My Montana Tiara

January 23 I was “installed” as pastor at Columbus Community Congregational Church.  It had been joked that it was going to be my “coronation.”  I responded in kind that I would “polish my tiara.”  My friend and colleague Meg was the speaker.  She carried the joke forward. Saying she was sure that I was too humble to actually bring a tiara, she pulled from a bag a lovely cowboy hat.  She proceeded to place it on my head, identifying it as my “Montana Tiara.”

The most amusing aspect of this for me, however, was how my attitude evolved about this event.  Initially, I thought “ho-hum, a necessary formality.”  But then I took more initiative in planning for the ceremony.  I asked Meg to speak.  I asked that the formalities be kept simple.  I decided to read a poem and sing a solo in response to my installation.  The day turned out to be a lovely celebration.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Those who attended seemed to really appreciate the upbeat atmosphere of the ceremony. 

What difference might it make if we approached matters in another way?  Tasks that might otherwise  seem to be boring or drudgery or overwhelming, instead might become a challenge, an opportunity to take initiative to alter the situation. 

An extreme example is currently in the news of Lily Ebert, the 98 year-old Auschwitz survivor who wrote Lily’s Promise: How I Survived Auschwitz and Found the Will To Survive.  Much like Victor Frankl, who survived concentration camp  imagining himself as a professor teaching at a university, she made it her intention to live to tell her story. 

I don’t expect to ever experience anything as traumatic as those situations.  But I do know I sometimes I have an attitude that makes even ordinary tasks more difficult than they need to be.  And I know life can challenge us in ways we never expect.  My Montana Tiara serves to remind me that I choose my attitude and the approach I take in situations that present themselves to me. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  My Montana Tiara!

When An Entire Generation Passes

              This week my Aunt “Pinkie” died, just short of her 97th birthday. I have no aunts or uncles left now.  Her five children are surely now experiencing that sense of being “orphaned.”

              Her given name was actually Betty.  In the way that names sometimes run in families, I had another “Aunt Bettie,” my mother was named Betty and my sister-in-law Elizabeth is known as Betty.  But Pinkie was more often known by her nickname due to her red hair. 

              My favorite memory of her occurred when I was about four or five years old.  My parents and I had gone to visit. Unlike my parents’ small home where my bed was located in my parents’ bedroom, I discovered at my aunt’s and uncle’s home, I was put to bed in a big bedroom by myself.  Even now, I can remember feeling scared and alone.  I began, first softly, then more loudly, to call out for my parents.  It seemed like my aunt suddenly appeared and recognized how distressed I was.  I don’t remember where I ended up, only that she was so understanding and immediately corrected the situation.

              My aunts and uncles were mostly peripheral during my growing up years.  I saw them mostly at family reunions whenever they occurred.  But somehow they provided a comfortable backdrop of caring relatives who always seemed happy to see me, predictably proclaiming how much I’d grown.  I can recall thinking, “Of course I’ve grown.  What did they expect?” 

              As one and then another has died, I am aware of how valuable even that limited amount of contact was. When I became an aunt at 17, I so valued my new role. I, too, am on the periphery of my nephews’ lives.  Yet one of my proudest moments was a few years ago when the oldest posted tribute to me on Face Book. 

              The slender threads of connection can be more meaningful than we know,  so much more solid than we recognize.

               May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

              Hope’s Café Bonus:  I discovered if you google aunt that you will discover there is a national aunts and uncles day. (Who knew?):”National Aunts and Uncles Day is observed every July 26. Our aunts and uncles are unique parts of our family; they can be like a second set of parents, or great friends you happen to be related to.”

Connections

When I was a child, I was entranced by the notion of pioneer times.  I thought I would have liked the adventure of being a pioneer.  There are a lot of reasons I recognize now that I would not have adapted well to that kind of experience.  Being cut-off from easy communication would have been my downfall.  No phones!  No email! No Facebook!  No internet!  Now some people would say, that would suit them fine.  Certainly, the plethora of modern communication does become burdensome and unplugging periodically seems to serve our health.  And yet….

