Why do we need Rhetorical Questions?

Rhetorical question: “A question you ask without expecting an answer.”

How can you get off a nonstop flight?
What do you call a bedroom with no bed in it?
What are imitation rhinestones?
How can you tell when it is time to tune your bagpipes?

Just because you don’t expect an answer, that doesn’t mean some fool won’t give one anyway. For instance, I intend to answer why we need rhetorical questions. We need them to remind us that we don’t have to have all the answers. Why do they call them apartments when they are all stuck together? If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular? When things are out of whack, how do we get them back in whack?

We need rhetorical questions when we feel “gut-shot,” as we say in Montana. How can we be so stupid? Are we really this misogynist and racist? We need them when we are wondering what to do next. Is it time to get back to work? Even if we are retired? Have we done our quota of whining before we start doing good again? Isn’t it time we start working together?

We need them when we start counting our blessings at Thanksgiving and realize how much we enjoy our grandchildren and virtual grandchildren (aren’t they the best in the world?) and watching sports with my brothers and close friends (is this fun or what?) and singing with family and friends in our church choir (doesn’t music make you feel deep-down good?)

Kent Millard, a United Methodist pastor in Indianapolis once said, “Gratefulness leads to great fullness.” Giving thanks to God is a way to feel great and to lead a great and grateful life. You don’t believe in any concept of “God?” Then give thanks to the universe, the wonder, the mystery around and in us all. There is something beyond us that brings out the best in us.

My list starts with Pat and family (children, grandchildren, mother, siblings and the outlaws, nieces and nephews, close friends who are part of the family). Is anything better than extended family—especially the ones you choose?

I am thankful for a country where the presidential loser (well, the one who got the most votes by far, but not in the right places) calls on us all to give the president-elect a chance, because that is what we do in a democracy. As a friend from New York, Mark Hampton, wrote:

She knew that smart Bill was a schlock
And that Donald might run out the clock
But when it struck one
And her prospects were done
She just stood ten feet tall – like a rock

Mark added, “Our turn. No more crying. Get back to work.” He could have asked, “Isn’t it time to stop crying and get back to work?” Rhetorical questions can make statements that require action, not answers.

I am grateful we live in a country that can make what I perceive to be serious mistakes and still survive and grope toward doing right again. Maybe “grope” isn’t the right verb, but you know what I’m saying, don’t you? (Another rhetorical question.)

I am thankful for the Rocky Mountains and mountain chickadee babies in our bird house in the spring, and friends everywhere and still being able to help make a difference by doing what we can. I’m just getting started on the list. I bet Pat and I can come up with 100 things that bless our lives as we are driving down to Colorado for Thanksgiving with kids and grandkids. What could be better?

Your turn. It’s time to make your list, give thanks, count your blessings. And then, when you are so happy you can’t stand it, ask, in your most rhetorical voice, “What could be better?” That’s a rhetorical question. What? You can think of lots of good answers to that question? Then why do we need rhetorical questions?

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What Now?

We cried on election night. We weren’t the only ones. If you didn’t, don’t waste your time on this rant.

Donald Trump is the most explicitly racist candidate since Alabama Gov. George Wallace (a Democrat) in the 1960s and 70s, but of course Wallace did not become president. Worse yet, Trump wasn’t elected in spite of the racism, but because of it. He gave white people permission to blame the people of color for everything wrong with America. Make America great again by putting them in their place or sending them back to where they came from.

Many presidents have had one or more extra-marital affairs, Bill Clinton being the latest example. Before Trump, has any previous president ever been as publicly abusive of multiple women with words and (according to him) sexual assault? A president should at least have the decency to pretend to be decent in public. Worse yet, he wasn’t elected in spite of being misogynist, but because of it. It gives men permission to blame women for everything wrong with America. Make America great again by putting them back in their place in the bedroom and the kitchens.

I can’t even think about the fear Muslim Americans are feeling, or the danger of nuclear war from an unstable leader, or dangerous regression on climate change, or the crisis of having the most powerful man in the world be someone who doesn’t read and has a short attention span.

Trump’s margin of victory came from overwhelming support by older white men of limited education. I suppose, as an older white male, if it weren’t for my B.A. and M.Div., I might have been a Trump supporter?

