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Steve West
I'm an attorney, writer, and house concert promoter
Interests: walking, nature, and writing, reading (both good fiction and non-fiction), listening to music (particularly power-pop and alt-country), travel (particularly in the west)
Recent Activity
We all know that Zaccheus was a wee little man. Anyone who has come up through Sunday school and vacation Bible school has that song indelibly stamped in memory, so much so that the truth of the story lacks its punch, becomes trite and worn. It need not be. He climbed a sycamore tree. Ever wonder, why a sycamore tree? Scripture is so very particular when it could easily not have been, and all the sermons that I have heard have focused on the important but general principles of Zaccheus’s curiosity, his sin, his repentance, and the fruit of that repentance. The tree appears in the backdrop as a mere prop to boost a diminutive man into the sight of Jesus. No matter that it is a sycamore. And yet when we are told that “all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Tim. 3:16), it made me wonder if there is a reason that we are told that it was a sycamore. The sycamore tree was a common tree grown for its edible figs. It was often planted along walks because it had low-hanging branches. and large palm-sized leaves. So it was a tree in the right place for Zaccheus — convenient, easy to climb, and able to conceal a wealthy tax collector. In her book, Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon History, Diana Wells notes the legend that the leaves of the sycamore tree (a tree which actually derives from the oriental plane tree brought home to Britain by early crusaders), were believed to have been Adam and Eves’ first garments. This is not scriptural, of course, as it appears Adam and Eve were unashamedly naked until the Fall, when they were covered in animal skins and not leaves by God. No doubt the leaves came about in Britain because prevailing mores dictated some covering for the actors playing Adam and Eve in medieval religious mystery plays. And yet this large-leaved tree might have been chosen to remind us that though we may seek to hide our sin, there is, in the end, no place that Jesus cannot see and no one that he cannot reach — even a derided outcast like Zaccheus. And no one to cover sin but Jesus. Wells also notes that Muslim poets said that in Islamic gardens the plane tree’s broad leaves, “fluttering like prayerful hands, led the other trees in praising God.” While metaphorical, the image does resonate with Isaiah’s vision of trees of the field clapping their hands (Isa. 55:12) and the Psalmist’s expression of Creation’s joy, with the rivers clapping and hills singing (Ps. 98:8). And so, in the end, what for Zaccheus was a place of covering for sin from which he could peer out in security at the latest Hebrew prophet, became a place of praise. Indeed, many commentators believe that because Zaccheus came down from the tree and received Jesus “joyfully” (Lk. 19:6), he believed while he was yet in the sycamore, even before Jesus’s request to lodge with him. We’re not told, but perhaps as the smallish man descended, a wind stirred in that tree, and the hand-shaped leaves fluttered, and 2000 years later, the story of the wee little man still ripples across our lives. And the leaves of sycamores still softly lead in praise. Whenever I hear that story now, I hear it fresh, and enfleshed. . . with a sycamore tree. Continue reading
Posted yesterday at Out Walking
I’m on drugs. Last week, as a result of rotator cuff surgery, I was given some pain killers to help ease the pain. The oblong-shaped slick blue pill slips down the throat easily enough. More difficult is that I have to pry it out of a tall smoky green bottle. You have to push down and turn the top clockwise. That’s a test for a man who has had rotator cuff surgery. But the pill does relieve the pain you get from trying to open the bottle. Unfortunately, there are some side effects. For example, my dreams are surreal. If I wrote them down, it’d be like the ramblings of what I imagine someone tripped out on acid might say. Last night, the family and I ran out of gas on a road near our neighborhood. No matter. We crawled through the window of a house owned by some old friends. Only they live 300 miles away. And their kids and ours are adults now. Our friends are excited to see us and not at all upset that we crawled through their window and didn’t knock on their door. Within what seems like minutes, we’re all sitting around watching a floor model black and white TV that our family had in the Sixties while dressed in pirate’s outfits. Just as if we do that all the time. We appear sober. But that’s just one episode. Imagine having six short naps throughout the night, each one accompanied by such a dream, like a multiple-feature at the local drive-in theater. Wait a minute. I think I dreamed that too. There aren’t any drive-ins left, right? Which is OK by me because the one drive-in movie I remember was in the company of a girl in middle school. And her mother. And my best friend. And her enormous dog which her Mom made me feed one-half of my hamburger. To the dog which sat between me and the girl. The big blue pill makes me sleepy as well. Some friends came to visit while I was high. . . I mean, medicated. I’m carrying on a conversation with them with my eyes closed. They are smiling. “What?,” I say. “Did I say something funny?” “You’re going to sleep,” they say, and they smile, knowingly, as if they have a secret. “No, no. . . I’m listening,” I say, as my eye lids flap shut. I added, “Just turn the TV on and hand me the remote.” Or did I just think that? I went back to work today, hoping for normality. That was probably a mistake. I was on the telephone with another attorney and somewhere along the line, I lost the thread of the conversation. No matter. Attorneys are used to talking in order to hear themselves. He didn’t even notice. I signed some documents too. I tried not to do anything that required intelligent thought. And you can stop thinking that, right now. Sometimes my mouth hangs open, and I’m not aware of it. I mean, just when I’m on the medication. They could cast me in Dumb and Dumber, or for that matter an old Cheech and Chong movie. You don’t need to be awake for those. Move slowly and mumble. Laugh at everything. Talk with your eyes closed. I got that. But really, all of this musing on my altered state is just a set up for a deeper theological meditation on the nature of God. Wait for it. Granted, this is dangerous, given my state of mind, but just consider how it is for God, who is timeless and body-less, to be in all places at once and see all times at once. J.I. Packer, who definitely doesn’t do his theology while on drugs, says this is part of what it means to say that God is transcendent, that is, he is “limited neither by space (he is everywhere in his fullness continually) nor by time (there is no “present moment” into which he is locked as we are).” And thus, God’s “present”, His reality, is marked by a singular type of propinquity: all things in time and space are near. Which brings me back to my dreams, or yours, which seem to ignore the inconvenience of time and space, juxtaposing different times and spaces in such a way as to give us a glimpse of God’s singular propinquity — all things are “here” and “now.” So you see, a little blue pill can be your ticket to ride after all. Nevertheless, surgery is a hard road to enlightenment. “Honey, where’s my pirate suit?” Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Out Walking
