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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)
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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 6 days ago at Out Walking
The most notable feature of Carl Sandburg's preserved home at Flat Rock, North Carolina is its 11,076 books. There are books in bedrooms, hallways, dining rooms, and the kitchen, and a second home full of books he did not deem worthy of including in the main home. Little slips of paper marked pages in each book that had something worth coming back to. He worked his collection, mined it's combined insights, treasured its wisdom. I'm still working on that. On the table behind my office desk, there is a teetering stack of about 18 books that I have intended to read. Some have been waiting a few years, gathering dust. I keep adding to the stack, and the ones on bottom are slowly sinking, compressed, to be dug out by some future archaeologist who will draw gross and silly conclusions about American culture from my books. (I have imagination.) In my bedroom nightstand, there are something like 25 more books. I mean to read them, I really do. But you begin to lose consciousness of them; they melt into the paint, lay dormant. Then, when I add to it the sample books I have added on my IPad, there must be 60 books or so I mean to get at. I'm getting behind. Guilt nips at me as I imagine what their authors might say to me. So, Sunday afternoon I decided to do something about it. I drew out ten books and decided I would at least skim the contents of each, read the preface and first chapter, and then decide if I really needed to read the book. Books not worth having around I would put in the disposal pile; books worth keeping but not to further read, in another pile; and, in what I hoped would be a very small pile, I would place books that I really wanted to read and felt would be profitable. . . now. So, I read one short story out of John Grisham's Ford County, a collection of short stories. I had never read Grisham, figuring him not literary enough, but he is an entertaining and capable writer. The story, entitled "Blood Drive," a rollicking late night journey to Memphis by three good old boys to give blood for a friend, one sidetracked by a strip joint, gang shooting, and other antics, was hilarious. That book's a keeper. Then it was on to Algebra: The X and Y of Everyday Math. I know. . . what was I thinking? (It was on sale.) I appreciated the philosophical way it started, with a quote from Augustine of Hippo about how "mathematicians had made a covenant with the Devil to darken the spirit and confine man in the bonds of Hell," the clarity and playfulness of its prose, and the mini-bios of mathematicians inserted throughout, but it doubt I'll continue. I will save it for when I retire. Next up: The New Media Frontier: Blogging, Vlogging, and Podcasting for Christ, a collection of essays on such matters. I'll save this as a good resource and a book to loan out. It has, for example, an essay on blogging for pastors and attempts to address how such tools might be used as a help for pastoral care, as well as an essay on theological blogging and one on youth ministry in the Facebook age. While generally upbeat, it sounds plenty of cautionary notes along the way. Given the rapid way media use changes, I give this one little shelf life and plan to hand it off to pastors pretty quickly. My sister loaned me The Pleasure Was Mine, by Tommy Hays, a local North Carolina writer. It's a story of Prate Marshbanks, a man losing his wife of 50 years to Alzheimer's. It's moving, and yet the sadness is lightened by the humor and the relationship Prate develops with his grandson (well, not much yet in one chapter). Hays' characters are believable, and so I plan to return to this book. . . in the future. A friend suggested Daniel Taylor's Letters to My Children: A Father Passes On His Values, years ago, I am ashamed to say. Taylor tells good and true stories to his children, answering questions he imagines them having, as if (or in the event) he's not around to answer them. And yet, serendipitously, he is also answering his own questions, like "What Price Popularity," where we all get a sense of what people-pleasers we can be, of how conscious we are of appearances. I'll keep it, and even recommend it, and yet I feel like I have already been writing about such things for years and so doubt I'll read more. It's signed: "To Steve: Blessings in all your stories." Yes. "Calvin, '08." Thank you for the in person prompt, Daniel Taylor, all those years ago. Oh my goodness. The Gospel According to Lost, by Chris Seay, really takes me back. Our family watched all nine seasons on Netflix in six months and, in the end, turned to each other and said "huh?" Seay teases out the questions and tries to shine the light of Scripture on them. I'll keep it, but I have lost so much of the story that I don't think it profitable reading until I can watch it again, if ever. His statement that "the Lost narrative is uniquely intertwined with the Judeo-Christian and the beauty of Christianity found in its unyielding proclamation that no one is beyond redemption," is provocative. Maybe in a long cold winter I'll take the plunge again. [Title deleted], a self-published title by a good friend, is, sad to say, not good. This one I need to move out. I barely made it past the first page. Friend yes, good writing no. Christian Aid Mission publishes the thin volume, Finishing the Task: How Indigenous Missionaries Are Reaching the Unreached in the 21st Century. Reading these amazing stories of healings, answers to prayer, escapes from danger, preservation during imprisonment, and the such I vacillate between near cynicism (a product of a smallish faith) and a hunger for a fuller reality of Christ's life in me. Are these stories embellished, containing elements of legend? I might have thought so until I met Pastor George in Uganda last year. Thank you, whoever gave me this, or sent it, like God-mail. This is the real thing, an antidote for unexercised belief. (Get the book free here.) Choosing Your Faith (In a World of Spiritual Options), by Mark Mittleberg, is much better than I thought, a bit easier to read than Tim Keller's Reason to Believe. Good for skeptical yet inquiring friends, it makes the case that faith is inevitable --- the question is faith in what or in who? I don't know that I'll read more, but I definitely want it as a resource and as a giveaway. Finally, Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Churches, and Charities, sounds an alarm for how we individually and corporately can stay true to our commitments, to our mission. It documents how some have gone astray (YMCA becoming simply Y) and others stayed true (Compassion International). It doesn't encourages stasis necessarily, but helps us own up to and examine carefully how we change and if we should change. As I serve on a church Session and several non-profit boards, and sense the pull of circumstance on my own priorities, I think this book will be a valuable resource, one I will read and loan out. The stack is getting smaller. Sandburg would smile at my pittance of books. Continue reading
Posted Jul 7, 2014 at Out Walking
When you first meet someone, she might ask, “Who are you?” And you might say, “Well I’m So-and-So. And I’m very good at this thing and that thing and here’s where I live and this is my family and —“ But do you know who God says you are? The one Jesus loves. (“Who Are You?,” from Thoughts To Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd Jones and Jago) When I was a very young child — oh say pre-school — I didn’t think much about questions like “who am I.” I wasn’t philosophical. That changed of course when school started and self-awareness set in. I wasn’t smart, I would say, but not dumb. I was no good at sports, I’d say, but at least not the worst. I was musical, but as that wasn’t so cool, I kept it to myself. I wrote things and read books, but you don’t score any points with girls or guys at the younger ages with such interests, so that too I kept close. In sixth grade my friend Bobby and I dressed up (well, our mothers helped us dress) and went to our first dance at General Greene Elementary School, which was a pleasant old-style school: single-level, no air conditioning, with classrooms that had big windows you could fling over to let air flow and even doors that opened on the outdoors and through which we cascaded at recess. The dance was in the cafeteria. I’m not sure what we were thinking, but I suspect we had some unstated hope that a girl might dance with us. That didn’t happen. We stood around a while and left, as I recall, made light of the whole dumb affair. Walked home. Who needs girls? So add to my identity that I was musical, read a lot, wrote some things, was relatively bad at sports, and now, wonder of wonders, had no girlfriend. But I did have one good friend, a Mom, and a Dad, and you can go a long way on that. By ninth grade, things were pretty well sorted out. If you did Google Earth on the patio where we congregated after lunch at Kaiser Junior High School, you would have seen perhaps four nodes of activity — the cool people (made up of guys and girls, the popular ones), the jocks (which intersected with the cool people at certain times), the freaks (long hair, spaced out, weird), the rejects (oddities, either deemed unattractive, uncool, or just creepy), and the musically obsessed (a grouping defined by conversation about music and toting of LPs, and sometimes intersecting with the freaks and the language of which was completely foreign to the cool people). So, now I had identity: I was musically obsessed. I had found my tribe. My membership card was an LP tucked under my arm, banding about names like Jethro Tull, The Who, Yes, and even Blind Faith or Audience, known almost exclusively to the insiders. My identity seemed settled to my adolescent mind. That same year, however, I became the kid whose Dad had died. I didn’t know anyone my age whose Dad had died. For that matter, I don’t think I knew anyone whose parents had divorced. These things were uncommon. I remember going back to school after that and thinking how weird it was to be walking around as the kid whose Dad had died. No one really talked to me about that. But my friends did. I had two good friends by then. You can go a long way on two good friends. It begins to matter a little less who you think you are. Nowadays, of course, I am husband, father, elder, attorney, writer, and so on. I like to think I am thoughtful, reasonably intelligent, and articulate, and sometimes I am. I’m still no good at sports, girls don’t matter (except one), and I remain musically obsessed (but not as bad as that guy, I opine). I still don’t like to ask questions, make phone calls, raise my hand in class, or dance. But I am more settled into Me, that what I do and where I live and who I know aren’t - as important as they are - the basis of who I am. I am the one Jesus loves. You can go a long way on that. I have to keep telling myself that. Continue reading
