Sunday, September 27, 2015

With Friends Like These (9/27/15)

With Friends Like These
John Shuck

Southminster Presbyterian Church
Beaverton, Oregon

September 27, 2015

As time goes on I dislike two statements that people say more and more.  I think that people say them to make you feel better but in reality I do not think you do feel better.

God’s gifts
God’s will

My example would be that a child is God’s gift (so they say), yet what about all those people who never get one?  How does that make those people feel?  Then when something bad happens, that was God’s will, that is even worse, as why would He pick on that person in that way?

Job 2:11, 8:5-6, 11:6b, 22:4-5
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him.

Zophar:  Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.  

Bildad:  If you will seek God
   and make supplication to the Almighty, 
 if you are pure and upright,
   surely then he will rouse himself for you
   and restore to you your rightful place.

Eliphaz: Is it for your piety that he reproves you,
   and enters into judgement with you? 
 Is not your wickedness great?
   There is no end to your iniquities.   

Harold Kushner, When Bad things Happen to Good People, p. 38. 
Job’s friends…start out truly wanting to comfort Job and make him feel better.  They try to reassure him by quoting all the maxims of faith and confidence on which they and Job alike were raised.  They want to comfort Job by telling him that the world does in fact make sense, that it is not a chaotic, meaningless place.  What they do not realize is that they can only make sense of the world, and of Job’s suffering, by deciding that he deserves what he has gone through.  To say that everything works out in God’s world may be comforting to the casual bystander, but it is an insult to the bereaved and the unfortunate.  “Cheer up, Job, nobody gets anything he doesn’t have coming to him” is not a very cheering message to someone in Job’s circumstances.

But it is hard for the friends to say anything else.  They believe, and want to continue believing, in God’s goodness and power.  But if Job is innocent, then God must be guilty—guilty of making an innocent man suffer.  With that at stake,  they find it easier to stop believing in Job’s goodness than to stop believing in God’s perfection. 

Rabbi Harold Kushner has written over a dozen books.   Most people recognize his name for one book in particular.   When Bad Things Happen to Good People was his analysis of the Book of Job.   If God is all-good and all-powerful why is there human suffering?  

It is an interesting question to ponder.   It is a question asked so often in different ways that it has a fancy word associated with it, theodicy.   Theo-dicy.   The word comes from theos or God and dike or justice.  It is an attempt to explain the justice of God when God appears not to be up to the task of being just or good on one hand and at the same time all-powerful on the other.   

It is a marvelous question for pondering the mysteries.   Many answers have been provided.  Here are a few:
  1.  God has a bigger plan that we can’t know.
  2. Everything happens for a reason.
  3. God will use this suffering for a greater good.
  4. When life gives you lemons, God makes lemonade.
  5. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
  6. God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.
  7. Sure it sucks, but won’t heaven be nice?
  8. Perhaps God is sending a message.
  9. Is there a part of your life that you haven’t given over to God?
  10. If you seek God’s will, God will bless you. 
  11. Have you considered that God may be trying to get your attention?
  12. If Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten that apple.
  13. God doesn’t cause it, but God allows it.
  14. Suffering is the consequence of free will.
  15.  God suffers with you.
  16. Have you prayed about it?

 And on and on it goes.  The questions and answers are all fun and abstract…

…until it happens to you.

That is why Harold Kushner wrote his book.  It was his response to the death of his fifteen-year-old son, Aaron.  Aaron had a rare genetic disease called progeria, or rapid aging.   He died at fifteen like an old man.   What a cruel disease.    Hardly the product of intelligent design?   

Rabbi Kushner, a counselor, a theologian, a person who helped explain the mysteries of God to others, was forced to face in a very personal way, the problem of God.   Was this disease a good thing?  Is there anyway to conceive of this as a benevolent gift from a Creator?  Or was it a mistake?  If so, could not an all-powerful God fix it, or not make a mistake in the first place?    Surely an all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing God could design a universe without progeria.   Can one really blame free-will for a genetic disease?   

Even as these questions are raised, we enter answer mode.  We try to find ways for this to make sense.   We go through that list I made earlier or think of one I didn’t mention, or try a variation on an old theme.   

