Day Six: Turtle Bay

On the morning of Sunday, December 5, I took my second run on the bike bath in Waialua. I extended the route a bit further this time. Again, the run was pleasant, and I encountered a few bike riders, walkers, and runners along the way.

When I returned to the house, there was no post-wedding sluggishness. Adults can’t be sluggish with grandchildren in the house.

At our house, we had two grandchildren. Over at the Babcocks were their three. Plus at our house, we had Betsy’s nephew from London, his wife, Lawratu, and their daughter, Suzy. They had stayed over night after the wedding rather than making the drive back to Honolulu. Both houses were buzzing with energy that only children have.

The plan was to get packed up and drive to Turtle Bay. There we would meet Betsy’s brother and his family, and we would all converge on the beach at the Turtle Bay Resort.

Gradually, the cars were loaded and the caravan pulled out.

To get to Turtle Bay meant meandering along the coastline with all kinds of views. We drove through the Waimea Valley home of the famous waterfall, and also saw Waimea Bay, a favorite surfing spot for surfers. Around the bay area, onlookers and serious photographers lined the beach side watching the waves and the surfers.

On the drive, you see spectacular oceanside homes, frail looking shacks, houses tucked up in the hills, and a diverse mix of local businesses and national brands.

Thanks to our son-in-law Doug, we make the drive without any challenges. He drops us off at the entrance to the beach, and patiently waits for us to unload all of the gear needed for surviving a few hours of surf and sand.

Now, the sun worshippers on this excursion are disappointed. Gray clouds hover overhead, and a couple of times during the morning, light rain showers intruded. Those showers forced us to find some temporary cover. But, none of us melted.

The sandy beach was perfect for the kids, and with a bit more exploring down the beach, we found a tidal pool that worked well for them too.

We took a walk around the Turtle Bay resort with its many amenities, spectacular views, and manicured grounds. And we even managed to dodge the raindrops for a nice lunch on a quiet poolside patio overlooking the always restless—Pacific Ocean.

After lunch, we walked through the lobby of the hotel. Christmas decorations are up. Caroline and Hudson enjoyed seeing these. I’m still adjusting to Christmas decorations in this tropical climate. But, anytime we are driving in the car, Hudson wants to hear Christmas music with “Jingle Bells” being his favorite.

Working our way back to the beach, we start to gather up our belongings. It is a cumbersome trudge to the parking lot, but we survive.

On the way back to the house, we follow the same route. But, we do make a stop at one of the oceanside overlook areas. Lots of people are making similar breaks too.

No matter, where I look the landscape is irresistible. The designer, creator made good choices in weaving the ocean and the coastline together.

Too bad we humans don’t respect this grandeur like we should. I imagine the good Lord is disappointed in our care, but that’s another story for another day.

Sharks Cove in Hawaii Photo by Bill Pike

Day Four: This Forecast Can’t Be Correct

As we prepared for our trip to Hawaii, I will admit, I did very little research. I was more focused on how to pack, how to endure the long flight, and hoped that the rest of our family would arrive safely.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I checked out the National Weather Service’s forecast for Hawaii on the morning of Friday, December 3, and at the top of the list was a blizzard warning.

Screen shot courtesy of NWS

Wait a second, a blizzard warning in Hawaii, no way, I must be suffering from jet lag and sleep deprivation. But, that was the forecast for the high mountain summits on the Big Island. Additionally, the forecasters included an assortment of advisories, watches, and warnings for the rest of Hawaii.

Forecasts aside, for the family gathered here, the focus was on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. That’s when Parker and Brandy would be married in a beautiful backyard overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We wanted no raindrops that afternoon.

I took my first Hawaiian run on Friday morning in a light rain. I enjoyed every step as I followed a bike trail that paralleled the main road in this Waialua neighborhood.

At noon on Friday, we attended a rehearsal luncheon at Haleiwa Joe’s. This was inside, no raindrops bothered us. The food, service, and atmosphere were perfect.

On Saturday morning, we drove the short distance to Haleiwa Beach Park to watch a surfing competition. This was a big deal— TV coverage, lots of spectators, and of course rain. The rain started lightly, but then it picked up and ran us back to the car.

Rain moving on shore Photo by Bill Pike

Despite the rain, we decided to drive into Haleiwa to check out some local shops. As we drove, the rain intensified.

Once parked, we made a dash for a store with an awning. Gradually, the rain let up. With no raindrops, we moved around more freely to the shops. In those splashy walks were some teases from the sun.

For whatever reason, the rain held off for the 4 p.m. ceremony. Not a drop fell until late into the evening, when by that time no one was feeling raindrops.
Over the years, I’ve attended quite a few weddings. Each wedding was special in its own unique way. But, I think my old brain will hold on to this one for a long time.

For sure having the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop was pleasing to the eyes. But, what I loved more was the simple, uncluttered charm of the ceremony—there was no fluff.

It is my hope, my prayer that the heartfelt exchange of the vows from Parker and Brandy will last them a lifetime.

The bride Photo by Bill Pike

Day Three: Pearl Harbor

No doubt, the number one objective for our trip to Hawaii was to attend the wedding of Betsy’s nephew. While in Hawaii, there are many options to consider for sight seeing. However, only one place was on my must see list for a visit—Pearl Harbor.

So on Thursday, December 2, our third day in Hawaii, we had a 1 p.m. slot to take the short boat ride over to the USS Arizona Memorial. With our son-in-law, Doug, driving us, we left Waialua early enough so that we could tour the grounds and exhibits at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.

Photo by Bill Pike

Thursday was a beautiful, sunny, warm day in Honolulu. The sky was a stunning shade of deep blue.

