Sabbaticals Feed

Reviewing the Sabbatical

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This morning I returned to the office after my summer sabbatical.  Yesterday I attended church services and our annual Homecoming Picnic--it was a beautiful, wonderful day and Katie's excellent sermon on the topic of coming home really spoke to me.

So, let me review the summer a little.

I read a bunch of books on dealing with our current global crises, particularly climate change.  My goal was to make sure that as a congregation we are doing what we need to as we live with the effects of a changing climate, that we are being faithful and resilient and effective.   I am almost finished with the last of those books, Hannah Malcolm's Words for a Dying World.

If I had finished all of those, I had other things to read, but never got to them.  I'm still not close to finishing the philosophy book I've been reading all summer--Jeffrey Stewart's 878 page Pulitzer Prize winning biography of philosopher Alain Locke, The New Negro.  Because it's so long I saved it for this sabbatical summer, but even after three months I'm only on page 581.

One thing I learned with the last sabbatical is that even with all that extra time you don't get everything accomplished you thought you might.  I did take that into account this time when planning.  And I think I did get less reading accomplished than six years ago because then I had a one-year-old I was home caring for much of the time, and I also didn't travel as much as this summer.

I got most of my home projects accomplished.  The last one on the summer list is in process right now, so I think it will finish up within the next few weeks.  Feel really good about where I am with those.

My main goal with this sabbatical was simply to take a break, after two years of pandemic, social turmoil, and divorce.  Ironically, one of the first things I read this morning was a New York Times article on pastor burnout which claimed  “Your pastor needs a long break, probably longer than they think.” 

That goal was achieved.  I had a wonderful summer, full of rest, relaxation, fun, adventure, renewal.  I'm so thankful I got to have it.  And it also felt like a foretaste of retirement.

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The only feature which I really missed this summer was that with all my freedom and flexible schedule for three months, there was no romantic interest to spend time with.  The sabbatical fell during a dry spell in that regard.  But that lack didn't rob my summer of joy.  And I'm probably now in even better shape for any potential relationship than I was before, after spending that time on self-care.

As I've written in previous posts, I had three revelations that turned into resolutions during the course of the sabbatical.  First, was how much I find joy and comfort in my home (which was not always the case over the last three years), and so I'm going to prioritize more time and energy in making it more beautiful, comfortable, and enjoyable. 

Second, is that I really want to get back to a regular writing practice.  That feeds me, and I have so many ideas in various stages of work.  I didn't get too much writing accomplished this summer, but just enough.  So I need to figure out what routine is going to work for me now and make it a habit.

Third, is that I've always wanted to do more outdoor activities and have been frustrated many times over the years that this has often fallen to the wayside.  When I re-entered the dating world last year, I thought I'd look for some outdoorsy guy who could help me prioritize these activities.  But after our successful trip to Yellowstone I realized how much I want to do these things, that I can do them myself and can figure out the things I don't currently know how to do well, and that I don't need to wait for someone else.  So I'm going to prioritize these activities as well--my recent purchase of a paddle board was one step in living into this resolution.

So, thanks for a splendid summer.  Onto a fabulous fall.

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Not Deprived

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On our final day in the Boundary Waters Robyn said that she had expected to feel deprived of something at some point in the trip--hungry, cold, lacking something essential, etc.  But, she said, it hadn't happened.  She didn't feel as if she lacked or was deprived of anything.

I honestly felt that we never needed something we didn't have, that the trip had gone incident free (despite the rain and thunder and her journey down the rapids), and that it had only added things to us rather than deprived us of anything.

And with that calmness and sense of satisfaction, we packed up our campsite Monday morning, but also made sure to take the time to sit and drink a couple of cups of coffee and take in the view one final time.

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Then we set out for the return journey, the eleven miles of canoeing we'd done a few days before.

And what a glorious day it was.  Clear blue skies, temps in the sixties and seventies, calm water, and no people.  It was the longest time before we ran into other people.  And only in the last hour or so of our rowing did we encounter a lot--that days allotment of new folks canoeing into the wilderness.  In other words, the day was heavenly.  

We didn't talk much, but took it all in.

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By the second portage the heat was approaching eighty and the sun was starting to beat down and I finally began to feel the energy draining, but we then only had a little ways to go.