The answers keep coming because our theology can’t be wrong.   God is all-good and all-powerful.   That is our faith.  God knows every hair on our head.  God’s goodness surpasses all.   There is no way that can be wrong.   Therefore, no matter what the suffering, no matter what your condition, God’s justice is secure.  

The Lord said to Satan:

"Have you considered my servant, Job?"

And thus Job's troubles began.  I am certain Job would have preferred to remain anonymous.  Alas for Job, he was "considered."

We the readers know why Job suffers even though Job does not.   Job suffers because God made a bet with Satan.   Satan is not the personification of evil of later Christian mythology.   Satan here is not a proper name.  He is called “the satan” or the adversary.  He is part of the divine counsel.  The adversary is like a prosecuting attorney or perhaps quality control.  He is part of the system.    He tests it.   He tests humans.  He tested Jesus in the wilderness.  

In this case, he challenges God.  He says that Job will lose his trust in God if Job suffers enough.  So God goes along with the plan and allows the satan to afflict Job with disease, the loss of everything he owns, and the death of his children.   Fun experiment, right?

For the rest of the story, Job and his friends try to figure out what we, the readers, already know.  Job’s suffering is caused by the capriciousness of the divine counsel.   Even when God has the chance to come clean at the end and say, “Sorry Job, old buddy.  It was a test.  But good news, you passed!” God doesn’t do it.  No, God just speaks to Job out of the whirlwind about how great he is and how small Job is.   

“Can you, Job, little man, catch Leviathan with a fishhook?”  

But it is all good, because God rewards Job with more stuff and new daughters, even more beautiful than the last ones.  

In all the sermons I have heard about Job and the commentaries I have read, few have pointed out what seems obvious to me.  God is really like Zeus or one of the other deities that does bad stuff to people for the heck of it.   Because it is God, our God, in our Bible, then God must be right.  And God is all-powerful and all-good.    

In a sense, the story is a spoof.   The huge questions of life regarding suffering and meaning are ultimately contained in a farsical story.   God and his team are just toying with us.  Making bets.  That’s the meaning of life, says Job, if you dare seek it.  

The biblical world couldn’t imagine naturalism or a-theism.   There had to be agents doing something.   Things happened because there was intelligence behind them in some form.   Job is about as close as you can get to saying that ultimately, there is no reason.   Job and Ecclesiastes.   Why do bad things happen?  Why doesn’t our theology work?  Because of the fickleness of the gods.  In other words, there is no explanation.  Even if God spoke to you out of a whirlwind, you wouldn’t get the truth.  You will never get a satisfactory reason.  You can’t explain it.   

In our modern world, we would say that the interaction of natural law and chance is “the reason” for everything that happens including genetic diseases like progeria.   Jesus said as much, “It rains on the just and the unjust.”   

Job’s friends, Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad, represent the theology of the community.  They give the standard answers.  God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked.  

Let's consider Job's friends.  They come to comfort him as he sits on a pile of manure scraping his sores with pieces of broken pottery.  Job's friends have been criticized for their inadequate pastoral care, but they shouldn't be.  They are doing their best.  They are offering the best that theology can offer to poor blameless Job.   It is just that from Job's perspective their theology is wanting.

Job, his suffering, and his reflection on his suffering present a crisis for Job's friends.  Job presents a crisis to the entire community.   Because of his suffering and his refusal to submit to the community's theology, he is a threat.   Job should be a good boy and allow his experience to be subsumed under the theology of the community.   He should just repent or be quiet about it.

But Job will not repent.  He will not be silent.

The story of Job is not about Job or God.  Job's suffering is a threat to the community's meaning.   What happens when someone's suffering causes the foundations for meaning to shake? Suffering people must be explained away.   Whether this explanation is theological, psychological, or sociological, the explanation must serve to make us feel safe in light of the suffering of others. 

Suffering without cause, that is suffering that could happen to me, is unacceptable.  I will invent psychological, sociological, or theological solutions to explain the suffering individual away and therefore retain for myself the illusion that as long as I do x or don't do y, or believe this and not doubt, I won't experience that same fate.  Job's friends try to convince Job that God must have had a reason for Job to suffer. 