At Sweetwater Branch, just after crossing into Tennessee, we walked down the incline to stand on the wide bank of the creek, listening to the water sing over the rocks, on its way to the Tennessee River. We went closer, the earth giving slightly under our feet. Then closer, I squatted and rested my hand on the water, then plunged it under, letting its cold etch the place in memory. “Well, OK,” she said, “if you're doing it so am I.” She moved closer, putting her hand in. To prolong the image, I picked up a leaf and threw it on the slow moving water, watched it spin and pick up purpose, the current catching it, watching it waft by the undercut rock cliffs. “So you think we should wash our hands after putting our hands in that water?” “No, it has to be clean,” I say, hopefully, and besides I think, that would be like wiping off a kiss. As we moved deeper into Tennessee, the leaves took on the appearance of late Fall, the curves became necessary and not just a part of the aesthetics of parkway construction. At two points we left the paved road to travel segments of the old Trace, one lane and rugged, bumping over ruts, a fast breeze blowing through the car. We saw no one. And that's how it's often been, like entering Yosemite or Yellowstone and finding only a handful of people around, greeting you but reticent to intrude on your solitude, or similarly struck dumb in wonder. Once we saw a coyote standing in the right-of-way, head lifted, catching a scent, oblivious to our passing. Writing this now, I was reminded of the estrangement from fellow creatures that Annie Dillard writes of, her sense that we belong here at times and at other times “seem set among them as among lifelike props for a tragedy — or a broad lampoon — on a thrust rock stage.” We are “strangers and sojourners,” she says, echoing a biblical theme, “soft dots on the rocks.” But maybe she was having a bad day. Or more likely, she has a half-truth, as there is both tragedy (sin), comedy (grace), and fairy tale (hope) in our days, and we belong here and yet we don't. The closer we came to milepost 444, the more I felt it slipping away. I knew that we were on the outskirts of civilization. The traffic picked up. The grass was cleaned up, citified. And then, at TN 100, it just ended. Terminus, said the map. No announcement, no farewell signage, no waving trees in my rear view mirror, no coyote looking wistfully after us. She said, “Let's do that again.” And I would if… but there are too many ifs. I settled for a picture of the sign, a crumpled leaf, a tingle of Sweetwater cold in my fingers, the bark of a bald cypress, the cold stones atop the final resting place of a “melancholy” Meriwether Lewis, the feel of cotton on a bush in a field of white that stretched to the horizon, and… Someone to share it with. Continue reading
Posted Nov 10, 2014 at Out Walking
A tunnel cuts into this greenness Under the roof of this wild place Down into the heart of darkness Along the Natchez Trace There is no way to fill the silence Measure the lateness of this age But for the turning of the seasons Along the Natchez Trace Oh, Mississippi Show your hand, I'll Read your fortune and your fate Oh, Mississippi I'll trace your lifeline Along the Natchez Trace The journey is forever lonely Each step a slow and measured pace Always mindful of the bandits who wait Along the Natchez Trace Oh, Mississippi I'd like to know you But you will not show your face Lost in a dream state Some still wander Along the Natchez Trace There is no way to fill the silence Measure the lateness of this age But for the turning of the seasons Along the Natchez Trace (“Natchez Trace,” from Chase the Buffalo, by Pierce Pettis) About twenty miles north of Jackson, there is a turnoff for Cypress Swamp. We take it. Leaving the car, we step carefully down a hill, down to a bridge that crosses shallow water filled on both sides with ancient bald cypress, the trunks of which splay out as they near the water, trunks that seem like twisted vines, wrapped together for encouragement. Above, their canopy needles the sky. Interspersed among them are the tupelo, a hardwood, their leaves softening a sharp blue sky. I read that the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto would have passed some that still live, and so we are hushed, listening, as if something important might be missed. If I wore a hat, I would take it off to them. I don't, so I stretched out my hand and rested it on one cypress's sinewy bark, an acknowledgment of age, perhaps, or kinship, a help to self-forgetfulness. That this tree would stand here in silence all these centuries, see the turning of the seasons, while we come and go, renders me small, a child among elders. Later, I put both hands on a pine tree, a soaring giant whose diameter at base must have been two to three feet. Unlike the cypress, it's bark was like armour, plate upon plate, mottled and crisp. Touching it brought me back to the pines of my backyard that real when the wind blows, awkward and gangly compared to this giant. Later, picking up a stick and swishing it in the air as I walked, I was following my grandmother again, through the woods to visit her friend, while she swishes a branch in front of her. I picked up a leaf, crumpled it in my hands, and remembered pressing leaves between wax paper during kindergarten. I touch things as a way of knowing them and, perhaps, as a way of remembering. I don't think they have souls, but there is a way in which they speak. Creation is not silent. Even rocks cry out. ----------------------------------------- Mississippi is dark. We prowled around Jackson last night in what seemed a room with the lights dimmed, squinting to make out details, to find Anjou, a recommended French restaurant. It was 6:00 and seemed like midnight, like everyone had gone to bed and turned out the lights. I wondered if it was just me and my failing eyes or something else. So I googled it. Of course. I got an earful, well, eyeful,about LED lights, low energy and dim. Most of the complaints were about Marxist, socialist city councils, at least the ones I can repeat. We crept back to the hotel under the cover of darkness. Had I a flashlight, I would have held it out the window to light our way in the darkness of Mississippi, along a Trace with no moon. --------------------------------------- We are sensual creatures, so things like ambient lighting or touch make a difference, even though we don't always know enough to articulate how they impact us. In a book I am reading called Stuff Matters, materials scientist Mark Miodownik explores the psychophysical aspects of materials, that is, why the way they feel or sound has such an effect on our experience of them. And yet, he recognizes that we can't live in such a way as to be attuned to their impact all the time. He rightly says that “Most of the time we ignore them. We have to: we would be treated as lunatics if we spent the whole time running our fingers down a concrete wall and sighing.” Or touching trees. I'll stop talking about that. I'll stop being that guy. ---------------------------------------- From Jackson to Tupelo, the Trace unfolds on a beautiful ordinariness. Gentle curves, slight rises, hayfields newly mown, here and there a farmhouse set back off the road shyly reminding us that in most places the roads has no more than 800 feet of right of way, that what we mostly see is private land kept rural by cooperative agreements, easements, and economics. Mostly it is, after all farmland, not ripe for subdivisions. Today was a long drive, but it was musical, like a dance through wood and meadow, serenaded by the songs of Alabaman Pierce Pettis. We listened to his Chase the Buffalo at least three times, and yet my wife said she didn't tire of it. At dinner, I said, as we often say, “What was your favorite thing today?” She said, “Driving.” Just that. Well, maybe she added "with you." At one point, we exited the road and walked a bit of the Old Trace, perhaps a lane wide, its surface tread by thousands upon thousands of feet and hooves. I walked until it simply vanished in a tangle of trees and scrub, indiscernible. Lost. I wished it back. Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 2014 at Out Walking
Most profound of all things I heard today were the words from a man picking up cigarette butts from a road that led down to the Mississippi River from downtown Natchez. We were ascending the road and he was bent a bit, at his task, and my wife said “Thank you for keeping things so beautiful.” He said “I need to make a difference.” I appreciated that man rooting me in place, reminding me that I was not just hovering over Mississippi, like some detached observer, but could rest there, if lightly, among flesh and blood, on streets called Pearl and Auburn and Canal, under live oaks decorated with the dreadlocks of Spanish moss, under the rich sky so blue and branches so green. Later, we pretended to be Natchezians, walking among the people at a Chili Cook-Off to benefit the Childrens' Home. I tried 14 different chili concoctions, sharing them with my shirt, but finally settled on that served up by the local fire department, which was surprisingly lacking in smoke and fire but rich with flavor. Even the brief exchange with the fireman had the effect of keeping me from drifting in my own thoughts, the words we exchanged solid and earthy and real, tethering me to the ground. At 4:30 AM this morning, I finished A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships, by Paul Miller, and he quoted a passage from B.B. Warfield. Warfield was talking about how Christ took no account of himself, even his divine self, but was “led by His love for others into the world, to forget himself in the needs of others.” And then Warfield lays down his pen and points his finger at himself and at me through himself and says “Self-sacrifice means not indifference to our times and our fellows: it means absorption in them. It means forgetfulness of self in others. It means entering into every man's hopes and fears, longings and despairs: it means manysidedness of spirit, multiform activity, multiplicity of sympathies. It means richness of development. It means not that we should live one life, but a thousand lives - binding ourselves to a thousand souls by the filaments of so loving a sympathy that their lives become ours.” Perhaps that's why I write. So I can live a thousand lives. So for a moment I can forget about myself and my incessant needs and complaints and try to imagine life by making a difference picking up cigarette butts, fighting fires, hawking lunch to passersby, sweeping streets, cleaning rooms, or selling cars. So I can walk along the ancient Sunken Trace and hear the footfalls of “kaintucks” and post men and circuit riding preachers, cold and hungry and tired, watch them play cards and write letters to their wives and talk about their days at a “stand” like the Locust Inn, where a solitary ranger jumps to welcome us like she's not seen anyone all day. I wonder what she does when no one comes, if memories of those who came here take substance and speak to her, if maybe, all alone, she begins to speak to them. And yet I've barely scratched the surface of self-forgetfulness, let thousands of souls pass unnoticed. But writing them down, here, is a start, anyway, the beginning of the end, a pebble rippling through the sea of forgetfulness. Continue reading
Posted Nov 8, 2014 at Out Walking
The last thing I placed in my suitcase was a ragged copy of my Rand McNally Road Atlas. I shook my head. 2010. I should have upgraded. I had a brief vision of our rental car on a narrowing blacktop that peters out in dirt on a deserted road in rural Louisiana, beneath the gaze of toothless inbred Cajun renegades ready to rob us and take our car, leaving us stranded there in Acafaluka. I made that name up, Acafaluka, yet it sounds believable, has a ring to it. In fact, the whole thing sounds believable. I close the suitcase, vowing to purchase a new atlas soon. I apologize if you are from Louisiana. Our flight brings us into Baton Rouge which, I know, sounds French, which, I know, makes me think wine and lax morals and Napoleon and guillotines and a certain book I reviewed a couple of years ago about a Frenchman who tried to make sense of the tragic tsunami in Asia but lacked the moral categories to know the questions to ask. I apologize if you are from France. Our route today, just a red line on Rand McNally as yet, meanders north, through St. Francisville, where Ruthie Leming (of the book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming) lived and died too soon, where her family still lives. We'll stop there, at least briefly, so I can soak up littleness, which, lived to God's glory, is huge, rippling out across space and time, like Ruthie. And then it's back to the red line, the highway north, Mississippi in our sights, Natchez on the horizon, which makes me think of racism and civil rights and the third-grade spelling bee and a certain town called Petal, my friend Josh's hometown, which is too far from Rand McNally's course to visit but which seems like a whisp of a place in my mind, not a flower but a mere Petal, slight but beautiful, perhaps. . . A name dropped on a crossroads, perhaps, as an expression of hope? I'm 56, and I have never been to Mississippi. But when Mavis Staples sings, I dream it. --------------------------------------- I like walking out of an airport and onto the tarmac to board a plane. Loading bridges mask reality, assuage fear even. But out here you can touch the skin of the plane, smell the jet fuel, hear the airflow in jet engines. I see the stairs leading to the door, and I think of Presidents waving to admirers, or the Beatles arriving in New York for a concert at Shea Stadium, seeing Gerald Ford at a whistle stop in Greensboro in the early 70s. I consider pausing on the stairs, looking back, nodding to my one admirer, smiling. --------------------------------------- Before hotels and motels there were motor lodges and, even earlier, motor courts which sprang up alongside the first modern highways. In my childhood in the early 60s, the motor courts were largely gone, replaced by the motels, the Howard Johnson's and Holiday Inns or, for our family's budget, the mom and pop brands like the old Vicky Villa, in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, or the Skyline Motor Lodge, in Asheville, North Carolina (a truncated version of which still exists). You could drive right off the highway and sail up to your door in your Olds Jetstar 77 (our car) or Ford Fairlane. We'd open the door on air-conditioned air, jump up and down on the bed a few times, get some ice from the ice machine for our parents, and run around the premises and check out the pool while our somnolent elders, inexplicably, took a nap. In St. Francisville, the motor court still exists, detached motel rooms, if you like, cottages, quaint, with the addition here of massages (unheard of in polite quarters in the 60's, but now a nod to the urbane). The Magnolia Motor Court is tucked back off the main road, right across from the bustling Magnolia Cafe. We sat by the door, where you can watch people come and go, mainly locals. "Look, that lady has a Chinelle pocketbook," said my wife, surprising here, we thought, in rural Louisiana. "She's wearing Tory Burch shoes." Ok, so the world has come even here, fashion piled on top of cows and deer blinds and hay. I look over at the table in the next room and see a man I recognize. It's Rod Dreher, author of The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, not ten feet from me, surrounded by a gaggle of fawning women. I prefer to think they are relatives. Or maybe aspiring writers. I fight the urge to go speak to him, to do something grand, like buy a bottle of wine for the table, anonymously, just because I like his book, just because it make me laugh and cry. But I don't. I had lunch with him, I'll say, passed his home in Star Hill, saw the Orthodox church he attends. That's enough. No, enough is the bread pudding, the best we have ever had, like someone melted down four Krispy Kreme doughnuts and poured it into a pudding mold. Crossing over into Mississippi, I realize that the land is not flat, as I imagined, but swells and falls, like the Piedmont, like Chatham County, with cows and hayfields and houses set back off the road with long drives lined by live oaks that must make you feel like royalty, arriving at your home. On the way, we had two conversations with Palo Alto and one with Wichita, and I have the surreal feel of being here, there and maybe everywhere, all at once. I'm thankful for technology but feel like I need to get out and walk, to be on solid ground, in one place. In Natchez (pronounced like "matches"), we checked into the Monmouth Historic Inn. The cover of Travel and Leisure magazine, in the gift shop, claims it as one of the 500 best small hotels in the country. And it's fine. All I know is our room looks like Grandma's house - old and a bit musty. I prefer the motor court. I like the ice machine and outdoor pool and driving right up to your door that opens not on some hallway but on the great outdoors of the parking lot. I like eating at Shoneys and Bucks and Rays and all those family-owned restaurants. I like the feeling of ice cold motel room on a hot and humid summer day, even the smell of the room. I particularly liked that one motel where you could have the bed vibrate for five minutes if you inserted a quarter. (My Dad let us do it once, and my sister and I laughed and laughed.) I even miss jumping up and down on the bed. Which is probably not going to happen at The Monmouth Historic Inn in Natchez, Mississippi. I might hurt something. Grandma might be upset. Continue reading
