledging that joy recedes and you will likely need to forgiven by a loved one sooner than later. Love well. Forgive well. Admit your shortcomings and Thank God He’s present in it all.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Reflections on Being Back for One Month

My Facebook memories reminded me this morning that it was a year ago that we announced that we would be moving to Paris. It's hard to imagine the whirlwind of activity that was surrounding us at that time as the decision to move came about quite quickly. But with the year in our rear view mirror, as I have stated over and over again, we are so thankful for the opportunity that we were given to serve at ACP. I have been missing ACP a lot this week. The women's retreat was Saturday, our youth intern and his wife were in London for a youth pastors gathering with other good friends of ours and it would've been wonderful to have joined them in that little adventure, and we miss the stimulation of working with creative and thoughtful colleagues along with the fun of bumping into one another on a regular basis and all of the energy we put into making each other laugh! We also miss the students and young adults that we journeyed with weekly throughout our time. The new youth pastor is scheduled to arrive soon and we are so excited for him but it makes us a bit nostalgic! And today we tried a new church, Hope Lutheran in Palm Desert and found it to be encouraging. They even had handbells...not as good as ACP but still, a nice connection and they even played an old Covenant Hymn, 'Children of the Heavenly Father' which made us feel a bit more at home.
Yet, in spite of the above, we have been really happy in our home here in Desert Hot Springs. The "winter" weather this year has been stunningly beautiful with above average temperatures and very little wind, unusual for our area. We've enjoyed the golf and the exercise classes, the pool and the jacuzzi, the fresh citrus fruit from our trees, getting our home in order and the presence of burgeoning friendships with people who have warmly welcomed us back. We even played in a 4 person scramble last Saturday and came in 2nd place! It's hard to believe that we've been back a month. Where does the time go?
This past week it began to dawn on us that we were not on vacation but that this is life. For me, this season is laced with gratitude for the opportunity to chill out along with feelings of occasional loneliness and isolation, not having a job to do, feeling a little bit insignificant in the overall scheme of life. I need a little structure to my life and have realized that I need a bit of a schedule especially if I am going to make significant and important progress on my grant project. But now the Winter Olympics are in full force so that really screws up my drive to be productive! I know I will find rhythm in this life and am learning to enjoy each day for what it brings.
So some reflections on America.
Deals. There's always a deal. The low price of some merchandise still staggers me. But I guess the sheer volume of goods the US consumes helps that factor. We joined this thing called Movie Pass.here. You pay $10.00 a month and you have unlimited access to films in your area. The catch is you can only go to one movie a day and you can't see the same movie twice. Not such a big problem! So far we've seen 3 movies and that easily pays for our monthly fee. Weird. Don't understand it. Happy to use it.
If you live in the US and you like going to films, you should check it out
Food. Overall the CA grocery stores have decent produce. We are lucky. But I do miss the variety of lettuce that the French stores carried. And of course, the lovely cheeses. You can find "specialty" lettuce in Trader Joe's or Whole Foods, but those stores aren't convenient to where I live. In face, the nearest grocery store is a 3 mile drive from us so I definitely miss walking to the store to buy fresh produce and that unforgettable baguette for dinner. I either have to buy it ahead and hope I use it in time, or run to the store all the time, which isn't as fun in the car. Love the ribeye steaks that go on sale out here and also been indulging in Mexican cuisine with homemade guacamole (the avocados have been beautiful and cheap) and carne asada with my own marinade. Fajitas remain a staple in our household.
Convenience. Ordering stuff off of Amazon, stores like Target, and a vast array of choices in every store we enter is often overwhelming but also kind of fun after the years of struggling to find exactly what you need and where you might find it in the smaller European markets. Excess goes along with this but it's nice to know that you can track down almost anything you might want or need for a decent price.
Violence. The US is, sadly, a very violent place. The nightly news is filled with reports of killings, shootings, accidents, robberies, etc. Why we struggle in this category so much more than other places is a mystery to me. I remain nervous about our loose gun culture and hope I don't get caught in a crossfire anytime soon.
