Wednesday, October 24, 2018

You don't have to be Christian to be a good person

My dear friend Laurie Gerloff shot this "God photo" during a foggy morning walk near Eugene, OR. Like countless other non-Christians, Laurie is a kind, thoughtful, principled person whose "church" is without walls or ceilings. 

The parking lot at my popular health club was packed and I was late for Zumba. I picked the only spot I could looked too tight, but having an unwarranted faith in my parking chops, I went for it.

The sickening sound of metal against metal was followed by a string of expletives. Mine.

A quick look confirmed that I'd dinged another vehicle, and my Subaru Outback had scratches. Such a stupid thing that could mean excessive repair costs, insurance hassles and inconveniencing an innocent stranger. I was kicking myself.

The car's owner was nowhere in sight. I wrote a note with my contact information and slid it under a windshield wiper. 

After my class, seeing that my note was still unread, I made a quick visit to an auto body shop for a damage estimate. The estimator guy took a peek at the scraped paint and the invisible, to me anyway, minor damage to the bumper.

"What's it going to cost me?" I asked, steeling for the worst.

"You could go to a Subaru dealership and buy some paint," he said. "Bring it back, and we'll apply the paint for nothing."

I restrained myself from hugging him as I expressed relief and gratitude.

I asked if I could send the victim of my errant parking to him as the damage to her vehicle was also minor.


That afternoon I  got a call. The woman was cordial but miffed.

"Well, I guess I should get your insurance information so I can start dealing with this," she said.

I enjoyed telling the woman that she, too, could avoid insurance hassles. And, of course, I would pay for the paint.

She got right on it. Later the same day she called to report that the repair was done, and the local car dealer even had a sale on touch-up paint.

I mailed her a $10 bill and a friendly note

She called the next day when the note and money hit her mailbox.

The first thing she said: "You must be a Christian."

Silence on my part.

I was thinking of my friends and relatives, a few of them Christians, but most, not. 

All would have done the same thing I did. 

Well, no, I told her, when I gained control of my tongue. "I was raised a Lutheran, but it didn't take."

Silence on her end.

But, I continued, after the uncomfortable pause, "You don't have to be Christian to do the right thing. Or to be a good person."

The rest of our brief conversation was awkward. It was as if the idea that a non-Christian could be a good person had rendered her mute.

Like too many people in our sadly fractured culture, she's stuck in an us-versus-them, if-you're-not-a-believer-you-can't-be-a-decent-human-being-let-alone-be-my friend mindset.

Son Chris Korbulic captured this "God" image in the California redwoods. Another beautiful photo by a thoughtful man whose spiritual well is filled by the natural world.
On the other hand, I know people, good people, most of them friends and family, who have little if any tolerance for Christians, especially evangelical ones. They want nothing to do with them and have all kinds of preconceived notions that evangelicals are ignorant, bigoted, uneducated narrow-minded saps.

How do I know?

I learned the hard way during my thirties when I was immersed for three years in an evangelical church, an episode that shocked and/or dismayed most of my friends and family members.  

The majority of my people stuck with me, but one couple distanced themselves from my Christian self and no longer included me (us) in their monthly group discussions/potlucks.

How did I stumble into Pentecostalism?

This glowing lenticular cloud near Mt. Whitney looks inhabited by a UFO with a giant LED beacon on top. God is there, too, I think. Shot in the Alabama Hills just outside Lone Pine, CA in 2015. The Alabama Hills are magical and can't help but inspire thoughts about the greater picture - the Universe and our place in it. And God's place.

First a quick personal faith history. I was raised in the Midwest in a strict Lutheran church. Getting all dressed up and attending Sunday services was just what my family did. I did not question. But I did not enjoy. Every service included reciting the Nicene Creed, singing mostly joyless hymns, and enduring droning sermons that were too long.

I abandoned what passed for faith soon after leaving home to attend college and didn't revisit it until I was 33 years old, a newspaper reporter, wife, and mother of a two-year-old. A cooperative childcare situation brought me into contact with evangelical Christianity, and I attended a service out of curiosity. What the hell were these people doing attending church three times a week?!

