Saturday March 11, 2023 – This morning I sent a text to the United Church in Estevan. I had decided that given the raging blizzard we are in the midst of I needed to make it clear that I was not going to be able to get there to lead worship tomorrow. I wouldn’t usually decide that a full 24 hours in advance, but a one hour drive can easily become two or more when the roads are bad, as so many of you know. Until the wind stops it will be hard to get any clean-up done, and Russ tells me there is a prediction that the wind direction will shift three times before it dies down. So I am storm stayed at home.
The guys are working through various troubles. Our calves are not due to start arriving for a few more weeks, so that stress is very different from the two blizzards of last year. However we are having some water pressure system and watering bowl troubles for the cows water source. It is a pretty tricky day on the prairies. I can’t think that there is anyone that isn’t just a little more vulnerable than usual on this day.
I have been thinking about vulnerability a fair bit lately.
One of the things I find hardest about ranching is the vulnerability that is part of it. We are vulnerable to so many things that are out of our control. However I am pretty certain that in this life everyone is very vulnerable to things out of their control. I suspect that alot of the ways we act and the choices we make are really an effort to reduce how vulnerable we feel, to reduce the impact of all the things that wrench control and order and safety and hope out of our lives. As ranchers we spend an enormous amount of money on insurance. We insure our vehicles and trailers of course. We insure our buildings and equipment, of course. We insure our animals. We buy calf price insurance (hard to explain but a way to buy some peace of mind). We have life insurance. We even bought grass insurance one year, which didn’t work out for us at all. We have supplemental health insurance. It is clear that deep down we are well aware that our lives are surrounded by risk and we have hope that maybe we can soften the blow of bad things that happen. We will spend more on insurance this year than our kids will earn in their full time entry level jobs. I am not kidding. Our vulnerability is a big deal.
Last night we met friends for supper. We love the restaurant in Alameda and so we met there, about a 25 minute drive from the ranch. As we landed in things were blustery but we were pretty hopeful that the blizzard was a few hours off yet. In fact, when we left we had a tough drive on our hands. Russ steered us down the back road with skill, I used the Google Maps function on my phone to track our progress and to give us a sense that intersections or curves were coming up. We took it slow. Making our way in the dark, the wind, the cold, the snow was a vivid reveal of just how vulnerable our human lives are. In those moments one small mistake on Russell’s part and he could have steered us into the ditch. At the speed we were going we would not have been hurt but we would have needed help to get pulled out. How awkward to have to ask anyone to make an extra mile in those conditions to rescue us from a mistake, as understandable as it would have been. As we drove down the road, with vulnerability already on my mind, I was quite aware that life is very very tricky. There was an extra level of tricky though. Our son Morgan was attending a theatre production thirteen miles north of the ranch. Our understanding of the arrangements were that he was driving himself up there. This meant that the young man who has had his drivers license for 15 days was going to be driving home in conditions likely worse than ours, after the play finished later in the evening. We were both quite sick with worry. Here is where we are experiencing a growing edge in our lives, all of our kids are living lives far far from our control, and that is good I guess. Its how it should be at 16, 19 and 20. But its hard. We have near zero control. Gina often speaks of her late night walks to and from the bus after work in Toronto, Jill is frequently in and out of her apartment in Regina in the dark, Morgan works with machinery and animals every day that involve some risk. I can’t control any of it. We can’t control it. We worry, at least a bit, sometimes alot. Last night it was alot. It was such a relief when we realized that in fact Morgan did not drive himself and had a ride from someone going past our place, but still he was on the road, would we need to go do a rescue from the ditch at some point? He got in about 11pm and the whole world felt better. At that point our next worry was losing power, but we had water set aside in case of that and had a pretty good feeling about it. We slept surprisingly well given the wind that whipped around us. The bottom line is that there is so much that is outside our control that we care about and it makes us vulnerable to struggle and heartache and pain.
Why was vulnerability on my mind? Because I was getting ready to lead worship. The scheduled gospel reading for the day is the story of Jesus having a very taboo conversation with a woman and her response to that. Many know this reading as “The Woman at the Well,” found at John 4:5-42.