I think of a long-lost friend who tracked me down through an old phone number she got through my high school alumni association.  I recall a phone call I received once as I was just about to walk out of the office at the church I was pastoring in Florida, the caller having somehow gleaned from the internet that I was there.  She had been a client of my husband Terry when she was a teenager and just wanted to convey how well her adult life was going and to thank him.  And last week I discovered someone had left a message on my blog, yet another former client in search of Terry.  These kinds of connections strike me almost like wizardry.

People have applauded us for uprooting ourselves at this stage in our lives to move to Montana, trekking like modern day pioneers to a place where we had no established connections.  And, indeed, this was an adventurous thing to do, when staying put would have been the more reasonable course to take.  But I honestly don’t know how well we would be able to live with this choice were it not for zoom.  This morning we will zoom with a group back home, and again this evening with another group of home folks.  These are weekly rituals.  This is not to say we aren’t making new friends.  But the former ties sustain us.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: Connection:  The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.— Brene Brown

Small Town Living

Our church sits next to the original building called, appropriately enough, The Little Stone Church.  It is sometimes rented out for showers, weddings, other events.  Last weekend it was rented for a craft show.  I went over to introduce myself and the organizer said, “Oh, yes.  I’ve heard all about you.”  The next day I conducted a memorial service where I was introduced to someone from out of town.  She said,“I’ve heard a lot about you”….Small Town Living

              We live close enough to the church for me to walk to work.  This week we had snow.  As I walked to work, I encountered someone blowing snow off what I assumed was his driveway.  I laughed and said, “I need to send you down the street to my house.”  He said, “Where to you live?”  Startled, I gave him my address.  “You live two doors down from my mother,” he replied.  I asked what he charged and he said, in a tone that bordered on embarrassment, “Oh, just whatever you want to pay me”…..Small Town Living.

              The next day I went back to pay him.  When I knocked at the door, to my amazement, Dick, a church member, answered.  It turns out the snow blower is a neighbor, who blows off the snow and shovels the sidewalk for Dick in return for some of Dick’s home-grown vegetables…..Small Town Living.

              I was told when I moved here that helping one’s neighbor is characteristic of this ranching and farming area.  If a farmer or rancher has encountered some problem or disaster, neighbors help out, knowing next time it could easily be you.  And you know that when your time comes, they will just as quickly come to your aid. 

              This awareness that we have some responsibility to others and that we engage in some mutual benefit by serving one another, seems to me to be lost in our current milieu.  So much of what is wrong in the world, boils down to a person or group of persons or a corporation, deeming their needs or desires supersede anything or anyone else’s needs or desires. 

              Years ago I read the book The Navigator, a novel with detailed a group of people who decided to establish their own colony, with no rules.  Anyone could do whatever they wanted.  They discovered this was really untenable.  There had to be some ground rules that made living together in community possible.  Rugged individualism is one thing.  To totally disregard the needs, rights and well-being of others is a totally different thing. May we seek always to be good neighbors and to cultivate community.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  If you google “Cultivating Community” you will find a group in Portland, Maine, organized to support ” teaching people sustainable farming practices and connecting them to the community through our food hub.” They “support and manage diverse urban growing spaces, enabling community members to grow their own food within city limits.”  They also “increase access to local, healthy foods for low-income consumers, providing affordable produce through CSA shares, farm stands, and mobile markets.”

Tempus Fugit

“Tempus Fugit”—Time Flies…..how well I know!  A year ago we were about to wrap up a near four-month stint of caring for our grandsons.  I returned to supply preaching while trying to figure out how to search for a call during covid.  Then when I least expected it, I got a call to, of all places, Montana, where I had never even considered going. Suddenly we were selling our house and moving.  Then last month we bought a house and so we have moved from our apartment into a home—right at the church season of Advent!  To complicate matters, we were without internet for a week and my printer crashed.   

All this is to say, Hope’s Café has been neglected!  I return to you today with the recognition that likely everyone reading this shares the experience of life being disrupted in ways you didn’t anticipate.  So I count on you to “give me some grace,” as I am fond of saying. While in the Christian tradition, grace is the free and unmerited favor of God, another definition is “an extended period granted as a special favor,” the response I am seeking for my delay. 