Time Zone. While I miss being nearby all of beloved friends in Europe, it is admittedly nice to be closer to my US friends. Of course, many of closest friends still live a couple or three time zones away but it's still better than 6, 7, 8 or 9 hours apart. But it's weird that when I get up in the morning, my European friends are half way done with their day. I'm always wondering what time it is somewhere else. Funny because I can barely keep track of what time or day it is here. I rarely wear a watch anymore.
The US is my native country and the place I do feel most at home in the sense that my defaults are deeply ingrained for functioning here. While I find some aspects of this culture troubling, at least I have a decent understanding of this culture. It's nice to fully function in the native language as well!
I have learned to enjoy living in other places and am grateful for all that my experiences of living abroad have given me. I will always have to adjust to certain things being quite different than what I grew used to in Europe. I think my reverse culture shock would be even greater though if I was working or adjusting back to life here with children in tow or living somewhere that I didn't love so much. But with all of the great recreational opportunities that are on offer for us through our club, it really helps us to enjoy the California lifestyle that I have always treasured. I love the sunshine, the staggering blue sky, the desert landscape, and the mountains and the hills that rise up around us.
Life is good. I am thankful. Not much more I could ask for at this point. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

(Backup) The Sad State of our Union

Because it’s often difficult to fairly critique something when you haven’t heard it first hand, I decided to torture myself and actually watch the State of the Union. It’s no secret that this president drives me absolutely nuts every time he opens his mouth so it required some effort to give him my precious time. It will come as no surprise to those of you who know me well that I found his speech lacking in vision and inspiration, filled with half-truths and outright lies that will appeal to his base and leave people hungry for more of the same. Now, to be fair, if he does indeed engage in criminal justice reform, if he brings down the price of prescription drugs, I can get behind those initiatives. But I’m gonna go out on a limb here and simply say that a year from now, I have serious doubts that either of those things will be checked off his to do list. This is what dismays me with politics. Feed the base with baseless claims knowing that people who support him will simply take it as gospel truth and continue to spew the racist rhetoric that has been such a hallmark of this administration. America first has some dubious history behind it. We must not forget what this has lead us to in the past. 

Now, I realize that one makes the claim that someone is racist that gets people’s ire up. So let me explain how I’ve come to this conclusion based on what I heard and saw in the SOTU. It’s clear that he values white American citizens over all others. 
Trump’s plan for immigration reform is laced with bargaining chips. He is basically saying that he will only say yes to the DACA dreamers if we slam the door shut to all who follow. He told outright lies regarding the visa lottery and chain immigration. His quote: “The third pillar ends the visa lottery — a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit or the safety of our people.” The truth: The visa lottery program provides 50,000 immigrant visas to people from countries with low immigration rates to the United States. An 18-page guide from the State Department says applicants must have a high school education or two years of work experience in the past five years that requires “two years of training or experience.” The applicant must undergo a medical exam and cannot have a criminal record. Visa winners are then subjected to a lengthy background check that can last for months. 
His quote: “Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.” The truth: Immigrants who obtain green cards or citizenship can petition to bring in their relatives. But that doesn’t automatically allow entry into the United States. Anyone applying for residency must undergo national security and criminal background checks. The federal government also places annual caps on the number of immigrants’ married children and adult siblings who can sponsor for a visa. The system is badly backlogged; as of Nov. 1, more than 3.9 million peoplewere waiting in line. Some siblings of immigrants who in 2004 petitioned for a visa to come to the United States were just this month starting to have their claims processed. 
For me, granting the DACA dreamers either citizenship or green cards should not be held hostage to other issues and 90% of Americans feel the same way. They were brought here as children, by no fault of their own and have figured out life here. If they have no criminal record and show proof of thriving and contributing, why in the world would we want to destroy the trajectory of their lives by continuing to hold them hostage to a broken system? The fear that drives an amnesty is that it will fuel others to bring their kids in illegally. That’s a separate issue. Deal with DACA on its own merits. Do the right thing without holding it hostage to other immigration reforms that may or may not stem the flow of illegals immigration.