I was blown away at a Pentecostal hands-waving-in-the-air, speaking-in-tongues, being-slain-in the-spirit, foot-washing kind of church.  This was in the tiny town of Rogue River, Oregon, where I still live. This was not the dull and dusty church I'd experienced as a kid, but a worship experience that flowed with emotion and fervor. There was not a dull moment, and the openness of the congregants with one another dazzled me.

I attended this church for three years, participated in a pastor-led Bible study, which I found enormously interesting, and joined the choir. I studied the Bible in classes and on my own. After about a year, I finally went forward during a Sunday service to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

Yes, I did that.

My come-to-Jesus moment elicited much excitement. People hugged and congratulated me. I was embarrassed by the undeserved attention. The pastor, however, was not impressed.

"You came forward" he acknowledged, as I was leaving the church. "But... do you believe?"

He guessed I didn't. He was right.

But I wanted to. So I continued to lift my hands and sing praises to God and to witness actions and interactions among the congregants that touched and astounded me.

I was stirred by Jesus. I ignored all the fierce, mean, judgemental jealous God stuff in the Old Testament and focused on Jesus's teachings.

He was harping always about love and forgiveness. Snippets of Bible verses: (Don't skip!)
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • God hath not given us the spirit of fear - but of love.
  • Love by serving one another.
  • It is good not to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth or is offended, or made weak.
  • Love suffereth long, and is kind.
  • Be ye kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.
  • Let us not love in word only but in deed and faith.
  • Forgive, be merciful. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee; Write them upon the table of thine heart.
Imagine what the world might be like if those professing to be Christian, as well as those who don't, took these teachings to heart.  I know many who are and do. I love my Christian friends.

On the other hand, my beloved friends who are NOT Christian? They are also kind, forgiving, generous, loving people.

Some, however, do have a blind spot when it comes to Christians, again, the evangelicals especially. I wish they would get over it. We're all trying to the right thing. Aren't we?

The Sierra Nevada mountains near Mt. Whitney as seen through the Mobius Arch
 in the Alabama Hills. God is there, all over the place.

So back there in the 1980s I was reading the Bible and thinking about Jesus and how I might be a better person.

Forgive. Love. Be kind. Write these words on the table of your heart, Jesus instructed.

I tried inscribing the ticker without worrying so much about whether Jesus was God. He did not need to be God for me to believe that being kinder, more forgiving and loving was an all-around good idea.

Then along came Jerry Falwell, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Pat Robertson, and other revolting and corrupt televangelists. Sleaze, fleas, and blasphemies.

They were as far removed from most of the Christians in my lively little church as teddy bears are from grizzlies.

But some locals had contracted the Moral Majority fever being spread in the 1980s by Falwell, an activist preacher.

Falwell founded the Moral Majority, which helped establish the Republican fundamentalist Christian right as a political force. The organization opposed civil rights, women's rights and gay rights among other things. Sound familiar?

During the Moral Majority's heyday, a traveling preacher came to deliver messages to young people in my community at the church I attended. Somehow, the church was packed, and many of the youth were whipped up by the traveling preacher's rhetoric. Dozens of young people came forward to accept Jesus as their savior, even after the preacher bellowed about the immoral nature of popular music.

The next night, at his exhortation, teens brought their sinful CDs to be tossed into a bonfire built for that purpose on the edge of the church parking lot.

Yes. It was an air-and-spirit-polluting music-burning night in Rogue River, OR.  No different from burning books.

I was disgusted. I couldn't jibe the words and deeds of the Moral Majority crowd with the love and caring I witnessed and received in church.

Now, nearly 40 years later, I still love deeply the friend whose example made me curious enough to attend church in the first place. I appreciate the structure for doing good that churches provide and the love wattage that can blaze through a congregation, for God and for one another. And maybe even us heathens.

I have no regrets that I spent nearly three years immersed in the evangelical world. Instead, I am grateful to have some insight.

But I wish that Christian leaders would stick to preaching and steer away from politicizing.  It can be done.

And I have to admit that I am perplexed that so many Christians appear to be Trump groupies. Seriously folks, what would Jesus do?

I can't picture Jesus in a red ball cap railing at the desperate and dispossessed at the US/Mexican border.

"God" is in the vibrant leaves, the clear rushing water, the pristine
  air on the Upper Rogue River. 