Posted Jul 4, 2014 at Out Walking
"When one breaks camp in the morning, he turns back again and again to see what he has left. Surely he feels he has forgotten something: what is it? But it is only his sad thoughts and musings he has left, the fragment of his life he has lived there. Where he hung his coat on the tree, where he slept on the boughs, where he made his coffee or broiled his trout over the coals, where he drank again and again at the little brown pool in the spring run, where he looked long and long up into the whispering branches overhead, he has left what he cannot bring with him, - the flame and the ashes of himself." (John Burroughs) Some people seem to have no attachment to place. They float over the crust of the earth, dipping a toe in here and there, and yet when they move on it is as if that other place never existed, is forgotten, and they are free to begin again in the place in which they find themselves. I had a neighbor like that once who, in a brief conversation, said to me that she thought she would just move to this or that town, start over, as if she were deciding where to have dinner out that night, an easy decision when you are unmoored. I can't do that, wouldn't want to do that. I left a little piece of myself everywhere I lived. And I don't want to lose any of it. In the first 18 years of my life, I lived in two houses, one in a post-WWII suburb of cookie-cutter frame houses on a street with the Fifties name of Idlewood. The next was on Surry, in a neighborhood of colonial style homes, unfenced backyards, station wagons and Oldsmobiles. In the next seven years, I lived in eight different places - dorms, apartments, condominiums, and even my in-laws, etching memories into the walls of them all. In the last 30 years, I have lived in one house, and its hallways and rooms are deeply furrowed with memories, with conversations, with joys and sorrows. My workplace has also been full of leavings. In the building where I have always worked, I have had at least 11 different offices in 30 years, on every side of the building, overlooking a courtyard, a heat-soaked roof, the city skyline, and the trees of a residential area. Sometimes I walk past a former office and look in on a younger person there and see myself, hear some almost forgotten conversation I had there, still hanging in the air, remember laughing with a former colleague, praying for a co-worker there. Such memories provoke thankfulness and a sense of fullness. I confess to a bit of sadness at the loss of these places and times. Yet it's not usually nostalgia I feel when I remember, nor some vague sentimentalism. I don't idealize the past I remember, as remembrance is skewed by the present. But I do miss it like you might miss a distant relative. Sometimes, I try to return: I put my hand on the screen door of my childhood home, open it, and go inside. I walk down the hall and turn into my bedroom. What am I looking for? I'm not sure. I guess I'm looking for me, for the fragments of the me left behind. In the latest issue of The Mockingbird, Ethan Richardson leads off an issue devoted to identity by noting the difficulty of perceiving ourselves rightly. He addresses what is called the End-of-History Illusion, which is "our tendency to believe, contrary to past evidence, that who we are now is who we will continue to be forever," which is, obviously, false. He points to Henri Nouwen's embrace of the "unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments," a self emptied of self, one perhaps captured in John the Baptist's statement in light of Jesus' coming that "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn. 3.30). But I think there's more to it than a shrinking of self. When Paul said that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17), what he points to is a new identity that we are growing up into, a re-identity, a becoming who were were intended to be all along. In light of Christ, we decrease, yes, but only as we increase and grow more into the people we were intended to be all along. All those fragments of me that I left behind, the sum total of all that I experienced and all that I thought of myself all become a part of the Me that He is re-creating, one just a little lower than the angels (Ps. 8:5). Bruce Cockburn said it in a song: "You get bigger as you go/ No one told me - I just know/ Bales of memory like boats in tow." Underneath the melancholy of remembrance lies joy. One day, the Author of Life will gather up all the fragments I left behind, all the little bits of me, and put me back together again, redeeming and remaking all those bales of memory. When I break camp and turn back on that day, everything will be there, never to be left again. None of it is lost to flame and ashes. Every bit of it will be redeemed and become a part of the Me in Him. Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2014 at Out Walking
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A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive. All this, for the price of two swipes of a Metrocard. (Whitehead, Colson. The Colossus of New York: A City in Thirteen Parts. New York: Doubleday, 2003) A poem is a little thing, barely there, the best just a few lines and words on a sea of white page. Oh sure, I wrote a poem once that had seven stanzas and droned on for some 98 lines or so, as have much brighter lights than me, but most are not writ so large. They're more like a sparrow on a canvas of blue sky, an acorn waiting to be found, a pebble among pebbles by a stream - barely dicernible, hidden, common. And yet their diminutive size is deceiving. They testify to more. So do people. A week ago, I lay out there, in the backyard, in a hammock, watching birds swoop down and light on the bird feeder. Little things. I thought about how short is the life of a bird and how it passes quite unknown to the world, how its life is obscure and unknown to virtually everyone. While we may appreciate the grace of birds, the beauty of their form, their ease of flight and freedom, rarely if ever do we think of just one bird. Yet God knows the comings and goings of a single bird; not a single sparrow falls to the ground that He doesn't blink, a tear well in His eye at what should not have been but is in a fallen world. God made everything, sees everything, upholds everything. These are dogmas that Christians subscribe to, but when you see a single bird, or a little poem, or the face of a Ugandan orphan, or a perfectly shaped leaf with a bead of raindrop on it lying in its fragility on the sidewalk, small ones in a sea of creations, then you know a little of the power of the dogma. We know truth in the particular and not abstract. His eye is on the sparrow --- indeed that sparrow, poem, fatherless child, leaf. In 2 Corinthians 10:10, Paul says "we are his workmanship," and I am told that the Greek word for "workmanship," "poiema," is that from which the English word "poem" is derived. We are crafted and made, and we bear the image of the Maker. While we can't literally say we are God's poems, whatever that might mean, the word does suggest artistry. And it means that even a single person is imbued with beauty and meaning, that every person is a sign pointing outside themselves to God. Even when they are malformed and broken. Even a city, even Manhattan, can in its compression shout glory. For a moment, at least, suspend theological precision and consider the poem of the world, God's world, as so aptly cast by poet Mary Oliver: If it is all poetry, and not just one's own accomplishment, that carries one from this green and mortal world --- that lifts the latch and gives a glimpse into a greater paradise --- then perhaps one has the sensibility: a gratitude apart from authorship, a fervor and desire beyond the margins of the self. So when you see a bird, a poem, a child, a leaf, you are seeing more than the particular. Look to the margins of the one. You'll get a "glimpse of a greater paradise." The particular in front of you compresses into itself the greater things beyond itself, elusive now but ever so real. All that, for two swipes of the Metrocard, says Colson Whitehead. Or a walk in the neighborhood. Or an afternoon in the hammock. Magical, and free. Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2014 at Out Walking
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Whenever I visit New York, I think of E.B. White’s 1949 essay, “Here is New York.” As you might expect, it’s evocative of the sights and sounds and even smells of the great city, a walking description of its streets and public places and architecture. Some things don’t change: throngs of shoppers in Midtown, the sometimes pungent mix of exhaust fumes, food, and garbage, the movement and anonymity. And yet some things do change, like the Bowery then is not the Bowery now: Walk the Bowery under the El [the Third Avenue Elevated] at night and all you feel is a sort of cold guilt. Touched for a dime, you try to drop the coin and not touch the hand, because the hand is dirty; you try to avoid the glance, because the glance accuses. This is not so much personal menace as universal — the cold menace of unresolved human suffering and the advance stages of the disease alcoholism. The poverty of the Bowery has now pushed on to pockets of North Harlem, or the Bronx. Or in the ostensibly blind man who moves through my subway car: “God bless you, have a good day,” he says. Places change but, as Jesus said, “the poor you will always have with you.” And the huckster. But it’s a week ago and we’re not walking the Bowery but over a great bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, upward through a crisp blue sky, behind us an island of skyscrapers. On every suspension line accessible from the walkway, pedestrians have attached locks, some engraved, leaving behind their own personal “I was here, I exist,” as if to prove it to themselves, to reach for one moment of fame. Turning to look at the city, I realize that no one must truly understand its dogma — the labyrinth of tunnels underlying it, the water and sewer pipes, the electrical conduits, the subway tubes, the myriad conversations, wi-fi signals, habitations and office cubicles, and the hopes and dreams both realized and blunted by despair. And yet, God knows its frame, the name of the least of its sparrows. Walking on the Lower East Side, not far from the rise of the bridge, White encountered not the flophouses of The