The Visitor’s Center has been nicely developed with wide sidewalks, manicured grounds, and quality exhibits that tell the story of Pearl Harbor with words, photographs, real artifacts, and filmed interviews.

Visitors quickly learn about the importance of time as they take in the exhibits and displays. The destruction that occurred on that fateful Sunday morning had been timed out to perfection by the Japanese leaders.

Throughout our visit, I found guests to be interested, engaged in absorbing the information presented, and respectful with a quiet dignity as they moved about the grounds.

National Park Service employees are friendly and willing to take questions. The shuttle boat ride to the Arizona Memorial is well organized and communication is effective.

And for me, the visit to the USS Arizona Memorial served as a sad reminder—war is horrible. The wall that lists the names of all who died on the Arizona from the attack is all the confirmation I needed.

Today, Tuesday, December 7, 2021 marks the 80th anniversary of the attack.

I think to myself what have we learned about ourselves during those eighty years?

Personally, I know we must always confront evil intruders. World War II and 911 affirm this.

But, I wonder why can’t we exist in peace with each other?

Why is this so hard for us to achieve?

Maybe, our hearts are not fully committed to do the hard work required to achieve peace.

My old heart tells me that our stubbornness and our inability to trust prevents us from making peace.

At assorted points along the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center are several beautifully displayed quotes.

My favorite is from Radioman Third Class Warren Verhoff from the USS Keosangua: “I will never forget.”

Sailor Verhoff was correct.

We should never forget.

Yet somehow, we must find in our hearts the pursuit to build a framework for peace—a lasting peace.

Failing to pursue peace will only lead us to more heartbreaking memorials.

Flag at the USS Arizona Memorial Photo by Bill Pike

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute At The University Of Richmond: Taking Risks

On the afternoon of Monday, November 15, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute instructors, Joe Vanderford and Bill Pike, were a bit nervous. Their months of content preparation for their two part class was coming down to the critical technology check.

The lecture hall where the documentary The Last Waltz was to be shown worked flawlessly.

But, the technology where their class would be presented on Tuesday morning was not cooperating. Slide images and content were appearing on the projection screen, but sound was absent. For Joe and Bill, sound was critical to their lecture—you can’t offer a class on the legendary rock group, The Band, without sound.

That’s when Osher Program Coordinator, Nell Smith, placed a phone call for help. Within minutes, a technician arrived who quickly assessed the situation. A carefully orchestrated rebooting of the system cleared out the troublesome technology gremlins, and like magic The Band’s music charged through the speakers.

With that hurdle cleared, Joe and Bill quickly tested each slide that contained a video or song selection. Luckily, there were no more hiccups.

Joe Vanderford and Bill Pike are childhood friends who grew up in Burlington, North Carolina. While Joe resides in Chapel Hill, Bill took the road to Richmond, and one of their teenage loves listening to records has kept their friendship going.

For the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Bill and Joe have developed five presentations that have showcased the works of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, George Harrison, and now The Band. Additionally, Bill on his own has created presentations about cowboy music, the Andy Griffith Show, and writing.

That is a lot of risk taking from the Director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Peggy Watson. But in truth, learning is about taking some risks. In the case of Peggy Watson’s leadership, these are risks worth taking because these classes help meet a goal of continuing to develop lifelong learners.

Peggy and her staff put together a year round calendar of classes that cover a wide range of topics delivered by a talented group of individuals. Like a well oiled machine, the Osher staff accepts proposals for classes. These proposals are reviewed and selections are made based upon a number of criteria.

Once proposals have been accepted, the really challenging work begins—coordinating within the university’s schedule to find time slots and meeting locations. Building the Osher schedule is no easy task. Not only does the staff need to consider the instructional needs of Osher instructors, but they must be sensitive to schedule the classes without creating interruptions for the university’s professors and facilities.

While I can’t speak for other Osher instructors, our locations and the technology available for presenting have matched our needs. A comfortable room and cooperative technology are two of the keys for a good presentation.

Additionally, the Osher staff coordinates feedback on each class from students who attend. This feedback is very valuable to the instructors. These ratings/comments help instructors to learn what worked and didn’t work during the presentation.

There are a couple of other supportive pieces from the Osher team. Instructors are given the opportunity to provide feedback to the Osher staff. With this feedback, the Osher staff develops a class for instructors that provides essential components for instructors to weave into their presentations.

And there is one more critical piece of support for Osher instructors—technology. For our class on The Band, I had difficulty loading videos into the presentation slides.

To correct this problem, I simply made an appointment with the IT Help Desk/the Technology Learning Center. A very competent young lady, a junior student from Bosnia, was able to teach me how to load in the videos with a new application.

On Monday evening, our screening of The Last Waltz went well. Peggy Watson introduced us, and this was followed by Joe’s superb overview of the documentary, including a plug for the class on Tuesday morning.

On the day of our class, Joe and I have learned to arrive early. Again, we want to recheck the technology. For some unknown reason, on Tuesday morning, the technology gremlins reappeared.

Luckily, the same technician came to our rescue. His magical skills had us ready for our ten o’clock start. That would not have happened without support from Osher Program Staff, Catherine Taylor and Nell Smith.

Even though the university’s policy required us to wear masks during our presentation, Joe and I felt good to be in front of an audience. We enjoyed seeing some familiar faces who had participated in our previous classes.

We had lots of material to cover in two hours. Maybe, it was pandemic rust, but we made a few time constraint edits as we worked through the prepared script. Before we knew it, we were taking final questions and providing our summaries.