Over and over again Trump talked about America first. This is perhaps the most disturbing thing for me. And where I have deep theological issues with the conservative Evangelical support for this president. Our gospel is not one of America first. It is one that values all of God’s children equally, globally. As Trump talks of immigration reform and DACA, he only lifts up examples of gang members, while refusing to tout the myriad success stories of kids and families that have struggled through ridiculous obstacles to build a solid life here. Of course, we should control our border a bit better but at the same time, we shouldn’t assume that a wall or discriminatory practices will ensure that. When Trump says that Americans are dreamers too it fails to acknowledge the ways in which American citizens are also drug users and abusers, domestically violent, serial sexual harassers, white collar thieves, etc. Trump needs to stop insinuating that most of the crime in this country comes from illegal immigrants. It is just not that simple or clear. And I propose that if we granted those who live and work here illegally amnesty, the quality of their lives would rise and their contribution to a better society would increase even more. Trump said a lot of infammatory things about immigrants. If you are a supporter, do some fact checking before you get behind his very biased and slanted view of things.
Speaking of a slanted view, his claims about tax reform and unemployment are also highly nuanced.  His quote: “We enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history.” The truth: Mr. Trump won’t stop making this claim, even though zero evidence supports it. Tax cuts signed by President Ronald Reagan were larger as a share of the economy and in terms of their effects on federal revenues. The recently passed tax bill appears to rank 12th in American history, as a share of the economy. Look, I don’t blame any sitting president for taking credit for the economy when things are good but we have to be discerning when it comes to these realities. There is no way that in a year’s time Trump’s administration can be responsible for the wild growth in the stock market, the low unemployment among African Americans (it’s proven that the trend was already in place when he took office and has just continued), and wage increases, which are in fact increasing at a lower rate than they were at the end of Obama’s second term. Look, bottom line, Trump exaggerates EVERYTHING. It’s always the best, the most, the grandest, and the greatest with him and frankly, it’s causes lots of eye rolling at this point. It’s just so easy to shoot holes in what he says. So it’s not just a repeal of Obamacare, it’s a repeal of the core of the disastrous Obamacare...also false but also hurtful to those for whom Obamacare has been a lifeline of insurance, me included. It has its problems but it is not carte blanche disastrous. 
For me, this SOTU points to what I’ve been feeling for a very long time. I think the current Republican Party is mean. I think they are selfish, self-serving, money grubbing, white supremicist seeking individual gain who don’t really hide it very well. How in the world parts of the Christian church can get behind this is baffling to me. I don’t care if people are rich, but why do they have to be so rich that they squash those below them? I’m quite sure that there is very little money trickling down even with stock portfolios blooming and companies showing huge earnings on the year. I’ve long said you can live on 9 million dollars as easily as you can live on 10 million and a million reallocated dollars for those less fortunate would go a long way. But unfortunately, we get our money, we keep our money. We don’t give it away. And individual giving can never support the kind of social programs and helps that a collective effort can produce anyway. 
The state of our union makes me very sad and leaves me quite dismayed. Right now, America is selfish. We are not the shining city on a hill that Reagan called us to be. We are a money grabbing, kick your way to the top, discriminate and disparage people of color and those who are less fortunate, and less privileged for the sake of comfort at the top. That Trump continues to feed this base, both rich and poor, of people who like his rhetoric and are willing to be fed a pack of lies in order to confirm in their minds what they want to hear is very sad to me. There’s just so little honest, sane engagement in this day and age. It’s a very different America I’ve come back to this time and I definitely do not want this America to be first. It is not good for our world and it does not honor the God I love and serve.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

New Look, New Life

     We landed back in the US 12 days ago and this is the first blogpost I've put up since we arrived. I had to change the photo header and the description to sit our current surroundings and I figured why not change the color layout as well! Change is good. Keeps things fresh. Right?!
Fortunately the trip was uneventful and we got all of our luggage home without incident. We had a quick stopover at Heathrow airport in London where we were able to pick up egg salad sandwiches and notice the embarrassing headlines regarding the US.  Lovely, NOT.
