Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Sunday, June 30, 2013


It started a couple of nights ago.  The wife woke up one morning, surveyed the backyard, and noticed that one of her bird feeders was missing.  Upon investigation, she discovered the bird feeder lying on the ground, upside down, and void of the pound of sunflower seeds that had been there the night before.  She surveyed the damage . . . flowers and plants mushed down, a few supposedly broken branches on the other side of the fence, and lots of sunflower hulls all over the ground.  With a black bear recently killed a mile out of our little town a couple of weeks ago, she was certain that it was a bear—a woman’s intuition.

Later, that evening I had an opportunity to survey the crime scene.  Yes, the flowers and plants were mushed up, but only on the path that our two vicious Dachshunds case out the yard every day.  The supposedly broken branches turned out to be the trimmings of the neighbor’s lilac bush that grows through our fence and I return to their yard after cutting them down.  And, the sunflower hulls . . . well those were the ones that the birds deposit while eating out of that particular feeder.  I decided it was not a bear . . . bears are sloppy eaters who like to tear up the area in which they are eating . . . there was nothing like that there.  Call it a man’s intuition.

Then it happened again . . . bird feeder removed from the pole . . . and, about a pound of sunflowers missing.  It was a clean caper each and every time it happened in the past week.  I ventured a guess that it had to be a deer.  Deer frequent our yard in the winter for the seed in the bird feeders, but they are fairly rare in the summer . . . but, hey, it could be a lazy deer who sees a free buffet.  Both the wife and I were ready to accept the fact that it was a deer . . . until . . .

. . . until I gave the crime scene a closer examination.  Each morning the feeder was turned upside down.  The lid, which had two latches, always has one latch moved over . . . it was like someone had flipped the latch, turned the bird feeder over, and dumped all the sunflower seeds on the ground.  Then, whatever it was, had a feast!  Whatever or whoever this bandit was, it had some dexterity.  I began to think a raccoon.

Well, though we have not seen the culprit yet, we are now certain it was a raccoon.  A well-fed raccoon.  Several members of the church I serve confirmed it when I described what I found each morning.  They said it wasn’t a bear, though bears have been wandering around getting into garbage lately.  They said it wasn’t a deer . . . they have been finding plenty to eat ever since everyone has planted gardens.  With the dexterity that the culprit was displaying they were certain it was a raccoon.  Now, knowing what I was dealing with, my inner Elmer Fudd—the hunter, Elmer Fudd—began to stir.  It was time to catch the culprit . . . time to catch that wascally waccoon!

Of course, one person offered me the use of a raccoon trap.  Just set it up, put in some bait, and wait.  Since sunflower seeds seem to be some sort of crack to raccoons, it would make sense to use sunflower seeds as bait. Once in the trap I could take the critter out in the country and release it far, far away from the backyard and its bird feeders.  Or, I could just put it out of its misery and kill it.  As much as it sounded like a good idea—capturing it and releasing it else where . . . like maybe in that neighbor’s yard that I don’t like, I knew that wouldn’t be an option . . . at least not at first.  The wife would never go for that . . . too violent, especially since most folks in this neck of the woods would take it out to the country and plant it six feet in the ground.

The wife’s plan is that we will break the raccoon of its sunflower habit . . . cold turkey!  We are going to take the bird feeder down, put it in the garage, and see if it will forget and go away.  We will see what happens, but if you drive through our little town and see a raccoon with the shakes, drooling, and turning over trash cans looking for sunflower seeds . . . you’ll know that it is our raccoon.  I figure that if the raccoon is smart of enough to figure out how to get the bird feeder off the pole, on the ground, and opened up for a feast of sunflower seeds; then it will probably be smart enough to see right through this intervention.  I think it will be back within days, raiding the bird feeder.  In the meantime, it will lay low until the heat is off.