In truth, I think Joe and I feel a sense of relief when a class is completed. Additionally, in our post-presentation analysis, we are always quick to critique our work. Our shared self-talk finds fault with missed opportunities on a few points we overlooked, but overall, we are pleased with our work.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is present on 125 campuses in all 50 states. If you are the least bit curious about classes available in your community, I would encourage you to checkout the offerings. My hunch is you will find a class of interest, and more than likely, you will make some new friends.

In the Richmond area, Peggy Watson would be happy to orient you to Osher. Peggy can be reached via e-mail: margaret.watson@richmond.edu.

As for Joe and me, we have some ideas for our next class. Right now, Ray Davies and The Kinks are at the top of the list. Who knows maybe we’ll see you in a “Waterloo Sunset.”

And that might just happen, with more insightful risk taking from Peggy Watson.

Bill Pike and Joe Vanderford in the wash of the projector light Photo by Mike Cross

Out over the Pacific

On May 11, 2021, my wife, the Commander Supreme, booked the flight and reserved two seats on American Airlines. We would be heading to a COVID-19 postponed wedding for one of her nephews, who just happens to live and work in Hawaii. On Saturday, December 4, we would gather for a wedding ceremony on the beach.

Of course, in its highest level of efficiency, on Monday, November 29, the day before our departure, American Airlines, sent an e-mail to the Commander Supreme notifying her that she no longer has the seat she reserved back on May 11. She has been moved several rows away.

So, politely and diplomatically, the Commander calls a friendly representative at American Airlines. She explains the concern to the representative. The representative puts the Commander on hold pending research.

Shortly, the rep returns to confirm that everything the Commander did in initiating the seat reservation was perfection. However, the rep has no explanation as to why this seat change was done. She tells the Commander that the matter will need to be addressed with the gate agent at the Raleigh/Durham airport (RDU) on Tuesday morning.

On Monday afternoon, November 29, we drive to Raleigh. We will spend the night with our youngest daughter, Elizabeth. She will drive us to RDU on Tuesday morning.

Once in Raleigh, with Elizabeth’s expertise, we fine tune the packing of our carry on luggage, and recheck our technology, with American, TSA, and the state of Hawaii. At bit after 5 on Tuesday morning, we are all piled into our normally reliable car. Elizabeth is the designated driver, and of course, our car says I’m not starting.

With lots of internal bad language, on this frosty morning, we toss everything into Elizabeth’s car, and barrel off. The usual 19 minute ride to RDU is done at supersonic speeds, and in a blink we are in the chaos of unloading, and heading into the American terminal.

In every direction of the American terminal, we find already weary travelers who are trying to determine the line they should be in while attempting to take in shouted instructions from American personnel, and prerecorded messages from RDU management.

Thanks to Commander, we find the correct line, locate the proper kiosk, print out the baggage tags, and head to the counter to drop off the bags. The American rep at the counter was very good.

Next, our fast paced steps took us to TSA. Recently, we completed the pre-check requirements. This check-in was hassle free.

Now, we were headed to the American gate to resolve the seat glitch.

The Commander gave the American rep the background, and the rep requested a few minutes to figure it out. We departed for a potty break, and that’s when the Commander realized that we didn’t have our snack bag. That was the one thing we didn’t grab from our car.

In one of the bandit priced shops, we picked up water and a few nibbles to tide us over.

Back at the gate, the rep found us a couple of seats together. We would be at one of the emergency exits, and yes, when asked, we stated we would be willing to help if God forbid there was an emergency.

Now, just to add to the boarding fun, TSA decided to show up with six agents to conduct another check of all passengers just before we boarded. There was some indication they were training new personnel, but our minds raced into fiction suspicion—we wondered— who they were trying to find?

We cleared this two step check and boarded the plane. Boarding and departing airplanes is not enjoyable. Airlines should consider hiring retired teachers to improve this process. What might airlines learn from elementary school teachers who routinely empty and fill school buses each day of the school year?

It is nice that airlines allow the elderly, young families, passengers with physical disabilities, and active military personnel to pre-board. But, once the plane lands—no one should be allowed to move until parents and their young children have left the plane. That parent and child who has been miserable for an over two hour flight should be able to depart first—no exceptions.

It appeared that the interior of the 737 that we flew to Dallas/Ft. Worth had been improved.The information card stated 737 09/21 revision.

A stewardess came by to swear in those of us seated by the exit. We each had to affirm we were willing to help with a—yes.

Since it was a frosty morning in the Piedmont triad, the captain informed us that the plane would need to be deiced before departure.

We finally pushed away from the gate. The loaded jet lumbered out to its designated spot. There a truck with the proper chemical solution to melt frost sprayed the cold aluminum.

From that shower, the plane sluggishly taxied to the assigned runway. Finally, the pilot pushed those jet turbines to full power and within a few seconds the plane was lifting off the runway. I continue to be amazed at what Orville and Wilbur created for us.

A few deliberate dips of the wings gradually turned the plane, and the pilot positioned the 737 toward the southwest bound for Texas.

On the ride down, I finished reading Sonia Purnell’s excellent book—A Woman Of No Importance. The book is about an American spy who had an impact in World War II.

The approach into Dallas/Ft. Worth was like always turtle slow. The landscape caught my eye—flat with shades of dryness.

We landed. And it feels like it takes at least another hour to get to the jetway for parking the jet, and yes, more chaos as people work their way off the plane. Again, airlines ought to really consider using the wisdom of retired teachers in shuffling people off a plane.

Our lay over was right at three hours in Dallas/Ft.Worth. We took the SkyLink tram toward the designated terminal for departure. This elevated train system dropped us where we needed to be.

We grabbed a meal at the Flying Saucer, and decided to explore the massive terminal. Knowing that we would be sitting for almost eight hours, walking that terminal was a good idea.