Posted Nov 8, 2014 at Out Walking
It's a beautiful day in Menlo Park, California, and I am having my son's car washed at the local car wash, Ducky's, watching Mercedes and other nice vehicles roll out. Earlier, I deposited my wife at the coin laundry in Palo Alto, along El Camino Real, just down from Stanford University. We haven't been to a coin laundry since college, over 30 years ago. It took us a while to figure things out. I only had a 20-dollar bill, so I fed it to the machine and it spit out 80 shiny quarters. I don't think I have held that many quarters in my hand, that is, two hands, for a long time, maybe since I collected coins as a boy, until a debt was called in and I liquidated the collection before the heat came down on me. I felt wealthy, like it might last me a long time. It didn't, of course, anymore than it did when I was a boy. The laundry is a storefront, with a clock like we had in elementary school to count out the seconds for you while you wait for the washing, the faded walls peppered with colorful plaques here and there with encouragements like “Laughter is life's best medicine: LAUGH.” I smiled. A closed door has a sign on it that says “BOO,” some condescension to our time. It's hypnotic, the waiting, watching clothes tumble, a fetching repose. I'm taking it in, savoring the moment, as I don't know when I will get back to a coin laundry. So I left her there with others who, for whatever reason, don't have a washer and dryer, and it made me wonder if I knew anyone who lacked a washer and dryer. I'm not sure. That shows how insular life can be, I suppose, so I am glad we came, glad to interact with the Hispanic attendant, who educated us college graduates on how to use washers. I'm humbled. I need to be put in my place. But car washes and coin laundries are collateral benefits. The biggest thing? After five weeks, we have seen our son, been updated on his life here at Stanford, and seen that he is well, and that gladdens our hearts. That, and the quarters still jingling in my pocket. Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2014 at Out Walking
“It is inbred that we have to do exceptional things for God; but we have not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people, and this is not learned in five minutes.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest) No doubt the modern language rendition of English missionary Oswald Chambers' classic devotional uses a word other than “mean” to describe streets and people, as our understanding of the word in today's less literate culture is limited. Mean streets are not streets full of unkind people, and mean people are not just the unkind, but Chambers has a much richer meaning in mind: streets which are mean are those walks of life which are common, humble, undignified, and plebeian, which are inconsequential and insignificant. In short, little. He is talking about the quotidian, about mundane, ordinary life, life that attracts little attention or notice. My life, and probably yours. "Little" lives. I used to think God wanted me to do something big. Now I know he wanted me to do something even bigger, to live exceptionally by His grace in the ordinariness of each day, a day in which I pay bills, make phone calls, write a letter, do taxes, clean the garage, attend church, answer emails, and clean dishes. To the extent I do these things for his glory, I have lived an exceptional life. There are no little people. We are God's images, little Christs, and that's not little. Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2014 at Out Walking
A couple of years ago I attended the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing. I heard Marilyn Chandler-McEntyre speak about "Caring for Words." Of her twelve practical strategies of care, two resonated most loudly. Love words as having value in and of themselves, she said. That is convicting, and leads to repentance, as I have loved words so often merely for utility, for what they can do for me and to others and not for the gift they are. Words like "refuge" and "respite," my wife reminds me, are beautiful, and so now I pause and consider their sounds, which almost summon up what they suggest, like onamonapias on the slant, which form images that refresh, even though I haven't left my chair. "A word itself is a seed to be dropped," she said, and so I simply leave these two with you: refuge, respite. Attend to translation. She meant "stepping into someone else's frame of reference is like stepping through the looking glass." So go ask Alice. Have tea with a Mad Hatter. Engage a Queen of Hearts. Or stoop low and enter the thatch hut of an African's home in the fields of Koreng, Uganda, absorbing the liquid speech of another. Step to the cubicle next door, ask a question, and listen. Play with small children. Attend to translation. A word is a free-standing column in Solomon's temple: practically good for nothing, only beautiful. Just like people, worth loving, even when they can't do anything for us. Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2014 at Out Walking
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If there is any heir to the sun-washed California folk-pop of Seventies supergroup America, it is Jeff Larson. The Bay Area-based singer-songwriter has put heart and soul into an avocation of music, drawing on the support of a close circle of musical friends that includes Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell (of America), as well as Jeffrey Foskett (Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys). His latest release, Close Circle, is no exception. Musically, the album is built around his effortless guitar playing and soaring voice. What saves the music from being overly mellow is the mix of instruments and diversity of sound, varying tempo, mixing in ukulele, dobro, and mandolin, and offering some spunky electric guitar to provide a more organic root. That instrumentation, and the beautifully layered background vocals supplied by Beckley and Bunnell, among others, provides a rich tapestry of sound, one following of the echoes of that West Coast Seventies sound. Lyrically, the songs also refresh the soul. You won’t find angst or blood -on-the-tracks confession, and yet the generally upbeat music accompanies lyrics that cut a swath through a normal life — which is not unusual in that Larson works a regular 9-5 job like most of the rest of us. From the plea of “Rescue” (“will you rescue me/ when darkness comes”), to a reminder to keep the faith even when you are knocked down by some trial (“Even When the Rain Comes”) to sending a child off to college (“Goodbye Ocean Street Beaches”) to trying to connect with an old friend (“Arizona Again”), he writes of experiences that are universal and, thus, ones we can all connect with. Even though there may be an underlying melancholy or struggle, the music — largely bereft of minor chords — keeps the listener on an upward tack, encouraging us to “keep it open. . . even when the rains come.” Spend a little time letting this music wash over you. Take a drive on a sunny Fall day and let it help give you the “Lay of the Land,” a kind of sonic landscape for remembrance and promise and hope. Get it on Amazon or iTunes. Continue reading
Posted Oct 4, 2014 at Out Walking