Most Thursdays during cold wet months, a handful from the local congregation, people I met all those years ago, can be found dispensing homemade soups, sandwiches and Christian love to the homeless in our community.

Like me, they're getting old now, and some have serious health issues. Still, they're making vats of soup, loaves of bread, hauling it all to a parking lot, setting up a shelter, unloading everything onto tables, and going all out to do what Jesus commanded:
Love your neighbor as yourself.
                    Love by serving one another. 
Let us not love in word only but in deed and faith.

That's what real Christians do.

And, by the way, what many good-hearted non-believers do as well.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Not Cancer — Life resumes

Nothing like the sight of the sea and wind-varnished grasses to make
 one appreciate being alive.

During my recent six-month dermatology check-up,  my doc noticed an irregular spot on my upper back.  
It was not raised but was colorful. Brown and red is not a good combo for skin lesions, she explained.

"We could keep our eye on it until your next check-up (in six months) or take it off now," she said.

"Get rid of it! " I said without hesitation.

She did a "shave" biopsy, I asked to take a gander at  the fleshy disc before it was shipped to a pathology lab, where it would be scrutinized for evil.

It looked harmless enough. But I remember another shave biopsy in late 2015 that I'd asked to see. Tiny, pink, translucent.  It WAS evil. Nineteen days after that biopsy, my then-doctor called me with the bad news.

I had a particularly nasty form of melanoma called a Spitz nevus. 

The initial pathology report said it was metastatic, which means it was spawned by a primary tumor lurking elsewhere in my body.

A second opinion called it merely invasive.

For an excruciating month, I had cancer.  Chest X rays, blood tests, surgery, and breast biopsies were bad enough, but the worst part was NOT KNOWING whether the invasive devil had invaded. 

I was cast into what I called the Cancer Club in the first of a series of posts I wrote during that time.  I was angry and scared. 

I wrote furiously—my way of coping. I wrote too much, probably. The writing was therapy, and reader responses —especially from cancer patients and survivors—were heartwarming and encouraging.

The best of the blog posts was Back from the Brink - 10 Lessons Learned,  (The other cancer-related posts are linked from that one if you're interested.)

This time around, I was calm, but still worried at the prospect of a bad diagnosis.

However, I knew that even if the discolored spot was malignant, it was being caught early. I  was thinking how lucky I am to have dermatology exams every six months, and a great dermatologist. (Not the guy who waited 19 days to deliver the biopsy results.)

I was relieved, of course, to hear a week later that all was fine.

Presto! Back to the ordinary life for which I am so grateful, renewed in my efforts to live well, be kind, and savor every fleeting day. 

And quit grousing about getting old! 

Posts about earlier cancer experience are here. 

The Blue Pool on Oregon's McKenzie River is like looking into the pure eye of nature,
affirming, once again, how great it is to have the gift of life.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Craters of the Moon - No volcano in sight

Because I am an unbelievably fortunate person, I enjoyed a series of adventures and entertainments in July and early August. I used to feel guilty about being so favored, but I got over that and now just enjoy what I can, while I can.

The first fun was a week rafting Idaho's Middle Fork of the Salmon River with a small group of treasured family and friends. Awesome. I can't imagine a better river experience. Blog coming.

Next was a solo visit to the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho, the subject of this post.

A collapsed lava tube in the Indian Tunnel cave at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.
Then came camping, dancing and laughing at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs, MT. I was so excited about it last year that I had to return, dragging along Charla, a girlfriend from East Texas. Another writing project.

At the festival's end, the two of us meandered back to Oregon on a serendipitous road trip in my camper van. (It belongs to PK as well, but he didn't happen to be with us. It was mine, all mine. And Charla's, of course.) Words and photos about the road trip may show up in this space.

But for now,  just this — Craters of the Moon

Getting to Craters of Moon National Monument and Preserve may involve ripping your tires off  Idaho's I-84, where the speed limit almost matches the interstate number, as travelers zip between Idaho's east/west borders.
If you have a flexible schedule, and are up for a unique diversion, peel north off the Interstate onto one of the two-lane roads that will intersect with highways 20, 26, and 93. All the same road. Craters of the Moon is worth the time and effort.