More polite chaos appeared, as we heard the call to start boarding the massive 777-200. We found our seats the Commander had the aisle, I had the window, and sandwiched between us was a tiny, elderly lady from Hawaii.

Again to my amazement, this loaded to capacity jet lifted off the runway.

The captain told us we would be taking a route toward Sonoma and San Fransisco before starting to trek over the Pacific. Some smart person figured out the curve of the California coastline makes the flight distance to Hawaii from San Fransisco a tad shorter.

Out my window, I had good views of America’s southwestern landscape. At 34,000 feet up, in some places there were few signs of human existence.

Canyons cut by rivers, wide valleys bordered with scruffy looking hills, and at times acres and acres of sand in every direction. Aside from splotches of green, shades of parchment, terracotta, and assorted darker hues of charcoal and cocoa filled in the palette.

A portion of America’s southwest landscape photo by Bill Pike

Personally, I kept peeking out the window for a shade of pacific blue with a ribbon of shoreline that would quickly be lost to the contrails created by the jet’s massive engines. That shade of blue would mean we were over the Pacific Ocean. Seeing that blue, even in its vastness gave me hope. I knew Hawaii was out there.

To distract me over the next 2,500 miles, I watched two documentaries: Ruth, followed by Summer of Soul, and I started reading— 41 A Portrait of My Father.

Occasionally, I peered down into the blue to see pretty patterns of clouds lightly floating above the mighty ocean.

Cloud patterns floating over the Pacific Ocean photo by Bill Pike

I tried to block out all references to time and distance. Gradually, the hours clicked away, and I finally heard the sound I wanted to hear— the slowing of the whirling turbines—we were starting our descent toward Honolulu. I looked out my window to see two tiny specks of land with a shoreline of a larger land mass behind.

Just under the edge of the clouds two islands photo by Bill Pike

There was a flurry of activity as agriculture cards were collected, seats returned to upright positions, and we were reminded to collect our personal items.

After a series of turns, the pilot had the plane aligned with the assigned runway. The 777 continued to slowly defy gravity hovering with precision until the hard rubber tires screeched on the tough runway surface— we landed.

We worked our way down the aisles of the plane, into the jet way, and finally the terminal. Despite having the proper QR code on our phones, the line was long to clear this required COVID-19 checkout before finding the baggage area.

Betsy’s sister, Abby, and her husband, Art, picked us up. As we exited the airport, we were promptly greeted by rush hour traffic. Yes, even in Honolulu, they have packed interstates.

With patience, Art drove us toward their home in Waialua.

Once off the interstate, the landscape changed.

We were on a winding, state highway. A range of mountains was off to our left, buffered with acres of agricultural land on both sides. Freshly tilled soil caught our eyes, there was an indescribable richness in the earthly hues of burnt orange and umber.

Splotches of purple and orange blooms sprang off assorted trees and shrubs, with their deep green foliage as a backdrop.

With a few more stops, and turns, Art pulled into a quiet cul-de -sac, where they had been restoring their beautiful home. Just a few steps across the street is the house that a friendly neighbor was renting to us for our stay in Hawaii.

We unloaded our luggage, toured the house. Then, we paused to gaze admiringly into the postcard view of the Pacific from the deck on the back of the house. Just in those few seconds of gawking, I wondered how people ever get back on a plane to return home.

Abby had a delicious pasta dinner for us.

And then, the hustle of the travel finally caught us, we were ready to collapse.

Somewhere in that sleep was a prayer of thanks for the safe travels and the opportunity to be here.

View from the back deck of the rental house photo by Bill Pike

“They look like they are playing tag”

Author’s note: On the evening of Wednesday, November 24, I had the privilege of speaking at the Thanksgiving Eve Service at my church, Trinity United Methodist, in Richmond, Virginia. I was honored to participate.

I am honored to be with you this evening.

As you know, Thanksgiving is tomorrow.

I worry about Thanksgiving.

Our national day of giving thanks is sandwiched between an unforeseen rise in popularity of Halloween, and the maddening rush to Christmas. Seems to me that Thanksgiving is being slighted.

During the next few minutes, it would be very predictable for me to reference the short story by American writer, O. Henry—“Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen.”

Or site John Hughes’ classic holiday travel movie—Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Yes, I could take you to Mayberry.

Maybe, I could share some “brain sludge” with you about musicians who speak to my soul.

Perhaps, we could go back to the fall semester of my sophomore year of college, and I could recount for you the Thanksgiving lecture from my biology professor, Dr. Kemper Callahan.

I’m sorry to disappoint you. I’m not heading into those comfort zones.

No, I want us to think about two verses from chapter four of Ecclesiastes. Listen to verses nine and ten:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But, pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

I am no theologian. I am not going to get all tangled up in a deep theological discussion about these two verses.

But, I do want to cite some thoughts to the introduction of Ecclesiastes from the 1973 edition of the Revised Standard Version of The New Oxford Annotated Bible With The Apocrypha.

The editors state: “Ecclesiastes contains the reflections of a philosopher rather than a testimony of belief. The author seeks to understand by the use of reason the meaning of human existence and the good man can find in life.”

This past summer, my wife found some good in life—a beach cottage on Topsail Island, North Carolina that could hold our family.

There were twelve of us. In that twelve are our four grandchildren. Of course, those grandchildren have been spoiled rotten by their grandmother, who they with great affection call Nana.

Our grandchildren and our son, Topsail Island. Photo by Bill Pike

We had a good week of weather. Only one day was lost from the remnants of a frustrated tropical storm.

There was lots of beach time.

The ocean provided multiple experiences for our grandchildren. I enjoyed watching their reactions as their confidence increased a bit each day.

Most mornings, a section of the beach had several connecting tidal pools. The rise and fall of the tide also brought frantic minnows into those pools to scurry around.