Bowery but the more “reassuring sobriety and safety of family life.” Heading east long Rivington, “[a]ll is cheerful and filthy and crowded,” he says, Small shops overflow onto the sidewalk, leaving only half the normal width for passers-by. In the candid light from unshaded bulbs gleam watermelons and lingerie. Families have fled the hot rooms upstairs and found relief on the pavement. They sit on orange crates, smoking, relaxed, congenial. This is the nightly garden party of the vast Lower East Side. . . . folksy here with the smell of warm flesh and squashed fruit and fly-bitten filth in the gutter, and cooking. Next day, Sunday, we attended church in the Upper West Side. Walking out, revived, we passed firemen washing their fire truck, a father with his young son, watching. To the firemen, the father said, “Thank you.” I know what he meant. I know he meant thank you for keeping on when so many of your fellow firemen died in the towers burning. Thank you for not giving up. Rounding the corner of 83rd and Columbia Avenue, it seemed all families - mothers and fathers, and children on scooters, and in the sun-washed pavement I saw reflected something ricer than an atomized urban life — a community, people who greeted one another. Cafe tables lapped over the sidewalks, and families had brunch. Shopkeepers' doors were flung over to the breezes and some stood by their doors, beckoning. I began to think “I could live here.” We walked 25 blocks until, just past Lincoln Center, the Midtown bustle of upper Times Square began, and we tired, hailed a cab, and went to Langan’s, a favorite Irish pub where we passed the bar and sat in the back, where it was quieter, next to a table of ladies from the red hat club, their chatter muted by the piano and upright bass behind me. Perhaps it was our pedestrian pace, but sitting there among the familiar wood-grained walls and white tablecloths I felt as if I had been in New York for a long time. Two days ago, I remembered, I was was walking in Central Park, all the way from the south entrance near the Children’s Zoo, past the Carnival of the Mall and Bethesda Terrace, through the nearly wild and relatively unpeopled Rambles, to Belvedere castle, where we climbed to see the Great Lawn and Reservoir and the north park beyond, and Harlem. The outer landscape gave way to the inner, and I remembered that almost 32 years ago, we were sitting in our hotel on our one-year anniversary, eating wedding cake left and saved for that day, and I had that sense, as you do at times, as God must at all times, that all times are present now. We were here, I think to myself, and New York is still here. “At the corner of Lewis,” says White, “in the playground behind the wire fence, an open-air dance is going on — some kind of neighborhood affair, probably designed to combat delinquency.” It goes on still. Walking back through The Mall,stopping at the terrace, three African-American males, shirtless, have attracted an audience with their dance. Some white girls dance on the sidelines, egged on. On a park bench, we stop and pose for a picture, just across front he band shell. White: “Another hot night I stop off at the Goldman Band concert in the Mall in Central Park. The people seated on the benches fanned out in front of the band shell are attentive, appreciative.” Today, Shakespeare is being read. “To an outlander, White says, “a stay in New York can be and often is a series of small embarrassments and discomforts and disappointments: not understanding the waiter, not being able to distinguish between a sucker joint and a friendly saloon, riding the wrong subway, being slapped down by a bus driver for asking an innocent question, enduring sleepless nights when the street noises fill the bedroom.” Sucker joints? Saloons? Some things change (air conditioning), some don’t (riding the wrong subway). And yet people long to be with people, else why would you live in New York? The night we arrived we went to a concert at a club in Greenwich Village, just down from the fabled Bitter End, and we walked along streets where a youthful Bob Dylan was just a pedestrian, freewheeling, a nobody, while Woody Guthrie lay dying in a New Jersey hospital. I put out of hand to touch the building, something solid to root my dreams. After the concert, we sat talking with an old friend, a New York transplant from the Deep South. Until 1:00 AM. Until 1:00 AM. And that’s just the kind of thing you can do in New York, until 1:00, or 3:00, or all night if you like. Because you can. Because something is always open. And that’s the best kind of talking, late, when you can say what is on your heart, when you can drop the workday reticence. When you can be real. I could live here, I say. I could forgive the man who cursed at me for getting in his way earlier that day. I could be gracious to another sparrow, falling. I could worship and work and listen to music and sit up and talk to all hours. I could walk 25 blocks at a time. I could greet people. I could smile. I could be disappointed and be enlightened and even change. But I can do that anywhere, can't I? Continue reading
Posted May 6, 2014 at Out Walking
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When I first met Sara Beth Go (then Sara Beth Geoghegan), it was at a house concert in my home in 2009. She was loudly banging out tunes on our Baby Grand. When I asked her about the volume level, she unapologetically said “That’s how we do it in Nashville.” Well, OK. It was a sweet if loud evening of stories, jokes, sing-a-longs, an impromptu high school chorus, and sweetly sad love songs and fresh takes on faith from her then new release, Tired of Singing Sad Songs. I asked her back, and back, and back. Is she tired of singing sad songs? Apparently not. But it’s OK. Unlike her last offering, you won't find direct references to Christian faith in her latest, Wish It Had, or the slightest of nods to the CCM music industry (which is just fine), but what you will find is a kind of sweet snarkiness, a wit and whimsy reflected in these songs of longing, these parables of unrequited, moribund, or complicated love — one person’s attempt to navigate in a world where love is still a precious and rare commodity. Point in fact: The lead track, “Kids in the City,” gives voice to twenty-something relational longings: “I don’t know where exactly this is going to go/ Kids in the city we don’t wanna be alone/ Puttin’ up signs and looking for hope.” (Whimsy? Check out the video.) There’s plenty of break ups, “I thought we’d grow old/ the day your mother told me I was pretty/ Now it’s such a pity” (“Wish I Had”) or the holiday blues of “It was the worst New Years ever/ When you told me your heart wasn’t in it” ("Worst New Years Ever"). And yet as much as there is a longing for love there is an appreciation for how the memories we form make us who we are: “Funny, it’s funny what you remember/ All the pieces, the pieces come together/ To make you who you are/ To tell a story, a story that’s your alone” (“Pieces”). In such lyrical territory, you might think that, as Neil Young (aging rock star, kids) once quipped, “these songs are guaranteed to bring you right down.” Not so. What you get with Sara Beth is not an earful of simmering angst, or world-weary muddling through, but life and love as adventure. Hope remains. She still believes. Sonically, the mood is boosted by the buoyancy and playfulness of the songs. A little ukulele here, bells here, the ba-ba-ba of background vocals, strings, an up and down bass line. It’s so fun to break up and look for love, the songs seem to say. Of course not, and yet Sara Beth’s point seems to be that love is worth it, worth the risk: You might say I’m foolish and reckless But I will not put a fence around my heart Just be safe and protected And yes it hurts more than it really should And yes it will be worth all the good and bad. (“All the Good”). Love is scary, and messy, and risky, and yet Sara Beth says go for it: “"For me in life, it's never been black and white. I want to connect the dots from A to Z and make this really pretty, but it's still a tangled mess. God is simply asking that we trust Him, that we believe the gospel." And that, people, is what it comes down to. A grand adventure. A trust walk. A two-steps-forward-one step back kind of GPS-less walk in the direction of Love. So go buy Sara Beth Go’s Wish It Had. Play it loud. And hope that when she does meet the right man she still has something to write about. I think she will. <a href="http://sarabethgo.bandcamp.com/album/wish-it-had" data-mce-href="http://sarabethgo.bandcamp.com/album/wish-it-had">Wish it Had by Sara Beth Go</a> Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2014 at Out Walking
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Most people have never heard of medical missionary, author, and poet Myra Scovel. Chalk that up to books long since out of print and the presentism that has hold of culture. I’d like you to know her. My used copy of Scovel’s 1970 collection of poetry, The Weight of a Leaf, bears her autograph and the words “For Helen, in memory of David, all God’s best for her, as He has given David. Purdue, 1970.” Nothing like place and time and signature to root a book of poems in reality, 44 years ago. So long. I was twelve when she etched those words. Myra Scovel and her husband, medical doctor Frederick Scovel, met when he was a medical student at Cornell and she a nurse, marrying after his graduation in 1929. The next year they and their newborn son sailed for China as missionaries. After language training in then Peking (Beijing), they were assigned to a hospital in the Shantung province. Pre-war, pre-communist takeover, they were treating opium addicts and every kind of illness until internment for six months by the invading Japanese in 1943. Deported by the Japanese, Myra had her sixth child within hours after their ship docked in he United States. In 1946, after the war, they and their six children returned to China, remaining there until 1951 when, like many other missionaries, they were forced out by the Chinese Communists. After six years service in India, they returned to the United States for good in 1959. That story you can read in The Chinese Ginger Jars, Scovel’s memoir published in 1962. The narrative moves at a quick clip, like a nurse on duty, and yet her descriptive powers are on display, as in this line about Peking: “The whole city seemed steeped in the culture of its people, mellow as the smooth cream ivory of its curio shops, wise with a wisdom drawn from the deep pools of its clearest jade, relaxed as the curve of a temple roof against the sky.” Oh, how the world has changed. But all of this, interesting as it is, is just the soil for the flowering of Scovel’s poetry which, though faith-rich, is rarely sentimental, preachy, or limited to religious themes. That sets it apart from much other “Christian” poetry of that time, and that’s what makes it so human and readable. That and its economy. The Weight of a Leaf leads off with a poetic dedication “To Li Po, Poet,” with Scovel dwelling on the timelessness of Li Po’s words 1200 years prior: Yellow the willow by your mountain pool, one golden leaf following your skiff as you painted brush strokes for these words twelve hundred years ago. “Shall goodwill ever be secure? I watch the long road of the River of Stars.” As she finds herself in Li Po’s poem, on the eve of yet another world war, so we can find ourselves in Scovel’s careful words. In the title poem Scovel writes of the bending inward of wills in human love: “We have bent to love/ as a twig bends/ to the weight of a leaf.” In some poems there is naked honesty before God, as in “For You, Lying There,” when she gives voice to her anger at the humiliations of old age, when, being told that “God must have his reasons” she blurts out “Do not speak of such a God to me./ Unless spring comes for you, what blasphemy!