In modern terms, the reason for suffering is just as fickle.   People make up all kinds of reasons and suggest all kinds of causes for suffering.   Upon examination, suffering is not the result of sin as some Christians have claimed or because of desire as some Buddhists have claimed.  Suffering is not the result of karma as the New Age practitioners claim.   Suffering is not the result of failing to raise your children correctly or for failing to habituate to the seven habits of highly successful people.

Suffering is the result of time and chance.  That answer is hard to take.  We want to blame someone or something for it.   The reason we need to do that is the vain hope that suffering will not be visited upon us if we pray hard enough or believe hard enough or engage in some other pious activity, at least enough.

Job's friends represent the community confronted with a dilemma, a righteous sufferer.   That impossibility required them to blame the victim for his suffering.   They could not give up the idea of a just and powerful God.   They could not give up the idea of an intelligence, of an agent who will respond to their prayers.   To keep that belief, the sufferer must somehow be blamed.  His prayers must not have been adequate.   He must have done something wrong.  

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

The truth is a bit more mundane.   Life is time and chance.   The best you can do is ride it out and be kind.  

Today’s questioner asked about statements such as God’s gift and God’s will.  

As time goes on I dislike two statements that people say more and more.  I think that people say them to make you feel better but in reality I do not think you do feel better.

God’s gifts
God’s will

My example would be that a child is God’s gift (so they say), yet what about all those people who never get one?  How does that make those people feel?  Then when something bad happens, that was God’s will, that is even worse, as why would He pick on that person in that way?

By just asking the question, we have our answer.    Trying to explain the mysteries of the world as well as my fortunes and misfortunes by saying God is pulling the strings makes more problems than it solves, in my view.   

Rabbi Kushner realized that there is no all-powerful, all-good God.  God had to be one or the other.  So he let go of power.  God is not all-powerful.   God is instead good.  

For Kushner, God doesn’t cause disease or prevent it.  God doesn’t avenge enemies or bless friends.   God doesn’t stop wars or start them.  God is the possibility of goodness.   In the midst of a world that is at times a vale of tears, God is that to which we aspire.    God is whatever it takes to go on living.  

For some, praising God for gifts and explaining suffering as God’s will works for them.   Obviously, it has worked over the centuries as it is the dominant theology, even for the secular.  According to a fairly recent poll:  90% of Americans believe in God.   83% believe God answers prayer.   

People need a reason.  Because of that, the task of explaining away suffering will continue for a long time to come.  When people talk about God’s will and God’s gifts, I realize that is where they are.   You do what you do and you believe what you believe in order to get through life and enjoy what you can.    You are all on your own journey, not mine.   As a minster, I am on your team, whereever you are.   

I am also with you when the answers break down.

Personally, those who have been the best comfort to me have not been those who talk about God’s gift or God’s will for the very reasons the questioner raises.   For me, I go along with Rabbi Kushner, to whom I relate as having lost a son myself.  

I am happy now saying God is not all-powerful.  I state it more clearly:  God doesn’t do anything.  God instead is good.  God is the word I use as an invitation to embrace the world in a certain way, to seek out my highest values.   I think Mister Rogers, the Presbyterian minister, had a pretty good response to tragedy.  He always told children to look for the helpers.  

God, and as a Christian I would say God as imagined through the teachings and life of Jesus, is a way of living life.  

That way is Love.   


Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Community Without Answers (9/13/15)

A Community Without Answers
John Shuck

Southminster Presbyterian Church
September 13, 2015

  • As a Progressive Christian I do not believe in a Supernatural Deity. Therefore there is no reason to think that the man Jesus was the Son of this Deity.  So he was bound by all the natural laws that bind us.  i.e. No miracles, no Resurrection, no Second Coming, and no dying for my sins either.  Now Jesus seen in the proper context of his times was a wise man who talked about a very different approach to life.  A way that deserves consideration and implementation.  Many other wise men and women of history and the present have done likewise.  We should take wisdom from where ever we find it.  So here is my question, given all this, how does the Christian Church not just become another civic club doing good works?  Or is that where it is headed?
  • What do you see our church becoming?  Are there changes you would make in the direction we are going?  The issues upon which we focus? Less biblical? Would you speed up the timeline? Does what you want for us always include room for those less inclined to jump in?
  • As a congregation we wrestle with some of the seemingly negative aspects of traditional and progressive Christianity.  At the same time we teach our kids about the Bible and faith in Sunday school.  How can we present the discoveries and clarifications given by Borg, Crossan, Spong, et al, to our children as part of that teaching?

 It is essential to distinguish between faith and beliefs. Faith is an attitude of trust and should never be identified with adherence to a set of beliefs. Beliefs change in the course of one’s lifetime and hopefully mature. Beliefs change even more over the centuries, so that many of the beliefs of yesterday become the superstitions of today, or as W. Cantwell Smith put it in his excellent book, Faith and Belief, “One’s beliefs belong to the century one lives in, whereas faith has been experienced in every century as something essential to human existence”. Faith is a matter of giving oneself heart and soul to the highest values one knows and the highest Christian value is love.    
--Lloyd Geering from his letter in support of United Church of Canada minister, Gretta Vosper.

Genesis 28:10-12 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  

Mark 1:13 [Jesus] was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Billy Collins, Questions About Angels

Originally today’s sermon was going to be a dialogue between Don Ludwig and me.    As it turned out, Don already preached on these questions on August 30th as I was in Montana for my mother’s funeral.   Don and I decided that I will take a turn at it today.  

These are excellent questions.  As a minister of a faith community, I struggle with these questions everyday.   They are about what it means to be a faith community.   Already in these questions it is granted that we are in the midst of great change.   These three questions are summaries of our dilemma or to put it positively, our joyful challenge:

What is the church now?   Given Neil DeGrasse Tyson, The Jesus Seminar, and E.O. Wilson, who are symbolic of the stripping away of the supernatural assumptions of the past, who are we now?   If we are no longer the “elect” carefully shepherded by doctrine and sacrament from birth to immortality, then “Are we another civic club?”   Good question.  That is the first one.  

Here is the second:  if there is no clear answer or consensus to the first question, how do we navigate our little boat through that dense fog together?   That is the second question, isn’t it?   How do we ask these questions in a community?   How do we explore and practice?  How do we decide what to take and what to leave behind?  How do we enthusiastically forge a new sense of self-awareness?  How do we do all of that  while at the same time “always include room for those less inclined to jump in?” asks the second questioner.     How do we respond to that first question, “Who are we?” and keep, treasure, and nurture that spacious, inclusive “we”?     

Then the third question:  won’t someone consider the children?  That is the future of the community, isn’t it?   If we are in a position when the assured answers of the past are less convincing to us, what do we teach?  If we don’t know what we are doing or what we believe, what do we tell the kids?    That question takes us back to the first two.  As we seek to forge our identity, as we seek to perform our lives, how and what do we nurture and teach?  

There is an easy answer to the above three questions.   The easy answer is to pretend nothing has changed.  Define faithfulness as passing on a box of beliefs as if it were an heirloom.   God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and so are our beliefs about him.   As Edith Ann would say, “And that’s the truth.”

If you don’t like that easy answer, there is another one.  That is to check out.   It is the flip side of the other easy answer.  It agrees that the church’s beliefs are fixed, but since the beliefs are not credible, the church is irrelevant.  

The first answer says, “The beliefs are fixed, just believe.”  
The second answer says, “The beliefs are fixed, let’s leave.”  

The two options?   Believe or leave.

But since we are here this morning, and we are asking these questions, then there must be a third option.    What might that be?

Today is September 13th.  It is an anniversary for me.  I was ordained into the ministry on September 13th, 1992 by the presbytery of Utica, New York.   I haven’t been doing this for that long, really, 23 years.   But in that span of time, a lot has changed.   

For the first ten years or so, I pretty much went by the book, the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship.   I followed the lectionary and used the prayers and calls to worship provided there.    I used it for worship, funerals, and weddings.   