My idea is that we just keep filling up the bird feeder with a pound of sunflowers every night . . . let that wascally waccoon have at it.  Let that little bandit have all the sunflowers it can eat . . . l figure on a diet of a pound of sunflowers every day for a week or two that little booger will balloon to 60 pounds in no time!  It will never be able to get its fat little hiney up the pole, much less climb over the fence to begin with.  Its fat, stubby little fingers will never be able to maneuver the latch off the lid.  Its gluttony will be the end of its bandit days.  But, once again, I doubt if the wife will let me do that either . . . she will probably go out and buy low-fat sunflower seeds.  She will kill it with kindness.

The reality of the situation is that we will continue to have bandits raiding our bird feeders.  Last year we had one, maybe two, squirrels that feasted on the bird feeders . . . this year, we have four in the backyard and one in the front.  The wife has started to buy seed corn and peanuts to distract the squirrel bandits from the bird feeders . . . the squirrels see it as an appetizer before the main feast.  We have a neighborhood skunk, but it has pretty much left us alone since the wife got warned by the local law enforcement to not feed the animals . . . gone is the fruit and occasional dog food.  But the skunk lets us know that it has been around . . . its scent usually greets us to remind us that it has been in the yard.  The deer, well, we get a reprieve until the snow begins to fly in late October . . . then they will start showing up in gangs, eating seed, and leaving reminders that they too have been there.

They are all bandits . . . crooks!  They frustrate the wife, but she it too kind-hearted to really solve the problem . . . animals should not go hungry . . . we’ve got to help God out in keeping the animals fed . . . pretty much the whole wild kingdom from the look of things right now.  So, I bite my tongue, buy more seed, and keep putting that stinking bird feeder up . . . over and over again.  That wascally waccoon has met its match and won!

Joyful Noise

Ministers are supposed to sing.  At least that is what I have been told by countless individuals and congregations over the years.  I must have missed that requirement in the brochure.  Or, maybe, I slept through that part of the recruitment lecture.  Either way, since I went into the ministry, I have encountered that myth in every congregation that I have served in the past 30–some years.  The joke is . . . I can’t sing!

Let me take that back . . . I can sing, I just sing poorly.  Always have.  Throughout elementary school I was always given speaking parts in school plays and presentations . . . I just thought I was a really good reader . . . that I was special, but the teachers knew.  It was a form of mercy . . . mercy for the audience’s ears.  Once, in our church youth group, we were doing a cantata—Noah’s Ark--for Sunday worship.  The church’s choir director made me the narrator, and told me that if I had to sing to lip sync—no sound, she threatenly said.  In one church the sound people turned my microphone off, others warned me to step away from the microphone.  The fact is, I cannot sing.  No amount of prayer, laying on of hands, or lighting of candles has yet to produce a musical miracle—I still cannot sing.

I take serious the dictum of the psalmist in the scriptures: “Mak a joyful noise unto the Lord . . .”  Though I sing poorly, I love to sing.  I just don’t sing when anyone else can hear me.  I sing while mowing the grass . . . while driving the car by myself and the windows are rolled up . . . when no one else is in the room . . . and, in church every Sunday morning . . . mind you, I stand three feet from the microphone like I have been taught, sing very quietly, and often with great lip syncing.  About the only audience that I have encountered that does not mind my singing are the family dogs . . . at least not yet . . . they howl along with me whenever I sing.  Then again, I might be wrong.  They are either deaf or my singing hurts their ears to the point they howl in pain!

So, there you have it . . . a contradiction . . . a minister who can’t sing, but loves to sing.  Congregations are learning . . . sometimes painfully, but mostly through word of mouth.  It is amazing how quickly a reputation can beat a person to a designation.  But, it is the truth . . . I cannot sing.  Ask any of the congregations I have served in five states and they will vouch for that fact.  They will tell you that I cannot sing, that in my letter of calling I must always stand three feet from the microphone when singing or lip sync—it is a noise pollution thing.  Though congregations are slow to understand this contradiction, I know that God understands.  God digs my joyful noise, while others plug their ears.