So where’s the good news in a potential disaster for the nation and the world? Here’s the best I can do with little sleep this week:

1. In the 1980s, when Reagan won in landslides and began tearing the fabric of the safely net for the poor and elderly and workers and rolling back environmental gains, I was told by Phil Tawney, a legendary Montana environmental leader, that such elections are like forest fires. No matter how hard we try to prevent them, they come in cycles. The destruction and loss of plant and animal life and even human life is overwhelming. The land suffers for a time, but it comes back eventually. The ecology of the forest actually depends on fire to allow new and different growth over time.

Devastating political elections lead to a different kind of destruction, he opined, which can be just as deadly, but in a democracy, the human environment recovers. It may be different. In some ways, the destruction allows for something new to develop which might, in the long run, be even better for the world, but it takes time. Our job during the fire is to hunker down, keep doing the good we can, and, like prairie grasses after a prairie fire, keep the life in the roots, ready to grow back when the time is right.

2. Watch Hillary’s complete concession speech. It will make you hopeful for our democracy (and maybe cry again for what a wise president she would have been.) She said give the elected president a chance—that’s what we do in a democracy — but never stop fighting for the good.

3. He lied about so many things. Maybe he lied about some of the terrible things he would do! I’m serious. We can hope for this?

4. As Archbishop Tutu said to us during his Montana visit, long before the evil of apartheid fell in South Africa, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future. God does not call me to save my country. God calls me to do what I can.”

So friends, do good. This is the best way to fight against the racism, misogyny, and xenophobia that is rampant in America. Do good where you can, how you can, when you can. Hug each other. Don’t be bashful about standing up for true values of equality, justice, and peace for our community and our planet. Keep the roots alive.

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How can we be so Stupid?

How did we get to the place where we Americans are within shouting distance of electing a man to be President of the US who appears to be mentally unstable—unable to control the terrible things that come out of his mouth? With a nod to our Republican friends, we know you are appalled at this possibility as well.

Imagine if Hillary (or candidates McCain or Romney in recent campaigns) had said even one of the following statements:
“I don’t have time to read.”
“I might pull us out of NATO if they don’t start paying their share.”
“Why do we build nuclear weapons if we aren’t going to use them?”
“I know more than all the generals about ISIS.”
“I will get Mexico to pay for a huge wall.”
“I know more about the federal government than anyone.”
“I will end all crime.”
“I am the only one who can solve our nation’s problems.”
“I will put my opponent in jail.”
“I could shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
“When you are a star, you can grab a woman by the p***y.”
“I will only accept the result of voting if I win.”
If Hillary or any candidate had said any one of those statements, she would rightly be derided as mentally unstable, a bully, or someone who sounds more like a would-be dictator… certainly not a presidential contender.

How did we get to this place? Here is our best guess: Donald Trump is succeeding because of fear. This is a scary, rapidly changing world, and we are unhappy with how our leaders and our Congress are failing to protect us. If anything is perfectly clear, it’s that American democracy is hard… not for the faint of heart. We do know, however, that when we act out of fear, we almost always make poor decisions.

Critics have underestimated Trump’s “traction,” certain that his following would evaporate because of his overt racism, misogyny, lack of relevant experience or constant lies. But he is popular because of those traits, because they address deep fears among some of us.

America’s collective agonies through our multiple movements for civil and human rights for all persons sent the America of the 1950’s disappearing into the sunset. Racism, misogyny, trans -gender phobias, and playing fast and loose with ‘facts” still challenge us as we try, fail or succeed, in nurturing a kinder, more inclusive, more peaceful America.

Trump and his advisers are not the first people seeking to use these fears as tickets to power. It should not surprise us that the KKK is using Trump’s “bullying” language and behavior as successful recruiting tools for their membership.

Now we have a candidate who glibly fabricates “truths” all the time, and will even lie when caught in a lie by claiming he never said that. He appears to be incapable of admitting he is wrong, even when shown video tapes of what he has said. A person who cannot admit they are ever wrong is a dangerous human being you would not want as a neighbor, much less as a man with access to a nuclear arsenal.