We arrived back at the boat ramp at Fall Lake and began the process of loading the car.  After a quick and easy experience dropping everything at the outfitters, we headed to the liquor store for some beer to drink while we were taking turns showering at the motel. Long, luxuriant showers.  

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Then some downtown shopping, dinner, more beer, some TV, and comfortable beds.

Tuesday morning we grabbed coffee and breakfast at a great little shop that also was an art gallery ( I bought two pieces of pottery and a watercolor painting).  I loved the vibe and would clearly hang out there if I lived closer.

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Then we drove through the beautiful Superior National Forest to Duluth and the shores of Lake Superior (Robyn's first time to see Gitchee Gumee).  We also briefly stopped at Jay Cooke State Park, which I had seen in someone's Facebook posts earlier in the summer.  After that, we just drove the long and boring journey back home.

On the trip I read Conor Knighton's Leave Only Footprints, which ends with the line "I always want the moment of nature to last just a little bit longer."

Floating the Rapids

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We may have never traveled together before, but one reason we traveled excellently with each other is that we knew when to shut up.  We didn't have to fill every moment with talking and noise.  We had long moments of silence, particularly in our campsite.  One morning I was awake first and Robyn woke later but never said anything and sat quietly behind me for a long time.  We left each other alone when we saw the other one sitting on a rock, staring out into the landscape.  We understood about each other that when we were quiet meant everything was good, though we talked about how sometimes when we are quiet others think something is wrong with us, when those are often the moment we are at our best, just enjoying calmly taking everything in.  And that's especially true when there's water and trees and skies to just stare at.

I was also doing a lot of reading.  I'd brought along Leave Only Footprints, a memoir of one man's one year journey to every national park, which I had purchased in one of the gifts shops in Wyoming in July.  It was a great read in this setting, and I would often burst out with delighted giggles and laughs.  Robyn said she wished she had a recording of that.

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Sunday morning we awoke to heavy fog.  At its worst we couldn't see the end of our cove, so we took our time again and let it burn off.

Then we decided to head back to Basswood Falls and where we'd played the day before.  We saw our otter again along the way.

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But when we arrived, instead of staying at the Falls, we carried our  supplies along the mile portage to the river and spent the day there--relaxing on the rocks, reading, eating lunch, but also playing.  When we went swimming, Robyn decided to cross again into Canada.  From there we decided to walk/swim along the shore past the rapids (much gentler than the ones she had traversed accidentally the day before).  I had said I wanted to try floating down them wearing our life jackets.  

And so we did.  And it was so easy, with no rocks at all in the main channels.  Robyn said, "Let's do it again!"  So we did.

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That evening, back at our campsite, we began packing up so that the next morning we could more easily and quickly leave.  And we both walked around taking last pictures and enjoying the view.  We had enjoyed our time in this idyllic spot.

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Keeping Human

"Scripture is from first to last a vision of a world made otherwise than that based on hierarchy, domination, and the rule of money and violence," writes Timothy Gorringe based on the theology of Ton Veerkamp.  This book concludes with a final chapter drawing everything together for what transitions we need in order to create a different/better world.

He asks what kind of culture any community needs in order to be resilient.  I found this important, and one  of the reasons I have been reading all of these books this sabbatical summer, to be sure that our congregation is aware and prepared and doing what we should for the age we are now in and what is coming.

Gorringe believes too much around the climate is doom and gloom that has the effect of people feeling that they cannot act.  Instead he wants to follow the lead of some other scholars who believe that we need a vision of the future that entices people to participate.  Also a wise point for any preacher and pastor.

He believes our need for resilience is at root a spiritual problem.  Spirituality keeps people focused on hope and the future instead of succumbing to despair.  I was reminded of our Lenten worship series that focused on spiritual practices given the reality of climate change.

He writes:

These dimensions of resilience--solidarity, compassion, an ability to cope with tragedy, a sense of purpose, and an understanding of faith, hope, and agape--seem to me to be the real heart of 'inner transition.'

Church's might have to become arks, sanctuaries for the good life.  He returns to his idea of Benedictine communities in the dark ages, that he brought up in the introduction.  He concludes:

If I am right then a rigorous return to the traditions, practices, and virtues that Christians have nourished for so many centuries, but which at the same time the church has compromised so abjectly in relation to the present imperium, may be, to put i no more strongly, amongst the most important things that help to make and to keep human beings human in the dark ages already upon us.