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord . . .”  That is exactly what I do whenever I sing.  God has come to expect this joyful noise from my mouth whether it ever garners me a Grammy Award or not.  Even though the congregations I have served over the years will never publically admit, I think they have come to expect it too.  Worship just doesn’t sound just right when my joyful noise is not included.  It lets everyone know, no matter how poorly or well you sing, you are always welcome in God’s choir.  It is music to God’s ears . . . and, to mine.  Ha!  I might not be able to sing, but I make one heck of a joyful noise . . . and, God loves it!   

Friday, June 28, 2013

I Was There

Since the advent of our granddaughter, our daughter and son-in-law have done an amazing job of documenting the life of our granddaughter through photographs.  I feel for the second grandchild to arrive from these two . . . it will be impossible to produce the documentation of the first.  But, that is not the point; the point is that they take a lot of pictures of our granddaughter . . . of which the family is grateful. Recently they took a trip to Yellowstone National Park, of which, they took a lot of pictures of the natural beauty and our granddaughter.

While there, they encountered an older couple, who commented about their photographing the granddaughter: “You know, people are probably seeing you take these pictures with your baby, and wondering what you are doing.  She is so little she can’t possibly know what is going on.  What they have yet to realize is that just maybe you aren’t taking the pictures for her.  Maybe, those pictures are for you . . . because, down the road, when you look at them it will be because in that moment you were there . . .”

“Whoa, dude!” as my granddaughter will eventually learn to say, even if it is the death of me.  This guy was pretty wise!  He got it even though most of us never get it . . . it is about being there.  It is about being in the moment.

I love photography.  I have several cameras from which I take lots of pictures . . . lots of pictures!  Thousands upon thousands of pictures.  I love to take pictures of the world around me . . . and, I rarely delete too many of them.  Because of this I have several hundred photo files stored on my computer, and many more stored on an external hard drive.  I pity my family when I die . . . they will have the arduous task of going through those multitude of files to determine what is worth saving and what is not.  But, in the meantime, I have thousands and thousands of pictures . . . many which have never been viewed by anyone other than myself.  Lots of people asked what I do with all of those pictures.

Well, some of them end up on Facebook.  I do not do much personal posting on Facbook . . . you won’t find me postulating on heavy topics on this social network.  Instead what you will often find from me on Facebook are photo essays . . . photo blogs, in a sense.  Basically I attempt to use this social media as a means of sharing my thoughts and feelings through the photographs I take.  I use my photographs as a means of telling a story.  I don’t know if I am successful, but that is what I attempt to do.  That is probably the best place for people to see my photographs.  Otherwise, they are for me.

That old guy (probably around my age) who shared his wise remarks with my daughter and son-in-law understood.  He understood that those photographs that they were taking were not so much for the benefit of our granddaughter, but for their own benefit.  It was to allow them, whether they understood it or not, that they were there . . . in that moment . . . in that place . . . and, they will remember.

I performed my daughter and son-in-law’s wedding ceremony.  In that ceremony I shared with them a quote from the movie, Shall We Dance?  Maybe you know the quote, but if not, here it is: “We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'."   This powerful quote affirms the need to know . . . to know that one was connected to another time, place, and person.  Photography does this.

One of the rules we have had since moving to Montana is that only photographic evidence is proof enough to claim at seeing a particular critter in the wilds.  No one can claim having seen a bear, moose, or wolf without photographic evidence.  Why?  Because a photograph proofs that one was there.

I was there. 
I do not fret about death . . . I am not worried about dying, but what I catch myself fretting about is whether or not anyone will remember me.  Oh, it is probably part of the curse of being an introvert; but, I do often think whether or not anyone will remember my presence in the world or even in their lives.  Yeah, I know . . . stupid.  I have done enough dumb things that no one will ever forget me, but will they really remember me?  Will they remember the real me . . .