However, we will put up with lies because of our fears. We fear for our jobs and our families and how everything keeps changing. Many want to go back to the idealized past when nothing changed, when there was no fear about women taking power and jobs from men, or people of color not knowing their place, or darker-skinned foreigners with strange religions threatening our children, or gay and lesbian people threatening our marriages. Telling lies has become an acceptable practice when they reinforce an ancient worldview that still holds power. If you tell the lies enough, they become true, and we want to believe that some super powerful leader will save us from all that is fearful and all that changes.

Unfortunately, reality always wins in the end, and (this is the sad part) we voters get what we deserve. Here’s hoping we deserve the first woman president who may be the best qualified to be President of anyone in the US (only 28 years after Muslim-majority Pakistan elected a female Prime Minister.) Here’s hoping we don’t deserve the bully with no personal boundaries, no personal investment in the difference between democracy and demagoguery, and little acquaintance with the real world.

P.S. (from Pat): I suspect I am not alone in having trouble sleeping since the campaign began. As an educator and advocate for children and youth for decades, I worry about the impact of Trump’s bragging about sexual assault and his threatening physical behavior on those of us who have experienced serious traumas in our lives. The CDC has the stats… one of five adult women in the US will be assaulted in her lifetime, and one of twelve children, boys and girls, will experience assault or abuse before age 18. There are thousands, even millions of youth and adults in our country who suffer from severe traumas. Recent brain research reveals that the impact of unbearable experiences is stored in the physical memory of our bodies’ tissues which can recall the trauma as if it were happening right now. Trump’s behavior and language must be triggering the recall of horrible events in thousands of lives. I cannot sleep with the thought of the children in our nation whose personal “hells” return after listening to an evening newscast or a presidential debate. I can hardly abide it, but I have most certainly voted the way I did because of it.

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The Opposite of Trump

The good news today is about a funeral that was a celebration of a great life, well-lived.  This weekend my friend Bob FitzGerald and I drove to Billings for the memorial for Jessica Stickney. She was a friend and mentor for us. If not for her and her husband Ed, there would have been no Montana Logging and Ballet Company.

At the funeral, Margie McDonald, who achieved national fame for the “Not in Our Town” campaign against the Ku Klux Klan in Billings, Montana, spoke about how Jessica was a leader against the racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic campaign of the KKK in the early 1990s. Jessica helped get all the different denominations in the Montana Association of Churches on behalf of the followers of Jesus to take an active stand to confront the hate and bigotry. Contrast that with Trump, whose blatant bigotry (such as trumpeting the birther lie about President Obama) has led the KKK to use him in their recruiting drives that have swollen their membership in the last year.

Jess Stickney was the opposite of Donald Trump, and not just because she was a woman and a Democrat who served two terms in the Montana House. She was kind and loving. She never called attention to or bragged about herself. She fought for human rights and civil rights and the rights of gay and lesbian people. She was loving but courageous in standing up to the bigots and hate-mongers. She was an example of what a person of faith ought to be. That is as opposite of Trump as there is.

In honor of Jessica Stickney, and in sadness for her not getting to vote for the first female president of the US, I provide this link to the best political speech I have ever heard or read. It is by Michelle Obama. Jess would have LOVED it. (Even the right wing Glenn Beck called it the most effective political speech since Ronald Reagan.)

Jessica would have shown it to all her friends, as you should. She would have said this is not an election to “sit out.” Our children’s and grandchildren’s safety, both female and male, is at stake. Voting is a profound way to celebrate the lives of outstanding leaders like Jessica Stickney and others whom you know well who stand up to bigots, misogynists, and bullies.


Copy and paste that in your browser, or just go to YouTube and search for Michelle Obama New Hampshire. Hey, I’m old and technically-challenged. Deal with it.





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Syrian Refugees

There is a terrible tragedy in Syria: 4.3 million refugees from Syria alone, according to UN sources, and 200,000 killed already in that country. When we heard about it, we knew our country would do the right thing as we always have.

So far, Germany has accepted 38,500 Syrians since 2013 and Canada has accepted 36,300 in the same time period. As the richest nation in the world, the beacon of democracy and compassion, and a nation made up almost entirely of immigrants (except for Native Americans), I knew we would be the world leader in caring.

We have given the most in humanitarian aid, it is true, and in federal fiscal year 2014 (which ended in September 2014), we took in 105 Syrians. In Fiscal Year 2015 that ended this last September, we accepted 1,682. Now President Obama has proposed taking 10,000 Syrian refugees into the US, with strict background checks but no screening for religion.