Armed with a net and a colorful bucket, our oldest granddaughter, Caroline, was determined to catch some minnows.

She splashed in the tidal wash and lunged with her net toward the unsuspecting minnows. Her determination paid off.

Caroline snared a minnow. She promptly placed the minnow in her bucket.

For several minutes, Caroline watched the panicked minnow in the confinement of that bucket. It wasn’t long before she released the minnow back into the wilds of the Atlantic.

Another low rolling breaker filled up a tidal pool. Caroline watched three tiny minnows swimming aimlessly. As we watched their antics, Caroline said to me, “it looks like they are playing tag.”

Her observation was correct. My old brain held on to Caroline’s cherished words.

Right now, I think I could apply those words to our current human condition. No matter where I look, I sense we are playing tag with each other. We are disconnected, divided.

Our scripture from Ecclesiastes makes it clear— two connected are better than one. If we believe that wisdom, then why are we so committed on being disconnected and divided?

I’m an earlier riser. This past Veterans Day, I woke early. Just before I began my routine of reading the daily Upper Room devotion, something nudged me to turn on the television.

Our local PBS station was showing a four-part documentary: American Veterans. This segment was called: The Return.

I watched for several minutes. One Veteran’s story lingered with me. This young man described an important constant lesson from Sniper School training.

He shared this essential requirement—“never be further than an arm’s length from your partner.”

Currently, in our neighborhoods, cities, and states, we are further than an arm’s length from each other.

Why is this so hard for us to see?

Why are we reluctant to correct this distance, this divide between us?

Remember our friend, Ecclesiastes, tells us two are better than one.

My heart tells me our divide, our disconnect, our disunion is linked to a tiny four letter word—fear.

Yes, fear is often at the heart of how we respond.

Fear is powerful in its controlling grip.

And I have come to realize, that fear is well aware of its ability to impose its will on our thinking and our response.

In my role at Trinity, this cantankerous old building feels me with fear.

When is the cooling tower going to implode?

How much longer can we cheat this building from making much needed improvements to our infrastructure and aesthetic appearance?

I can’t tell you how many days I want to rush out to the front lawn along Forest Avenue and post a huge sign that reads— For Sale.

But, in reality, the most important fear driven question is not our grumpy building, but this—when will our congregation implode?

That’s right, I said it, when will our congregation implode?

Yes, COVID-19 has turned the world upside down.

No doubt, this pandemic has impacted churches.

But, churches in America and around the world were already facing challenges before COVID-19 appeared.

If you think Trinity is immune from the challenges facing churches, we are not.

We are impacted by what church observers call the “death tsunami” which means the passing of the greatest generation members. Often, these members were the financial sustainers of churches.

Our Sunday attendance is down.

Our financial giving is down.

Yes, we have lost members because of our response to the pandemic.

Yes, we have lost members because our United Methodist Church is not really united.

Yes, we have lost members because of our inability to live up to this Methodist motto: open hearts, open minds, open doors.

Right about now, I know what you are thinking.

You are thinking, Bill, give me a break.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I want to hear something uplifting, not your whining about fear and Trinity.

I appreciate your suggested course correction.

But, I want to give you one more thought for your heart to ponder.

My heart tells me that the most urgent challenge we face at Trinity, in our neighborhoods, our state, our country, and our world is this: our stubborn hearts are disconnected, divided, and unity feels impossible.

Remember that last verse from Ecclesiastes: “But, pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

We have fallen.

We know that two are better than one.

If we really know this, then why are we so unwilling to pick each other up from our disconnected, divided disunion?

Could it be that we are afraid to change our stubborn hearts?

My wife, the Commander Supreme, has tolerated my multiple stubborn habits for 46 years.

I am a pack rat. I hold on to things that touch my heart. Yes, one of my imperfections is my soft heart.

Since August 8, 2010, I have held in my Bible the bulletin from that Sunday worship service at Trinity.

Judy Oguich delivered the sermon that morning. The title of her sermon was “Loving Our Enemies.”

I held on to that bulletin because of the words in the opening prayer. I’m going to read the prayer now:

Holy God, as we gather for worship, we re-dedicate ourselves to Jesus, our Savior, and we re-discover ourselves in relation to you.

Re-orient our will with your will; renew our commitment to your purposes and revitalize our faith by the power of your Holy Spirit.

In your strength, enable us to drop our burdens and set aside our anxiety about life.

Let the confused find clarity; the sad, comfort; the frightened, boldness; the successful, humility; and the judgmental, compassion.

Soften and prepare our hearts to hear again your command to love even the unlovable and those at odds with us, and then help us to follow this and all your commands with joy and thanks. Amen

Every morning, I read a section of that prayer to myself. Those words speak to my imperfections.

I want to be better at being two rather than one.

I love Trinity, I love you, and even though quite often I struggle to understand God, and I know he struggles to understand me, I love God.

But, we can no longer be like minnows playing tag in a tidal pool.

We can no longer be at arm’s length from each other.

If you, me, we, us, all don’t come to our senses, this disconnect, this division, this disunion will be our end.

We must push our stubborn hearts to embrace the wisdom from Ecclesiastes: “If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.”

Our path forward must be to help each other up.

The good Lord is counting on us to take this step.

There is no other choice.

Two are better than one.

Now, I haven’t forgotten that tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

No matter your plans, I hope it is a good day.

And I hope that at some point tomorrow, you will find a quiet moment to reflect and to be thankful.

And when you pause, if you really think about Thanksgiving, you will come to realize that Thanksgiving in its own unique way is grounded in Ecclesiastes.

Thanksgiving isn’t one.

Thanksgiving is two.