It was really in weddings and holy unions for same-sex couples that the book didn’t quite work.  People were interested in creating their own services.   I find myself now creating with the couple a service with language that is meaningful for them.   For some it includes bits and pieces from “the book” so to speak, and for others not so much.    I find it a lot more interesting.  

This is the same for funerals, or more common now, memorial services.   At a recent one in my previous congregation for a long time member, the family itself didn’t want any churchy stuff.  My role was to pass around the microphone so people could share their stories of the lovely person who had passed.  

Adult education has changed.  It is less and less a study of denominational materials or Bible study  that is presented from an authority to the class.   Now it is more centered on participants themselves asking questions and seeking out resources.    Southminster has been ahead of the curve on these kinds of changes.   These changes weren’t dictated, they happened.  

They are a natural outflow of people becoming empowered to take responsibility for their own spiritual and intellectual growth.   Lloyd Geering, the New Zealand minister and religious teacher, says that we are all heretics now.  Heresy really means choice.   We are making our own choices about matters religious and spiritual.  

While the Sunday worship service is still pretty much minister-focused, most weeks, I get my fifteen minutes of fame, nonetheless, the elements are drawn increasingly from a wider pool of resources.   I try at least to have the experience somewhat connected to  questions on your minds.  The point is that within the time span of my own ministry, within the last 20 years, I have seen a progression from beliefs passed down to the community creating its own expression of faith.    We are making it up as we go.

That is the third option.   

Neither believe or leave, but spaciousness for discovery.  We are a community without answers.  We are a community living the questions.    This is not what I am declaring you are, or making you become.   You have already been on this path, and I am joining you.   Leadership is finding a parade and getting in front of it.

I know there is an expectation for a minister to have a vision.  I hate to disappoint, but I really don’t have one.    On my podcast that is released today, I speak with David Hayward, the Naked Pastor.  He wrote a book called “Without a Vision, My People Prosper.”   The title of his book is a spin on the biblical text, Proverbs 29:18, from the King James:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Many a preacher has claimed this text as his own, I say 'his' because mostly men do this.  It goes like this:  I’ve got the vision from the Lord.  Here it is.   I see a vision of a 200 foot cross along Interstate Five.”  

But, there is Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his important book on community where he writes that “God hates visionary dreamers.”   Why?  Because they impose their vision on the community and if the community doesn’t live up to it in his mind, then the community, as Bonhoeffer puts it, “Goes to smash.”  

I am very skeptical of that whole vision thing.  Political candidates tell us that they want to make America great again.  Vote for them.  They have a vision.   I don’t know.  I would be happy if we simply tried to be good as opposed to great.    

I do have ideas.    I use the phrase “public church” meaning a church engaged with the world, listening and expressing itself through social justice, opening its doors to people and ideas.    But I find these ideas often arise organically.  Sometimes we need to listen and allow ourselves not to know.    I really don’t know what the church will be or even is.   I am thrilled about being here and seeing what happens next.   I am happy and honored not to know what to do along with you. 

I do like Wendell Berry.  He said,

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, 
we have come to our real work 
and when we no longer know which way to go, 
we have begun our real journey. 

The mind that is not baffled is not employed. 
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

 Let’s talk about something fun.


How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?   

As Billy Collins writes in his poem, the point of the question was to get the medieval scholastics to think about eternity, the big picture.    Big, big, big, the meaning of life.

I searched the word angel in my on-line Bible browser and found 344 instances from Genesis to Revelation.   Maybe that is the biblical answer.  344 angels can dance on the head of a pin.   We certainly couldn’t have more angels dancing on pins than what is written in the word of God.  

Jacob had a vision.  He saw angels ascending and descending to heaven.  He woke up so excited that he made a little shrine and a deal with God, that if God would do good stuff for him, he’d return the favor.  That is the prosperity gospel.    Jacob’s vision of angels meant the promise of prosperity.  

Years later he finds himself in an existential crisis along the river Jabbok and a man, an angel perhaps, we are not sure wrestles with him until daybreak.  Jacob discovers that life isn’t about prosperity but struggle.  He gets a disjointed hip and a new name, Isra-el, which means “one who strives with God.”   

Jesus was led by an angel into the wilderness to be hassled by Satan.   That couldn’t have been a picnic.  Get that? The angel leads him into the wilderness.  According to Mark’s gospel, while Jesus is there the angels ministered to him.  I wonder if he knew?  

Angels are interesting characters.  I mean that in a literary sense.    They function in biblical stories to bring a transcendent message.   To get whoever it is, Jacob, or Jesus, Abraham, or Mary, to change.  They introduce meaning and purpose.   It was an angel who told Mohammad to “Recite!”  Enter the angel.  Life gets disrupted.  Take a journey.  Your work begins now.  

Billy Collins of course brings angels down to Earth; he is a modern poet after all.   Transcendent beings dancing on heads of pins are less interesting than one dancing to a bunch of jazz musicians.     

What is more enchanting?    Not the transcendence.  Not the infinite.   Instead, the real flower.  The real wrinkled skin of your aging parent, the real kiss from your lover.  

Less interest on the big meaning of life.   What could it be in a universe that expands faster than our understanding of it?  Too big.   What does it matter?  We will never live to see its end.   But we are here.    We are here in the jazz club of life.   We are here to make our performance, to name our experience,  to tell our story, to listen to the music, and to sing back, and dance.

What is the church?   The holy mystical presence of God?  A manifestation of the earthly kingdom of God?  Another civic club?

I don’t know.  For now, I know church is here in this place, you and me, and I understand there are some hot dogs today and different folks have brought their potluck dishes.    

Angels have prepared coffee. 

In the course of conversation today maybe you will discover that another angel has interfered with your life and invited you to consider another idea.    

And the children?  They’ll be all right.  We will love them and nurture them.  We can tell them what we see and what we can’t yet see.  They’ll take it all in and find their path, too.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Images of My Mother, Olive May Andrews Shuck (8/29/15)

Images of My Mother
Olive May Andrews Shuck
John Shuck

West Side Baptist Church
Glendive, Montana
August 29, 2015

Olive May Andrews Shuck
November 4, 1923 - August 25, 2015

Mom and her brother Jack, and sister Marguerite.

Her Obituary

Here is my mom singing the "WAVES" Song.

On behalf of all of my mother’s family, thank you for being here.  She would have loved to see you today and would have spent as much time as she could catching up on the details of your lives.  The sad, ironic thing about memorial services is that the person we honor, in this case my mother, would have loved to be here to see all of you, and especially to see family members from afar.   

I want to thank this congregation and especially Jan and Dan Pust for being here for my mom and dad.  She valued your friendship and counsel and I know you did hers.  This is a compassionate and caring faith community and you meant a great deal to her.  

My mother lived to be 91.  And my father is 97 and still ticking.  Their longevity is due to genetics, certainly, and healthy living, good fortune, as well as determination, and I would also say the care and love of friends and family, and especially I wish to thank publicly my brother Gordo and sister-in-law, sister, Vickey.   They have been here daily for my parents, not only in these last years but for the last 40 years.   My mother’s last words were to Vickey:  “I don’t know what I would do without you.”  That is precisely true. 

My mother could never get enough of family.  Family never visited often enough or long enough.   I want to share a few images of my mom.   One is of her on the computer.   This is my mom:  

“Oh fudge.  Why does it keep going to that thing that says I can’t do it!”   

Children should never make fun of their mothers when they struggle with the computer.  They taught us how to use a spoon, after all.  

My mother was on a mission.  That was to keep connected with children and grandchildren by email or by typing up long letters and even on Facebook and Skype.  She was determined to keep connected.   We all received long letters with details of how many pints of corn she froze or beans she canned and cut-outs of jokes and pictures and scripture readings and things she wanted to be sure we knew like MUCH, MUCH, MUCH, LOVE all in caps.  

Another image of my mother is her face up next to mine holding my cheeks in both hands.  

“I love you, Andy!”  

“I know mom, I love you, too!”

A quick biography about my mom.  

She grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Her father was a chemist for Procter and Gamble.   My mom was the oldest of three children.  Her brother, Jack, died a few years ago.  Her sister, Marguerite, has been to Glendive in the last year.  She lives in Florida.  My mom graduated from Hughes High School in Cincinnati, attended college for a year or so and then decided along with a couple of her sorority sisters to join the Navy.  This was new for women in World War 2.  She joined the WAVES which stands for Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service.   Her father was a Navy man.  He chased German U-boats or submarines in World War One.  

My mother went to Hawaii and cared for wounded service men at the hospital just above Pearl Harbor until the war ended.  The wounded men liked her best of all the nurses because of her compassionate and caring manner.   She remembered Victory Day when they all cheered and tossed their hats into the air.  

Not long after the war ended and she went back home, she met my dad, a research scientist for Procter and Gamble, at a New Year’s Eve party.  They won each other over and were married on September 10th, 1948.  In just a couple of weeks they would have celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary.    

My father decided to leave the corporate world and enter teaching because he liked summers off.  So they moved to Los Angeles where my dad did his post-doctorate work at the University of Southern California.  Molly was born there in 1949.  Then my father got a position teaching Chemistry at what is now called the University of Montana in Missoula from 1951 to 1956.  Gordo was born in Missoula.  My mom liked to talk about going to Brownies In and Out with Molly and Gordo for hamburgers and milk shakes.   

My father kind of had this thing about living in the wild so they moved into this shack outside of Frenchtown.  It looked like something from the movie, “Deliverance.”  It didn’t even have plumbing until my dad’s father helped him install it.  

In 1956 it was back to California to teach Chemistry at Fresno State.   My mom liked California and their nice home but my dad was always on the move and took a sabbatical in Proctor, Montana.  I guess it reminded him of Procter and Gamble.  He cut Christmas trees and milked cows for a living.  Then finally he decided to let go of teaching altogether and bought a cattle ranch in between Winthrop and Twisp, Washington.  Those towns are in the news now with the wildfires.   I was born just as that move was happening. 

They ranched for seven years.  It was there that my mom got religion.  She was isolated out there in the boonies and was befriended by a woman named Lola Lufkin and attended the Assembly of God church in Winthrop with me in tow from infancy.   I still have an image of her in my mind shivering and wet after being baptized in Lake Pateros.

I have to say it was my mom’s fault that they moved to “the ranch” in Washington State.  What happened was that when they were in Fresno, she made a saddle for my dad.  A real saddle that you put on a horse and ride.   Like the Mel Tillis song, “If you got the hoss, honey, I got the saddle.”  

When we say that she liked sewing, we are talking major sewing: saddles, rugs, coats, pants, shirts, quilts, hats, wallets, belts, you name it, she made it.  My mother was green before green was cool.  Recycle, Reuse, Repair, compost, grow your own, make your own, she was all that.

Anyway my dad sat on this saddle that she made for him in front of the television and watched cowboy shows like “Rawhide” and “Have Gun Will Travel” and decided he needed to be a cowboy.  Thus the itch to buy a cattle ranch in Washington.  If my mom hadn’t made that saddle things could have turned out differently.  

The ranch was a lot of work.  Not for me, I just played.  But for my brother and sister and parents.   My mom learned to garden and preserve food, make bread, churn butter and all of it.   My first memories are of my mother and me singing hymns in the pickup in the winter while my dad pitched hay off the back to feed the 300 cows.    

After seven years, a biblical time span, in 1967, my dad decided he had enough of the cowboy life and chose to go back to teaching and moved to Butte, Montana.  He taught at Montana Tech until he retired in 1978.   We lived in Butte for three years then bought a small farm, 80 acres five miles south of Whitehall.  That is the place my parents truly loved.  They lived there for 30 years.   We raised hay for sale.  The garden was colossal.   My mom’s raspberry jam was amazing.  

They grew vegetables most folks never heard of like Kohlrabi.  It’s best raw.   Spaghetti squash was another weird one.  My mom insisted it was just like spaghetti.  She would fix it like spaghetti with spaghetti sauce and what not.   “Taste it.  It’s just like spaghetti!”

“Well, mom, it is kind of stringy like spaghetti, but it is still squashy.”