I knew that our citizens, as people of faith and good will, would react strongly to this tepid response, not worthy of a caring nation. I was right about the strong response, but wrong about the content. A Bloomberg poll just days old found that 53% of Americans want to refuse all Syrian refugees, while an additional 11% would only accept Christian Syrian refugees. Only 28% supported President Obama’s minimal-caring response.

Republican presidential candidates reacted immediately, demanding that we stop all Syrians from being resettled in the U.S. Ben Carson, running second in the Republican race by some polls, says we have compassion for the refugees, but not in our country. I heard an interview in which he called for a “pause” until conditions change, by which he implied no refugees until the terrorism threat is gone.

Donald Trump, the leader in the Republican race, said back in July that most of the Mexican immigrants are criminals, rapists and drug smugglers. Now he would not only bar Syrian refugees, but he would give the government the power to shut down mosques that are deemed extremist and to require Muslim people to carry a special ID card showing their religion.

Our own Montana Representative, Republican Ryan Zinke, echoed the party line in a statement quoted by the Helena Independent Record on November 17: “In the case of the Syrian refugees, most of them are male. Most of them are of military age, and yes, it is a significant security issue.”

The UN claims that half of the refugees are women. The State Department says that half of the Syrian refugees in the US are women, and half are children. About one-quarter are over 60. So Rep. Zinke was a little confused on his one “fact,” when he should have said 2% of the Syrian refugees accepted by the US so far are males of military age. However, he was accurate with his appeal to fear. He is in tune with a large majority of Montana and American citizens.

This is the not first time we have responded to great fear this way. A Washington Post article from three days ago revealed polls taken in the lead-up to World War II. In July of 1938, during Nazi atrocities in Germany and Austria, Fortune Magazine asked:

”What’s your attitude towards allowing German, Austrian & other political refugees to come into the US?”

The people polled responded:
With conditions as they are, we should try to keep them out: 67%
We should allow them to come, but not raise our immigration quotas: 18%
Don’t know: 10%
We should encourage them to come, even if we have to raise our immigration quotas: 5%

A little later, in January of 1939, the Jews in Germany were being actively persecuted (which started with the Nazis requiring them to wear a special form of ID – the Star of David – to indicate their religion so they could be singled out). A Gallup poll at that time asked:

“It has been proposed to bring to this country 10,000 refugee children from Germany – most of them Jewish – to be taken care of in American homes. Should the government permit these children to come in?”

The people polled responded:
No: 61%
Yes: 30%
No opinion: 9%

No wonder that now 47 House Democrats just joined Republicans to pass an anti-refugee bill, with a veto-proof majority. No wonder that every Republican presidential candidate wants to bar all Syrian refugees. No wonder that so far 29 Republican governors and one Democratic Governor say they want to close their states to these people. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is also a Republican presidential candidate, stated that he would not accept any Syrian refugees, and would refuse even “a three-year-old orphan’s” entry. He is undoubtedly representing the views of a large majority in his state.

I just re-read part of the Christmas story from the gospel of Matthew. “Now after they [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.”

Good thing that Egypt didn’t have a Republican Governor and an American electorate at that time.

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Yogi Berra

If you are an American who knows and cares nothing about baseball, you still know at least two baseball players’ names – Babe Ruth and Yogi Berra.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth was arguably the greatest player of all time, but there is no argument that he is the greatest star. His outsized personality was as important as his towering home runs in that regard. Americans love an overweight, non-athletic looking man who dominates his sport, and then, in response to a question about how he can justify making a bigger salary than the president of the United States, says, “I had a better year than Hoover.” He did, too.

We like our heroes brash and cocky. You have to know baseball to appreciate one saying attributed to the Babe: “If I tried for them dinky singles, I could have hit around six hundred.”

If you don’t know anything about baseball, you have still heard of another man who did not look like a great athlete: Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra. You may not know that as a catcher he led the New York Yankees to win the World Series ten times. You may not know he was an all-Star for 15 consecutive years who is in the Hall of Fame, or that he led both the Yankees and the New York Mets to the World Series as a manager. But you know his name because of yogi-isms, or witty malapropisms attributed to him.

“You can learn a lot just by watching.”