So, in return for the gift of your grace, I offer this:

Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.

Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God.

Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong

Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside

When you can finally live
With veracity
And love.

Hafiz is a divine envoy
Whom the Beloved
Has written a holy message upon.

My dear, please tell me,
Why do you still
Throw sticks at your heart
And God?

What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear?

Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred

This is the time
For you to deeply compute the impossibility
That there is anything
But Grace.

Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Is sacred.

– Hafiz

Hope’s Café Bonus: There is a PBS piece  from September 2019 on Joy Harjo, which I could not seem to copy the link to and make it work.   Ms. Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and has been the United States poet laureate.    She is from my native Oklahoma and later taught at my alma mater in Knoxville, TN.  Among many youtube videos of her, there is one available of her reading her poem “Grace.” I would encourage you to check it out.  😊

Irony

About three years ago I began to have some difficulty with my right leg.  Periodically I would get severe cramps in it, unlike any leg cramps I’d ever had.  Peripheral artery disease was ruled out in 2019.  I didn’t get a diagnosis and I dropped the matter.  In 2020 when the problem evolved from cramps to pain that was becoming more and more frequent, I decided to pursue this again.  Knowing that I was likely going to be accepting a pastorate and wanting to get the procedure taken care of before moving, I got a referral to a vascular clinic.    But there was a delay after the ball was dropped in the office where I had completed testing and gotten a diagnosis. Then, though insurance approved it, Medicare denied it.  The day before the movers came in August to move me to Montana, where I had in fact accepted a call to serve a church, I received a call.  The news? That Medicare had approved the process on appeal! Great—except that the move was about to ensue. 

So, now established with a new doctor in Montana, I began the process anew.  I got a referral almost immediately.  The new office was extremely efficient.  And, biggest surprise of all, the nurse practitioner  spent nearly an hour with me!  I got much more in-depth information than I had received in my pre-move appointment and was very impressed with the nurse practitioner.

I am reminded of the Sufi story “Good Thing, Bad Thing.  Who Knows?” which I first heard years ago.  The farmer’s horse runs away…oh no!  Then it returns with a second horse….oh good!  Then the farmer’s son falls off the horse and breaks his leg….bad thing!  Then a war breaks out and the son is ineligible for the draft because he is physically not able….good thing!  He doesn’t risk worse injuries or death.

I was so disgusted when I wasn’t able to get the surgery last summer. (Bad thing!) Now I am much more comfortable with the care I am getting.  (Good thing!)

When we look back at our lives, we likely all can point to experiences such as these.  In 2010, my position was cut from a hospice job I loved and expected to continue to retirement.  I was truly devastated.  But that led to my path towards ministry and a position I deeply love.  And my hospice experience is valuable in this new vocation. 

Ironic as some twists can be on our journeys, all these experiences contribute to the tapestries of our lives.  Think of it as “irony as gift.”

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: “No problem comes to you without a gift in its hands.”—Richard Bach

Judgement vs Compassion

I have encountered several situations recently where compassion would have been the charitable response.  Judgement so easily comes first.  I would love to say these were all judgements other people made.  But even ministers are capable of tripping over judgements.

 I got a voicemail from someone looking for a minister to marry her and her fiancé.  Were they a local couple?  No, they were “travelling around and ended up in Montana.”  Some other plan had relied on a relative to arrange for the wedding but that had fallen through.  My first reaction was more of curiosity.  What was the story here?  But I also thought, Really?  As a pastor, I take the authority to perform marriage ceremonies seriously.  This struck me as something of a lark.  I felt a little offended:  Don’t ask me to bless something that is less than full commitment. 

Then I thought back to my own first marriage, how it was all about “being married,” not about being committed.  Who am I to judge?  Even if that were not the case that when I took those vows, I was less fully invested in what marriage would involve, it was still not my place to judge.   Judgement reinforces our sense of superiority; puts distance between us and those folks with whom we don’t want to be identified.

