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Steve West
I'm a writer, walker, and nature lover
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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“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” (Heb. 11:1-2) One of the earliest sayings at L’Abri, the Swiss-based ministry of Americans Francis and Edith Schaeffer, was “put your feet in the Jordan.” By it ministry workers drew attention to the practicality of faith: faith first, then action based on faith. Schaeffer was a pastor of churches in Pennsylvania and in St. Louis in the 30s and 40s in what was then the Bible Presbyterian Church. Sent by a mission board to Europe in 1948 to assess the state of the post-WWII church and what could be done to assist it, he witnessed the physical devastation of the war as well as the spiritual devastation caused by theological liberalism. Later in 1948 that same mission board sent Schaeffer, his wife Edith, and his three daughters-Priscilla, Susan, and Debbie—to Europe, both to strengthen existing churches and continue a work with Children for Christ, neighborhood bible clubs for children that they started in St. Louis. That work continued for a number of years, but the doctrinal squabbling in the denomination ultimately led to a crisis of faith for Schaeffer. Then living in Champery, Switzerland, Schaeffer paced back and forth in a hayloft, re-examining everything that he believed. Ultimately he emerged, confirmed in his faith, to sever his ties with the denomination and begin L’Abri, a ministry of hospitality to any who would come, providing honest answers to honest questions. You might just show up at the Schaeffers’ home, be offered a meal and a place to sleep, and have your questions engaged. The Schaffers wanted their lives there to be a visible manifestation of the Gospel, a true spirituality. Because the canton they were living in at the time was Catholic, Schaeffer, being Protestant, faced opposition to his ministry, and so he was ejected from the canton in 1955. Exiled, you might say, uncertain whether they could even stay in Switzerland. Over the years the Schaeffers referred to this exile many times, much as the Jewish people might look back to the Exodus or to the Babylonian captivity. Ultimately, however, in God’s providence, they were given permission to live in the neighboring canton, which was Protestant, and purchased a modest chalet in a village named Huemoz. For many years, not having the use of a chapel, they held church in their living room. Looking back at that first Sunday in Chalet le Melezes, nine years later, preaching his last Sunday in the chalet before moving to a chapel, Schaeffer reminisced about that first church service in 1955. “We met here. It was a very strange moment,” he said. “We had no permission to live in Switzerland or in the Canton of Vaud. For all intents and purposes we were still ejected. The house was not bought, nor did we have enough money to buy it. We were here, and that was all. Our ties had been cut off with the situation in the States. In a way the room was a fitting symbol of our situation. We were here but almost suspended in space as far as anything that the natural eye could see.. . .There were no resources, we weren’t allowed to go back to Champery to preach. The whole thing was a moment in a very thick fog.” Schaeffer said that as far as the natural eye could see, there was nothing. He looked to his congregation, which consisted of his wife and three daughters, his son, a toddler, and three other people. That was his church. Somewhat like the Israelites, there was exile: an unknown future, little money, and a yet a calling and promise of God’s faithfulness. He couldn’t see then all the lives his family would impact, all the many who came to faith because of his witness, all the books he would write, his involvement in the pro-life movement, and so on. He was just a pastor with his family—no church building, not much of a congregation, no financial resources, and no home. But he felt certain that L’Abri was a work that the Lord called his family to. Faith. The assurance of things hoped for. But does it work? Is faith practical? This was a real question for Schaeffer as it is for us. Schaeffer often spoken of how salvation extends through space and time. Col. 1:19 says “For in him [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” This is forward-looking. This is comprehensive (“all things”). God not only justifies us by His finished work on the cross, but He keeps on saving us through sanctifying us and eventually glorifying us in Heaven. If I believe on the Son, He promises me eternal life, faith not performance being the instrument of His deliverance. So our faith in what God will do, in what He will accomplish, extends to everyone and everything. Schaeffer often talked of the separations caused by sin—between God and man, man and man, man and nature, and in man himself. Sin has social, ecological, and psychological consequences. In many of his books he addressed the brokenness in different areas of life and applied a Christian worldview. In recordings of Saturday evening discussions at L’Abri in the 1960s Schaeffer addressed race relations, homosexuality, technology, the environment, animal rights, artificial intelligence, and more—all marked by brokenness. Through salvation God will bring substantial healing to each of these divisions, to all of this brokenness, he said, until He finally restores all things in a new heaven and new earth. So when we say that we have faith in God, we mean something far-reaching. God will reconcile all things to Himself. He is going to heal everything, set everything right. Schaeffer also talked about the practicality of faith. 1 Jn. 5:4 says “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” Faith overcomes. Do you feel like that? I don’t always feel like that. And yet there it is. Schaeffer insists that faith is very practical, to be acted upon. He says we are to use it, to exercise it, trusting the Creator moment by moment. So we have to ask ourselves: am I trusting God in this very moment? with this relationship? with this illness? with my job? for the salvation of a family member? for the words I speak? for the very next thing I do? Or I am relying on myself or living like a Christian atheist, professing faith but not acting on faith? If you read the rest of Hebrews 11 each of the many persons listed there had to exercise faith in an unseen God moment by moment, whatever their circumstances. Noah, subjected to taunts by everyone around him, built an ark, no small thing; Abraham left his homeland and went to a strange land; by faith Moses left Egypt. And the author goes on, indicating that this is only a partial list of those who acted by faith. By faith. And if you read farther