When I came home tonight, I was greeted only by the cat who, characteristically, greeted me at the door, turned her back to me, and went to the other room, throwing herself on the floor as if to say, “oh, it’s only you.” The house was quiet. My wife is at a women’s retreat, so I have the run of it. But it’s no fun to run alone. I ate dinner alone. . . well, not so alone. Callie, our fulsome feline, lounged languidly on the floor at my feet. The leftover pizza was quite good. . . well, chewy, actually. . . aged, really. . . which makes me eat more slowly, chew more, and eat less. . . well, a little less. . . well, perhaps not less but, you see, it is a thin crust, and nourishing, as they say, as you say when you are really eating something not so great for you but nonetheless not terrible but bad enough to need justification. So, rather than fill the air with TV voices and bask in the poor fellowship of the LED, I was quiet. I was so quiet I could hear myself chew. It’s not really pleasant to hear people chew. So I took to talking to Callie, remarking that “It looks like rain,” sighing intermittently between bites, asking her if she enjoyed her dinner (no comment), making small talk, all the while knowing that “I’m just the human that will do while Mom is gone,” knowing that I will have to do. And so will she. Because other than her sister Lilly, who is barely here anyway, who I rarely glimpse for more than a second as her backside rounds a corner — there is no one else. After dinner I read a short devotion, as is our habit. Habit persists even when there is no “our.”I started reading it to myself and then thought, what the heck, I’ll read it to the cat. It was on prayer. It was called “Get Up. . . and Pray.” There is the part in it where Anne Graham Lotz turns to the reader and says — “What about you? How’s your prayer life? Are you rushing through your prayer time? Neglecting it all together?” — and I turn to Callie, as if to ask her, and her eyes are blank, like mirrors, like big question marks looking back at me, saying softly, “What about you?” Chastened, I resolve that I will pray that night, for my friend who is writing a book to know what book, for my wife, for my children, for the nation, for the entire world. To infinity and beyond! It’s like the declarations you boldly make about dieting or reading more books or writing more real letters or genrally getting your act together. I’ll be at it for a awhile, I know, but it’s so quiet, and there’s time, and I can take all the time I need and. . . But my 91-year old aunt called. Even though she had the usual complaints, I was glad to hear from her. She self-describes herself sometimes (no, every time) as “not a medicine taker,” as having “a little bit of dementia,” and often tells me the same stories which she laughs at and which I laugh at too, again, and again, and again. She’s lonely. At least I have the cat. And I have the absences by which I am warmed. Children at college, their rooms still echoing their presence, the left behinds reminding me of all they did in their sojourn here and pointing outward to what will come. “Zoo Story” promises the book on my daughter’s shelf. “Reach for the Skies” says Richard Branson’s book in my son’s room, number two in a stack of ten, right after the one on Mars. There you go. And when your spouse is temporarily absent, halls and walls and sitting places still resonate with dangling conversations, impressions formed by years of talk and movement lit by the slanted rays of sunlight that filter through the pines. (Callie is disgusted at this poetic prattle, and leaves the room.) Jesus said “the son of man has no place to lay his head,” and yet he exaggerated for effect, didn’t He, employed hyperbole to show that life here is not what meets the eye, that Home is somewhere and somehow Else, that we are aliens and strangers and sojourners in this place, in our homes, even with the people that form our family. Still, I like it here. Even alone. Continue reading
Posted Oct 3, 2014 at Out Walking
Folks, I regret to say that we are maximum capacity for Saturday's concert. I often have a couple cancellations, so please join our waiting list by emailing me at steve.westAToutwalking.net. Continue reading
Folks, if you have been procrastinating, better stop. We only have 13 seats left. We expect a sell out. Head on over to the site HERE and reserve now. Don't miss a great house show with a great band! And check out this frag of a movie on the B2C tour of a couple years ago. Continue reading
When my daughter was in first grade, one of the things we did as a part of a merit badge was to catalogue all the trees and flowers in our backyard. Before then I was vaguely aware that we had pines and hardwoods, but I couldn't have told you anything else. I didn't know them. But when we finished our walk around the yard, armed with an Audubon Guide to Trees, I felt like I was more at home, like I better knew my place. In speaking about our new life in Christ, Oswald Chambers says that "The first thing God will do is force the interests of the whole world through our hearts. The love of God, and even His very nature, is introduced into us. And we see the very nature of Almighty God focused in John 3:16 --- 'For God so loved the world. . . .'" The breadth of this claim, which is not anthropocentric, is clear from the Greek for world, kosmos, that is, the human and non-human universe. So this astonishing claim means the love of God for the entire creation, the universe, is poured through our hearts. Yet the universe is an abstraction, too big for even the large-hearted Mother Teresas of the world to love, much less the small-hearted like me. Start with a tree. Start with the place where you find yourself. Walk around the neighborhood, or just next door, and ask God to help you love your place and people. Be mentored by a book like Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by her deep attention to a mountain and stream by which she lived. Slow down. Drive to work with the windows down (or, if you're lucky, the top down) so that you hear and feel the place around you, so you can let life in your four-wheeled world. Cultivate Dillard's attention to the peopled places we inhabit. I am so poor at this, so near-sighted. This is a precursor to the "faithful presence" the authors write about in The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship, and Community," a book which seeks to root ecclesial life within the mutual concerns of the neighborhood, within "the new commons." They propose that the myth of individualism and "living above place" have fragmented the church. They call us back to what Chambers speaks of, the channeled love of Christ for the world, starting in our place. One of the ways the authors of The New Parish suggest doing this is by "learning to listen to what it is, not what you have assumed it to be or even what you want it to become." So we might ask who are we, and what is this place? To know the answers to those questions will likely reveal potentialities, as in who are we in this place, what could we in this place become? That gives new eyes to someone out walking. And indeed the authors of The New Parish counsel a prayerful walking in the neighborhood, an attention to what is there, a gratefulness, and a lifting up of the place and people to God. I confess that in all my walking I have done too little of this, having been more on a pilgrimage of the mind than developing a love for my place, more intent on getting somewhere, both literally and mindfully, than in taking the time to stop and talk to my neighbor, to listen to the stream under the bridge, to pay attention to the mockingbird. We have schooled ourselves in living above our place, flitting about in a virtual space of social media, not landing in the dirt of human experience. And for Christians, this has not been of much concern, at least not in its placelessness. Isn't our home, our place, up there in Heaven? Not exactly. As Len Hjalmarson reminds us in a new book, No Home Like Place: A Christian Theology of Place, "the Biblical story is not about going to heaven when we die: it's about heaven and earth becoming one: God's purposes in creation being fulfilled. The final great image in the bible is of that planet-sized garden city descending to (and merging with) earth, accompanied by the words, 'God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them' (Rev. 21:13 TNIV)." So, while out walking, we better be mindful. The place to which we go will bear in it all the true and good and beautiful of this place in which we dwell. If I won't stop for the trees, won't take time to know them, it's doubtful I'll stop for my human neighbors either. God help me be mindful, and not only for a merit badge, this time. Continue reading