“Nobody goes there [a popular restaurant] anymore, it’s too crowded.”

“It’s déjà vu all over again.”

“Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.”

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

“We made too many wrong mistakes.”

Now that he has died, you may hear or see twenty more on TV or in the paper. He was so popular that he had a cartoon (Yogi Bear) named after him.

Some of the yogi-isms seem to imply that he was dim-witted. He is once reported as saying “You better cut the pizza into four pieces rather than eight. I don’t think I can eat eight pieces.”

There are at least two ways to take this. Either the man is quite stupid or else he has a fine sense of humor. My guess is that his deliberate humor gets tossed in the same basket with his occasional malapropisms.

There is a current comedian whom I enjoy, Steven Wright, who spouts Yogi-isms, but there is no question that he does it on purpose because he does it on stage:

“What’s another word for ‘thesaurus’?”

“I was trying to daydream, but my mind kept wandering.”

“What a nice night for an evening.”

“I put instant coffee in a microwave oven and almost went back in time.”

“Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect.”

So what will Yogi Berra’s legacy be? My friend, Craig Wright, is a sabermetrician and baseball historian who can assess his baseball legacy and where he fits among hall of fame players. I can’t wait to hear his verdict.

Others will point to Yogi’s philanthropic endeavors including the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University in Little Falls, New Jersey.

If legacy means how long you are remembered, it’s my guess that Yogi will be remembered for some of his yogi-isms for as long as English is spoken in something like its present form. I suspect that the number of yogis-ims will grow over time, because he is a larger-than-life figure. Much like George Washington and the cherry tree, we will hear of things he could have or should have said. I heard Yogi being interviewed on TV when he said, “I didn’t say half the things I said,” and I know he meant it.

How long a person is remembered is like a rock being dropped into a lake. The ripples go on for a long (or short) time until they finally disappear. A person’s influence, though not as measurable as a ripple, is longer lasting, because of the impact for good or for ill on others. For instance, my mother and father had a powerful positive impact on the lives of a great many people, not just family members. Each of us influenced by George and Dorothy Harper changed the way we treat others, who in turn interact with still others. In short, there are some who never met George or Dorothy Harper, but whose lives are better in small part because of the way they lived. I didn’t say that as clever as Yogi, but Yogi would understand it.

I didn’t know Yogi, but it appears he had a tremendous impact on his friends, teammates, and the game. Los Angeles Dodgers manager, Don Mattingly, who wears number 8 to honor Yogi, said, “The reason he was so beloved, it wasn’t really about his career even though he was a great, great player. It was about what a great person he was, the way he treated people, how humble, sincere, kind he was to people. That’s really what defined him and I think it’s why he’s touched so many peoples’ lives.”

That’s the way we should all live, Yogi. Without you, “the future ain’t what it used to be,” but we can do our small part to reclaim the future of humility, sincerity, and kindness.

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50th Anniversary

Our good friends, Gayle and Deanne Sandholm, recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Since Pat and I are still 12 years short of that mark, we are suitably impressed.

Gayle and Deanne retired from pastoring and lawyering, but they never tire of being good folks and doing good for the world. One of the best things they have done to help humanity is the family they have raised. Their children and spouses, grandchildren and now one great grandchild are all spectacular human beings.

Here is the amazing Sandholm immediate family.










The Sandholms are family oriented, but like all good families, they include us and others in their large extended family.

Sandholms 50th Wedding Anniversary

If you drew a picture and showed it to me,
And said, “This is how the whole world ought to be –
All different but part of the same family.”
I’d say, “That looks like the Sandholms.”

If you said, “Imagine a couple who care,
With children and spouses beyond all compare,
Grandchildren and great grandkids ever so rare.”
I’d say, “You’re talking the Sandholms.”

If you said, “All children should be greatly prized,
And be given the chance to grow up strong and wise
With their own opinions, no matter their size.”
I’d say, “Have you met the Sandholms?”

If you said, “Yes I’ve met Deanne and her Gayle
And as fifty-year role models, I think they fail
Because no mere mortals can follow their trail.”
I’d say, “Well, we can’t all be Sandholms.”

We can’t all be Sandholms, the fortunate few;
But they let us in, so we know what to do —
We’ll reach out to others who need family too.
In that sense we all can be Sandholms.