down in Hebrews 11, speaking of the people of faith mentioned, the writer says, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” These words must have resonated with the Schaeffers in 1955, when they did not know where they would live or how they would continue. And they likely resonate with us as well, as we live in a world that does not share our beliefs, as we feel like exiles and strangers here with a world that often seems upside down. The Schaeffers had plenty of opportunities to exercise their faith, to see its practicality. Early on they had determined that they would make no pleas for financial support but would just pray and ask God to provide the funds and the workers for the ministry. They exercised their faith. And God did provide---usually just what they needed and no more. When they were ejected from Champery, Edith Schaeffer had eventually located Chalet le Melezes, but it was for sale, not rent, and they had no money to buy it. She prayed for a sign, an audacious and very specific prayer for $1000 to be sent by 10:00 a.m. the next morning. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Edith, an American couple, the Salisburys, had come into some money and decided to invest it in God's work. They had been praying about it for three months, and they felt certain that they were to send the Schaeffers the money—exactly $1000 for work with youth, which it largely was at that time. When Helen Salisbury wrote a letter telling them that they were sending the money, it was late evening, and they were going to bed, planning to mail it the next day. But Art Salisbury felt that he must mail it that very night. He rose and drove through a blinding rain storm to mail it right then at the main post office. Consider the timing. The coincidence. Consider the prophetic confirmation that it be used as a house for young people. All came together in a very specific, very timely answer to prayer. While more remained to do, God answered their very specific prayer in a very specific way. Faith was practical. And that was only one of many such occurrences. Put your feet in the Jordan. In Joshua 3 the Israelites are on the brink of going into the Promised Land, near the end of their long exodus out of Egypt, standing at the edge of the Jordan River, and Joshua says that as soon as the feet of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant touched the water, the waters parted and they were able to cross the river: faith first, then action upon faith. They put their feet in the water. The Jordan River is not what it once was, its flow greatly diminished by all those taking water from it. But back then it flowed briskly and they likely would have drowned in it. But they entered, in faith. And God held the water back. Put your feet in Jordan. Believe and act on faith. We can have confidence as we obey. Today, we cross the Jordan not with priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant, but with Christ, our High Priest. He goes before us. And so this call—put your feet in the Jordan—is a call for us as well: to believe, to have faith but also to act upon that faith in the moments of our lives—in whatever situations God has brought us into. How is it that God is calling you to act on your faith? I’ve been challenged by a recent book I read called The Christian Atheist. The subtitle is Believing in God but Acting As If He Doesn’t Exist. The author’s exhortation in the book is to do more than believe but to act on what we believe. Like if we believe people are going to hell without the Gospel, then why do we hesitate to share the Gospel with them? Or if we believe in prayer, then why do we act as if God doesn’t answer prayer? He challenges us to go beyond first-line faith, to step over the line. "In every moment of time," Schaeffer said, "our calling is to believe God, raise the empty hands of faith, and let fruit flow out through us." Empty, because we don’t even supply faith. God does. Schaeffer might also have said, “In every moment of time, put your feet in the Jordan.” What is your Jordan River? Step out on faith. Step across the line. Trust God, even for a little, and then watch what happens. Expect something to happen. Watch for it. Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Out Walking
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The photo on the cover of Michael Kloster’s recently released L.A. River-a view upriver of the East Fourth Street Bridge from the concrete bottom of the channelized L.A. River-is not a pretty one. High-tension electrical lines and towers flank the now concrete river, chain-link fences prevent errant children and others from the dangers of sliding down its banks, weeds sprout from cracks in the concrete, and a sheen of runoff tops what appear to be near-stagnant waters confined to the middle of the channel. In saying “river,” one must smile. As Kloster’s photographs taken along its 51-mile length testify, this is a river long tamed, a changeling he calls it, an outlier which doesn’t fit the mental image archives we may have of rivers. Most of the year, little water flows. Then again, when it rains hard, it carries so much water it threatens at times to top its banks. Before it was rendered concrete, it did. Kloster’s black and white photographs-some panoramic-were made using a mid-18th century technique called ambrotype, a wet-plate collodion process which requires the photographic material to be coated, sensitized, exposed and developed within the span of about fifteen minutes. It’s cumbersome, he says, requiring lots of water and a portable darkroom housed in his van, yet the images it produces are unique-ghostlike, even dreamy, bearing the idiosyncrasies of the chemical process used to create it. And given the absence of humans in most of the photos, the contrast between the sterile urban infrastructure of the Fourth Street Bridge area or East First Street Bridge and rail yard and more natural settings like the Glendale Narrows and the Elysian Valley is heightened. Human communities crowd the river, yet we see little of them. Images of concrete seem an alien intrusion on the landscape, the bleak urban landscape like the remains of city emptied of its people. Well-intentioned as the channeling may have been, given the damaging periodic floods, it still leaves an ugly mark on the land, like a clearcut woodland or strip-mined Appalachian mountain. An essay by Los Angeles historian D.J. Waldie reminds one of the human context of the river, the neighborhoods ravaged by periodic and damaging floods which persuaded the Corp of Engineers to transform it to a concrete lined channel after the flood of 1938. It also serves to militate against a manichean view of the denaturation of the river as simply innocent nature versus ruthless government engineers. Though it concludes the book, I