Posted Sep 21, 2014 at Out Walking
With less than one week until the concert, tickets are going fast. And now this: By exclusive arrangemeent, this big-hearted band will make available to EVERY attendee a FREE digital download of their 7-song Live 1999 EP. So don't waster any time. Seats are limited. Reserve now right here! Continue reading
In one week we'll have the pleasure of hosting Burlap to Cashmere in concert. That's Saturday, September 27th at 8:00 PM. Are you coming? A couple years ago, Christianity Today, in a positive review of their last album, compared this band to "Folk-pop with world music; compare to Paul Simon, Mumford and Sons, Gipsy Kings." Fair enough. But put all that together in one sound: acoustic sensibility, great songwriting, and ethic sounds. Then you have something unique. And as much music as I listen to, B2C always sounds fresh and unique. I hope you will come. It beats sitting around watching TV on a Saturday night. Just watch this. Get more details and reserve a seat here. Continue reading
I appreciate an artist or band with a strong work ethic and perseverance. And that's really true of Burlap to Cashmere, a band together now for nearly two decades. This video showcases a song off their debut Nineties album, so, yes, they are a bit younger. And yet the sound is the same. You can see them in my house on Sept. 27th. If you act quickly. I really want to give these guys a warm North Carolina welcome, so please reserve now. Bring some friends. As always, I make a money-back guarantee. I can do that because I can't imagine anyone being disappointed by this group of fine musicians and people. For all the details, and to reserve click HERE. Continue reading
A while back, after the release of Burlap to Cashmere's 2nd album, I wrote this blog post. Here's a little bit of it: These are guys you want to invite over for a meal, take home, keep around for awhile, guys obviously in love with making music, enjoying being with one another. Fronted by Delopolous and his cousin, Johnny Philippidis, with a beat laid down by long-time friend Theodore Pagano, this is family music, soaked in the sounds of the Mediterranean, mixed with a little Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel, and simmered in the stew of what I imagine to be a big, lovable, sometimes loud Greek family, with cryptically profound lyrics that won't leave your head. So, I like them. I think you will too. But if you want to see and hear their "orchestrated love song," you'll need ot reserve a seat. . . soon. For more information and to reserve, go HERE. And just listen to this video! Continue reading
Beautiful. I love this song. Just let it wash over you, like a little Simon and Garfunkel. B2C isn't always this mellow, but I am thankful for this reflective song. But the point is, you need to see them live. You need to be in our home on September 27th. You need to meet these guys up close, personal. Give this a viewing. And then go here and reserve your seats. How about now? Continue reading
If you're like me, you procrastinate. And then, it's too late. Don't wait to book your seat for Burlap to Cashmere. These guys are the real deal, and I cannot quite believe they will be in my house (ok, a little bit of hero-worship here, I'll admit). They are that good. I found a little bit of an interview with lead singer and writer Steven Delopolous that intrigued me. He said: As a band, Burlap To Cashmere has never been about an agenda. But there’s always been a story. There’s always been something mystical behind it that all we can do as human beings is listen. So if you go back to the Old Testament, a lot of those prophets were not perfect people. They were not perfect people. David was not a perfect man. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but he was a mess. They all were. But what made them different from the rest was that they listened and they expressed from what they heard. I think what makes this band a spiritual band and the reason why we do fit into the evangelical, Christian circuit is because we’re not too far off the tree. I’m a Greek Orthodox Christian. I hopefully do as much listening as my evangelical friends do and hopefully express it. To answer your question, we don’t have an agenda. We don’t say that we’re this or we’re that. We try not to wear any labels at all. I liked hearing that, as no one likes to be hit by an agenda. Let it flow naturally through a story. That's what you'll get at a B2C concert. Read more of that here. Also, check out a video of these guys in their younger days playing "Basic Instructions" at the largest Christian music Festival in the country, Creation. It's incredible. They still play the song, although they'll have to take it down a notch in the house. Sorry! Check out the full details on the concert on the main page here. And please help me pass the word along by sharing ths post or email with others. Can you believe they are coming? I can't. Continue reading
Whenever I read the story of Joshua — the marching silently around the city seven times, the blowing of the horns, the shouts, the walls falling down — I can’t help but think of that Eighties rock classic, “The Walls Came Down,” by The Call, a song written by the late Michael Been. Musically, the song enacts the sense of impending destruction, the falling of walls. And while Been may have been taking predictable (and perhaps simplistic) pot shots at the military-industrial complex as the genesis of wars, I suspect there’s more to it than that; it, after all, just a three and one-half minute song. While written before the Berlin Wall came down, it seems to fit that event so well. More than that, it points to an apt metaphor for divine agency: Jericho’s walls, which excavations indicate may have been as much as four and a half feet in thickness, fell not because of soldiers, horns, or shouts, but because God willed it. Just so, He makes other declarations, knocks down other walls, as Julie Miller once sang, “Walls of fear and walls of doubt/ Walls of pride can’t keep Him out/ He walks through walls/ He walk through walls” (from “He Walks Through Walls, 1991). God is on the move. Nothing can stand in the face of divine agency. The shout given by the Israelites was one of faith. God had already declared victory. They only gave voice to it. That God gave them victory was pure grace, a fortified city given into their hands. It would be a false reading to say that their shout caused the wall to fall flat. God did not say “I will give” but “I have given.” But perhaps the military analogy puts you off, or the destruction that happened afterward. So, focus here: What is our shout of faith? What is it that God has declared about our lives? Somehow it’s here I am compelled to get it wrong, to think that God is saying “I will give if you (fill in the blank), not “It is finished. There are many such declarations like that which God made to the Israelites. But one that I hear in my head repeatedly is that of Colossians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Not becoming new or new if I do the right things, but “is new.” I have to remind myself of that because the face in the mirror is still the same. I often can’t see the new me, but I have to take it on faith. Maybe shout. Remind myself that I have been transferred from the dominion of darkness to the kingdom of light (Col. 1:13). Done. Maybe that’s what the Israelites were doing: they were preaching to themselves, reminding themselves of what God had said, that He “had given” the land to them. So too has he taken dominion over me. There’s a another great Michael Been penned song by The Call, entitled “Let the Day Begin.” It’s a reminder of newness, of life that begins again every day: “Here's to you my little loves/ with blessings from above/ Now let the day begin/ Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above/ Let the day begin, let the day begin, let the day start.” So maybe, when you find the stultifying wall of works-righteousness facing you, or some other personal demon, take a walk around it. Circle it six times. Blow the horn. Shout the truth to yourself: I am a new creation. And wait for the sound of walls coming down. Let a new day begin. Continue reading