What's so good about it?
NOT CROWDED.  I swear, I saw at least 50 people on trails throughout Craters of the Moon during nearly three hours. Just not all at the same time. In mid-July, the height of tourist season. Isn't that refreshing? A fascinating public treasure that isn't teeming and steaming with irritable  tourists? The masses are at Yellowstone National Park, or the Grand Tetons, both of which  are only a few hours drive east. I love Yellowstone and the Tetons, but not during the congested maddening thick of high-tourist season.
TRAILS I took advantage of a few short hikes before I tackled a lava tube cave. This short but steep trail up a cinder cone led to an overlook, but also a collapsed lava tube with some surprising detritus.
Two hats, one deteriorated and the other, as if it may have been blown off somebody's head earlier in the day.  Plus a couple plastic bags and/or Styrofoam containers, litter the floor about 20 feet below. The hats? Well, I had to grab mine before it blew off. But the plastic/styrofoam? Likely a result of careless trash disposal. 


Short trails were good but I was most interested in exploring one of the three caves. A ranger, answering the same questions over and over at the visitors' center, said the most extensive and  interesting cave was Indian Tunnel. I went there.
BEAUTY! Why was I surprised by all the colors and textures in the cave? 

CAVE EXPLORATION  Inside Indian Tunnel, I vined in on a small group led by a monument naturalist. Among other things, I learned that the tunnel has two exits, and the more challenging spares a person a longer walk back to the parking lot. I'd made a stupid mistake when setting off from the van – not carrying water. The trail was hot and exposed, and what did I expect from the July sun radiating off the black lava? I looked for the shorter way back to hydration.

A MODEST ADVENTURE  I carried a flashlight but didn't need to use it.
Having natural light made all the difference to a novice spelunker.
There it is - the end! Actually, it was easier than it looks. 
No crawling involved. A little climbing required, however. 
Now they tell me! I expected the exit to be close
to the paved trail. But no.
Following the markers to the paved trail was fun and took my mind off of being so thirsty. It took about 20-25 minutes to reach the parking lot and my water bottle.
NICE CAMPGROUND - A typical campsite within the monument. When I arrived in the early afternoon, numerous campsites were still available. According to a monument employee,  a few out of 51 sites had been vacant the previous night. I don't see electric and water here, but I did note fine-looking restrooms. All sites are on a first-come basis.
The nearest towns are about 20 miles distant.

I could see staying a night here after a leisurely day hiking. If you don't care to hike, the area can be seen on a good quality paved road in an hour or so. But you'd miss the good stuff. Most trails are paved and easy with some handicapped access.

There's more! Exploration and camping by foot or 4WD are available in the adjacent Craters of the Moon Wilderness. 

NOTE: Craters of the Moon is part of the Great Rift, a 52-mile long  series of deep fissures. From the park's brochure:

The Craters of the Moon are definitely of volcanic origin. But where is the volcano? Vast volumes of lava issued not from one volcano but from a series of deep fissures —known collectively as the Great Rift—that cross the Snake River Plain. Beginning 15,000 years ago lava welled up from the Great Rift to produce this vast ocean of rock. The most recent eruption occurred a mere 2,000 years ago, and geologists believe that future events are likely.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Goodbye garden. Hello fun!

Volunteer cosmos populated with bumblebees a couple years ago.
Here we go again. Preparing to vacation for a month and scrambling to get the garden ready for our absence. 

It's like parents leaving the kids just when they've been potty trained. The hard and dirty work is over and it's time to reap the benefits.

In a few weeks our  garden will be at its most beautiful.

It won't be pumping out ripe tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants quite yet, but it will achieve its most colorful and lush vegetative mass.

It will be thick with birds and bees, berry thieves and pollinators.

Even yesterday, when I snapped most of these garden shots, one could almost see the chlorophyl burgeoning in young leaves, and savor the sweet, salty, sharp aromas of tomatoes, mint, dill, eggplants, basil, and alyssum, all muddled with the rich  scent of soil warming in the summer sun.

It will get even better.

Like this, taken a few years ago in early August.
But we won't be here to see it, smell it, taste it or have any other of those smarmy moments gardening can induce.

Instead, we'll be having real fun!