-That writing got interrupted for a request for a TV date from Russell…..it was time to watch Seinfeld.-
Sunday March 12, 2023 – As I made preparations for the service during the week I came across a really interesting article written by Karoline Lewis, it was called “Holy Conversations.” She really focused on the fact that what happened between Jesus and the Samaritan woman was conversation. She noted how that conversation unfolded in a way that made it transformative and she left me pondering something. In a world that is filled with people that can’t see eye to eye, that take comfort from taking sides and leaning on the walls that have been built, could what Jesus and the woman modelled in their conversation offer a way through? In her exploration of this Karoline Lewis noted where the conversation started, and it was with vulnerability. Both Jesus and the woman started off from a place of not doing okay, of needing something, this was not hidden but clear. As a result these two strangers as they encountered each other began with much more of a sense of mutality than if one, Jesus, had accentuated his power and superiority as a Jew and a man. Lewis said it like this……”First, note that the conversation begins with mutual vulnerability. Jesus is thirsty and she needs the water that only Jesus can provide. That is where truthful conversations must start — from a place of reciprocal vulnerability, from a space that recognizes that each party risks being known and being seen. I suspect that very few conversations begin with the expectation of vulnerability, yet theological conversations have to start there because this is a fundamental characteristic of God.” Lewis went on to explore how the use of questions, a committment of time and readiness to be surprised all are part of healthy conversation. As I read this article I knew that this was what I wanted to work from for the sermon (which should be happening exactly right now, if church were not cancelled.) Why? Because people are thirsty for real connection and we fall into conflict so easily and we need help to make things better. I knew that vulnerability was a good thing to explore, prompted by the vivid story of the woman at the well.
I am not super familiar with the background and production information about this video link. We have the first season of “The Chosen” on DVD but have just started it. Somehow we got sidetracked by Seinfeld on Netflix and the Jesus story got pushed to the backburner. (Insert sheepish emoji here.) I have no hesitation in asking/inviting you to watch this, I found it very compelling for many reasons, part of it would be that this is my religious background, so there is a click, for others of other backgrounds I am not sure how it lands for you, but I would be curious to know. Its about eight minutes. Click on the arrow in the center of the screen to watch it.
How am I going to pull all this together? Talk of blizzards, scary roads, faltering water systems, emptying nest anxiety, tools for important conversation and ancient Bible stories about water and sin.
Humility…..is that the thread? In reckoning with all the things that are not in our control in this life the only honest posture is one of humility. As much as we try, we are not the boss, we are not in control of the multiple variables that affect almost every aspect of our lives. We never will be. There is nothing that we can do to ensure ease in our lives. That should encourage humility right? What will save us? That is, what will enable us to feel whole amid all the uncertainty? Could it be the conversations? Ones like Jesus and the woman had, where humility means neither is superior, both are asking questions, time is taken and surprises are embraced. What about the relationships that come from such conversations? Do they become in our lives like human insurance policies, ensuring that when we hit the ditch, whether literally or metaphorically, there are people who care and can help us. Is humility a key part of the foundation of our relationships? The wholeness we seek, amid vulnerability, comes also from the spiritual dimension. I speak to this as someone who follows the way of Christ, many of the readers have other ways they have found their way to spiritual wholeness, I see that. For myself, conversations like the one the woman at the well had are a means for me to stay pointed towards wholeness. I love that she claimed her anger, her dissapointment, her story, that she slowed enough to listen, that she posed her questions and let herself be delighted in being known, in being accepted and being encountered by the God she had always heard about but felt abandoned by. She came to the well very humbled by life’s circumstances and the society she lived in, in various ways she received a message of her deep worth and her calling. This resulted in her joy and readiness to share all that she had been told. There is a transformation of sorts. The humility with which she had encountered life, born of her shame, became humility born of knowing her worth.
Thats about all I’ve got. It is alot. Its been one of those serious blogs and one that I think I needed to think through for my own sake more than anything else. I have pictures though, some that will hopefully lighten the mood.
If you have a little more time or interest, you can find the Karoline Lewis article at this link: