Thursday, December 31, 2009


On a Tuesday night in Wellington, NZ, our family walked down to J. J. Murphy's, one of Evan's favorite haunts, for pub quiz. We got a booth, ordered our food and beer, and participated in the evening contest. We did very well in many of the categories that evening, and might have placed among the top teams had there not been an entire section focused on New Zealand history and culture.

Anyway, one question asked was the name of Adam and Eve's third son. Everyone in the family turned to me smiling, assuming that I would be proficient at Bible trivia. I shook my head and said I had no idea, to their consternation. I have always been more focused on what the Bible means than what it says, which is not a helpful when you're engaged in pub quiz. Moments later I said, "Seth". They wrote it down, no doubt thinking I had been holding out for dramatic effect. The fact that I got the answer right doesn't change my disdain for Bible trivia, or any other form of biblical literalism. I came to my position early in life, supported by my dad, who taught us that "nothing is true because it's in the Bible. It's in the Bible because it's true." The trick, of course, is discerning the level at which the truth emerges.

In the ninth chapter of Genesis, an angel tells Lot that Sodom and Gomorrah are to be destroyed, and that they should flee and not look back, lest they be consumed. Lot's wife looked back, and became a pillar of salt. She never made that mistake again.

I thought of Lot's poor wife this morning as I read the paper, replete as it is with articles about the past year and decade. At times like this I think maybe the angel who warned Lot's family had a point. We are a species that seems to be infatuated with the past. We scour the record of years past for trivial details as if all of life is a pub quiz. At the same time, we seem to think very little about the meaning of past events or their implications for the future.

Earlier this week, two analysts on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer talked about last year's Wall Street collapse, and what we've learned from it. Alarmingly, they agreed that nothing has changed in the last year, especially in regard to the attitudes of the principal players. These magnates view themselves as tough survivors, rather than being grateful recipients of public rescue, determined to avoid the mistakes that laid them, and the nation, low.

It may seem a fine point, but I am less interested in stories about what happened than I am in efforts to insure that it doesn't happen again. There are those who earnestly implore that we must learn history in order to avoid repeating it, and I could agree with them if our obsession with the past showed a pattern of profound learning and application. As it is, the mistakes of the past resemble more the tree in the path of a bicyclist: the more they are stared at, the more unavoidable they become.

So here's to 2009. It was a year. But let's not forget where the action is. Nothing we do today will change the past. But our decisions and actions today, or their absence, make the future what it will become. May 2010 prove to be a year where we kept our eyes fixed forward. That might make a difference.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


After a week of denial, I am ready to acknowledge that it is winter where I live. The sun is so low in the sky that it never quite clears the trees on the other side of the neighbor's house. Yesterday the sun remained behind a thin layer of mist all day, as if it were embarrassed to show itself more fully.

At the same time, I am thankful that we are not buried in snow like last year. The local paper has been running small articles about how things were back then, and it seems surreal, though I was there and know the stories to be true. Instead of snow, we have consistent cold, hard frozen ground, and that shy, retiring sun making its way across the edge of the sky each day.

In the midst of all this I was warmed by the thought that I'll be riding my bike in earnest in two month's time. Two months isn't so long to wait. In the meantime, I'm thankful for a warm house, a nice cup of tea, and such light as old Sol is willing to shed.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Worth a Thousand Words

Out of desire to document what I knew would be a wonderful trip, I took photos of all kinds of things during our New Zealand sojourn. I took photos in the Spokane airport of us having coffee as we awaited boarding our flight.

Once in San Francisco I took photos of the plane we would fly to Auckland.

In New Zealand I took lots of pictures of plates of food,

various drinks,

and even the toilets that we would eventually require as a result of our eating and drinking. By the way, on many toilets in New Zealand, the little indicator turns from a green "Vacant" to a red "Engaged" when the door is locked. I really like the use of "Engaged" on a toilet. It reminds me of Star Trek.

Anyway, once home I realized that I don't take enough photos documenting my day to day life here. After all, had we walked through a Ponderosa Pine and Syringa forest amidst basalt outcroppings in New Zealand as the setting sun slowly turned from orange to red I surely would have photographed it multiple times.

So, here is Sally on a winter walk with the dogs.

And here are the dogs.

And here is Sally using a cleaver on the ginger slice crunch dessert she just baked. These little moments add up to a life, and ain't life grand?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Kiwi Christmas Card

Merry Christmas to you and yours, from the Bredeweg clan, seen here atop Mt. Victoria overlooking Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Dad couldn't wait to tell me about the book he was reading. A great lover of Christmas and the Christmas season, Dad had bought a copy of The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke, by Raymond E. Brown. This weighty tome showed that the gospels were written in reverse, beginning with the faith of the post-Easter community. Events furthest from that moment in time were the least likely to be based in fact. The infancy narratives, therefore, are not historically reliable, but were rather carefully crafted from pre-existing materials to bolster the theological arguments of the later Christian community.

I loved Brown's book as well, and tried to integrate its message into my teaching and preaching. Bible study groups focusing on the themes in the book were fairly successful. These smaller groups of committed members generally appreciated knowing where the images and concepts woven together from Matthew and Luke originally came from.

The Christmas Eve service was another story. Two times in 30 years of ministry I tried to introduce, in some fashion, the notion that the lovely Christmas story hadn't necessarily happened the way we told it in our lessons and carols. Huge mistake. Nobody is interested in decent biblical scholarship on Christmas. Or Easter for that matter. People are interested in coming to church in droves and hearing the familiar narratives in word and song. Don't mess with it.

There's an image in Asian stories of riding a tiger... doing so keeps you safe from the tiger's wrath, and can help you cover miles and cross obstacles... just don't try to get off the tiger. I view Christmas and Easter as the progressive church's tigers. We know more than the literal accounts convey, and hate to sound exactly like the literalists down the block proclaiming December 25th as Jesus' birthday, but we can't stop. We can't get off the tiger. There are too many attenders who want us to feed them that lovely simple story. We can't disappoint them by telling the truth instead.

Like my Dad, I have loved Christmas. I used to bristle at commercialization and get on my high horse about secularized images like Santa and Frosty. These days, I don't have so much trouble with the hawking of baubles and the proliferation of parties. They're intended for fun and frolic, and are fairly honest about it. Perhaps more honest than those of us "upholding the tradition".

Oh yeah, Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Under the Weather

Now that we are back from New Zealand, it is my intention to post to this blog on a daily basis. In this way, even if my additions are not artful, they will at least be regular. My determination has already been challenged by the "bug" I seem to have contracted upon my return. I am thankful that I didn't get sick during the trip itself.

My doctor had warned that the best defense against the swine flu would be deciding not to take the trip. "You're basically doing 'mouth-to-mouth' with everyone on the plane" he said. It turns out that it wasn't taking the trip that endangered my health, but rather coming home. I told Sally earlier today that I had looked up my symptoms on the internet (always a trustworthy source) and had determined that I have developed an allergy to the northern hemisphere.

The long early summer days we experienced in New Zealand have set us up for a shock. The 8 hours and 25 minutes of feeble daylight we get this time of year just isn't enough. But we aren't buried in snow like last year, and the days will lengthen, so there is hope. And I will feel better, and perhaps even write more effectively. Well, at least regularly.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Clever Thieves

You may have gathered from my last post that I was in the process of reevaluating my priorities and the amount of time I spend writing these inane entries. That might merit consideration. In truth, however, I was about to leave the country, and didn't want to advertise our absence from home too broadly. After all, there are clever thieves about, waiting for us to go to New Zealand so they can break in and steal the $3.75 that remains after financing such a trip.

Sally, Megan, Erin and I joined Evan in Wellington on November 28th and had a fabulous experience. Given my oft expressed opinion that the worst times make the best stories, any attempt to relate the details of this vacation would likely constitute boring narrative, so I'll spare you the travelogue. Yes, New Zealand is beautiful, Kiwi's are pleasant and laid back, and the five Bredewegs were able to coexist without serious altercations coloring the experience. It was a great trip.

Coming home, however, was a slightly different story. First of all there was the longest Friday -- we began our homeward journey waiting for the airport shuttle in Wellington at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, and finally opened the front door in Spokane at 7:30 p.m., still Friday, 27 hours of lived experience later. It actually felt like it was all one very long day.

Our luggage all arrived in a timely manner, I didn't get a ticket for my erratic driving (adjusting to being back on the right side of the road), and the house and animals were in great form, especially given our three week absence. I told you it was boring.

Given that we hadn't eaten for a while and had no food in the house, it was decided that we'd order a pizza, a decision that led to my trying to find the checkbooks and credit cards that we'd not taken with us on the trip. Given my concerns about clever thieves, I had stashed those items in a secure place where no thief, regardless of degree of cleverness, would be able to find them. Indeed, my hiding place proved to be so effective that I had absolutely no clue where to look.

My search began calmly as I checked the usual locations. Within minutes I realized that there was a problem. The checkbooks and credit cards were not to be found. As I ransacked the office and various other rooms, I engaged the services of the rest of the family in my quest. Their initial level of amusement faded when they realized that I would not allow them to sit down and enjoy their pizza until I found the stash.

It was at this point that I began to speculate about how clever our thieves had been. They had seemingly managed to break into the house without leaving any evidence of their presence, finding something that I myself could not put my hands on, and left without a trace. Clever indeed!

I got on the computer and checked the balances of our credit cards, but there was no unexpected activity. I did a credit report, but found that no one had attempted to open new accounts under our name. Our clever thieves were so clever that they had not even used what they had stolen. That way we were unlikely to suspect that the items were even missing.

Given the clear signals of normalcy, my loving family members came to the conclusion that no one had broken in , and that I had simply hidden the items too well while my mind was focused on leaving for New Zealand. Thankfully they were proven correct, as the secret cache was discovered before I had the chance to call the police or put stop orders on all of our financial accounts.

Having learned my lesson, I've decided that the next time we travel I will place these things in a safety deposit box. I just can't take the kind of excitement that our (eventually fruitful) search generated. Even though it all turned out to be a false alarm, I won't tell you where our stuff was hidden. After all, people might be monitoring this blog for just such a disclosure. Clever thieves!