Almost fifty years ago, when I was a clueless sophomore college student that’s what Dr. Kemper Callahan was planting in me.

I can’t be clueless any longer.

Like those minnows in the tidal pools, I can’t keep playing tag.

Two are better than one.

Fading sunset backside of Topsail Island. Photo by Bill Pike

Listening to the creaking in wounded hearts

A long time ago, some bright minds came up with an idea. These deep thinkers proposed damming up the Roanoke and Blackwater Rivers into the Smith Mountain Gorge.

In an area in the middle of nowhere between the Virginia cities of Roanoke and Lynchburg, this containment led to the development of Smith Mountain Lake. Construction on the dam started in 1960. By 1963, the construction was completed, and in 1966 the lake reached its full water level.

Originally constructed to generate hydro-electric power, it took several years before Virginia’s largest contained lake would develop into a popular recreational and residential area.(Researched from internet sources)

Thanks to my college roommate, the Reverend H. D. Sherrill, Jr., who we with great affection call Butch, this would be our third visit to Smith Mountain Lake. Reverend Sherrill has many skills, but he is very adept in building relationships and connecting with people. Our visits to Smith Mountain Lake have come courtesy of a family in the church where he serves.

This very gracious family has said to Butch—“we want you to use our lakefront home at Smith Mountain for a week.” And of course, Butch with heartfelt kindness always accepts, but he without fail asks the family this question—“can I invite my college pals?” Thankfully for his college pals, the family has never said no, and in truth, we pals are the greatest of moochers.

Since we graduated from Greensboro College in May of 1975, Butch, Dan, Steve, Doug, Steve, and myself, Bill, have kept in touch with each other. During these 46 years, we have made a point of gathering sometimes twice a year, but at least once a year. Over time, those gatherings have included our spouses and our children.

Those friendships that started when we were apprehensive freshmen in the fall of 1971 have endured for lots of reasons. Yet, I suspect at the core of this legacy is our hearts.

For this gathering during the week of October 5-8, Butch and Marian, Dan and Judy, Steve and Kathleen, Bill and Betsy, Doug, and Steve would be present. The logistics for the week were fine tuned via our bi-weekly Zoom calls. And, I don’t know about my pals, but Betsy and I couldn’t wait to arrive.

Our residence for the week is perfect. Nothing was spared in its design and furnishings. Everyone has space, and the ever changing views of the lake make the gathering even more special.

Even though the weather forecast looked a bit dreary, we never spent a full day inside. We walked, some of us ventured into the still warm from summer lake water, the the back lawn was perfect for playing corn hole, and thanks to Dan and Judy we had a two day access to a pontoon boat for exploring the lake.

We are never at a loss for conversation, laughter, or food. Our evening meals celebrate the hands that prepared the dinner and compliments always abound.

As we were wrapping up our final dinner for the week, Dan tossed out an interesting question for each of us. He wanted us to ponder how we were holding up psychologically. For sure, the pandemic was part of this probe, but the table was open to unpack whatever was stirring in our souls.

We started at the dinner table, took a pause to clear dishes, and moved out to the upper deck where comfortable seating and a propane fueled fire pit awaited us.
In those reflections, I heard the creaking of our rapidly aging bodies. No one has been immune from the start of this process with backs, shoulders, knees, bladders, prostrates all on the checklist.

But, I also heard in our voices the creaking in our wounded hearts. Those wounds wear on our mental state.

In the creaking of weary hearts, I learned about the commitment to remain diligent and loyal in completing outstanding careers before full retirement.

We learned how one spouse has attempted to adapt to the loss of sight in an eye.

Even with the latest surgical and technical applications, another spouse has struggled with the loss of hearing.

Rightly, there was an edge of bitterness in their stories, but I also heard the ingenuity of their adjustments, but more importantly I felt the love and support of their spouses.

The most emotional came from our friends who are still grieving the senseless loss of their youngest son. This loss came via a stranger who pulled the trigger for no good reason.

They keep hoping this wound will scab over. That the passing of time will bring about an internal healing in the deepest parts of their hearts and souls. But, the wound is so vile, so festering that scabbing remains elusive.

But, the creaking of our hearts didn’t end with that mean tragedy.

We also heard the painful reality of a body that is physically in distress with multiple challenges while its heart battles loneliness.
As we listened to our friend, I know our hearts hurt. Our hearts cried out with love wanting to assist in guiding a path for improvement.

With our faces framed in the light of the flames from the fire pit, we temporarily put to rest the creaking in our wounded hearts as sleep called.

On Friday morning, I went for a run.

Like earlier in the week I expected to see some deer again, but I guess this morning they were still in slumber.

As I wove my way toward the golf course and the clubhouse for the golfers, there was a flurry of activity. Some golfers were at the practice tees, and greenskeepers scurried about the fairways completing their final manicures.

Somewhere along the way, I thought about Thursday’s after dinner conversation. For some reason, I pondered our aging and our hearts, and out of the blue the word creaking popped into my mind.

As we age, our bodies start to creak more, but our hearts are in that creaking too. That’s quite a skirmish— especially when hearts are wounded.

But as I think about my own creaking, wounded heart, and the creaking wounded hearts of my friends, there is a quiet constant in our years of loyalty—love.

And maybe 1 Corinthians 13 verse 7 makes that point best for us: “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia
photo by Bill Pike

Veterans Day 2021: “It’s my honor, sir.”

Tuesday, September 21, Maine was miles away in our rearview mirror. Sadly, we said goodbye to our friends, the Halsteads, in Cape Newagen on Monday.

For our drive back to Virginia, we opted not to hug the traditional traffic scrum down the East Coast. This was a two day trek. We cut across Connecticut on I-84, kept going into New York state, and eventually stopped for the night just across the Pennsylvania line.