turned to the essay first to allow Waldie’s prose and command of history to provide context. He provides a narrative of human interaction with the river, beginning with the First People through missionaries, Spanish pueblo, frontier settlement, birth of Los Angeles, and finally, after many damaging floods, its channelization by the Corp of Engineers beginning in the mid-1930s. The end result: “Destitute of greenery, sunk in its depressed bed, unavailable as open space behind chain-link fences, the concrete channel exists primarily as a stage for movie car chases.” And while there is a plan for rehabilitation, Los Angeles is growing denser, and thirstier, so how much water will actually flow is unclear-except in floods. Yet, there is some hope. “A future Los Angeles River could become an anti-freeway,” says Waldie, “not dispersing communities but drawing them together.” Overall, the emotion stirred by slow examination of the photographs on a Sunday afternoon is sadness, as I contemplate what Waldie calls a “terrible beauty,” as I compare this river to one I know best, the San Pedro of southeastern Arizona, the last major, free-flowing undammed river in the American Southwest, particularly the stretch between Tubac and Tumacacori. There is no similarity. One is free; the other, bound. One rural, one urban. The essays by Frank Gohlke on “The Lure of Rivers” and Kloster himself on “Changelings and Outliers: Photographing the L.A. River” do little to remedy my melancholia, even as they give some basis for a promise of change, for the prospect that Angelenos may accommodate themselves to the changing river, the “wild child” of rivers, rather than seek to master it. Yet a ray of hope is subtly offered by Waldie. As an epigram for the last section of his essay, titled “Michael Kloster’s Photographs,” he includes one sentence that looks to the future: “Yes, we’ll gather at the river.” In an America no longer hymn-literate, most will not recognize it as a bit of Robert Lowry’s 1864 hymn, “Shall We Gather at the River;” even less, its roots in the fantastic imagery of the Bible’s apocryphal last book, Revelation. The quote is from the chorus, which anticipates the Christian hope of restoration and reward. Yes, we’ll gather at the river, The beautiful, the beautiful river; Gather with the saints at the river That flows by the throne of God. It would be easy to relegate this historic hymn to 19th century pietism, and yet for those who will believe in a true fairy tale of another time, it also has feet in the present: what will happen when faith is exercised by those who may gather? What kind of substantial healing can occur now by imperfect beings in a bent world? A lot, said Christian pastor Francis Schaeffer in the late 1960s. “I can say, ‘Yes, the tree is a creation like myself,’ wrote Schaeffer. “But that is not all that is involved. There ought to be a psychological insight as well. Psychologically, I ought to ‘feel’ a relationship to the tree as my fellow-creature.” Thus Schaeffer articulated a kinship with the non-human creation that was, if not radical, one virtually unarticulated in Christianity. Reflecting on his long ocean voyage across the Atlantic to Europe in 1948, he said that “[m]odern man has no real ‘value’ for the ocean. All he has is the most crass form of egoist, pragmatic value of it.”. To think of non-human things as “low,” as having only what value might come from their utility to man, is “an insult to God,” he wrote. “The value of things is not in themselves autonomously, but that God made them - and thus they deserve to be treated with high respect.” He might say the same of this blunted river, shorn of its dignity. “Yes, we’ll gather at the river.” In the ruined paradise of the L.A. River lies the hope of something new—the already, the soon to be, and the not yet. There might be, as Schaeffer often said, “substantial healing” and the hope of something more. Continue reading
Posted Jun 29, 2019 at Out Walking
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I rip up a lot of things that come in the mail. I enjoy the tearing sound and am slightly annoyed at those mailings that anticipate this and try and force me to open the envelope by including plastic or some other material not easily torn. I just work harder. I do have a slight tinge of guilt that accompanies the tearing. As much as the USPS has been criticized, it does an amazing job. In Neither Snow Nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service, Devin Leonard reports that 300,000 USPS letter carriers deliver 513 pieces of mail every day. Every day. And somebody had to design this junk that comes my way, print it, sort it, load it on trucks or airplanes, and bring it to me. The letter carrier is the last link in a human chain. I should frame this mail. I should honor it. But no. This afternoon’s mail includes a report from the electrical utility that serves me telling me how I stand in regard to my neighbors: not well. Guzzling power here, apparently, which I blame on the cats shed fur clogging the HVAC intakes. Ok, so I opened that one. Another is a blue newsprint letter from missionaries we do not support but who have been sending us newsletters for 25 years. I ripped it up, but out of guilt I read the half I retrieved, which was in broken sentences, which makes for interesting reading. I did catch the words faith, hope, and. . .well, I think love was on the other half, unretrieved. “Make the smart stop. Get $70 off,” squealed a tire store flyer. Nope. I tire of slogans, pitch-singing advertisements. God bless the letter carriers. Leonard reminds me that Ben Franklin and Abraham Lincoln were letter carriers back when they were mailmen. So was Walt Disney and Bing Crosby. So was writer William Faulkner, but he was fired. “I will be damned,” he said, “if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.” I’m invited to a gourmet dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Oops, no, my son is. He’s 27, and the meal comes with a retirement planning pitch. He can wait on that. Then again, he’s been old since he was two. I retire it to the recycle bin. Oh, here’s the other half of the blue newsletter from the missionaries we do not support. Let’s see, if I put them together I can read the whole thing. It makes sense now. Yet there’s something off kilter here: “When you agree with God’s Word, your success rate grows upward.” What kind of success is that? Leonard says letter carriers by and large are satisfied with their jobs. “Their mailbags may be much lighter these days, but they still have their junk mail or ‘job security,’ as letter carriers call it,” he says. Well, I’m just glad I can support them. I hope that those who pick up the recycle bin feel likewise. “Let us take that off your hands!” “20% off.” “#1 Selling Walk-In Tub.” Nope, not yet. 
 “Be enchanted, Dazzled, and Smitten!” It’s a collectible crystal kitten with butterfly, “shimmering,” with an “unconditional, 365-day guarantee.” No, though this cat is a lot cheaper than my two living cats have proven to be. But don’t get me started. There’s a letter from Donald J. Trump. Sorry, it’s marked “Personal and Confidential.” I can’t talk about it. But I can tell you that half the letter was better than the whole. The NRA has offered me a preprinted membership card. I don’t own a firearm, though, as I have been told I am not responsible enough and too distracted and absent-minded. I don’t disagree. “Free wine chiller and beach day set. FREE.” I don’t drink wine. “Sun + sand. You + us. It all adds up.” I’m not a math whiz but I don’t think that necessarily adds up: you plus us could be a lot of people. President Lyndon Johnson’s Postmaster General, Lawrence O’Brien said in a 1966 speech that the United States did not become balkanized because of its mail service, describing it as “a chain of paper that transported the elements of Americanism through thousands of miles, across mountains and desert, from city to frontier, a chain stretching into clearing and valley.” For a moment, I stopped ripping up the mail. That’s a big claim. “ENTER TO WIN, a Viking Cruise for 2!” I’ve not been on a cruise and don’t plan to, yet near kin feel differently and may yet prevail upon me. There are more than one “opportunities” to obtain new credit cards, all screaming low promotional rates, bonus points, and various wards. Rip. I rip them all in half, gather them up, and throw them in the green recycling bin. What I waste, I think. Except one. It’s an envelope that contained only a form that my daughter sent to me from the Lone Star State, that had no note but had my name and hers in her own distinctive pen with a stamp she licked. It traveled a long way to be here with me. I don’t tear. For a few days at least I’l let that one smile fetchingly across my desk, calling out my name. Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2019 at Out Walking
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“But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.” (1 Cor. 15: 42-44, ESV) A friend recently told me that his house of many years had to be “jacked up.” It had begun to settle and sag with time, and cracks had begun to form in the walls at places. I didn’t see them, but he said it was so. At the age of 34, our house is also showing signs of age. My wife, who is more observant than me, recently noticed the ragged edges of the siding on our third story dormers, evidence of water damage. I called a roofer, and in the matter of a day, it was stripped and replaced. Naked boards are thrust against the sky, as they still need the modesty of paint. But the house must be power washed first, because we also want to have the trim painted while we’re at it, and that can’t be scheduled for another month. Then we (I mean she, of course) saw that water had also rotted the base of the frames around two outside doors. The roofer was more than happy to replace those, for a price. A week later, while we were out of town, our neighbor texted us to say that water had been streaming down our driveway for a day or more, that our sprinklers in the back yard had been running nonstop. We thanked her. Our lawn service person, Robby, put a stop to that. But the problem remains undiagnosed and the prognosis unclear. Until today, that is, when John, from a company called Under Pressure, came by to tweak and twaddle the various sprinkler heads. And speaking of a lawn service, without the weekly efforts of a crew of landscapers, or failing their help or more concerted effort by me, or if the neighbors didn’t care or the city was dysfunctional in enforcing public nuisance laws, the grass would be waist high in weeks. I knew a house like that, once; it was going back to nature, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. There are other signs of . . . let’s not mince words . . . decay, aging, entropy: cracks in the patio need filling before grass pushes through, rooms need paint, well-tread carpet needs replacement, windows stick and won’t open despite near hernia-producing efforts, and for some reason despite my very limited plumbing skill the toilet gurgles randomly. I took the lid off the tank and stared at it for a while, but it would not perform, and when I put it back and turned to leave, it gurgled. Houses and their accoutrements toy with us, you know. Oh yes: the refrigerator’s fan motor complains (until my wife fixed the seal on the door), the floors creak (meaning there’s no stealthy entry of the refrigerator), the air conditioner fails at an inopportune time, the fireplace needs cleaning by a chimney sweep, bats roost in our attic after the squirrels were enticed to leave, a pipe bursts under our front lawn, listing pines must be removed as they threaten the neighbor’s home, the mailbox badly needs replacing (that was a major project for us), and cracks have appeared in the driveway. That’s for starters. If you are a homeowner, all of this will sound familiar. Mind you, this stuff happens over years, and keeps happening. Confronted by such entropy, some people just move to a new (or newer) home. But I don’t think I want a new home, at least not now, because it won’t be this one. Some with the money remodel every four years to “freshen up.” I don’t mind a facelift but I still want it to be the same place when the lift is over. Others spend their Saturdays maintaining and fixing every sag and seepage, every crack and crumble. I see them. They make me tired. Still others put their finger in the dike and pray a lot because the swell of the left undone is rising; barbarian elemental forces of nature are at the door. But me, I’m plotting the resurrection. I don’t want to spend my days keeping up but would rather be with my wife, visit my children, lay in the hammock or sit under this blue umbrella and think and listen to the trees sway and the squirrels chatter and watch the robins and wine and cardinals that visit. We take a few precautions, of course. We did have the siding repaired. We’re cleaning the attic, slowly, in a multi-stage project. Next, perhaps by Fall, we’ll move to cleaning the garage. Some fresh paint may be warranted. The bats took up with the neighbors, and then another. There’s time. It’s unlikely the house will fall down around us. We’ll just kick at the creeping to-do list until it bleeds daylight-which there’s plenty of, of course, because it’s not just house but home. For now, I want this house and none other, but I want it redeemed and made right and imperishable. I want it to be one in which the paint never fades, the walls never crack, where the memories of life herein are muraled all over its rooms, and where it glows in a golden light of a late afternoon sun that never ends. The house beyond the house. The home it was meant to be, all the good in it perfected. I’m waiting for the day when all things are made new. Even this house, the kernel of what will be. *I’m indebted to E.B. White for the phrase “plotting the resurrection,” one he coined in an essay on his wife, Katherine. It’s clever. Continue reading
Posted Jun 4, 2019 at Out Walking
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For a while this afternoon, I lay in a hammock suspended inches above the pine straw floor of my backyard. The cords of the hammock are blackened from years outdoors, and it lists precariously, requiring one to lay not dead center but just off-center, askew. It suits me. Balanced there, hammocked between earth and sky, I watched the light slant across the lawn while a still cool breeze lightly brushed my skin. A week ago we left our digs in the Catalina foothills and headed west for the Tucson Mountains, one of four ranges that ring Tucson. Climbing the turns of Picture Rocks Road, we crested the pass and, like always, caught our breath at the view on the other side—sloping red-rock mountainsides and foothills thick with the green of sahuaro and prickly pear cacti and the yellows blooms of the green-trunked palo verde trees. As the hills bottomed out, the Avra Valley’s shimmering desolation caught the sun. Exclamations similar to those uttered in the past escaped our mouths as we pressed on. Off to the northwest, the sunlight glittered off the groundwater recharge basins of the Arizona Aqueduct. The sun remained in the eastern sky, the temperature rising but still moderate. I opened my eyes to the canopy of trees above where I lay, imagined branches tickling the sky, swaying in the wind. A robin hopped across the lawn. I remembered the mockingbird performing atop a house’s weathervane earlier that day, working its repertoire, and the two geese who uncharacteristically were perched on a neighbor’s house, trumpeting to wake the sleeping inhabitants, before flying off wingtip to wingtip for the lake beyond. I closed my eyes. Off Kinney Road we found Hohokam, a dirt-packed backcountry route that snaked back over the foothills. At a T-intersection with Golden Gate, we turned right leaving a dust cloud in our wake. A mile down we came to the trailhead for the Sandero-Esperanza Trail. There were no other cars in the dusty lot, and as I opened my door the refrigerated air gave way quickly to the parched air that traveled here from the Pacific, air that stirred over the Joshua trees of the Mohave, the ocean moisture wrung from it, before stroking me. The first mile of the trail was fairly easy, as it made straight for Wasson Peak across the desert floor. As we walked whiptail lizards scurried off trail, and occasionally a chipmunk ran ahead of us until veering into the brush. The last almost mile was a strenuous climb, the trail switchbacking up to the ridge line where over a hundred miles away you can see the mountains of Sonora, Mexico. A blue jay alights on the fence encompassing the yard, surveys the scene, before flying to a shrub nearby. A hummingbird—unusual in my yard—flits low amongst the undergrowth of my neighbor’s yard before I lose it in the forest. The sky is open above me, hemmed in only by the canopy of green overhead. Some people speak of desert as if it is wasteland. Yet it’s not. Life abounds in the Sonoran Desert, whether it’s a cactus wren or coyote, a rattlesnake or roadrunner—though much of it is nocturnal. The advantage of this time of Spring is that everything is blooming: yellow Palo Verde trees, red-laced branches of ocotillo, flowering sahuaro cactus, and wildflowers dropped gratuitously across the desert floor. Lush, if dry conditions prevail—the brown desert floor giving way to green vegetation and then on to cobalt blue sky where the contrails of jets from Douglas Air Force Base streak, their endings breaking up into the blue. Sometimes I look out on the cholla, creosote bush, and sahuaro; on the red-rock hills, jagged peaks, and uncountable grains of sand; and on the emptiness of the blue that envelops it, and beyond to the vast and largely empty dark matter of space—and I feel the push of sadness even in the beauty of the place. If no Love was behind it all, if He was not there and not present after all, then no one would care about this place, and as night falls it would not even be forgotten as there would be no one to forget it. Yet “God so loved the world.” That changes everything. That ever-present, ever-pursuing and radiating love means that everything here is constantly flooded with a Creator’s love and omnipresence—like a hovering and caring parent—even in the loneliness of a winter night or sizzling heat of a summer day. No one and no thing is alone. The wind blows and tilts my hammock. The sun sets. At anytime my wife may peer through the second floor window into this twilight, cradling our laconic cat, and see me lying here. She will know I do not slumber. She will know where I am. Continue reading
Posted May 7, 2019 at Out Walking