Certainly, in today’s milieu we are in need of some means to build bridges.  Although I don’t have any foolproof remedies for this, I am intrigued with folks like Daryl Davis, 63 year old black man who has successfully engaged Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis.  As reported by Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times in June:

“Davis began to work on answers after he graduated from Howard University and joined a band that sometimes played in a Maryland bar that attracted white racists. Davis struck up a friendship with a K.K.K. member, each fascinated by the other, and the man eventually left the K.K.K., Davis said.

One of Davis’s methods — and there’s research from social psychology to confirm the effectiveness of this approach — is not to confront antagonists and denounce their bigotry but rather to start in listening mode. Once people feel they are being listened to, he says, it is easier to plant a seed of doubt.”

So perhaps we can at least pause when our first impulse is to judge and seek to at least consider an alternative response.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café BonusAccidental Courtesy | Film about Daryl Davis Meeting KKK …

https://www.pbs.org › independentlens › documentaries

Small Town Living

              I grew up in a small Oklahoma town, about 9500 population.  Until now, that was the smallest town I had ever lived in.  My new home isn’t quite 2,000.  Some folks who have seen my photos on Facebook have commented that it looks like we live in “Mayberry,” that we seem to have stepped back in time. 

              There is a sense in which this experience does indeed feel like we have entered a time machine.  As a kid, I walked everywhere or rode my bike.  Growing up, Main Street was the focus of the town. Little shops lined the streets.  Lew’s Drug boasted a soda fountain along with medicines and merchandise.  Link’s Drug, the competition, was across the street.    Security Bank where my mother worked was on one corner.  The National Bank was one block down.   The town was on the Chikaskia River, a tributary that eventually becomes part of the Mississippi River.

              In my new home, I can easily reach on foot any place in town I want or need to go.  Main Street is a central “shopping district,” so to speak, where one can peruse little shops, go to the bank or the florist or the auto parts store.  Sadly, the drug stores with soda fountains have mostly disappeared from American culture.  But we do have a Whistle Stop Café and a Chinese restaurant.  And our town is right on the Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri River.

              Here is the pivotal difference in the two experiences:  Growing up, I knew or knew of most of the folks living there.  When I was downtown, inevitably I encountered people with whom I was familiar.  In my new home, I am perpetually aware that I am a newcomer.  People are friendly enough, but I am an outsider.  I met with two pastors of nearby Congregational churches, one of whom I was meeting for the first time.  She asked where I was from.  When I replied “Tennessee,” the other pastor gently teased, “Can’t you tell when she opens her mouth? That lovely accent!” (I am thinking, “What accent??”)

              So as we move on from our known experience to the unfamiliar, we can be certain that change will bring some discomfort.  I am enjoying so many aspects of my new life.  But I don’t like being “the new kid on the block,” aware that other people have deep roots and longtime connections here. I am challenged to consider these folks “ friends I just haven’t met yet”  and  reminded of the old adage “to have a friend, one must be a friend.”

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet.”—William Butler Yeats        *        “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friendship

The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.— Henri Nouwen

IN APRIL 1998, TERRY GAVE A KIDNEY TO HIS SISTER CONNIE, ATTEMPTING TO SAVE HER FROM POLYCYSTIC KIDNEY DISEASE.   THE OPERATION WAS A SUCCESS AND BOTH TERRY AND CONNIE WERE INTIALLY DOING WELL.  BUT SILENTLY A STAPH INFECTION ATE THROUGH THE ARTERY INTO CONNIE’S  KIDNEY AND SHE DIED WITHIN A FEW WEEKS OF THE SURGERY. 

              MY FRIEND ELAINE CALLED ME WHEN SHE HEARD OF THE DEATH.  “IS THERE ANYTHING I CANDO FOR YOU?” SHE ASKED.  “OH, ELAINE,” I SAID, “PLEASE BAKE US A LOAF OF BREAD.”  NOW FOODWAS THE FARTHEST THING FROM MY MIND AT THAT MOMENT.  WHAT I WANTED WAS THE IMAGE OF ELAINE, KNOWN FOR HER BREAD BAKING AND HERB GROWING, KNEADING THAT BREAD, PUTTING SOMUCH LOVE FOR TERRY AND ME INTO THAT LOAF—-THEGRACIOUS OFFERING SHE WOULD MAKE FOR OUR COMFORT.