If you drew a picture and showed it to me,
And said, “This is how the whole world ought to be –
All different but part of the same family.”
I’d say, “Yes, we’re part of the Sandholms.”

With love, Rusty and Pat Callbeck Harper
August 28, 2015

As it is said, “A house built on sand will not stand, but a home built on Sandholms will last forever.”

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Literary Archaeology

While cleaning the basement this week, we came across a whole box of my father’s pastoral memorabilia, including some sermons, weddings, funerals, and speeches to sports banquets. His wit and insight stand the test of time.

I’m using my literary archaeology skills to put some of the loose papers into the right file folders by subject topic. Using my form critical skills, this one is on a long thin notepad like Dad often used to write as a cheatsheet for one of his talks. Like other notes, this one has abbreviated versions of stories or thoughts he intended to use, in the right order, but not necessarily with the connecting thought structure on which the stories would hang.

The trouble with this note is that not only can I not imagine the logical outline, I can’t even figure out what type of speech this might be.

Here are his notes as he wrote them. (You need to know that Hal and Nancy are my siblings.)

Declined hearing aid: “At 91, I’ve heard enough.”
“Mommy, if we give him the money, will he let us go?” (Rusty’s note: no doubt a child in church)
Sins of omission: the ones we should have committed
Nancy and neighbor boy (Catholic, Robinsons) splashed each other, decided to take clothes off. Nancy looked “Gosh, I didn’t know there was that much difference between Catholics and Protestants.”
Moved to Helena, church named St. Paul’s
Hal: It must be a franchise. We had one of those in Nashville too.
“God make me a good boy if you can. If you can’t, don’t worry about it ‘cause I’m having fun the way I am.”

What do you believe about God?
“I believe what my church teaches and believes.”
And what does my church ____________
“My church teaches and believes what I believe.”
What do you and your church believe?
“We believe exactly the same thing.”
“Deadly” is a good adjective to use with serious. I’ve never heard the phrase “deadly humorous.”
Coolidge never smiled. Will Rogers was bet that he couldn’t make the Pres laugh. When introduced, Rogers: “I’m sorry, I didn’t get the name.”

Since I never heard my father give a poor talk, I’m assuming the worshippers, mourners, wedding celebrants, or athletes hung on every word and were moved, comforted, given hope, or got fired up depending on the setting. If you were there, I hope you got what you wanted, and may I add my own support, condolences, congratulations or fanatical encouragement, although somewhat belatedly.

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Sitting on Top of the World

You don’t get the World Cup Finals without a lifetime of preparation. Mine started with my first soccer (football to the rest of the world) game, an international friendly on Mexican soil. The American squad were all Montana high school students on a church trip to Patzcuaro to help build the first stone silo in the state of Michoacan.

I had never played or seen a soccer game, but I was a three-sport letterman. I was in very good shape, as were my teammates. Early in the game (match to the rest of the world), my friend Gary Curtis made use of his very long legs to prevent a Mexican youth from dribbling around him. We were feeling pretty cocky. The Mexicans changed tactics, instituting a ball-possession, one-touch-pass offense that had us chasing the ball the rest of the match. These were very talented athletes, some possibly as old as the 9th grade and others more like 5th- or 6th- graders.

I did score once when I sprinted past the defenders, ran onto a long pass from Gary (it might have been a shot), and bounced the ball off the side post and into the net when I fired from close range on the wide-open goal. The Mexicans were making what I thought was a congratulatory sign, but have since learned that it is the signal for off-side.

Later I moved from a one-game player to wise coach of my daughters’ tiny-person soccer teams in Helena. Somebody who knew the 7 rules of soccer gave a quick overview to various parents who were coaching the different teams of what we called swarm-ball.

Pat and I can sympathize with the parents of American Hope Solo and Japanese Ayumi Kaihori, because we are also parents of goalies. Robin didn’t last long in the position. We have a picture of her as the goalie doing a cartwheel while the ball was rolling past her into the net. She did become a state champion gymnast, but never hoisted a soccer trophy.

Molly, though shorter, was an outstanding goalie. At the state meet for the U-12 traveling teams, the head Helena coach told us she was the best goalie at the meet. That didn’t make us feel any better when we were rushing her to the hospital after she bent over to collect the ball near her goal and her defender made a mighty kick to clear the ball, but caught Molly in the head instead.