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“Saying nothing. . .sometimes says the most.” (Emily Dickinson) “Where do I go?” “Virgil, you stand right there. I have to pay.” Virgil is white-haired older man, a barrel cactus of a man, with a large square head topped by a ball cap. Large tent-like dungarees hang from his waist. He’s standing in front of me, completely obscuring the seated ticket-taker. “Do I go over there?” “No Virgil, you stand right there. That woman right there will be your driver. You’ll go with her. We’re going to walk up.” Virgil stands there, unmoving. His hands rest at his sides. Connie, the blond-haired woman doing the talking, is paying. Her friend Joanne tells me she is from Oracle, or Oro Valley, or Elroy--I can’t remember--and her sun-bleached hair and crinkled skin is evidence she’s native. But Connie is from Michigan, is visiting, and has never been to Sabino Canyon before. Virgil still hasn’t moved. Beside him, Connies’s laconic teenage daughter looks out over the desert, over the prickly pear, saguaro, and yellow-flowering brittle bush, toward the mountain slopes of the Rincons. Yet I suspect she doesn’t see them, doesn’t know that Rincon means corner, that the corner of the range is made by the three peaks of Mica, Tanque Verde, and Rincon, that between the Rincons and the Catalinas, where we will walk, is Redington Pass. Her cell phone with no cell signal is dormant in her hip pocket, beckoning, and her mind is in Michigan, wondering what her friends are doing. We could be nearing 100 times of hiking in this canyon, spread over nearly 35 years. And when you have done something that many times, incongruities offend, are personal. “Where are the trams?” my wife asks. Unfamiliar enclosed green buses stand ready to shuttle us the nearly four miles in and back. “Why is the ticket booth shuttered?” The woman behind a folding table taking payment assured us that new open air trams were coming and that the ticket booth would be replaced by a kiosk where you could buy your own tickets, that in the future you could buy tickets online, on the tram, or at the self-service kiosk. It’ll be better, she said, more convenient. But I don’t believe her. I liked buying the tickets from the crusty old woman behind the window who acted like she was doing me a favor when we made the exchange, when I slid cash across the portal and she laid an orange or green ticket on the hand-slicked counter and pushed it toward me, the ticket that the tram driver would collect and tear and return in part to me. And I don’t want a green-friendly tram but diesel fumes and creaking connections and the slight anxiety I felt as we passed over the six narrow bridge crossings accompanied by a very-human narration of canyon sights and lore, the words of which we mouthed from memory as the driver made his case. There’s the cliff wall that some climb, he’d say, the face in the rock, the formation that looks like Snoopy on his doghouse withWoodstock too, the place where in 1948 thirty-three year old Deputy John Anderson fell to his death after rescuing a kid who was stranded on the ledge below. He’d tell us how the stone bridges were built during the Great Depression by the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corp, about Hollywood in the canyon, about the great flood of a few years back. He’d point out the Mexican oak, mesquite, saguaro, and cottonwood. We’d listen like it was a song of which we never tire, and we don’t tire of it, as the landscape is alien--not as foreign as it once was--yet like a home you only see once a year. This time we walked the nearly four miles into the canyon to the turnaround, unwilling to pay for an enclosed shuttle. We started boldly, like horses out of the gate, straining against the reigns, yet we soon slowed--the road winds slowly, gradually, yet relentlessly uphill, with a sharper climb at its apex. Sometimes we were alone and all we heard were the calls of quail and doves and cactus wrens, the sometimes trickle of the creek, the wind rubbing against Palo verde limbs or soft in the Mexican oak branches or, when gusty, the creaking of the Sahuaro cacti. On three bridge crossings the spring-melt flowed over the bridge to perhaps an inch depth, and we walked on our heels through it, penguin-like. When we passed others my wife greeted them, yet over half of them did not acknowledge her, an astounding statistic even if only anecdotal, yet they may have their own preoccupations. We had ours. Sometimes we are are lost in our own rumination, other times reviewing some event or previewing what’s yet to come. When I am too lost and forget to listen, she takes my hand for a moment, summoning me back to us, to footfalls on pavement, to the whip tail lizard spooked by our passing, to a rocky outcrop that we photograph every year with the sun bleeding out behind it, the rock haloed--to remind me, without words, that “We are here, together, now.” And I am lost, sometimes, with prayers worried out of me, petitions that begin to mire in circumstance yet when they bubble out escape my hands and waft up over the canyon walls, where God hears. I let them go. I exchange them for gratitude, for some remembered promise, like ““Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt.‬ ‭10:31‬ ‭ESV‬‬). His eye is on the sparrow. On the way down we pass Joanne and Connie and the daughter heading up. We say hello. Passing, I turn back and say, “How’s Virgil?” “Oh, he’s riding up and down on the van,” says Joanne. “We see him pass sometimes. He’s having a great time.” We walk on. Sabino Creek moves on, and somewhere after it exits the park, it drops down below ground to move unseen, and we say it is gone, that it has dried up. But just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2019 at Out Walking
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“Dark times are allowed and come to us through the sovereignty of God. Are we prepared to let God do what He wants with us? Are we prepared to be separated from the outward, evident blessings of God? . . . . Until we have been through that experience, our faith is sustained by feelings and by blessings. But once we get there, no matter where God may place us or inner emptiness we experience, we can praise God that all is well.