Posted Sep 7, 2014 at Out Walking
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I am probably more excited about hosting this concert than any I have ever hosted. Since hearing Burlap to Cashmere in concert several years ago at The Arts Center in Carrboro, and then later in Greenwich Village in NYC, I have wanted to have these guys here, close up. They have a unique, folk-rock sound, tinged with Medittaranean influences. They enjoy each other and, indeed, grew up playing songs together. And while it's not woship music, you'll detect the undercurrent of faith in lead singer Steven Delopoulos' lyrics. For more information and to buy tickets, click HERE. Meanwhile, take a peek at this video of that NYC concert I attanded. Wow. What a great song. Continue reading
When I was in college anomie was a big word. In Sociology 101 we talked about the reduction of people to numbers, the depersonalization of the arena-sized classroom, the sense that you were nothing but a cog in a gigantic wheel going nowhere. That was the Seventies, and we were reeling from Watergate, gas shortages, the Vietnam war, and the advent of disco (particularly the latter). Honestly, as a freshman, I was not thinking such lofty thoughts. As I sat in the back of the biology classroom with one million other students, a mere speck in the eye of the academy, squinting to make out the professor down front, I was thinking about my girlfriend who broke up with me. Or my next move, as in girl move. In retrospect, I was preoccupied with my own concerns but not thinking much about my image, my tribe, my brand. I didn’t have an IPhone (the Dark Ages, people), watch particular TV shows, or identify myself by what car I drove, food I ate (Vegan, locally-sourced, gluten-free), or brand clothes I wore. I may have been self-centered (no, I was self-centered), but I do not recall making decisions based solely on how I would be perceived but by what I wanted. I wanted to figure out who I was, but I wasn't consciously trying to build an image. I was just. . . me. . . whoever "me" was. The court of public opinion of me was really, really small. The world has changed. In the latest volume of The Mockingbird, in an article entitled “Searching Low and High for the Who Behind the Who,” David Zahl notes that it “used to be that only museums and boutiques were curated. Today, people are curated, lives are curated.” Even as I say this, I’m tempted to think of how you perceive me. Intelligent? A little hip? (I wish.) Bookish? Thoughtful? I try not to think about such things, and yet they creep in. Honestly, can you blame me? We’re swimming in a tidal wave of identity-preoccupation. It’s not so much the question of who I am but who I want you to perceive me to be. And that’s a particular kind of self-absorption that we need a way out of. I only know one way. And Zahl nails it. He says the moment of grace comes when we stop asking "Who am I?" and start asking "Who are you?" That Godward focus leads to a kind of self-forgetfulness, the kind where, as Tim Keller says, we not only do not care what others think, we do not even care what we think of ourselves. As Keller says in The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, "True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself." Because all that matters is what Jesus thinks of me, and He declares me holy (because of Him) and beloved. No condemnation. Case closed. Love alone that will not let me go. There's no direct path to humility, to a God-shaped identity, because when you get there, you won't be thinking about getting there, because I suspect you will have already forgotten yourself. But for most of us, issues of identity rear their head every day, and we have to confront them by doing what Keller says: we have to re-live the Gospel every day, every moment. And if you catch yourself obsessing over perceptions, laugh at the foolish project you have embarked on and live in the love of Jesus. Stop staring in the reflecting pool of self, and meditate on the Source out of Whom our identity flows. Once I was carrying one of my favorite singer-songwriters to his hotel after a gig. I blathered on about one of his songs and how much it had spoken to me. I expected him to be grateful, to respond warmly. He said nothing. I was looking for appreciation. But now I know. He had forgotten himself, and he did not want to be reminded, did not want to begin to think he was a gift to the world, that he was who I thought he was. He was performing for an audience of One, and it wasn't me. I want to be like that. Continue reading
Posted Aug 29, 2014 at Out Walking
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Q: Do you have any children? BD: Every man with medical problems has children. Q: What are your medical problems? BD: Well, there’s glass in the back of my head. I’m a very sick person. I can’t see too well on Tuesdays. These dark glasses are prescribed. I’m not trying to be a beatnik. I have very mercuryesque eyes. And another thing – my toenails don’t fit. (Bob Dylan, in a 1968 interview) I went to the doctor today. An orthopedist. (Thank you spell check.) I told him my upper left arm hurt, that I thought maybe I had arthritis, because my mother had that. He looked thoughtful. He put me through some motions — some fine, some that made me wince — and then he announced that I probably had rotator cuff (RC) issues. After an X-ray, he was more definitive: “Darn. Definitely rotator cuff” something or another. I said what do you do for that. He said therapy. I said great, I need therapy. He said physical therapy. I said good I guess I need that too. I said why does this happen, and he said there was a chronological component to this. You mean old?, I said. He smiled. I’m regularly reminded that I am old as dirt. That’s OK. At least I don’t have glass in the back of my head. Q: What do you think of the new Bob Dylan? BD: What’s your name? Q: Dave Moberg. BD: Okay. What would you think if someone asked you, What do you think of the new Dave Moberg? What new Dave Moberg? I was walking across the street to the doctor’s office one day not long ago. A white-haired elderly man was walking briskly across the street, head down. When he reached me he looked up and said, ominously, “Growing old ain’t for sissies!” I nodded. I was thinking he’s not that much older than me. The doctor said look, we do this, you’ll be a new man. The new Steve West? I’m skeptical about that. I’m thinking that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Bye, bye old; hello, new. But that’s not for sissies either. Growing new, growing younger, is hard. And getting born is not an exercise, but grace. Q: Why do some of your songs bear no relation to their titles? BD: Give me an example. Q: “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35.” BD: Have you ever been to North Mexico for six straight months? Q: Not recently. BD: Well, I can’t explain it to you then. If you had, you’d understand what the song’s about. Ha, ha. So I have my first therapy appointment tomorrow. The therapist is supposed to show me some exercises that will help get rid of this issue with the RC, eventually. Th last time I was here he put needles in me. Needling, they called it, though it’s really acupuncture. The doc said that if I can’t tolerate these exercises I can get a shot of cortisone. And if all that doesn’t work, I can have surgery. I can? I’m not even going to say anything about the glass in my head. Or the mercuryesque eyes. Or my tendinitis, heel spurs, floaters in my eyes, or sleeping habits. But I might tell him about Queen Jane, Georgia Sam, Poor Howard, Mack the Finger, Louie the King, Cain and Abel, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Cinderella, the