Being a player and coach isn’t enough. We began our World Cup preparations in February when the FIFA web site laid out the rules for buying tickets online. We made the expensive decision to attend the final game, not knowing who would be in it. I got online 2 hours after it opened, and got two tickets in the top of the stadium, two of only about 3000 left in the 53,000+ seat arena.

We knew all the hotels in Vancouver would be booked (they were), so we scheduled a room with a dear friend in Bellingham, Washington, only 53 miles away (farther in kilometers). We got to spend the 4th of July with her and her sons, their remarkable wives, and the terrific grandkids — Kevin, Kate, Jacob, and Ellis. We got to see fireworks, but the real ones would come the next day in Vancouver.

In Vancouver, our pre-game preparation consisted of trying to find a place to eat that didn’t have lines more than a block long, and sharing the excitement of the thousands of Japanese fans and and tens of thousands of American fans in face paint and Alex Morgan or Megan Rapinoe jerseys. I had on my Abby Wambach shirt, while Pat looked ready to play striker in her Sydney Leroux gear. Every now and then on the streets outside the stadium, someone would start shouting “USA” or “I believe that we will win!” or “Marry me, Alex” and others would join in the cheer.

We sat near the top of the stadium, but marveled at how well we could see the whole action on the field, so much better than on TV. A couple of rows behind us was a woman who carried a yellow card in her pocket and waved it whenever the ref didn’t call a yellow card penalty when a Japanese player fouled an American one. On my side was an Australian who married a Canadian woman. He said he was leaning toward the US side, but wouldn’t mind seeing a Japanese victory.

We sang the US anthem lustily. Everyone rooting for the US, which was the vast majority, seemed to be singing. We were respectful as the Japanese players and coaches sang along with the solemn and beautiful Japanese anthem.

We had hardly sat down when Megan Rapinoe slotted a ball into the box and Carli Lloyd smashed it home. We we looking right down the goal line, so we could see it perfectly. Then it was replayed on the jumbotron screen which was about at eye level for us. We were high-fiving everybody around us, although the couple behind us weren’t very good at it (we all were to get more practice at it). The Australian-Canadian man was high-fiving in all directions, and had clearly made his choice.

A couple of minutes later, Carli Lloyd’s second goal looked like an instant replay. The noise was deafening. Pat and I hugged. She exclaimed, “This might be as exciting as the birth of our children!” The third goal by Lauren Holiday almost caused the roof to blow off the stadium. Good thing the center of the roof was open. The fourth goal was another Carli Lloyd one, this time from the midfield line 60 yards away when she saw the Japanese goalie Kaihori was too far off her line. We were getting hoarse already.

Pat began to worry. She says you can’t trust sheer joy — it tempts the fates. She was right. The Japanese women did not give up, but started connecting on their ball-possession, one-touch-pass offense that made me think of those sneaky Mexican children who kicked our butts in that “international friendly.” They did score twice, but Tobin Heath added an insurance goal for the US and we all held our breath through the final few minutes until the closing whistle prompted a collective sigh of relief followed by a prolonged ear-damaging-as-much-as-any-rock-concert cheer.

Virtually all 53,324 of our closest new friends stayed in their seats until the awarding of the trophies to Hope Solo for goalie of the tournament, Carli Lloyd for player of the match and player of the World Cup, to Japan for second place, and the US for first. The US fans were very respectful of the Japanese, never booing, and always applauding. The only booing occurred when the FIFA officials marched out to award the trophies.

The only thing that could have made the day better would have been if Sepp Blatter, the president of the corrupt FIFA organization, had handed the trophy to Carli Lloyd and then had been grabbed by two Canadian Mounties, hoisted overhead and carried off, with the the Canadians in the crowd chanting,”We have an extradition treaty with the US.”

As it was, we had to settle for a bucket-list thrill, right up there with having children — just as noisy but less painful for Pat.

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All Good Things…

All good things must come to an end. Some bad things – death, taxes, Congress, reality shows – go on forever, but not so with good things.

True, some good things end but come back again. The baseball season ends with the World Series, which is both the high point of the season and the start of the long, dark winter without baseball games. Granted, it comes back in the spring, but that is a long time to wait.