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, April 4) My daughter reminded me when walking on the beach last week that the shells that crunched under our feet are the remains of dead animals: snails, coral, and the like. And I know that the sand itself is what’s left of quartz rocks that made their way to sea and via wave and water are now honed down to their rock hearts. Today, children play on this burial mound under a blue-white sky, moving the remains around with brightly colored buckets and shovels while parents talk or read. Sun wash blinds to what is really happening; the seen masks the unseen. We are often unaware of where we are, of what we live atop, of even who we are-that our lives are built atop the lives of those who have gone before us, whose names are lost to the depths and ebb and flow of time. But God sees. Amid death and decay, there are beautiful certainties that the prophet Jeremiah (Chap. 31) reminds me of: grace in the wilderness, everlasting love, life like a watered garden, mourning turned into joy, gladness traded for sorrow, satisfaction for the weary soul, replenishment for the languishing soul, and then this: “And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the Lord” (Jer. 31:28). Pruning. Creative destruction. God plucks out waywardness, dependence on anything but him; overthrows self-regard; destroys the lust of eye and flesh-all towards the end of rebuilding and replanting us in new patterns, in tilled rows of earth and sky. “I love watching the waves, the tides,” says my wife as we walk, “because it reminds me of the constant love of God for me.” I think about the violence of the love, the constant wearing away of the shells and grains of sand, the smoothing of the line where land meets sea. God’s love is no sentimental love, no pandering love, but one that strips away the old to make me new, that sometimes takes me through darkness so that I will cling to Him all the more and know a love that will not let me go, a relentless love that breaks down even as it builds up, that tills and plants. Farther down the beach, two women walked toward us, heads cast down, examining shells. As we neared my wife dropped a translucent green piece of sea glass behind her, a gift for the observant. We passed. Turning back, we saw one woman stop, exclaim, as she spied and scooped up the sea glass. We walked on, smiling. That’s how it is: even in death, glory; even in worn-down remains, beauty. And surprise at what treasure God brings. Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2019 at Out Walking
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Somewhere someone is using a leaf blower. Men like leaf blowers. They wrest a mild order from the world while dinner cooks. And perhaps a bit of decompression is going on, a working out and winding down of the day’s troubles, troubles filtered through the whine. When the blowing stops, I hear children’s voices and a fatherly voice--by tone, an instruction. Men huddle on the unfinished back room of a recently framed-in house behind me and in murmurs plot the next day. A truck door slams and an engine wakes. Underneath all this the groan of traffic can be heard, the comings and goings, the hum of homecomings, garage doors haled. Twittering and chirping birds are interspersed in the days-end sounds and, beneath that, the swish of branches in the breeze. Rays of sunlight stretch across the lawn as the earth turns. I turn back to the poem I’m reading by the late James Tate about a raccoon named Elvis, the one he tried to shoot with a shotgun but ended up sleeping with. Reading such verse and pondering their meanings is what I do instead of blowing leaves. It has a calming effect. I didn’t know anything about Tate until now, because I don’t usually read journals like The Paris Review. Until today. Dinner is on, somewhere. The wind rubs against the magnolia leaves and the over 35-year old volunteer quivers, like the tremor of the aged. The unseasonably humid air cools as it licks my face, a dog just happy to see his master. A plane’s motor bemoans its passing. A black-wash shadow cast by my neighbors’ house creeps up the side of my home. Tate is odd. In his absurd poem entitled “The Government Lake,” also the title of a recent posthumous collection of his poetry, a man is in his car headed to the toy store. A policeman diverts traffic due to a fallen tree. The man drives for hours in a hypnotic trance. Finally he stops the car and begins walking. He comes to a lake with a dock and walks to the end of the dock where he sees a tire in the water--no, a man; no, a tire. Then this: A man walked up behind me and said, “This government lake is off-limits to the public. You’ll have to leave.” I said, “I didn’t know it was a government lake. Why should it be off-limits?” He said, “I’m sorry. You’ll have to leave.” “I don’t even know where I am,” I said. “You’ll still have to leave,” he said. “What about that man out there?” I said, pointing to the tire. “He’s dead,” he said. “No, he’s not. I just saw him move his arm,” I said. He removed his pistol from his holster and fired a shot. “Now he’s dead,” he said. I think Tate’s having a joke on us. Sleepy dusk twitters from workday birds. Jet flayed over sky. A last construction worker in an orange vest slogs wearily to his truck. Empty bird feeder. Mottled gray stone. Picnic-less table. Osmantis trees. Shaking blue umbrella. Creaking, aged pines--thin men with green heads in the clouds. Now I have a small brown paper bag in my hand, a mallet in the other, and I’m walking among the towering pines toward the plot at the back fence which serves as our animal graveyard. The last burial was that of my daughter’s gerbil, and that was many years ago. He didn’t get a memory stone. This time, it’s one of her beloved geckos, and I am her pall bearer. I keep the box she was laid in level out of respect, an honor guard with a carefully folded flag, body. I lay her gently on the pine straw, dig a hole in loamy black earth, place her in it, and cover her. And then, I pause and pray. Even a soulless gecko, with its small brain and bug eyes, is one of God’s own, and more, was one of my daughter’s beloveds. She was sad this morning when she discovered her lifeless body. Next month she will marry. Tate did make me smile with this poem, “The Blue Booby,” which I dedicate to the gecko, may she rest In peace: The blue booby lives on the bare rocks of Galápagos and fears nothing. It is a simple life: they live on fish, and there are few predators. Also, the males do not make fools of themselves chasing after the young ladies. Rather, they gather the blue objects of the world and construct from them a nest—an occasional Gaulois package, a string of beads, a piece of cloth from a sailor’s suit. This replaces the need for dazzling plumage; in fact, in the past fifty million years the male has grown considerably duller, nor can he sing well. The female, though, asks little of him— the blue satisfies her completely, has a magical effect on her. When she returns from her day of gossip and shopping, she sees he has found her a new shred of blue foil: for this she rewards him with her dark body, the stars turn slowly in the blue foil beside them like the eyes of a mild savior. That’s all it takes, apparently, for blue booby marital accord--just a new shred of blue foil. I could feel that way about blue. I look away. Pete has put away his leaf blower. Dinner is on. The children have been summoned. The rich, black earth has settled over her lizard body to await a new heavens and new earth. I look up to where stars hide behind the dusky, still sunlit, blue-foil sky, behind the eyes of which lie no mild Savior. Continue reading