Good Samaritan, Orphelia, Einstein disguised as Robin Hood, Dr. Filth, the Phantom of the Opera, Cassanova, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Angel, Sweet Melinda, Saint Annie, Louise, Johanna, the guilty undertaker, the lonesome organ grinder, a dancing child with a Chinese suit, Shakepeare, the senator, the preacher, the rainman, Ruthie in a honky-tonk lagoon, Queen Mary, sweet Marie, the Persian drunkard, Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands (saying prayers like rhymes), John Wesley Harding (friend to the poor), Frankie Lee and Judas Priest (“don’t go mistaking Paradise for that Home across the road”), St. Augustine, the hobo, the drifter, the landlord, the immigrant, Frank, Vera, Terry Shute, and Peggy Day. (Take a breath.) Thank you, Bob Dylan, for all those people, real or not. And the Father of Night. The Ragman. The Bearer of All Burdens. And the One who makes all things new, even me. Even dirt. The One who makes the new Steve West. I might tell him that Bob Dylan and me are not that much different. That he has ailments too. That he just writes better songs. That the new Bob Dylan looks old as dirt but is growing newer everyday. That eventually I’ll get over this RC thing and all the rest and all to come. Me and Bob Dylan. When he returns. When He returns. What are you getting at? What’s this blog post have to do with anything, anyway? What’s it mean? Have you been to North Mexico Lately? Not recently. Then I can’t explain it to you. If you had, you’d understand what I’m talking about. I’m sure you would. Continue reading
Posted Aug 27, 2014 at Out Walking
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“I am Oz, the great and terrible. Who are you, and why do you seek me?” When I was in Kansas in October last year, spending Fall Break with my daughter, I found a beautiful Penguin Threads edition of The Wizard of Oz in a bookstore, softbound yet housed in a multicolor, textured cover, with a long introduction about the author, L. Frank Baum, and annotations throughout. Never having read the story, I decided to spring for it. I didn’t like the movie — scary as a child, creepy now — and yet I knew the story was a bit different and, besides, the tactile pleasure of holding a book with a great cover is a pleasure. Yet Baum’s words are even better. I was hooked from the first page with his description of the spartan homestead “in the midst of the great Kansas prairies,” the “great gray prairie on every side,” where the “sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass,” and a house that “was dull and gray as everything else,” and Uncle Henry who never laughed and Aunt Em who covered her ears and screamed when Dorothy would laugh. There’s a theme here. Not enticing. And not accurate, really, as the Kansas prairie glows golden in the sun, and even in the Flint Hills rises and falls, beautiful in its own way. But Baum is interested in contrast, his opinions of the harshness of rural life coloring his perceptions. I’ll read that book. It’s a keeper, even if a tad dark. At least there are no singing munchkins. While I have had great use for books on Christianity and the Arts, Jerram Barrs’ Echoes of Eden is one I will store for reference. It’s an elucidation of themes more succinctly stated in Francis Schaeffer’s classic Art and the Bible, from the late Sixties, still a valuable guide. Barrs was a long-time L’Abri worker and associate of Schaeffer and now heads the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Seminary, so it’s no surprise he echoes his mentor. However, his chapters on Tolkien, Lewis, Harry Potter, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen may appeal to those who are looking for fresh insight into those authors and/or books. No munchkins here, thank goodness. Another book on art and faith, For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, is a great collection of essays you can dip into without wholly committing to the whole read. Essayists include Lauren Winner, Eugene Peterson, and Jeremy Begbie. I read Peterson’s “The Pastor: How Artists Shape Pastoral Identity,” and Barbara Nicolosi’s “The Artist: What Exactly Is an Artist, and How Do We Shepherd Them,” as I know a lot of artists and realize they have the capacity to provoke and disturb and bless all at the same time, and yet we don’t always receive them well. I’m saving this one, at least to read Lauren Winner, one day. And maybe, one day, in toto. Maybe on my way to Kansas. My wife went to The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference, from which I was excluded, even though I grew up with three sisters, talk to women better than men (well, women talk more and about more things), and wanted to go to Orlando. (Really, I wanted her to go, and I watched online, so went anyway and didn’t have to worry about having the right clothes or hair.) She brought me the book, Crazy Busy, by Kevin DeYoung, which, thankfully, is mercifully short (as its subtitle says). The cover has a person running with an exclamation mark for his head. I feel that way sometimes. One chapter is entitled “A Cruel Kindergarchy - Diagnosis #3: You Need to Stop Freaking Out Over Your Kids.” I better read that. In fact I better read the whole book. It’s only 118 pages long. I can do this. I detect in its pages heart, courage, and brains, and I need more of those in the whirling of my days. That dastardly devil, Screwtape, has been annotated as well. The annotated edition of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters has red lettered annotations in the side column of each page, so you need not keep flipping to the endnotes. I like that, because when I have to flip to the endnotes, I get irritated eventually, like Oz, like “Ain’t nobody got time for this.” This hardbound edition of letters from Screwtape’s letters to Wormwood, the lesser devil, has beautifully large type (it’s kind of like a large print edition without being saddled with that moniker). His comment in Letter 13, that “It seems to me that you take a great many pages to tell a very simple story,” is what most people might say about lawyers, those henchmen of the Devil, stacking word on word to obfuscate. But I digress. I love this book, will read it again, and may even write a few more of my own such letters. Screwtape, like Oz, is terrible but cowardly, all smoke and lights behind his curtain. An impostor. Nepal may as well be over the rainbow given how far away and remote it is. At the Foot of the Snows is an account of the late David E. Watters and family, who lived among the unknown Khami Magar of that mountain country, translating the Scripture into the Kham language. Never heard of this family, but I’m glad for however this book came to my attention, as it is engaging and inspiring, in even its first few pages shining with honesty and God’s providential care. I was on board after the Forward by Pastor Mike Jones, where he says that “the account of David and Nancy’s walk of faith encouraged me to embrace the story God is seeking to write in and through my life.” That’s not an original thought, but it continues to excite me — the idea of God as Author not just of life but of my life. I have 56 years of story, and yet I have an eternity of character development and plot ahead of me. There are amazing quotes here that preface each not-too-long chapter, like this one by Kenneth Hale: “Every language is a unique and collective human genius, as divine and endless a mystery as a living organism.” Makes you think, doesn’t it? And yet it’s not just language that is wonderfully mysterious but literally everything, inscrutable. If nothing else books like this remind me that life is not, as Baum said, just a different shade of gray, an endless prairie of the mundane, drab and unchanging. It’s an adventure, full of color and mystique. Full of books, and companionship, and a yellow brick road and a real Oz that one day will take us Home where we’ll have all the heart and brain and courage we need. And looks. And better songs. And that is a good place to end on a Sunday afternoon. “Oh, Aunt Em, I’m so glad to be home again!” Continue reading
Posted Jul 16, 2014 at Out Walking