Another image of my mother is her bent over in the garden weeding.  If not there, then cooking, baking fresh bread, hanging clothes on the line, summer or winter, cleaning, and most of all laughing.  Laughter filled our house.   She loved to tell stories of her family of origin and of early memories, tell jokes that never really quite worked and of course, hug, kiss, and squeeze people’s cheeks.   

She loved, her son-in-law, Kenny, and daughters in law Vickey and Beverly as her own.  There were no “in-laws” they were son and daughters.

I do have to say something about my mother’s dislike, well, disdain, actually seething hatred for expiration dates.   Children and grandchildren were constantly reminding her about the foodstuffs with expired dates.   “Grandma, these tater tots expired two years ago.”

“There is nothing wrong with those tater tots.  They were perfectly fine when I bought them, the last time you visited.  Stop looking at those…darn…expiration dates!”

My mom made clothes.  She made me a coat.  She let me pick the colors.  I thought bright orange and purple would go well together.   So she made me a purple and orange coat.  I looked like a disco ball going to school.   I still can’t imagine where she found energy and time to do all the stuff she did.
In 2001 the farm was too much work as they entered their late 70s and 80s and so they moved next door to Gordo and Vickey thanks to the wise suggestion by granddaughter, Mary Ann.   They adapted to the change and made Cracker Box Road home.   My mom had a good life.   As she wrote, “I love you all- “My cup runneth over” with the good family and life the Lord has given me.”

I remember once, this might be a bit colorful, but it actually came from my mom.  The conversation around the kitchen table turned to breast size.  My mother really said with a dry smile:  “My cups runneth over.”

Faith.  My mother was a person of deep faith.  A deep, knowledgeable faith.  She studied and knew her stuff.   When I went to seminary at Princeton, woo woo, we Presbyterians had to take ordination exams.  The first one was the Bible content exam, on places, people, themes in the Bible.  I sent her a practice exam.  Many of these students, would be ministers, didn’t pass the exam.  Others, barely.  I passed but missed a few questions.  My mother?  Aced it.    I know she kept many preachers on their toes.   Pastors at West Side Baptist Church excepted.

She was a person of prayer.   Another image of my mother is watching her intense in prayer.   She prayed before every meal.  Even though she prepared the whole thing, she thanked God for it.  We could tell what was on her mind, usually family, as she prayed for us.   We were not always well-behaved during prayer time.  She ignored our blasphemy and prayed on.  

She prayed for me when I went to school.  She prayed for me when I went to bed until I was too old for it.  Then I am sure she prayed harder.  She prayed for family, for friends, for the country, for children in Africa.    I often thought she was a little too worried for our souls.   When I was older, I tried to sneak some Presbyterianism into her.  

“Mom, the grace of God is infinitely larger than our feeble faith.  God’s got it covered.   We all have faith in our own way.  You taught and showed us well.”  

And it is true.  She wasn’t perfect.  No one is.  But she lived what she believed.  She deeply cared for people. She sought to follow the teachings of Jesus.  She taught us by example to be kind, to be compassionate, to sacrifice, to be honest, to be joyful, to be brave, and to think of others before ourselves.  She walked the talk.   

She prayed for her husband and by name for each of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  So we should name them for her now.

Of course, her number one, Gordon, her husband.

Her children:
Molly and Ken.  Gordo and Vickey.  Andy and Bev.

Her grandchildren:
Lisa and Joel.  Mary Ann and Tige. Craig and Ann.  Janelle and Ken.  Julie and Tom.  Katy and Amber.  And Zach, who preceded her in death.  My mom had a strong belief that death is not the last word.  If she is right about that then she is catching up with Zach right now.

Her great-grandchildren:
Olivia, Brett, Hunter, Sophie, Luke, David, Olivia (again.  When you get two great-children named for you, you know you are special), Emaline, William, and Taren.

By name, bless them all.  

My mother, Olive May Andrews Shuck, was blessed with a sweet spirit.   May some of that sweetness find its way into all who were blessed to know her.

In that spirit and on behalf of my mother, I want you to turn to the person next to you. 

I am serious now.   Grab their cheeks and say, “I love you!”