/ If seed-break-sod for you has no relation,/ death is but one vast humiliation.” Or there is the fear of a life being laid bare, as in “Why Am I So Afraid”: Why am I so afraid to let God speak? He will want to throw out the rubbish of my life, all the dear, accumulated rubbish. He will clean me out, down to the bare essentials of my being. I am afraid, afraid of that nakedness. And yet it’s not all so heavy. One of my favorite poems to read out loud is “How Did the World Get So Clean, Mother?” She answers the child-question with God washed the day and hung it out to dry, dripping with dew. Sun shone, wind blew. When evening came, the cherubs, pink from play, folded it with lavender to put away. She doesn’t wholly escape sentiment, particularly when writing of family, but neither does the award-winning Mary Oliver when writing of her beloved dogs (in her Dog-Poems). Even a fine poet can lose the universal that makes a poem timeless, that makes it matter to readers she does not know, when writing about those things they hold dearest. We can forgive. Myra Scovel’s poems are light. Spare. Full of space. And yet, even a frail and hardly noticed leaf of a poem has weight. In a world of brash narratives and self-important posts, a little poem can shine, quietly whispering Truth. Find the poetry of Myra Scovel. Whether in the dust and ink of the used bookstore or the low-ranking pages of Amazon, dig it out, take up, and read. Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2014 at Out Walking
"Your prayer might be so little that it may not seem like a prayer at all. But it's enough. God hears it." (Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd-Jones & Jago) Sometimes I ask God for answers to big and crazy prayers. Make Sharon sober. Turn Jacob's heart to the Lord. Heal John of his cancer. Sometimes I go even bigger. Bring revival and reformation to our nation. Feed the children of Uganda. Transform North Korea and open it to the Gospel. I think of Strunk and White's wonderful maxim for writers: "Omit needless words." And so I try and and keep it simple. "Lord, help." I might add, "please." And like the widow seeking justice, I don't mind begging. Help. Help. Help. I stopped adding the qualification "if it be your will," as He and I have an understanding: I ask for what I want, and He, being God, and seeing the big picture, gives me what I need or maybe others what they need or whatever in His Goodness and Bigness he knows is best. He is Father, and he is one father who always knows what is best. Sometimes I draw a picture for God of what I want. Not a literal one, mind you, though I think that would be great (only I can't draw). I draw one in my imagination. I see a healed John leaping and jumping around, playing basketball with his kids, and I present it to God. "See, that's what I want." He might say, "yes, that's what I want too," or He might redraw the picture and say, "Isn't this better?," or He may redraw it in some completely indescribable abstract art kind of way and give it to me and not say a word. Well, that's like the Christmas present from your parents you had absolutely no use for until one day a few years later you said "oh yeah, that's what that was for," or, just maybe, you never know what it is for. That's God for you. He's good, but you just have to trust him. After all, he says "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matt. 7:11). If the exclamation mark matters at all it means sweet, soft-spoken Jesus must have yelled that. Better pay attention. But I do little prayers too, and God likes them. He cares about one lost sheep. He will help you find a lost coin. Even help you find the missing sock or lost hairbrush. He might, like he did for me one time, help me walk over to a bunch of people I did not know and say hello. Thirty-eight years later, one of them is a fast friend. Somebody said once that I should keep a "prayer notebook." I understand. It helps you see God's faithfulness. And yet I never kept a record of all those requests my parents answered by "yes," or "no," or "we'll see." And I still believed in them. So I didn't keep the notebook anymore. I just keep asking and watching what He will do. I laid on my bed today, as I was a bit sick, and while I was there I dreamed up a big, big prayer, imagining a beautiful answer. I drew a really nice picture for God, and I know He will appreciate it. And He will answer. Someday. Somehow. I prayed a little one too (comparatively speaking). I said "Get me up from here. Please." He did. Sometimes, though, I have writer's block. I don't know how to pray. I know there is a mess of tangled words and plot lines, but I stare at a blank page. I remember one writer told me he played indoor mini golf for a year when he was supposed to be writing a book. It's something like that. Only I watch Warehouse 13 reruns. Where to start? How to encapsulate this prayer in a nice sentence, or even a paragraph? Nothing. The Spirit has to take over then, writes out a prayer in invisible ink and you hold it up to the light or in a mirror and you see what it was that you needed to be asking but couldn't figure out how to ask. I was that way with my parents when I was a little kid. I didn't know what I needed or wanted much of the time, but I knew they had it or would know what to do. Big and crazy prayers. Little bitty prayers. Inarticulable prayers. They all matter to Him. Continue reading
Posted Mar 3, 2014 at Out Walking
However far away they are, birds can find their way home again and again and again. But not God's children — God's children aren't homesick for him. God is our true home. Away from him, we are lost. (Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd-Jones & Jago) Perhaps the simple words of a child's devotion sums up much of what I have been trying to say to myself (and maybe a few others) over all these years. I often write about home — being home, missing home, finding home, our real home — because I think about home all the time. I'm a homebody, a body meant for a home, a lasting home. And a devotion meant for a six-year old sums it all up: “God is our true home. Away from him, we are lost.” If you have ever moved from a home of some time, you know what it is like to lose a part of you in a place. By our possessions and our daily lives we invest a place with meaning. Nestled in a favorite chair by a window, we read, listening now and then to the familiar sounds of our home, from the hum of the refrigerator to the purr of the cat to the creaking of a floorboard above, a family member moving down familiar hallways. At night you lay in bed and listen to your house settle slowly back into the ground from which it rose, creaking under the weight, while the clock ticks out the seconds, only seconds, while we count, resting, resting deep in the bed of our place. When you move you slowly divest a place of meaning, removing furniture, clocks, paintings, books, many more books, desks for writing, and the table of a multitude of family meals, and it becomes only a house again. Go farther and consider pulling up the carpet, removing the drywall, opening it to the world, and then even the frame of its existence passes away, even foundations are dug up and carried away, and there is only an impression in the dirt where it once was, even that covered in time by grass and shrubs and trees, until one day it passes into memory and farther still into a deep forgetfulness. Dust to dust. A life deconstructed. That could be a depressing train of thought. I am glad I am not moving. And yet take heart. We live on. We carry every memory of home with us, inside. Whatever love and hope and care with which we invest our places, none is lost. We live on eternally to see its fruition, to see all our earthly places reborn and completed in a new earth whose builder and maker is God. “God is our true home. Away from him we are lost.” He is preparing a place for us, a final home. There, all that we love and cherish in our homes here, all the dear possessions and sweet memories, and even all the bad memories somehow transformed, will find rest. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn. 14:23). Oh, I'm homesick alright. All God's children do wing toward Home… again and again and again. Continue reading
Posted Feb 16, 2014 at Out Walking