On Tuesday morning, in Scranton we connected with I-81, and made the turn south.

Now, I-81 isn’t stress free. We had a couple of heart palpitation moments with clueless lane drifters. But, the landscape is more appealing.

I can only imagine what this land was like when road construction started. Now, I reckon the little towns along the way that are still sprawl free of hamburger rows and big box stores value their short-lived solitude.

With Maryland and West Virginia behind us, we worked our way back into Virginia.

We discussed getting off I-81 to take an even slower pace to Richmond, and then an idea hit us. Might now be a good time to explore the The Green Valley Book Fair in Mt. Crawford? Despite gray skies and some raindrops, the Commander Supreme, quickly charted our course for making this stop.

If you love books, this is a dangerous place to pause. It is quite possible bibliophiles could stress out the suspension system on their vehicle loading it down with books, or at the very least jeopardize their financial stability.

According to their website, The Green Valley Book Fair is a discount book outlet where customers can save 90% off retail price. Here are some additional numbers to consider: 25,000 feet of book space, 60 categories, 30,000 titles, inventory of 500,000 books, and thankfully, since 1970, their heart for books hasn’t changed.

Of course, the Commander Supreme found multiple bargains for our grandchildren, and while I was tempted to fill up a cart, I settled on one book—Veterans Voices: Remarkable Stories of Heroism, Sacrifice, and Honor.

A National Geographic published book, it is authored by Robert H. Miller and Andrew Wakeford. A book about war isn’t supposed to be beautiful, but this one is.

For me, one appeal is looking deep into the faces of each Veteran, but there is a deeper pull—the heart of their humbling stories. Their stories are powerful for many reasons, but sacrifice is a common theme.

From October 15-30, our church hosted a team of fifteen Veterans from the nonprofit, Team Rubicon. These men and women were in Richmond to assist with the logistical supply coordination for Afghan refugee families. This team came from all over America to give back their essential skills to people in need—more sacrifice.

On Saturday, November 6, a team of eight from our church traveled to Woodland Cemetery. Woodland is a historic African-American cemetery that for many years had suffered from improper care. Since 2018, leaders in Richmond and Henrico County have been on a mission to clear the years of neglect.

Our team quickly learned the historical importance of this cemetery, and we worked diligently to improve the section we were assigned. While there, we were informed that a group of volunteers would be placing American flags at grave sites where the deceased were recognized as military Veterans.

I watched as the team scattered themselves throughout Woodlands’ acreage. At one point, I took a break to interact with one of the flag planters. This kind lady gave me a brief background of how the organization started. When I thanked her for her time and the placement of the flags, she responded—“My honor, sir.”

In the layout design of Veterans Voices, the authors feature a quote from each Veteran as they begin to tell the Veteran’s story.

Don Thieme, was an Army platoon leader in the Vietnam War. “He was responsible for the lives of 30 to 40 men. His goal was to get all of his men back home alive.” (Miller, Wakeford)

Of course, the war didn’t cooperate. Lieutenant Thieme saw it all in losing members of his platoon.

But, Lieutenant Thieme’s quote struck me: “In the worst conditions, there’s a lot of humanity.”

Lieutenant Thieme’s words made me think about America’s current internal divided conditions. I pray we can regain the dignity of our elusive humanity.

Today, Veterans Day, Thursday, November 11, 2021, I encourage you to seek out our Veterans. And if you encounter a Veteran, simply say—“thank you for serving our country.”

If you hear back—“Thank you, it was my honor,” then you, me, we, us can never ever forget the sacrifice in that response.

For that sacrifice is America’s existence.

American flag at a Veteran’s grave Woodland Cemetery Henrico County, Virginia 11/6/2021 photo by Bill Pike

The Story Man: The Passing of the Reverend Doug Hill

On the evening of Sunday, September 26, I received notification from our senior pastor that the Reverend Doug Hill had passed away. 

This was an unexpected shock to me. My heart hurt. Doug was the real deal.

I don’t remember exactly how I came to know Doug and his wife, Janet. But, when Doug retired from the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, he and Janet settled in Richmond, and they began attending Trinity United Methodist on Forest Avenue in Henrico County.

For 42 years, Doug was in church buildings around Virginia. He served with distinction as a pastor and later as a district superintendent. Doug knew his way around the districts in the conference. He had a wide range of geographical assignments in his work. I don’t sense he ever backed away from a challenging designation.

At Trinity, Doug and Janet fit right in, and they quickly acclimated themselves and became involved. Their leadership styles were different, but their hearts were always perfectly positioned to make an impact.

One winter evening after I had taken the job as property manager at Trinity, I was in a meeting at the church. Doug was in this meeting too, and a man came into the church who was asking for assistance for the night. Doug came down with me to talk with the man. We were not able to solve his challenge for the night, but I appreciated Doug being a part of that encounter.

Once as Doug and Janet were packed up for a trip, Doug fell. It was not a good fall, he broke one of his hips. He recovered, but I remember him sharing the doctor’s post surgery advice: “Don’t you fall again!” To my knowledge he never did. But, Doug was very skilled at helping people who for assorted reasons had fallen on the path of living.

A handful of times, I was asked to pinch hit in the pulpit for one of our pastors. Whenever I had finished writing the sermon, if Doug was available, I asked him to come to the church to listen to a practice session in the Sanctuary.

 He never turned me down. And to Doug’s credit, he was gentle in his suggestions for improvement. He never chastised with theological jargon or theories. He kept me focused on the task at hand and helped me find a bit more of confidence. Somewhere, in my mess of desk I have a beautiful handwritten note from Doug. I will cherish that note forever.