To Live Well

"The question turns on what it is people need in order to live well."  That's how Timothy Gorringe approaches the practices of economics, if we are going to create a better world.

Of course our current economic practices are largely to blame for the depredations of the environment and the coming dark age he outlined in the introduction.  And in particular, he blames neoliberal capitalism of the last half-century.

I remain a capitalist and couldn't go along with all of his criticisms, though I do agree that the neoliberal turn fifty years ago, especially away from Keynesianism and the New Deal consensus, was full of mistakes.

His basic point in these chapters of the book is that we've created our system and can chose to have a different/better one.  On that I do agree.

I also agree that theology has a lot to say about economics.  Gorringe quotes Wendell Berry that one way of translating what is usually "kingdom of God" would be "the Great Economy."

What we do need is an economics that prizes cooperation and is focused more on grace than growth.  

His chapter on monetary reform was interesting, as I'd never read a chapter on that topic in a theology book before.  Though I didn't find his arguments there persuasive.  It's also a topic I know very little about.

Finally for this section, there was a chapter on agriculture and the need to replace the devastating industrial agriculture we find ourselves with now.  That chapter I mostly skimmed, already being convinced of this point from decades of reading Wendell Berry.


Beaver, Otter, Eagle, Chipmunk, Ducks, and Loons

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Sitting and reading in the quiet and taking in the view was how I started my first full day in the Boundary Waters.  We brewed and drank our coffee and eventually cooked our breakfast.  We were in no rush.  It was grand.

Late in the morning we piled into the canoe with a few supplies and rowed to upper Basswood Falls, a narrow spot on the lake where Canada almost touches America. Along the way we encountered an otter swimming in the lake.  As we came near he poked up his head to look at us.  He furrowed his brow and then dived down under the water.  We'd see him the next day, and he would do the same thing.

That otter and a beaver we watched swim across our cove the night before, were the biggest wildlife we saw on the trip. 

I was surprised we didn't see more birds, having gotten used to the massive flocks of waterfowl that live and migrate along the Missouri River.  But we only saw isolated birds here and there.  I fell hard for loons, which everyone seems to.  Beautiful to look at and of course even more mesmerizing to  listen to.  They are fun to watch on the water, as they suddenly disappear under the surface with no sound and hardly a ripple, and just as surprisingly reappear sometime later.

From the falls we hiked  the one mile portage--but without portaging--and it was good to stretch the legs and back.  This brought us out on the river below the falls and some rapids.  We hung out there for a while and chatted with a guy who was portaging the full mile on an annual canoe trip with his son and friends.  

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Then we walked back to our canoe and the falls for lunch and to go swimming and play in the water there.  We wanted to swim to Canada, so Robyn found a spot above the brink of the falls and we swam over.  There was a small metal pillar on top of the rock that marked the border.  The moment we climbed ashore, however, a bald eagle flew down and landed on the first tree on the American side and watched us.  We wondered if this was some service the nation provided or we were being scolded?

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We decided instead of swimming back that way to cross on the rocks and walk along the shore a ways and then cross between the falls and the next set of rapids.  I went first that time and easily made it past the current and to a rock I could climb up.  I assured Robyn she'd be fine--she's stronger than I am and swims for exercise.  Yet from the moment she jumped in the water it was clear the current was pulling her on a sharper angle than it did me, and she ended up swept down the rapids.  Luckily, no scrapes or bangs and very luckily no hitting her head on any rocks.  I yelled out, "Was that fun or scary?" and she replied, "It would have been more fun if I hadn't been so scared."

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As we made our way back to our canoe we enjoyed finding a chipmunk snacking on the trail mix some other folks had left unsecured in theirs.

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Back at our campsite that evening there were two highlights.  First, we watched a mother duck and her ducklings travel through our cove.  We first spotted them at  distance and weren't sure what they were, but as they came more clearly into sight we could see the mother leading.  The ducklings were skittering along behind, often climbing up onto the rocks, clearly playing with each other.  She eventually got them to a rock and got them all on top and settled down.  Then she went and sat two rocks over.  We laughed at that.  Eventually, when we got up from our chairs to begin cooking dinner, she seemed alarmed at our movement, and before long, had the ducklings all lined up, following her dutifully this time, as she crossed the cove and rounded the point out of sight.

The other highlight was the clear skies which afforded marvelous star gazing that night as we stayed up late, lying on the rocks.  Unfortunately we did not see the aurora.  I have never seen it and was hopefully, especially since on Thursday morning as I was getting ready for our trip, I heard a report on NPR that we were to expect a geomagnetic storm that weekend.  In the car I informed Robyn and asked if she wanted the good or bad news about that first?  The bad news was that the storm could disable GPS, which we would be using to navigate.  The good news was the aurora.  We never saw the aurora, nor lost our GPS signal.

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Only Free Beings Can Love

Part Two of Timothy Gorringe's The World Made Otherwise is a discussion of the practices necessary to embody the values and virtues and achieve our ends of a flourishing human life together, in order to address the climate and other crises of our times.

First he considers the shape of politics and how we should be organized.  He resists the "idolatry of the state" but argues that we do need a social order.  He defends a "rights cosmopolitanism."  Freedom is essential to this practice, as "freedom is at the heart of life because only free beings can love, and love is the best one-word account of the meaning and purpose of life that we have yet come up with."  (That's a great sentence.)  Gorringe believes this politics is best embodied in "small, federated political units."  

I wasn't sure how this was to be achieved.  And can't imagine how (or why) one would want to break-up the USA for instance.  I don't think any such break-up would actually be an advance in problem-solving, and it would likely lead to millions seeing reductions in their freedoms.  

But, an emphasis on freedom, love, and rights cosmopolitanism within our existing polity seems like a good idea.

His next chapter defends the practice of democracy and the equality that it values:

The main objective of democracy, according to David Held, is "the transformation of private preferences via a process of deliberation into positions that can withstand public scrutiny and test."  Respectful participatory practices are what allow this to happen.  This presupposes in turn educational policies that foster critical and informed thinking and promote a culture of respectful debate.

I agree with Gorringe when he emphasizes subsidiarity--the idea that as much power and decision-making as can be is passed down to smaller and local units.  The strength of democracy arises from local institutions that people can participate in and can have influence and power (de Tocqueville admired this about early America, but we've lost it in the last half-century).  I have written before about how I learned democracy in my small town church business meetings.

The next chapters move on from the practice of politics to the practice of economics, which I'll explore in a separate post.


11 Miles of Rowing

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We rounded the point in the island and could hear the falls ahead.  Then we could also see the portage sight as the groups ahead of us began to reach it.  Soon we did too.  And then our first portage, which wasn't too long or too hard.  Glad I went with someone younger who is used to lifting heavy things and was willing to carry the canoe (though I did keep offering).  

Then it was off on our second lake, Newton Lake, which we'd traverse the entire length of.  The weather was pleasant, with lots of cloud-cover.  This lake included some grassy sections we navigated through, watching out for underwater boulders.  Then it was the second portage, not quite as long, but rockier and more up and down.  Though it did include a nice place to see Pipestone Falls (really more of a cascade).  

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Finishing the portage, we lunched before setting off again.  Now we were on Basswood Lake and would be the rest of our trip till we returned on Monday.  Basswood has many long fingers and bays, and so Pipestone Bay was first up, filled with lots of small islands.  We passed lots of full campsites and groups of people clearly having a good time.

It was on the northern end of Pipestone Bay, after we'd gotten through all the islands that we stopped for a small break and saw that rain was sweeping in from the north.  We donned our ponchos and got back in the boat and began rowing through the rainfall.  It wasn't too bad and passed quickly enough.  

But as we rowed on we could see a small thunderstorm developing off to our right.  It looked for a longtime like we wouldn't encounter it, before it seemed to suddenly shift direction and come our way.  The lightning got a little closer, so we pulled off in the Lewis Narrows to let it pass.

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Back in the boat, it was still raining, but we canoed on.  We had now reached the area (and time and energy level doneness) that we were going to start searching for an empty campsite.  A couple we had hoped for were occupied.  We checked out one we didn't like, so had the disappointing experience of getting back in the boat, in the rain, and rowing on.  

Where we ended up was idyllic, with our own cove and no other campsite in view.  It would make a pleasant home the next few days and a great launchpoint for our adventures.

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The rain stopped long enough for us to pitch our camp and only returned after we had our tarp up to sit under.  We rigged it such that the rain drained off on its own, with an occasional lifted arm when necessary to push the water to the edge.  We read, rested, and watched the rain on the water, before turning in for the night after a successful day.  We figure we had rowed over eleven miles.

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