The last rapid on the Middle Fork of the Salmon trip is big! It is actually on the Main Salmon River close to the takeout for the Middle Fork just a few miles after the tributary enters the larger river.  PK is rowing. I'm staring into a bus-sized hole, which was easily avoided. I don't think a rapid this gnarly is fun, but he does. One thing for sure, I was not thinking about the tomatoes.

If you've followed this blog for a few years, you've heard how we struggle with whether to have a big garden, as it doesn't fit with our relatively new traveling lifestyle. Or, coincidentally, with our aging bodies.

This story line is getting old, right?

It sure is for me. For us. Getting old. As are we. And time is a wasting.

I think that without saying it, we've settled with having a messy imperfect garden so that we can also have messy imperfect road trips and international episodes. We can have both.

On our coming adventure, we'll raft for seven days the best of the West's most extensive wilderness on the Middle Fork of the Salmon  River in Idaho. One hundred miles and 100 rapids. There will be a blog post.

Then I'll meet up with a Texas girlfriend for the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs, MT, and PK will row another legendary river, the Main Salmon River in Idaho. Can't wait!

Then she and I will have a leisurely road trip back home to Oregon.

Yes, PK and I are driving separate vehicles to Idaho and parting ways after the MFS. And we'll be fishing/dancing/singing/rowing/ without much thought of what we left behind.

At home, our garden will be advancing on the surrounding fields and our neighbor will be beating it back with a hoe and a harvest basket. We couldn't do it without her. (Of course we pay her, and not just with all the zucchini she can shove into her refrigerator and her family's mouths.)

Following are a few recent photos from our Southern Oregon heritage garden.

Heritage? Where did that come from? I guess when you've reached a certain time in life, and have worked a piece of land for decades, it becomes heritage, which means.....a legacy, a culture, a custom, a tradition, an inheritance.

We have two adult sons who were born and grew up here. We had a "family meeting" last week during which we inquired whether either hopes to someday live here. Not anytime soon, that's for sure. But giving it up, as we sometimes ponder, is a point of sentimentality and ambivalence for us and our family.

The closest we have come to changing venues is when we discuss going on the road for a lengthy time and renting the house and land. We also consider, in an offhand way, selling it and relocating to a different home to try on surroundings that do not require so much attention.

Will we do it? Not this year. But sometime. Maybe.

In the meantime.....we love where we live and, at the same time, can't wait for our next adventures.

A few recent home photos.
Now that we have a fence that has them stymied, we are entertained by our resident deer, including this young buck who was likely born here. 

Honey bees LOVE leek flowers. We've never harvested a leek to eat. They're all for the bees, except for those cut and dried as decorative fresh and dried flowers.

PK says that we now have a savannah look with our 25 or so apple trees (reduced from 300+ when we bought the property in the 1970s). The deer trim them all to approximately the same distance from the ground. We still harvest way more apples than we can give away. 

In an ongoing attempt to cut back, we devote at least two garden rows a year to a nitrogen-fixing cover crop such as the young red clover above. We allow volunteer cosmos, dill, sunflowers, and chard to share the space.

By the time we return, this area will be alive with colorful zinnias and sunflowers complementing the marigolds. The fig tree will have grown dozens and dozens of fruits that won't yet be ripe enough eat.
One almost-ripe cherry tomato will be joined by literally hundreds of others on one
indeterminate plant. Indetermininate means it reaches and wanders without end. 

The "garden" on the backside of the house looks as good as it ever will right now. Why? the day lilies bloom and are gone. The Shasta daisies bloom and then fall over and are gone. They all slump onto that sweet walkway that PK built soon after he retired 10 years ago as part of his first "five-year plan." Replacing some of this vegetation, especially the daisies, is on his (our) to-do list.
Bad daisies napping on the walkway.

Onions are flanked on the left by pepper plants, which
 are looking healthy and happy. We use them all fresh, dried, and in
salsas and sauces.
Massive onion crop coming on. Yahoo! We're thinning and eating now.
A walkway around the front porch is guarded by a metal rooster and ivy that will reach out and strangle you if you stand still long enough. 
Faithful lilies show up every year in front of the solarium, which we consider
 the front of our house.
Sadly, roses don't last forever and this beauty is in decline. It is an old-fashioned rose and no one seems to know the variety. I would love to plant another. Please let me know via comments below if you can identify. It is wonderfully fragrant and its blooms turn several colors before the final pink.