So, I take pictures.  Pictures affirm that I was there.  Pictures prove that I was there.  There is no denying it . . . the pictures prove it.  We want to know that we were not alone . . . that we were a part of something that was bigger than we are or were . . . that we existed and made a difference and impact upon the lives of others.  So, we take pictures . . . pictures that prove everything.  We all want to know that we were there.  That is why we get married . . . so someone will remember us.  That is why we take pictures.  In the end, we all want to make a difference in the lives of those we love . . . in the lives of those we work with . . . in the world in which we exist.

I love photography.  Each day I learn a little more about what it takes to be a good photographer.  I relish the learning.  But, I did not take up photography for others; no, it was a more selfish reason.  I took up photography so that I could remember.  So that I could remember those moments in my life . . . those places where I had been . . . and, those experiences I experienced.  Surprisingly, I also took up photography for the purpose of helping others remember . . . to remember a communion of a moment . . . to remember the beauty of a place or time . . . to remember a feeling or emotion . . . to be remembered.  To be able to say, “I was there.”

Yeah, that old guy that the kids encountered understood.  I think that I understand, too.  I want people to know that I was there.  Isn’t that what we all desire?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Poems, Prayers, and Promises

And I have to say it now
It's been a good life all in all
It's really fine
To have a chance to hang around
And lie there by the fire
And watch the evening tire
While all my friends and my old lady
Sit and pass the pipe around

And talk of poems and prayers and promises
And things that we believe in
How sweet it is to love someone
How right it is to care
How long it's been since yesterday
And what about tomorrow
And what about our dreams
And all the memories we share
(Poems, Prayers, and Promises by John Denver)

The summer solstice was celebrated and we have officially entered into fire pit season in Montana.  Over a year ago I transformed a part of our backyard into a fire pit area.  It is one of my favorite places to be in the evening during the summer . . . it is also a favorite of the family.  So far, we have only had a couple of evenings around the fire pit . . . and, I am longing to be there now.

Long, long ago, families and people gathered around the fire pit in the evenings.  There they would watch the flames dance, listen to the music of the crackling, and they would commune with nature, God, and one another in the stillness of the night.  Stories would be told—origins would be shared—history exposed—purpose and meaning—poems, prayers, and promises . . . all through stories.  There would be laughter . . . and, there would be tears hidden in the shadows of the fire.  But it would be a time for families and people to connect in ways that they could do nowhere else in their lives.  It was communion.

Though I have never said it to my family or friends, I find the time sitting around the fire pit to be a time of communion . . . a time of unplanned holiness.  I enjoy sitting around the fire listening to everyone talk, swap stories, and laugh.  It is in these moments that barriers are broken, walls are torn down, and a part of ourselves is exposed to reveal our most intimate selves.  Around the fire the conversation is different, more intimate, more revealing . . . it is a time of poems, prayers, and promises whether we realize it or not.  It is sacred time.

Around the fire pit, life is good.  It really is.  It is good to have an opportunity to be with family and friends . . . to watch the evening tire as the sun goes down . . .

In the flames of fire we offer ourselves to one another.  We break the bread, lift the cup . . . symbols of life . . . and, we offer them to one another.  We speak in poems . . . lyrical words of life; we offer prayers . . . of hope and mercy for one another;  and we make promises . . . that we will never forget how much we love one another, how much we care.  We will sup upon our time together around the fire . . . we will embrace the time we share . . .

Around the fire pit we are moved beyond the present moment . . . yesterday is behind us, tomorrow is yet to come . . . it is in the presence of those gathered that mean the most.  It is the memories that we share. The stories that we tell.  I love the laughter . . . it is music to my soul.  A good evening around the fire pit does that for me, and for others, I suspect.  But, please . . . please, don’t tell anyone else about the sacredness of the fire pit.  Sometimes it is best to experience the holy and never know. John Denver sings it best: