Saturday, June 30, 2007


Would They Have Been In Church Today?

Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:57-62

Thank you for your welcome! I’m honored to be in your midst. I’ve been told that “Chugiak” is an Athabaskan word meaning “place of many places.” Others have said that its Athabaskan origin is uncertain. What does that mean? A local real estate ad suggests that it means the gorgeous varied landscape of pristine waters and majestic mountains. Chugiak certainly is that. Someone suggested to me that it meant “a place where people from many different places meet.” That has possibilities. Whatever it meant originally, I’m glad to be here with you in this “place of many places.”

You might have seen the question under the sermon title about whether John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin would have been in church for worship on today. The short answer is “yes,” “no,” and “maybe”. We’ll come back to the question in a few minutes.

Freedom is a messy business. It is altogether neater if you have a law that covers every conceivable human decision, or if you have someone in authority who just tells you what you have to do in every situation. Paul discovered just how messy freedom could be in the church he started at Galatia. Freedom is at the heart of the good news about Jesus. In Christ we are free from living under the dictates of a law created and interpreted over a thousand years. The intricacies of observing all the details of this law had become a heavy burden on people. The alternative in Christ was to live by faith and in faithfulness to God according to the teachings and example set by Jesus.

At the church in Galatia there were folks that took Paul’s words about freedom in two opposite directions. First, there were those who feared that the new freedom meant that people wouldn’t be following the old ways, so they wanted to keep the old law as a requirement for believers. They thought everybody should do the same thing. Second, there were those who thought that since they were now free from the law they could do anything they liked.

To say that Paul was dismayed at these two different factions in the church is a considerable understatement. He knew that true freedom also meant responsibility, something both factions had failed to understand. His response to both factions was blunt. Those who wanted to re-institute the law, he said, were cut off from Christ and had “fallen away from grace.” (5:4) Those who wanted to use freedom as an excuse for self-indulgence would “not inherit the kingdom of God.” (5:21) “The only thing that counts,” he said to both groups, “is faith working through love.” And then he listed the characteristics of those who are led by the Spirit of Christ, those who exercise freedom with responsibility: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (5:22) That, he said, is to use the messy gift of freedom responsibly.

There is good reason to believe that those 56 patriots, who gathered in Philadelphia 231 years ago this Wednesday and signed a piece of paper that put a price on all their heads, understood that freedom was both messy and precious. When you try to imagine the core leadership of that Continental Congress, without whom the Declaration of Independence might not have been written and approved unanimously by the delegations from the thirteen colonies, what names come to mind? I know that we and historians could debate this for a long time without consensus, but I suspect few would leave out these three: John Adams from Massachusetts; Thomas Jefferson from Virginia; and Benjamin Franklin from Pennsylvania. Would you agree?

This takes us back to the question I asked at the outset—Would these three patriots have been in church on Sundays before Independence Day celebrations? There is much made of “the faith of our founding fathers” that is much more a myth of how some folks wish it had been than how it actually was. In an email that might have turned up on your computer, the claim was made that 52 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were members of “established churches.” As you get to know me, you will find that it makes me uneasy when I see history being misconstrued and used as propaganda. In truth, there was such a diversity of faith perspectives among the “founding fathers” and “founding mothers,” some despaired of ever agreeing on the status of religion in the new country. Because the three giants I mentioned represent this diversity, I thought it perhaps useful that we inquire into their religious perspectives and what they contributed to the nation that came into being on July 4th, 1776.

John Adams and Abigail, his wife and best counselor, were devout Christians and independent thinkers who saw no conflict between church and state. John was one of the most sensible and powerful forces at the Continental Congress; it was John Adams that persuaded Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence, and Adams who persuaded the Congress to allow Jefferson to do it. Adams became the second president of the United States. John was in church at least once on Sundays and often two or three times. His and Abigail’s own church was a Congregational Church in the Puritan tradition in Massachusetts. Adams was committed to the principle of everyone’s having the freedom to worship as they chose, but felt it was everyone’s duty to worship. There really had to be a crisis for the Adams’ not to be in church on Sunday. I think we would be safe in saying that the Adams family would have been in church on Sundays before the celebration of Independence Day.

Unlike Adams, Thomas Jefferson would not likely have attended church on the Sunday before July 4th any more than he attended any other Sundays. Jefferson was the one who wrote the Declaration of Independence and became the third president of the United States. Those who put religious labels on would consider Jefferson a Deist, those who believe that God created the world and then left it to run on the laws God had created. As suspicious as he was of the unchecked power of government, and he was, Jefferson was even more suspicious of the power of unchecked religion to coerce others. He knew well the history of the intolerance of churches that were “established” or identified with the state in Europe and he feared for what might happen in America. He wanted a high “wall of separation” between church and state so that neither infringed on the responsibilities of the other. In 1817 when Congress passed the Elementary School Act, Jefferson insisted on this provision: "No religious reading, instruction or exercise, shall be prescribed or practiced [in the elementary schools] inconsistent with the tenets of any religious sect or denomination." Given this founding father’s deep suspicions of organized religion, I think we can safely conclude that he would not have been in worship on Sundays.

Benjamin Franklin was more casual about faith than Adams but not nearly as wary of it as Jefferson. Franklin’s creed was simple: serve God by serving others. What distinguished Franklin from Adams and Jefferson was his “good-natured religious tolerance.” Franklin was not a member of any church but supported them all. In his hometown of Philadelphia whenever a new church was to be built he would give to their building funds. It is little wonder that on July 4th, 1788 when Franklin was seriously ill, two years before his death, and couldn’t get out, the clergy of the city of Philadelphia including a Jewish Rabbi paraded arm in arm right under his window, a first not only for Philadelphia but perhaps a first in the history of Christianity.

Franklin biographer, Walter Isaacson, concludes that Franklin’s “good-natured religious tolerance was in fact no small advance for civilization in the eighteenth century. It was one of the greatest contributions to arise out of the Enlightenment, more indispensable than that of the most profound theologians of the era… In a world that was then (as, alas, it still is now) bloodied by those who seek to impose theocracies, [Franklin] helped to create a new type of nation that could draw strength from its religious pluralism. As Garry Wills argued in his book Under God, this ‘more than anything else, made the United States a new thing on earth.’”[1]

I think that it was the passions of these founding fathers and mothers—John and Abigail Adams’ passion for God; Jefferson’s passion for a “high wall” of separation between church and state; and Franklin’s passion for good-natured tolerance—that laid a good foundation for our country. The heritage we can claim and celebrate from our “founding fathers and mothers” is diversity and tolerance. If it is true that the meaning of Chugiak—a place of many places—is a place where all kinds of people can gather without fear of rejection and exclusion because of their beliefs, then it will be a place where we exercise freedom with responsibility. We will, in Paul's words, be loving others as we love ourselves. Aren’t you glad that you made it to worship today, that you have the freedom to do so, and that you have not compromised the freedom of those who chose to go other places of worship, or stay at home?

[1] Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003) p. 491.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Thursday, June 28: If you saw the Day Seven blog you know that we did have access to the Internet at Tok. Not only did we have service, the Snowshoe Motel provided the best access of the trip. Here we were offered both wired and wireless connections. Keep the Snowshoe in mind the next time you pass through Tok.

Because of the time change from Pacific to Alaska Daylight Time the dogs and I woke up even earlier than usual. And when we wake up, guess who else gets waked up? At 4:00a the dogs and I thought it was 5:00, and they figured it was time to go eat and go out. It was as light as if it was noon. We could have played ball outside all night.

Since we had some extra time—after our walk through the woods across the highway—I looked at the lead stories in the online edition of the New York Times. One of the headlines read, “Study Sees Climate Change Impact on Alaska.” Global warming may be an interesting topic of discussion in other places, but in Alaska it is a reality. For reasons that are not clear to me, Alaska is warming more quickly than any other place on the planet right now. People here may debate the causes, but few debate the fact of it.

Conducted by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage, this study concludes that “many of Alaska’s roads, runways, railroads and water and sewer systems will wear out more quickly and cost more to repair or replace because of climate change… Higher temperatures, melting permafrost, a reduction in polar ice and increased flooding are expected to raise the repair and replacement cost of thousands of infrastructure projects as much as $6.1 billion for a total of nearly $40 billion—about a 20 percent increase—from now to 2030.” And that doesn’t include costs for things like moving villages, protecting the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, fighting wildfires or protecting private property that may be affected.

As we ate lunch at the Lone Rifle Restaurant on the Glenn Highway about 90 miles from Anchorage, we looked out at the magnificent Matanuska Glacier that lay only hundreds of yards below us. We wondered how it had been affected by global warming. Many glaciers are melting so fast that they are actually “retreating.” The young woman who served us said that the massive ice flow had retreated some and was thinner now. Connie remembers the glacier from her first trip here in 1987, and how much larger the glacier was then than now.

At 3:00 this afternoon we rolled into the parking lot of Chugiak United Methodist Church (# 3 on the map), 2,688 miles from Bend, Oregon. Some folks from the church were there to welcome us. They've put us up in the Eagle River Motel until Sunday when the parsonage will be ready.

Is it possible to say that we are really glad to have arrived without taking anything away from our delight with the last eight days? That's our sentiment!

Hope you’ve had a great day!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Wednesday, June 27: Ninety-six miles north of Whitehorse we arrived at Haines Junction, so named because it is a junction between the highway coming from the south in Haines, Alaska and the AlCan. Since we not only passed through the town on all of our trips up and down the AlCan but also whenever we took the ferry from Juneau and drove to Anchorage, Haines Junction was like an old friend. Several times we stayed in one of the two motels in town and probably ate at all (three or four) of the restaurants.

What we remembered most, however, was the Village Bakery, a small log house almost hidden in the trees a couple of blocks off the main street. It was a must stop whenever we went through town. Today was no exception. Since we had breakfast in Whitehorse not two hours before, we ate light—we split a mouth-watering cinnamon-apple fritter. They had brewed decaf! Connie had an amaretto latte. She pronounced the bakery a Four.

Haines Junction is in a beautiful green valley. To the west we could see the St. Elias Mountains, the highest and youngest mountains in Canada. Mt. Logan, the highest peak in Canada, is there at 19,545 feet. There are six other peaks over 16,000 feet.

Once we left Haines Junction we left behind the smooth road with wide shoulders. When we crossed the Donjek River we entered the section of the AlCan that was most difficult to build and maintain. According to an interpretative sign on the roadside, “Glacial rivers, like the Donjek, posed a unique problem for the builders of the Alaska Highway. These braided mountain streams would flood after a heavy rainfall or rapid glacial melt, altering the waters’ course and often leaving bridges crossing dry ground.” Swampy ground underlain by permafrost, numerous lakes, creeks, and rivers, plus a thick insulating ground cover, made this section especially difficult.

In recent years, the same section of highway has been the object of a massive, ongoing reconstruction project. It remains a particularly difficult section of road, as witnessed by the number of frost heaves in the new pavement. This is definitely the roughest road so far on the trip, as it has been on all of our other trips. We also think twice about getting out of the car when we are stopped by road construction. Yes, you guessed it. Even Velvet is anxious to get back into the car and away from the mosquitoes.

After 2,267.6 miles we went through customs and came out in Alaska. Fireweed is brilliant along the roadsides. We still have a hundred miles to go to Tok for the night. We have reservations at the Snowshoe Motel where there is supposed to be wireless access to the Internet. If there is, I may get to post this new blog.

Hope you all have had a great day!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Tuesday, June 26: Mama Z’s Boulder CafĂ© in Dease Lake received Connie’s highest restaurant rating so far—a Four and a Half (out of a possible Five)! The why of that rating in this town of 650 people in one of the remotest parts of British Columbia began with dinner Tuesday night. Connie ordered fish and chips—cod that was delicious. I saw a mysterious item at the top of the menu called “The Petr” that said this was the chef’s choice of whatever he thought was excellent on a particular night. After the meal he comes out and flips a coin and the customer calls it. If the customer wins, the menu said, the dinner is on the chef; if the chef wins the customer pays double. I didn’t realize that if I ordered it the flipping of the coin was required; I had only wanted what the chef thought was the best item on his menu for the day. I ordered it and received a roasted half chicken with lightly steamed fresh vegetables and made from scratch mashed potatoes. It was delicious.

When we finished dinner, our waitress, a college student from Vancouver who wanted to see what it was like living in the north and make some money for college, brought the chef out in his white coat. We shook hands and he flipped the coin. It bounced out of his hand and onto the table“heads” as I had called. So, my dinner was free. It was fun and the food was good. The restaurant was clean with draped sheer curtains on all the windows. Connie decided that the quality of the food, the cleanliness of the place, and the entertainment (The Petr) merited a Four. By the time we finished breakfast this morning, the rating had gone up to Four and a Half!

We told Mama Z about Connie’s system and how she rated it. Mama Z began to cry. She told us how hard she had worked since going way out on a financial limb 18 months earlier to get the restaurant. Her hard work obviously paid off. If you ever make it to Dease Lake on the Cassiar Highway a stop at this restaurant will be worth your while. Try “The Petr”!

On route from Dease Lake to the junction with the Alaska Highway outside Watson Lake in Yukon Territories we came across Jade City, a wide place in the road with two jade businesses as the only community. Both businesses mine jade and design jewelry. According to The Milepost the Princess Jade Mine in the Cassiar Range about 80 miles from Jade City accounts for 75% of the world’s jade supply. Of course, we stopped to visit. Connie shopped while I walked the dogs and took advantage of their free coffee. That reminds me, once we left the Starbucks on every block in Vancouver, whenever we’ve asked for decaf coffee we get funny looks. Sometimes we are offered powered decaf. Clearly, there is not much demand for decaf in these latitudes.

We weren’t far on down the road from Jade City when we encountered a large bull moose running down the road. An hour after that we saw a black bear with a brilliant sheen glistening in the sun.

Whitehorse, a city of about 75,000 and the provincial capitol of Yukon Territories, is our resting place for the night. Hopefully, tomorrow night will find us in Tok, Alaska.

I haven’t received any fishing reports from the Old Goats. How about it, guys?