If you knew Doug, you knew he was a storyteller. All of those interactions with people in all kinds of settings during his career had given him a full library of experiences. Over the years, Doug shared a few with me, and I always learned something from these stories. 

No matter how difficult the setting in a church or a community, I learned more about him and how he worked with people. In those reflections, I was always amazed at his coolness, his calmness, and his capacity to lead and communicate with precision to the person who needed help or who had stepped over church boundaries.

Back in August of this summer, we asked Doug if he would participate in the Twelve Days of September. This was designed as a brief interview conversation with staff members and our congregation. We tried to captured every age demographic, and we wanted to know how the pandemic had impacted them and our church.

Because of the pandemic, we conducted the interviews on the grounds of the church. On the afternoon of Doug’s interview, we sat under the shade of dogwoods, crepe myrtles, and the east side of the Sanctuary. Richmond’s August heat and humidity were at their best that afternoon. We did the interview in one take, and Doug true to form despite the summer heat was as cool as a cucumber.

We talked for several minutes after the interview, and during that time frame, my mind was graced with another story. This one had to do with Doug learning how to run a church. Doug felt his seminary experience had prepared him well for delivering sermons, and conducting weddings, baptisms, and funerals. But, he wanted to learn more about the daily working of a church.

Doug made arrangements to meet with Dr. James Turner who at the time was the senior pastor at Trinity. A schedule was set up and for several weeks, Doug and Dr. Turner met. Doug learned about how to run meetings related to Finance, the Trustees, Staff Parish, and Church Council.

When their last tutoring session was completed, Dr. Turner looked at Doug, and he gave Doug a final tip. 

He said— “remember, when you are working with church people, you must be able to chuckle.”

 Of course, Doug was curious about this recommendation to chuckle.  So, he asked Dr. Turner—“why is it important to chuckle?” 

Dr. Turner looked Doug in the eye and said—“ because church people are crazy.”

In his 42 years of work with church people, I’m pretty sure Doug found numerous opportunities to chuckle about his work.

But, I also know during his years of service that Doug touched hearts.  

He touched those hearts in every moment that the chaos of life can toss at a person. And in that chaos people found the real deal, a man who knew his calling, and a man who knew how to respond to people in need.

Thank you Doug Hill for touching my life.

 My heart will never forget you and your stories.

The Reverend Doug Hill August 2021 at Trinity United Methodist Church in Henrico County, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Kim Johnson

Show respect for the challenge bus drivers face

Honored to have this piece in the Virginian-Pilot

Show respect for the challenge bus drivers face

BY BILL PIKE GUEST COLUMNIST

On Oct. 5, my wife and I were driving from Richmond toward Smith Mountain Lake. We were meeting longtime college friends for a few days.

Traveling on Virginia Route 24, we eventually intersected with U.S. 29. At that intersection, I looked to my left and saw a parked Campbell County school bus. The bus had a large banner on the side stating the school system needed school bus drivers.

As we made our turn on to U.S. 29, I thought to myself probably no school system in Virginia has been immune from finding and hiring school bus drivers. Apparently, Virginia isn’t alone in filling these driver seats. I’ve read the headlines about this need across America too.

I had the privilege of working in the public schools of Virginia for 31 years as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and principal. Also, I served a 14-month appointment on our local school board. So, I know how important school bus drivers are to school systems.

There are many challenging jobs in a school system. However, one of the toughest is driving a school bus. In fact, in this driver shortage, I often ask, “Why would any perfectly sane human being want to drive a school bus?”

To become a school bus driver is no easy task. School systems work carefully to find candidates who can meet multiple qualifying standards.

Once those hurdles are passed, drivers undergo extensive training learning all about that big yellow box on wheels. This includes driving the bus in a variety of settings and conditions.

When drivers complete their training, they are assigned a route. Before the start of school, the drivers drive this route pin-pointing their designated stops, while also taking in the terrain.

While driving a route, a driver is focused on three keys: the road in front of them, the passengers sitting behind them and listening to radio messages from pupil transportation dispatchers who are choreographing routes across the system.

Unfortunately, the road in front of the driver is filled with other motorists who run stop signs, ignore yield signs, barrel through red lights, speed beyond the posted limit and who can be inconsiderately impatient with the pace of a school bus.

Additionally, despite interior cameras and an oversized rearview mirror, sometimes disruptive student passengers are a distraction for a driver. Student code of conducts apply to riding a school bus too.

School bus drivers must also be amateur psychologists. Drivers use their interpersonal skills to develop relationships with students, parents and the staffs at each school they serve.

Often overlooked in the daily transportation of students is that school systems also use their bus drivers to carry students to all types of extracurricular activities after school. This is another level of pressure for drivers as some activities require traveling longer distances during the evening.

Financially, pupil transportation is a big chunk of a school system’s budget. The cost of the bus, maintenance, fuel, along with pay and benefits for drivers are expensive expenditures.

During this shortage of drivers, school systems are in competition to find qualified candidates. Human resource leaders have worked to create signing bonuses, raise pay and improve benefits to attract drivers. While this might be easier for larger school systems to implement, systems with smaller budgets will struggle to match those incentives.

Is there a solution?

To be truthful, I believe school systems are working hard to find and hire competent drivers. But I believe school system leaders and our communities need to revisit a neglected word in our world today — respect.

Veteran school bus drivers will acknowledge that adequate pay and benefits are important. But those same drivers will state of equal importance is respect for what they do every day. This respect must come from students, parents, school personnel and the motorist on their routes.

That respect is critical for the bus driver’s sanity.

Bill Pike resides in Henrico County. For 31 years, he was a public school educator in Martinsville and Henrico County including a 14-month appointment on the Henrico County School Board.