Summer in Montana is a great thing which ends anywhere from mid-August to early September, but it always comes back. Well, not every single year, but most years. I’m sure there are other good things that end and come back, but none are coming to mind right now.

Most good things end and then are gone for good. That sounds wrong, doesn’t it? If something good is gone, we should say it is gone for bad. The Eureka TV series (the best sci-fi sitcom ever) eventually went through a time warp and disappeared. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 1907 and 1908. They haven’t won it since and won’t. That is just as well, because Cubs fans wouldn’t know what to do if the loveable Cubbies became everybody’s favorite.

One great thing is heading toward an end. Our church choir director, Dave Buness, indicates that by the end of June he will step back from directing us to simply being one of the basses in the back row of our choir.

Of course, he’s not just any bass. Christmas can’t really come if he doesn’t sing “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” His deep, mellow voice makes you happy, like a child carried in your daddy’s arms, like all is right with the world. I want to sing like Dave when I grow up.

When Dave and his wife Fay (our spectacular pianist/organist) were moving from Missoula to Helena, the pastor of the Missoula First United Methodist Church called my father who was then pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist here in Helena. As I recall the story, the pastor said something like “Meet them in the driveway and sign them up before they go into their new place in Helena, because there will be phone calls waiting for them to play/conduct for other churches.” He was right, and apparently Dad did, because Fay and Dave have been the backbone of our church for 41 years.

Yes preaching is important, and we have been graced with exceptional preaching/preachers since the early 1960s, but music may be even more essential to the pilgrim’s progress of the soul.

Some say our choir is the best church choir in the state. I know Dave has sent tapes of us that won us the opportunity to travel to Seattle and Spokane to sing for regional choral music conferences. Of course, if somebody didn’t like us, we wouldn’t be likely to hear about it. There is surprisingly little trash talking between choirs.

Even more important than having a lot of people making good music together is the bond we have developed. Every vibrant church is built on small groups where people can make a connection with each other and care for each other. This is much more important than the theology that is preached. Our church choir is our primary “small group” of friends we see most Sundays and about whom we care deeply.

Part of the reason for that is Dave’s relaxed style of conducting. He is a funny man himself, and tolerates us making jokes too. The altos are always making jokes about the tenors, for example. (Maybe they are being serious rather than joking, so that’s not a good example.) We laugh a lot. Most conductors wouldn’t tolerate it, but there is more than music going one here — there is friendship.

Dave teaches us the mechanics of singing and more. He may say, “When you are singing ‘The Lord loves a happy face,’ it is OK for your face to look happy.” Or he might say, “I missed that entrance, so I’m glad nobody followed me.” We all knew what he meant when he said he wanted a full choir on Christmas choir Sunday “so we can honk it.” He sometimes forgets and says “Men come in here. Tenors too.” We tenors are mostly baritones pretending to be tenors, so we don’t take offense. Oh yes, and one of us is female, so I presume she isn’t easily offended by the men and tenors talk.

Dave had the wisdom and patience to let us struggle through language issues, which can be terribly divisive. Some of us in the choir were insistent on making the language inclusive of all people, not just men. Changing words from “men” to “all” and the like is hard enough, but changing male pronouns for God is even harder for some. If we learned it as a child, then it feels right, even though we know as mature adults that God does not have male gender, nor are the attributes of God “male.” (Jesus’ core belief that God is love is closer to traditional stereotypes of females than males, but it is frightfully difficult to alter things we “knew” as children.)

Dave allowed us time and space to work through those issues, and our theology is both more mature and our group stronger because of it. We are also closer because of the choir potlucks at Dave and Fay’s beautiful house on the side of the Elkhorn mountains.

It won’t be the same without Dave as our director and we are starting to mope already, but Fay is staying on as our wizard. She can play the different parts and emphasize one depending on which section needs more help. She can hear everything we sing while she is playing. She is very gentle in suggesting to Dave how certain things should be sung, when her views are at variance with his. This leads to the choir aphorism, “Fay is always right.” She is not only always right, she is also very funny, which makes her being always right a lot more enjoyable.

Fay will still be playing, so at least this good thing will never end. Never. We won’t allow it. Now that’s good news for this otherwise sad Friday. Thanks Dave from the bottom of our hearts.

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