“Dear Lord, please make me want you. It would be the greatest bliss. Not just to want you when I think about you but to want You all the time, to have the want driving in me, to have it like a cancer in me. It would kill me like a cancer and that would be fulfillment.” (Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal) Even in her prayers, Flannery O’Connor used the grotesque (cancer) to illuminate grace — here, the grace of being possessed by God, of being filled with a desire to know Him. In her recently published prayer journal, kept by a youthful O’Connor from 1946-47, she gives us insight into a person desperately seeking God and yet aware of her shortcomings: “Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing the moon. . . . [W]hat I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.” She was throughout her life keenly aware of the shadowlands of which C.S. Lewis wrote. I would like to reduce the footprint of my self-shadow, and yet it’s a difficult thing to do. Even as I write this, the shadow looms, as I wonder what you will think of it or of me, or if you will read it. Like humility, there is no straight line to selflessness, to becoming so opaque, so self-emptying, that the moon of Christ shines through. Yet if, as Picasso said, “art is the lie that tells the truth,” then deliberate indirection may be the key to a good and artful life. We become more transparent by focusing not on what we do, as there are all kinds of ways to call attention to self and congratulate ourself, but on Who we see. Here are a few suggestions for reducing your shadow by repositioning Who you see. Meditate. On Scripture. On a verse or a phrase. Forget about memorizing it. You’d only congratulate yourself for doing so. Forget the commentary. The point is not knowledge. Just let the verse or phrase roll around in your mind for a day or week or more and see what happens. I have taken to copying out a verse on a 3x5 card and carrying it with me, in my shirt pocket, enjoying the tactile sense of its presence with me, stiffly provoking me. (You could also write it on your palm or, to use an Old Testament example, tie strips of it around your wrists.) Let it seep into you. Let it touch you. Take a walk. Not a power walk. Sans music. Just consider the largeness of what is around you. When I walk, I like to touch things - an oak tree rough, a signpost smooth and cool, leaves brittle and crumbling. Strange, I know, but again the tactile brings home the fact that I am a bit player in a much larger story being told. And yet, the verse in my pocket is elevating, proclaiming "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." Pray wildly. Follow every detour and tangent the mind takes. Bring no agenda to prayer but simply pray where you are, where your mind takes you. It may not be the way to always pray, and yet it has the salutary goal of helping to liberate us of a self-congratulatory discipline. I assume the pathways of my mind are superintended by God, so this kind of prayer is a way of remaining in conversation with Him, on his agenda. Or even if they are distractions placed there by the devil, they are repurposed by being swept up into the conversation with God. So, there you have it. You thought about a verse. You took a walk. You prayed a distracted kind of prayer. Brother Lawrence you may not be. You can't escape the self shadow, as you can even congratulate yourself on these small things. And yet, over time, you may become a little more transparent and your shadow a little less long. Me? I'm congratulating myself on the great advice I just rendered you. I can only laugh at Grace that has to do it all, that, ultimately, must save me from myself. There is no technique to gain humility but staring at (fixing our eyes on) Christ, praying O'Connor's prayer: "Dear God, please make me want you." Indeed, save me from my shadowed self. Continue reading
Posted Jan 25, 2014 at Out Walking
“This is the true nature of home. It is the place of Peace; the shelter, not only from all injury, but from all terror, doubt, and division.” (John Ruskin) Almost everyone has a place they call home. Emily Dickinson said, very simply, that “Where Thou art - that - is Home,” and often that is true, and yet still for many there is a longing for something more, something more like what Ruskin suggests. Just before six this morning, I went out walking. I thought as I walked that I am blessed to be walking from, to, and in something of what approaches that place of Peace that Ruskin suggests. This morning the landscape suggested something more than what appeared. It became a landscape of grace. Walking in the stillness of fog, with only a light dripping of rain, alone, I thought of what Adam must have felt like that first day of existence in the Garden, when God walked with him, his presence as palpable as rain. Water from heavier rain, rushing under the bridge, became one of the four rivers coursing through the Garden, a river with an exotic name like Pishon. I walked through trees I could not name and thought of Adam considering each animal and each tree and naming it. What a privilege to give something a name, to define it, to give it shape by our words. The gentle contour of the road suggested grace, a cul-de-sac an opportunity for repentance, for turning, a stop sign a simple command: “You shall not eat.” I touched it and stopped, and then turned for home. The best homes and places become for us huge multi-layered metaphors for our true Home in Christ. For the believer, all streets lead to Christ, even the ones with no name. The familiar rooms of our homes, our favorite chairs, our window with a view, remind us of the deep contentment that we will know in a New Earth. Every tangible thing in Creation becomes an icon, a window on a Triune God. They point beyond themselves. In Heaven, our God-senses perfected, perhaps we will then hear rocks cry out and trees clap their hands. Yet this morning, I was content with the whisper of the fog, the holy mist that swirled around me, and the poetry of my heartbeat, that primal iambic pentameter. My prayers - inchoate, interrupted, and distracted though they were - were the baby-talk of a love language I’ll master on that coming Day. That’ll be the day. Continue reading
Posted Jan 11, 2014 at Out Walking
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When I was young I wanted to operate the midway at the fair. I sat in church next to my Dad and drew intricate layouts of the midway during the sermon, checking my dad's watch regularly to see if the big hand was on 12 noon yet. I can still feel the paper and my Dad’s fountain pen in my hand, see the faded watch face, hear the pastor’s words in the background. I thought I had found my calling. As a teenager I settled on the more “realistic” goal of being a rock and roll star. My friends John, Bobby, and I formed a short-lived band. In fact, it might only have existed for a couple days, and mostly in my dreams, encouraged by a bedroom lined with posters of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Yes. I wielded my late father's Gibson Les Paul Junior, a smallish electric guitar with a sunburst finish, which, combined with a ragged portable tube amp, produced wonderfully fuzzy, distorted sound as I whacked my way through "25 or 6 to 4," that great Chicago song. We stunk, really, and John's Dad, who actually was the drummer in a jazz trio, said I shouldn't give up the day job. Sage advice. We recruited fellow ninth-grader Wade, who we regarded as an authentic musician. Wade had shoulder-length hair, appropriately lazy hippie-speak, and walked over to John’s house, his “axe” (bass) slung on his back. After he heard a couple songs, he promptly left, shaking his head, and we quit the band, dejected. As I moved toward college, after a semester in Mr. Darnell's technical drafting class, where he spent more time in wide-eyed discussions of extra-sensory perception and the mind-over-matter feats of Uri Geller (who slept in a pyramid) than in learning about drafting. I nevertheless decided I'd be an architect. However, I was not admitted to the School of Design. (But ask me anything about Uri Geller.) Then I declared a major in computer science. Nearly flunked out of that, staying up to all hours of the night or all night typing out punch cards and submitting them to the main frame computer which laughed and kicked them back to me. I switched to Sociology which, honestly, was a cake walk but without prospective employment. So I took up Social Studies education. One semester as a middle school teacher's aide cured me. I decided to go to law school. So, you might say law was a last resort. I never even knew a lawyer before law school. I had seen Perry Mason, but that's about all I knew about the law. (Well, I confess, I was picked up by cops for throwing rocks at a street sign once, but perhaps I shouldn't count that.) I’m a case study of how one can fumble through school, majoring in everything and nothing, and yet, providentially, God planted me in a good place. I just wanted be a rock and roll star. In my weaker moments, I still do, kind of. And yet it isn't given to many of us to have an exotic calling like that. Most of us work in ordinary jobs doing ordinary things which sometimes, by God's holy alchemy, come to extraordinary ends: some justice, some good, some beauty, some little light in the shadowlands of life. "Attempt great things for God," said William Carey. Or perhaps, as Frederick Buechner said, our "vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need?" No, all that’s all too grand, too world-saving. No, for most of us it's a regular persistence in works of small and regular obedience, of faithfulness in the little lives we lead in the little places where we live. Of love for the people and place in which we are planted. In other words, to turn an oft stated maxim on its head: go small, and stay home, and you get to shine like a star anyway (Phil. 2:15). Don't worry too much about that big thing God may call you to do. Just do the thing in front of you. Besides, having known a few, I can say that being a rock and roll star is not what it’s cracked up to be. Like I said, I became a lawyer. Bobby became an accountant. John reached for the stars and became. . . a weatherman. And all that's just fine. 25 or 6 to 4. Continue reading
Posted Dec 29, 2013 at Out Walking
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“We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. . . . The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) If children know only happiness at Christmas, then we as adults can know an even greater happiness. We know, like children cannot yet know, the lack and lust of our own hearts, the countless sins of commission and omission. Our ledger is full of black marks and growing. And so, when we consider what God has done in His condescension, in his Incarnation, Bonhoeffer’s “cheap grace” is not an option: we know our failings, we know what we deserve, and so we know that what we receive as gift is pure grace. I am thankful that I had a good scaring as a child. In my childhood church, I recall watching prophecy films about the end of the world, the projector wheels turning, dramatic and sobering. On the way home in the dark once, I lay down in the floorboard at my mother’s feet, sheltered from what was sure judgment. Then, as a preteen science fiction reader, I was steeped in the fantastical and yet not so unreal as to be unbelievable stories of Issac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, so much so that I dreamed of terrors and, for a time, had to move into my parents’ room just so I could sleep. After that, Hal Lindsey’s pre-millenialist End Times manual, The Late Great Planet Earth, was a logical next step, a kind of Bible-based science fiction. The Antichrist. Armageddon. One world government. Nuclear war. It was all coming true, in my lifetime. I just knew it. While I no longer agree with Lindsey's interpretation of Scripture, I credit him (and perhaps Asimov and Heinlein as well) with scaring me into the Kingdom. I wanted to be among those raptured. I was frightened of