Monday, June 25, 2007


Monday, June 25: Sunday night we stayed in New Hazelton, a small town that sits at the foot of a great mountain. Because nothing was open in town for breakfast, we stopped in the next town, Kitwanga, thirty miles down the road. First Nation people own the gas station/restaurant/general store. Each table in the restaurant was a work of art, hand-painted in tribal designs and covered with high gloss polyurethane. The waitress, a member of the Kitsan tribe, told us that each table had been painted in memory of someone in the tribe; their names were inscribed on each table.

Kitwanga sits at the junction of the Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16), which goes across Canada, and the Cassiar Highway (Highway 37). The Cassiar runs north 450 miles and terminates in the AlCan Highway near Watson Lake. The road passes through some of the most remote and awe-inspiring scenery on the continent. Wild rivers, deep canyons, glaciers, clear lakes, and abundant wildlife distinguish the region. We saw a black bear crossing in front of the car and a young moose cow with her calf trotting along the edge of the road. The Cassiar runs through unspoiled wilderness between the Coast Range and the Skeena Mountains, connecting the great northwestern rain forest with the spruce and jack pine forests of the Yukon. The regular rainfall obscures the sights on many days, but not on this one. We were most fortunate.

Today’s travel on the Cassiar reminded us of two of the realities of these latitudes in the summer. First are the mosquitoes. Everywhere we stopped to let the dogs out there were swarms of them. I had on the Off Connie purchased at Bell 2 where we stopped for lunch. I think the Off only encouraged them. DEET is supposed to work by corrupting receptors on the mosquito’s antennae. Quite unscientifically, I suspect that the recent evolutionary development of mosquitoes has enabled them to adapt so that it has ceased to repel and now simply advertises the presence of “human flesh” and dinner. At least it feels that way when I get out of the car.

The second omnipresent reality of being on the road to Alaska is road construction, flaggers, waits, and pilot cars. I don’t know why they have to tear up and repair the roads just when we travelers want to use them, but it may have something to do with having only three months when they can do that work. The other nine months, they are probably driving snowplows. In the last forty miles to Dease Lake today we went through over twenty miles of flaggers and pilot cars.

The delays made us especially happy to reach Dease Lake. Tomorrow, we hope to run the last 200 miles of the Cassiar and start on the AlCan.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Note: I had difficulty getting this blog on from Quesnel (pronounced, we are told, without the "s"). Couldn't do it on Saturday, but this morning. It seems to work. I took down the blog for Day One. It may be that the graphics are too much to load for the wireless system here at the Travelodge in Quesnel. Oh well... I may get to stick some graphics in later.

Saturday, June 23: We could ooh and ah over the beauty of the scenery on this route, but Connie and I agree that two events make our journey via highway 99 worthwhile.

At 4 a.m. this morning the people above us moving around and showering awakened me in the August Jack Motor Inn. You know what that’s like. By 5 a.m. we heard people working outside our ground floor room. The sun wasn’t up yet, but the yard was bathed in the two days after solstice light. Peeking out through the curtains we saw people setting up tents and cooking pots. Several of the men were wearing turbans and the women were wearing saris. Connie talked to one of the men working near our door that opened to the yard. A contingent of twenty-five or thirty Indians were preparing for an annual holy day for their God. They were doing it by preparing all manner of Indian food that they would offer free to the townspeople all day.

When we were packing the car to get on the road, they invited us to come have some of the delicacies they were preparing. A group of women were cooking an Indian version of tempura in large black pots. They insisted that we take some of the goodies with us and filled a large paper plate to overflowing and gave us cups of hot sweet tea with milk. I asked one of the men if they were all from Squamish and he said they were. They intended to have some kind of ceremony at ten o’clock but for the most part they were celebrating their holy day by offering wonderfully prepared food for the town. Such hospitality! I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if at Easter we put up tents and prepared food for the people of the towns where we live.

The second special treat on this route came after we had gone up on some of the steepest inclines (13-14%) in British Columbia as we went from Pemberton to Lillooet on highway 99. We had stopped to run the dogs at a trail head, gotten back in the car, and started up the road when I saw Black bear munching on some leaves not a hundred feet from the car. He was a Black bear, but as is often the case his color was brown. Not ten minutes down the road we met another Black bear by the roadside. By the time I got the camera on him he was in the bushes peering back at me not twenty feet away. Was I in the car? Of course!

Indian hospitality and seeing bears in the wild, what more could we ask? This has indeed been a special day.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

First Sermon

My usual practice will be to post sermons on Saturday evenings before delivering them on Sunday. Since we will be on the road north from Oregon to Alaska in the last week of June, I will post the sermon for July 1 sometime before Sunday morning.

The theme of the first sermon will be "Freedom and Responsibility: Would Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin Have Been in Church on the Sundays before Independence Day Celebrations?"