              IN JULY 2009, MY PRECIOUS FATHER WAS DYING.  MY FRIEND ANN CALLED ME AND SAID “IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO FOR YOU?”  AND I SAID “OH, ANN, WOULD YOU BRING ME A CINNAMON CRUSTED BAGEL AND A CUP OF HAZELNUT COFFEE FROM PANERA’S?”  IN THIS CASE I WAS THINKING ABOUT FOOD—-I WANTED THE SWEET TASTE OF THAT BAGEL AND THE WARMTH OF THAT COFFEE  TO INFUSE NOT JUST MY TASTEBUDS BUT MY SPIRIT, COMFORT FOOD.  EVEN MORE THAN THAT I WAS COMFORTED IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT AT THAT MOMENT ANN WOULD HAVE MOVED HEAVEN AND EARTH IF NECESSARY TO BRING ME THAT BAGEL AND COFFEE—OR ANYTHING ELSE THAT I HAD ASKED.  AS I WAS ABOUT TO LOSE THE FATHER WHO WOULD HAVE MOVED HEAVEN AND EARTH FOR ME, I WAS BEING SUPPORTED BY A FRIEND WHO WOULD DO THE SAME.

AND THOUGH I SPEAK OF FRIENDSHIP IN TIMES OF GRIEF, THERE IS SO MUCH TO BE SAID FOR THE PLEASURES OF FRIENDSHIP DURING GOOD TIMES.    I HAVE SHARED COUNTLESS CUPS OF TEA AND ENDLESS CONVERSATIONS WITH MY FRIEND DIANE.  I HAVE MET UP WITH MY COLLEGE GIRLFRIENDS FOR REUNIONS WHERE WE GABBED LATE INTO THE NIGHT.  I SHLEPPED MY PORTABLE SEWING MACHINE FROM TENNESSEE TO NORTH CAROLINA MULTIPLE TIMES WHERE MY FRIEND MARY HELPED ME CONSTRUCT T-SHIRT QUILTS.  I COULD GO ON.  SO MANY FRIENDS. SO MANY GOOD TIMES.

              YOU MAY NOTICE THAT NONE OF THESE ACTIVITIES WERE ELABORATE.  FRIENDSHIP ALLOWSFOR THE SIMPLEST THINGS TO BE SO SATISFYING.  WHAT A BLESSING.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

HOPE’S CAFÉ BONUS:  TWO QUOTES I FOUND THAT I ESPECIALLY LOVED: “She is a friend of mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.— Toni Morrison

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” —-Albert Schweitzer
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/friendship-quotes

Self Compassion

As a therapist, I saw many people who evaluated themselves in very negative ways.  Seeking ways to help them re-evaluate their perceptions, take corrective action where needed  and develop “healthier self-esteem” was part of treatment.

              An approach being advocated by Kristin Neff, PhD, emphasizes increasing self-compassion instead of focusing on building self-esteem:  “The self-worth from self-compassion is much more stable over time than the self-worth that comes from self esteem because it’s not a judgment of good or bad.  It’s just being kind to yourself.”    

              In my therapeutic role, I often gave handouts of “My Declaration of Self-Esteem” by the late Virginia Satir.  But I think her document could accurately be titled “My Declaration of Self-Compasssion.”  She wrote:

“In all the world there is no-one else exactly like me.

Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine because I alone chose it.

I own everything about me; my body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions, whether they be to others or to myself – I own all my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes, because I own all of me.

I can become intimately acquainted with me. By so doing I can love me and be friendly with me in all my parts. I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me and other aspects that I do not know, but as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles and for ways to find out more about me.

However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically me. If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought and felt turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new for that which I discarded. I can see, hear, feel, think, say and do – I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me.

I own me, and therefore I can engineer me – I am me and I am okay.”  

We are often encouraged in these divisive times to be kind to others.  May we remember as well to offer kindness to ourselves. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: Perhaps you recall the Saturday Night Live Skit of “Stuart Smalley” played by Al Franken.  Franken published a book in 1992 of Stuart Smalley Daily Affirmations full of the humor of that character, humor being one of those life-giving qualities that can help us stay grounded and kind towards our own humanity.