being left behind. In the shadow of the Cold War, I lay awake at night sometimes wondering when the bombs would fall as part of the judgment. (I had a big imagination.) I felt, as Bonhoeffer puts it, “the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse.” So, I am put off at times by the sentimentality and sweetness of Christmas. That helpless baby lying in a manger is also the one who will come with fire and judgment. On that terrible day, left on our own, none of us could complain. Justice will be done. The Christ in the manger points to the Christ on the cross, the One resurrected, the one who comes on that Great Advent to make all things right. We best approach the helpless babe first on our knees, trembling, as He is our Judge. He is the one who will separate the sheep from the goats, the one who will "make all things new" (Rev. 21:5). We must absorb the bad news before we are quite ready for the good news. You hear little of this “proper scaring” during Advent. At some point in my teenage years, I understood more fully that the God who judged my sin also covered it, that the baby Jesus was more than judge. He stood between my sin and God. He was not only judge but savior. I could walk through the hallways of my high school not weighed down by failings but free. All the Falls of my life were overthrown by Springs. The ledger may continue to fill with what I owe and yet "Jesus paid it all," in the words of the old hymn. Rightly understood, this first Advent is a harbinger of a terrifying Day. But for believers, like children, we have all the more reason to be happy. We need not fear judgment. We are the recipients of a present of grace that has no bottom. Bonhoeffer says that God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love. God makes us happy as only children can be happy. . . . We are no longer alone; God is with us. We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home has moved into us. In a final letter, written on her deathbed, author Flannery O’Connor admonished the recipient to “be properly scared, and [to] go on doing what you have to do, but take the necessary precautions.” Christian, I hope at some point in life you have had a proper scaring. If not, consider anew the Great Advent. Look to a baby in a manger who will bear all our sins away, as far as the East is from the West. Happy Christmas, all. For the love of God, Happy Christmas. Continue reading
Posted Dec 24, 2013 at Out Walking
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If I'm given to somewhat mournful, melancholy Christmas music, I come by it honestly. Take Sufjan Stevens' beautiful Christmas song, entitled "Justice Delivers Its Death," and the even more beautiful, edenic video that accompanied the song. With words like "Lord, come with fire/ Lord, come with fire/ Everyone's wasting their time/ Storing up treasure in vain/ Trusting the pleasure it gives here on earth" you know that this isn't "Silver Bells," and yet the song captures a longing for something more than the rank materialism that prevails this time of year, longs for an end to it. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to a friend from his prison cell, "A prison cell is like our situation in Advent: one waits, hopes, does this and that - meaningless acts - but the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside." We're waiting for something that only began with an incarnate birth. We're waiting for deliverance. And we are not the key to that. One Christmas morning when I was about six years old, I received a red bicycle from Santa. It had 20-inch wheels and a basket on front. I took the bike out for a ride on our street in Greensboro, and I immediately felt the sensation of freedom, of not being limited to just where my feet could take me. This land is my land. This ribbon of highway. Surry Drive lay before me like Route 66. And when it began to snow, I remember thinking something like "This is as good as it gets," felt some inarticulable sense of. . . of. . . deliverance from, if not a jail cell, at least from the cloistered life of childhood. Free. Bound for glory. Only I couldn't put Guthrie's words to it then. I squeaked out a mere "Cool!" You think about such things in this season of good cheer. As Bonhoeffer preached on an Advent Sunday in 1928, When once again Christmas comes and we hear the familiar carols and sing the Christmas hymns, something happens to us, and a special kind of warmth slowly encircles us. The hardest heart is softened. We recall our own childhood. . . . A kind of homesickness comes over us for past times, distant places, and yes, a blessed longing for a world without violence or hardness of heart, for the safe lodging of the everlasting Father. And that leads our thoughts to the curse of homelessness which hangs heavy over the world. In every land, the endless wandering without purpose or destination. Bonhoeffer goes on to note that what weighs heavy on us in Advent is the reality of sin and death, and I would add that its our longing for justice, for a God to come and set all things right, undo the curse of homelessness, and bring to end the slog of the shadowlands. Cheery? Hardly. For Bonhoeffer and most Christians throughout the ages, Advent has been a sober time. The real celebrating starts with the Birth. I rode my red bicycle a lot that winter. Though this was before ET's screen debut and the dreams of every kid with a bike were visualized, at times I felt as if I could soar just so slightly above the pavement, hovering, indestructible. And yet, I had accidents. I ran into a parked school bus. Showing off for a girl, I turned my red bike over, scraped all the skin off my arm, and yet contained all tears until I had furiously pedaled the half mile to my home. Home. Delivered. The place where you can let it out, where you can be yourself, where, if you are blessed, your mother waits with open arms. The "everlasting lodging of the Father." I had (and have) a great home, both cities of refuge for one who is sometimes fainthearted. Still, I'm homesick. Aren't you? Comforting his disciples, Jesus said that "if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am" (Jn. 14:3). Some of us will leave our busted bikes where they crashed and bleeding run home crying. For others it may be a call to dinner, like my Mom yelling out the kitchen door "Stephennnnnn" and even above the click-click-click of the playing cards on my tire spokes I hear her and throw down my red bike and come running. And yet for others it's an incredible invitation to a party where all the uncool and poorly dressed people get to come too, where the the fans of Portlandia, Duck Dynasty, and Lawrence Welk break bread together. It's the everlasting lodging of the Father. Underneath the tinsel, colored lights, and holiday parties, that's what we're waiting for --- a place of our own. That's Advent. Continue reading
Posted Dec 10, 2013 at Out Walking
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One of the ways I tend to approach the various holidays we are given is to try to invest them with greater meaning, to establish and celebrate traditions, to discover their roots and nurture their fruit. At Thanksgiving, our least commercialized holiday, we gather with family for a meal, watch the Macy's Day parade, think about the Pilgrims and Squanto, and consider, albeit briefly, that for which we are thankful. I didn't read Robert MacKenzie's The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning From History to dispel such efforts, but to enlarge them. I had been schooled sufficiently in a post-modern skepticism to doubt that we had much of the original story correct, and yet I wanted to know what that first thanksgiving was all about, if we had any of it right or had manufactured it out of whole cloth. I received all that and more from MacKenzie's well-documented, widely accessible book. The author, a Professor of History at Wheaton College, while documenting his work carefully, has not written an academic tome. The style is engaging and warm, and if he occasionally lapses into the first-person, it is only to demonstrate the profound impact that these ancestors of the past have for him. He disciples us both historically and spiritually, providing not only historical information but schooling us in a Christian view of the past, of how we have misused the past and yet how our reflection on it may be redeemed. In a time that suffers from "presentism," when history is dismissed as irrelevant or suffers Chesterton's "chronological snobbery," he reminds us of how important is its study, particularly for Christians, reminding us that [h]istory is utterly central to Christianity, for its core doctrines rest on theological interpretations of historical events, such as creation, the fall, the incarnation, the cross and the resurrection. (Go back to the Apostles’ Creed and note just how many of its statements are historical claims.) Through eyes of faith we recognize all of human history as “a story with a divine plot”—not cyclical, as many of the ancients believed, but linear, with God at its beginning, the cross at its center and the return of Christ to mark its culmination. And because God is the author and Lord of human history, we should see it as a sphere that he has created—and thus a form of natural revelation—every bit as much as the physical world around us. So as the author looks at the Pilgrims and that first Thanksgiving, don't think of it as history, if that hurts too much. Think of it as a primer on how we are to remember and speak of fellow human beings. . . in this case those who just happened to have died before any of us or anyone we ever knew were born. What we learn, of course, is that our limited knowledge of that first Thanksgiving in the Fall of 1621 is really derived from all of 115 words written by Edward Winslow, assistant to William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Plantation. Ready? Here goes: Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. That's it. What we know is that there was a celebration, that Indians came, and that there was a meal. What we don't know is whether the Indians were invited or just, as Winslow puts it, "came up among them." What is now billed as a multi-cultural love-fest likely would have been tense, given that all of two years later the Pilgrims' fort was adorned with a severed Indian head and in light of the misconceptions that they had about each other. We also know that the meal bore little resemblance to what we eat today (and likely did not include turkey), and nowhere did it receive a billing as a Thanksgiving (though undoubtedly the devout Pilgrims did offer thanks, glad as they were not to face starvation as they did the previous Winter, their ranks thinned by 50% in that time.) While such