Missing from our garden: sweet corn, green beans, beets, potatoes, and many types of winter squash. We really are cutting back! Tomatoes, peppers, onions? Gotta have em.
Best thing we ever grew - our sons who continue to make us proud.
 Chris on the left and Quinn on the right.
    A proud sun salutation if ever I saw one by a volunteer sunflower.
  Old gardens like ours are blessed with a variety of welcome volunteers.
They show up every year in different configurations.

They will all be here when we return!

Previous posts about gardening angst

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Lesson from the Oregon coast - Keep Your Eyes Wide Open

Cooks Chasm at Cape Perpetua on the Central Oregon Coast wows visitors with the Spouting Horn, (above) crashing waves, and a unique feature called Thor's Well. The big question: How did we miss it for 45 years?!

Thor's Well. A scary dangerous awe-inspiring nature show accessible by foot. 
No one  predicts that they'll become old and set in their ways, doing what they've always done.
Do they?  I certainly did not. But apparently, my calcification started early.
Early 1970s, PK and me at Cape Perpetua. 
Photo credit, Pat Teel

PK and I met in Newport on Oregon's central coast in the early 1970s. Believe me, the Oregon coast is unusually romantic. Our little spark lit there and has flickered and flamed for decades.

Cape Perpetua is about 30 miles south of Newport ,just south of Yachats, and we've visited   dozens of times.

We've  always done the same damn thing; hike a short steep trail to the rim of Devil's Churn, a narrow slot into which waves crash and spray with oooooh and ahhhhh results.

Then we load into the car and zoom off. Never realizing that, by failing to look around, we were missing one of the top scenic spots on the entire fantastic Oregon coast.

We practiced our predicable routine on a recent spring stop at Cape Perpetua. But when we looked over the edge at the Devil's Churn, it was not crashing and booming. Instead it was calm and peaceful, as if inviting swimmers to come on down and take a dip.

Returning, disappointed, to the van, we finally, after decades, noticed a path that led south out of the Churn's parking area.
    Red lines are trails. Yachats is just off the map to the
north. Sea Lion Caves is just off to the south.

Still clueless!

We actually drove a minute or two to the Cook's Chasm turnout, which we'd passed time and again without noting.

We pulled in, and in a few seconds, we were incredulous at what we'd been missing.

Later, after spending at least a half hour gawking, we walked the paved trail back to Devil's Churn. A beautiful walk. Who knew?

We were fortunate to arrive as the tide was about to crest. Although the sea was relatively calm, Thor's Well was spouting plumes then sucking them backwards in a mighty display of power.

Thor's Well is in drain mode as a young couple approaches its rim. 
The female half of the couple wears inappropriate footwear for the rugged lava flow terrain. The boyfriend appeared to be under Cook's Chasm's spell, and also her's.

She's on her own as the water recedes in its endless spout and drain cycles. Soon after this photo was taken, a half dozen people ventured close to Thor's Well, and as the tide was nearing its highest for the day, those spectators were suddenly ankle to mid-calf deep in saltwater. They quickly retreated. The "well" is around 16 feet deep, but stumbling into it presents inescapable dynamics. Oddly enough, there's no record of anyone drowning there.

Cleft of the Rock lighthouse at Cape Perpetua on Oregon's central coast. When you see
this, you'll know that Thor's Well is not far away. Neither is Devil's Churn.

Sea lions lounging on the beach likely also hang out at the nearby Sea Lion Caves, a tourist attraction well worth seeing. We've taken out-of-state visitors to the Caves, but, out of ignorance, deprived them of, umm, other notable sights.

A slot in the lava flow seen from the trail between Cook's Chasm and Devil's Churn.
 If you go, take a half hour and walk this easy out-and-back scenic trail.

An immature bald eagle oversees the action between Devil's Churn and Cook's Chasm.
 That's what I've always needed—
an eagle eye. 

Previous posts featuring the Oregon Coast 

Oregon Coast Getaway in August - not as great as you might think.

First road trip 2017 Southern Oregon Coast - February - better than expected