     It is always nice to land in warmth and bright sunshine, but in the dead of winter, it's especially nice. Our departure from Paris was laced with tears and laughs and the joy of savouring a year of pure delight. The American Church in Paris will always hold a place of high regard in our lives and the memories of our life there will remain bold and impressionable. We're soaking up the podcasts and keeping up on what's happening through the website and contact with colleagues. We miss our dear colleagues, the students we worked with and the joy of Sunday worship services that always inspired. But it's also pretty wonderful to be back in the home that we have built, in an area that we love. It's amazing that even 4-5 years down the road from my parents' passing, when I return to this area, I miss them. I wish they were here. That feeling returned once again as we pulled into our town. We remain thankful that my cousins live nearby. They provide us with a sense of family that is otherwise void for us in this area. They helped us out tremendously in the months that we were gone and we are forever grateful for their willingness to watch over our house and take care of our mail and any number of other details that come up when you live abroad. Thank you Mike and Susan!
     Coming back this time we have a few more friends in the area and it's been wonderful to have people greet us and welcome us back. We were invited to a retirement for a friend and many of the folks that we enjoy playing golf with and hanging with were there. What fun to be welcomed back. We had to laugh a bit as the party started at 5.30 and was pretty much over by 9.00. We are not in Paris anymore where nothing ever got going much before 8.00! Life here consists of early nights and early mornings.
     We started playing golf and returned to our water aerobics class pretty much right away. The water exercise is the best I've had for the issues related to my hip and back and I'm thankful for the opportunity to swim and sit in the jacuzzi. Water is healing! Picking grapefruit, lemons and limes, squeezing juice daily, and using them in my cooking is awesome. It never ceases to amaze me that we have this out our back door.
     The garden looked pretty good although was a bit ragged in places. Doug has worked hard to get it looking good again. The house was in good shape but of course, there's too much stuff and lots of disorganization so as we've unpacked we've tried to re-organize a bit. Always feels good to have a clean start.
     I love my kitchen, the big sink, the gas stove and the large island. We love having our outdoor grill. And we've traded fresh baguettes for fresh tortillas. So far I don't miss it too much! I do miss the French grocery store, the beautiful food and ease with which food termed gourmet here in the US was just readily available. I did find my favorite cheese at Trader Joe's so when I really need a fix, I can splurge. 
     I love driving my car but I hate that I have to drive everywhere! No walking to the neighborhood store to pick something up. We loved watching the Minnesota Vikings and their miracle finish against the Saints, only to suffer the disappointment of getting trounced in the NFC championship game. We love our big TV and our comfortable and beautiful living room. We went shopping at outlets yesterday and found great deals on nice clothes and stopped to eat at In-n-Out on the way home. We've met friends for Happy Hour. We've sat on the patio and taken in the starry sky.
     Trump's America is as disgusting to me as ever and I just want to renounce all support of this man from the far right conservative evangelical leaders. He does not get a 'mulligan' on his moral failures. He continues to articulate a racist point of view of minority people and wants to dismantle so many good things in this nation. Those who support him seem to be able to give him a pass in return for the returns they are seeing in their stock investments. This represents a moral failure of catastrophic proportions. Who is looking out for the vulnerable and the weak? I'm quite sure that people's giving percentage has not increased with the increase in their portfolios and that is why trickle down economics do not work. The trickle just dries up as soon as the flow of money comes into the fat cats pockets. Sorry, just needed to be clear about where I stand, in case that was in question!
     We miss people. Always. But I love the sunshine. Love the recreational opportunities that are now at our fingertips. Love seeing folks who we haven't seen for a long time. Love being back in the US time zone, having phone conversations with Doug's mom on a regular basis and connecting with friends.
     Right now, it feels like we are on vacation so our life is kind of resembling that. Eventually we'll have to figure out what we want to be doing with our time. I need to work on my project for the Louisville Institute so plan to get that going pretty soon. We need/want to find a church that we can enjoy and volunteer with. We'd like to learn more about what other volunteer opportunities/needs there are here in the Coachella Valley and figure out where we might be useful. In the meantime, we are enjoying our life here. We are thankful for another season of sabbatical as we adjust to life in the US, ponder when our next trip back to Europe might be and in what capacity and enjoy the joy and beauty of each new day here in desert.
Taken this morning, just as I finished up the blog