autumn harvest festivals appear to have continued, the Pilgrims reserved Thanksgiving Days for a special event, not a yearly celebration, as they would have regarded it as presumptuous to designate a special day for thanksgiving before its time. Rather, thanksgiving days arose from special proclamations and were solemn days of prayer, not festivals. That brief summary does not do justice to the evidence-check that the author does, one that tempers our belief in the traditional story of Thanksgiving, yet Professor MacKenzie is not out to burst our holiday bubble or set aside our celebrations. Rather, he goes on to tell us how he finds the Pilgrims inspirational, encouraging, challenging, and convicting. In doing so he offers us a primer on Christian moral reflection and displays a gracious if unsentimental view of those who have come before us, counseling humility when drawing conclusions. As he reminds us: To say that we see the past “as through a glass, darkly” only begins to capture the magnitude of our inadequacy. But there is One, the architect and Lord of history, who comprehends that incalculable expanse perfectly and exhaustively. When we realize this, it should cause us to drop to our knees and declare with the psalmist, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me” (Psalm 139:6). In this sense, gazing into the past is like gazing into the night sky. Our natural response should be one of wonder and awe and a humbling awareness of our own limitations. Authentically Christian education always promotes such awareness. If an integral component of wisdom is self-knowledge, “the first product of self-knowledge is humility,” as Flannery O’Connor reminded us. He is interested not in making idols of our ancestors but in seeing them as heroic and yet very human people. He is interested in honesty, accuracy, and in how study of the past reveals God's glory --- and the latter, in his view, comes from seeing the power of God manifested in the weakness and frailty of humanity. While the actual details and educated speculations about the Pilgrims and that first Thanksgiving are interesting, I found myself more drawn to their legacy, to what they bequeathed us. Here the author's reflection on what we know of the Pilgrims is rich. He finds that the Pilgrims inspire by their communal perseverance in the face of trials more arduous than most of us will ever face. He is encouraged by the fact that these "plain men" of "moderate abilities" (using their own words), though flawed and weak by worldly standards, were used by God in powerful ways. Finally, he is challenged and convicted by their implicit indictment of the radical individualism of our American lives as well as the worldliness of the church, our preoccupation with this world and its ways as opposed to the one to come. The Pilgrims remind us that we are all of us pilgrims, "strangers and aliens" in the world. As the author says, "It is not their poverty that I find most convicting, but their hope of heaven." His extended reflection on our history ends with humility and doxology, on our "littleness" and His "bigness" --- the only right place for the Christian to stand after reflection on both Word and World. I highly recommend The First Thanksgiving. Read it to learn more of our history. Read it to learn how to think about history. Better yet, let it school you in humilty and awe before the mystery of what has been and what will come. Let it free you from yourself. In the end, the book became for me a work of devotional literature, a meditation on God's providence, a school of humility, and an aid to worship. Finished, something like this prayer drifted upward frome a heart unsprung from what my mind absorbed: "Come Lord Jesus, come, and deliver me from my hellish preoccupation with myself, from the petty, puckish, and paltry preoccupations of my days, from the ill-formed judgments of others past and present, from presumption and pride. Teach me what it means to be a pilgrim. Keep before me the hope of Another Country. Yes, "come Lord Jesus, come." Continue reading
Posted Nov 26, 2013 at Out Walking
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"The power of history is not to make us more informed, but more whole. . . . Remembering is sabotage against the regime of speed. . . . It's an act of faith too." (D.J. Waldie, in Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles) I once had a conversation with one of my children about the importance of history. It amounted to a back and forth of "History is important" countered by "No, it's dumb." I said "You remember how you walked up the steps to your room? Now, what if you couldn't remember?" (Visualize rolling of eyes.) See, history is important, right?" And then there was that conversation closer, "Oh, that's different." That is different, only it's different because that's our own micro-history and what we were really discussing was macro-history, history writ large, like WWII, the fall of the Iron Curtain, or even medieval times. About this, as it is well known, we have a cultural amnesia, living as we are in a time in which the disease of present-ism is epidemic. Others may speak eloquently to that, but what I was taken with was Waldie's initial comment that "remembering is sabotage against the regime of speed." Our time is characterized by the idolatry of speed, whether it's faster hard drives, instant communication, or a flattening of the time from here to there. Pretty soon we can suspend disbelief and pretend there is no there, that everything is here, as it virtually is. Right now, if I wanted to, I could see a place in and speak with a person from every time zone on the planet. I don't want to. There is something deeply unsettling about such a flattening of time and place and ignoring of the natural rhythms of day and night. My contrarian bent rears its head. For Christians, the regime of speed and homogenizing of time and place is deeply unbliblical. Remembering - something we are repeatedly exhorted to do in Scripture - forces us to stop movement of mind and body, to, as God commands via the Psalmist, "be still and know that I am God," to take note of our place in our Creator's economy. Whether it is the constant exhortation of the Israelites to remember the Exodus, God's deliverance of his chosen people, or the Apostle Paul's exhortation to remember the death and resurrection of Christ, remembering is a rebel act of sabotage by which we are delivered by God from a regime of speed to a place of light where time nearly ceases in the presence of truth. I think of those very long minutes that ticked by in 4th grade as my friends and I waited for the big hand on the clock to hit 3:30 and the bell to ring. Like that, remembering is also waiting --- waiting for God, for revelation, for the jig-saw puzzle of the past to shed a bit of light on the present, for God to show up in the higgledy-piggledy details of a life already lived. In his own inimical way, Waldie does not always draw out the meaning of a phrase, good prose-poet that he is. He says remembering "is an act of faith too." That bears thinking about, and our thoughts may carry us (as with poetic language) on paths not necessarily intended by the poet. But what I think this means is that when we remember rightly we mark our belief in a providential ordering of past events, both the big stories and our own little thread of personal history. For if we don't believe that history is in any sense ordered, that all is random, that there is nothing predictable but unpredictability, then history is valueless. The way home may not be the same way home as it was yesterday. The ground may have shifted. Power that corrupted 100 years ago may do so no longer. People who can't seem to be good will all of a sudden act justly, kindly, and wisely all the time, or vice versa. Even the atheist can't live with a nihilism that renders history meaningless. Note I didn't say that history never appears random or seems meaningless. It does. Whether it's tsunamis or tornadoes or the less than equal distribution of resources to nations, or why we can never seem to get a leg up, lost our job, or suffer unrequited love, the question of why stretches far across the landscape of history, both communally and personally. "An act of faith?" I think he means not faith in history nor God forbid faith in man. It's not the why of history but the Who behind it all that matters. Why addresses secondary causes; Who, the primary. When we know the Who, we can trust that all the seemingly meaningless threads of our lives will come together, in the end, in the One who holds together all things, and who on that day sets aside even time. May He speed that day. Until then, we wait, and remember, watch the clock, and somewhere in our past see what is timeless and beyond the regime of speed. [The image is of a mult-media work by Asheville, NC Carol Bomer entitled "All Flesh Is Grass." Carol describes it this way: This is an assemblage which includes a clock that turns the hand in front of a light box. The light box shines through a pair of X-ray hands (a poignant night light) that reach upward like the grass motif repeated twice at the top of the piece. The photo is my husband and friends when he was six. It has a removable frame which exposes text that reads, "...for all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass; the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord abides forever." I liked it for the clock, in its reference to time, in the time-lessness it exudes. For more information on Carol's art, visit Soli Deo Gloria Studio.] Continue reading
Posted Nov 17, 2013 at Out Walking
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"One drifting leaf on a windowsill can be a city dweller's fall, pungent and melancholy as any hillside in New England." (E.B. White) Late Fall is my favorite time, a time of deciduous glory, a last flinging of yellow, orange, and red before the browns and evergreens of winter command. Leaves skip across my lawn, a ragged throw. Some, blown by the exhaling sky, gather by fenceposts, huddle and gossip, while others flap in the breeze, clinging to twigs. I am wasting time well, sitting here and listening in. That everything is falling makes some people sad. I understand that. "Why can't the earth just get over it," said one friend, "just drop the leaves all at once, and then we can get on with the Christmas lights and something happy?" There is the sense that everything is dying, and yet that is an emotional response to what appears on the surface. Underneath that lies reason for joy. I walk. On familiar streets I begin to see the lay of the land, its contour now revealed by trees near bare, and I realize that developers have superimposed house and streets and water and sewer over what was already given, on what persists. In some places the leaves form a foot deep covering, over time decaying and seeping nutrients back into the soil, giving life even in death. Sight increases and deeper thoughts come. "If everything is dying," I say to my friend, "it sure is a lovely dying." In late Fall, glory goes down deep. Roots grow stronger, life percolates beneath, and yet the evidence is hidden. The leaves crunching underfoot tell me that they are ready to go, that death will yield new growth. Trees whisper sap, creak of the past, stand tall and comfort. I put my hand out for a pine and rest it there, for empathy. I am not ready to go, and yet some things must die even in me. Late Fall portends a season of hidden fruit. God works down under. I am Judah down under Nebuchadnezzar, an Israelite down under Pharaoh, Jonah in the whale, Myra Scovel in a Japanese prison, writing "'Dear God,' I cried,/ before the gates clanged shut,/ 'However dark my cell may be,/ grant that its window/ frame a tree.'" God gave her not just a tree but "pink ecstasy along a bough,/ spring against sky!" We are all of us waiting. I look up at an azure sky, then down to feet that fall. I have to keep walking. I have to die to self, to those dreams about me that become idols if they persist. I have to realize I cannot hold the world, even my little one, in check. That I have no control. That I must let the world spin and seasons turn. And yet I have to keep believing that great and good and yet ultimately mysterious things are going on down under, in me, in those I love, in the world even, though I can't see them, that “he who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Soon it will be Winter, and then I really have to believe, have to accept that buried under the snow or on the other side of a bitter wind lies light, that new life will sprout in what dies. All I need to remember is "one drifting yellow leaf." That'll be my Fall. That'll be my "pungent and melancholy" hope of Spring. That'll be what I take and hold. Continue reading
Posted Nov 11, 2013 at Out Walking
Sorry folks - we are all sold out for Thursday. I can waitlist if there is a cancellation. Email steve.westAToutwalking.net to waitlist. Continue reading
One thing about a house concert: there is only so much room. We have room for 65 people, albeit 65 cozy people, and we have only five seats left. If you have been procratinating, please book now. I'm fairly certain that we will soon sell out. Don't miss a great concert. What concert? Audrey Assad, of course, this Thursday at 7:30. To reserve, click here. Continue reading
If you haven't reserved yet for our concert this Thursday, please do. I only have about 20 seats available, and I expect them to go. Audrey puts on an excellent show, with worshipful, original songs and fresh takes on standard hymns. Really, it will be a wonderful evening. Just listen to the words of "Sparrow" in the video below. Find out more and reserve your seats here. We hope to see you Thursday! Continue reading
What is magic about the Magic Kingdom is that if you look at it through the right pair of eyes it points to a kingdom more magic still that comes down out of heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. The one who sits on the throne says, "Behold, I make all things new," and the streets of it are of gold like unto clear glass, and each of its gates is a single pearl. (Frederick Buechner, The Eyes of the Heart) In yet another chapter of his memoirs, The Eyes of the Heart, Frederick Buechner throws open wide the door to his library, office, and writing space, offering us a glimpse into the ordinary miscellany of his life, summoning the extraordinary and, indeed, magic to which the tangible items found there point. Beloved books, framed autographs, a stone from a pilgrimage to the island of Outer Farne in the North Sea in honor of Godric, the bronze head of his childhood friend, poet James Merrill, and other relics and reminders testify to and summon recollections of the long dead and the long past. And yet all is not memory, as all point to the past as well as beyond and to the future. For Buechner, the tactile is luminous with meaning, two- or three-dimensional items summoning up a fourth dimension of time. For him, the physical is bound up with meaning, even spiritual meaning. Having lived mostly in one place for 33 years, I can't go anywhere without summoning up my past and receiving intimations of my future. They come randomly. That median dividing that busy four lane road is the same one I accidently drove over with a college years date some 36 years ago, the Mexican retaurant where I sometimes eat resides in the former theater where I took that same date that night to see George Burns in "Oh God," a movie we argued over on the way back to campus. A median, a re-purposed theater --- they remind me that I was 19, that I had hopes for love, that I was awkward and undiplomatic, and yet, perhaps, just maybe, Janet Morgan remembers me differently. I love the reassuring sensation that I was here all those years ago, that I am still here, and that somehow I will carry those memories and these places with me into the "all things new" of which Buechner speaks. In the Incarnation God affirms the value of physical reality as something worthy of study and love. And yet so many of us spend our time moving, surfing reality, breathing in a virtual reality, that we forget to see, touch, and taste what is right in front of us. When I walk into my church of 33 years, layer upon layer of memories well up, of deep conversations, of hard and painful news, of leaving and comings, of new life and cold hard death. I look aside and see people that I have known for all those years and realize that their lives point back to our beginnings and forward to an eternity. That, I realize, is some kind of magic, some kind of transcendant reality. When we Christians see reality as charged with that kind of grandeur, it might truly be said, as did Francis Schaeffer, that we have one foot on the ground and one firmely planted in midair. There must be a bit of the mystic in all of us. My little home office is not as grand as Buechner's room, my library not so large. And yet it also testifies. A framed photo of a church in the village of Huemoz, Switzerland reminds me of my visit there with Edith Schaeffer before she died, the cowbells in the meadow, the church bell ringing, the feel of the grass on my back as I lay in the field and watched clouds race across the alpine skies. It sends me plummeting through 90 years of life for her, from China to Philadelphia, to St. Louis to Huemoz to Rochester where she now rests. All that and more from one photograph. I could tell you about every good book on my shelves, speak to you about the music I have collected, the songs that reach deep into my past and point far into my future, but I kept you long enough. That's my spiritual cartography, a map of my life. And yet one book that rumbles at the edge of my desk must be heard: Buechner's The Longing for Home. This 1996 book is a large part of what set in motion eight years of my attempting to produce and distribute music that was acoustically-grounded, lyrically intelligent, and spiritually provocative. Opening the flyleaf to this book recently, I found my handwritten notes for what became the liner notes to the Silent Planet Record compilation entitled Aliens and Strangers: We live in discontent. We ache at the brokenness of life. For in our good moments, we sense our exile, our longing for a place called home. We are aliens and strangers. The music on this compilation is not your typical radio fare. It is honest: true to the tragic brokenness of life and yet bearing the seeds of light and hope. Traverse it, and you'll find the signs point to a place called Home. While there is more to it than that, and revisions made, it is deeply pleasurable to see that handwriting from 27 years ago, in a book that greatly mentored me, in an album whose music lives on, and, believe it or not, written on a coupon for the restaurant in the re-purposed theater to which I took Janet Morgan some 36 years ago. "Oh God" was the movie. "Oh God," life is rich. "Oh God," I'm saying, with Buechner, "You are seeing everything for the last time, and everything you see is gilded with goodbyes. . . . For the last time you are hearing this house come alive because you who are part of its life have come alive. . . . Be alive if you can all through this day today of your life." So, before I rise from this table, I promise God once again that I will do my level best to pay attention, to see what's in front of me, to reach out and touch things, to remember, dream, eschew the virtual for the real, to see in all these physical things, in my Magic Kingdom the "kingdom more magic still that comes down out of heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" --- signs that point me Home. Continue reading
Posted Sep 19, 2013 at Out Walking
One of Audrey Assad's musical loves is the songwritwers of the Seventies, and it's true that if you can get past the polyester-mirrorball-bumping disco that hit the airwaves in 1975 (that was, for me, "the day the music died"), there were some great singer-songwriters. . . like Harry Chapin, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon. So, though most of what you hear at an Audrey Assad concert is original, without a doubt we'll be treated to her take on one of these great songs - like Bridge Over Troubled Waters, a beautiful song which, after repeated covers over the years, grew stale and cliche'd, but which she manages to freshen. Don't miss out Reserve your seats now. Tell your friends. Visit the concert page here to reserve. Continue reading
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Now you have even more reason to reason to reserve a seat for Audrey Assad. Audrey will be joined by an up and coming songwriter who, if you must compare, sounds a bit like Mumford and Son, with an energetic, driving acoustic sound. He'll be playing a three-song set as an opener for Audrey. Check out his sound below. If you haven't already reserved a seat, you better do it now. Seats are going, and the pace of reservations is picking up. Don't be left out. Reserve here. And check out John Tibbs here. See you on September 26th at 7:30! Continue reading
Folks we are only two weeks out from the Audrey Assad concert. That's Thursday, September 26th, at 7:30. Are you coming? If so, don't miss out on getting a seat. Click here to reserve you seats! As a special treat, a three-song opener will be provided by Audrey's guest artist and friend, John Tibbs. Check out the single featured on his website. And, just to whet your appetite for Audrey, catch this video of a live perfomance. See you on the 26th! Continue reading