Posted Mar 17, 2019 at Out Walking
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Pierce Pettis is taking stock of life. His first solo release in ten years, Father’s Son (Compass, Jan. 19) offers a retrospective on the past and a prayer for the future. As Pettis sums it up: “The overall theme, at least for me, is ‘Father’s Son’—and all that can imply. I’m thinking of my own father, as well as being a father. Two of my grown children are writing and doing music, experiencing a lot of the things I did. So there’s that.” Pettis reminds us that “there’s also the Hebrew/Aramaic name Barabbas, or Bar Abba, which literally means ‘son of the father.’ Or more literally, ‘Daddy’s son.’” Pettis has been at it for a while. He began his long career as a writer at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama and later as a staff songwriter for Polygram/Universal Music in Nashville. His songs have been covered by artists ranging from Garth Brooks and Dion to Joan Baez and Art Garfunkel. Probably his best known song is “You Move Me,” covered by Garth Brooks and Susan Ashton. As Pettis says, “That one helped me buy a house. Pretty hard not to like that one.” Yet Father’s Son contains more of his deft lyrics, great playing, and passionate voice—even if the years have left his voice more well-rutted gravel road than slick blacktop. The songs exude gratitude and contentment even amidst the challenges life presents—and Pettis has had some in the ensuing years. In the album’s lead cut, “Wouldn’t Change It For the World,” he observes “we all have something from which to recover,” and yet when all is said and done he resolves that he “wouldn’t change it for the world.” The songs move easily from the transcendent to the immanent. “More” is a recognition of Pascal’s oft-quoted recognition that there is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart: “A thing resounds when it its true/ When it’s ringing all the bells inside of you/ Like a golden sky on a summer eve/ Your heart is tugging at your sleeve and/ you cannot say why/ But you know there’s more.” And “Mr. Zeidman” is a true story about his small Alabama hometown’s one and only Jew, who “had a smile for every child/ A piece of candy, too/ There was kindness in the hands/Of our one and only Jew.” “Don’t Know Where I Am” is a testimony of a man losing his way, moonless: lost at sea, alone under the sky, floating far away. Although Pettis identifies as a “most unworthy and undeserving Christ-follower,” he moves easily in and out of Christian circles, writing and playing with contemporary Christian music songwriters like Andrew Peterson as well as mainstream writers like Tom Kimmel and Kate Campbell. It seems well-crafted songs are respected, no matter what the source. Part of that acceptance owes to Pettis’s congeniality: his enthusiasm, warmth, and passion for life are infectious—even if he sometimes leaves his audience behind. After telling one story at a concert, he observed that he “had to realize that not everyone was in his head.” Like all of his albums released since 1994, Father’s Son includes a song penned by the late Mark Heard—this time, “Look Over Your Shoulder.” Pettis recalls Heard’s deep influence: “Mark influenced me with his artistic integrity—for which, he would have credited Francis Schaffer, who was his mentor. Mark took his work seriously and himself, lightly. He was also very funny.” He has a poignant recollection of Heard: ‘Look Over Your Shoulder’ was the last song he ever performed in his life. I know that because Pam (Kate) Dwinell Miner and I were on stage with him at the time, at the Cornerstone Festival in Illinois. So that song is pretty personal to me. Don’t think Mark could have picked a better exit song." As to the future, “Instrument,” the closing song on Father’s Son, may just sum it up: “Make me faithful, make me grateful/ Make me useful in this life/ All this living without giving/ Give me one more chance to try.” Between the regrets and blessings of his life, faith and craft keep Pettis centered. He is, after all, his Father’s son. Continue reading
Posted Mar 8, 2019 at Out Walking
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I’ve had trouble sleeping lately. No. No, I’m not worried about anything. My wife asks me what I think about when I am lying awake there in the night. Well, how long do you have, I think? It’s like asking her what she dreamed, and she begins trying to explain an incredible, fantastical adventure, a multi-layered parade of short stories laid end to end until she finally gets frustrated and says oh, never mind, it’s just too complicated. It’s a bit like that. I think about the thin mostly wooden membrane that separates me from the night, from owls and coyotes and deer grazing on the fresh green grass of suburban lawns, from the cold asphalt of ribboned streets, from the water drizzling down the curb and gutter, emptying into drainage pipes and then into the unnamed streams that traverse our subdivision, from granite rocks and pines and oaks and wild holly trees and sleeping squirrels and robins resting in nests, and from the nightlight moon over it all just doing what they were made to do. Until Christ comes. Come, Lord Jesus, come. The streets of my neighborhood are not laid out on a grid. By the Eighties, the grids of Fifties and Sixties subdivision construction had fallen into disfavor, attacked by urban planners and critics of suburbia who called places like where I have spent my entire life--suburbia--evil, even calling it God’s Own Junkyard, to use the title of one book. Tell that to the bluebirds at the feeders, to the jonquils pushing through the topsoil, to the raccoon halfway up the tree, to the ivy advancing from our neighbor’s yard, and to the red fox crossing the street in front of me. This place is not evil; we’re just the latest occupants of this forest home, keeping the wild at bay by cutting grass and pulling weeds and washing streets. Streets follow the contour of the land, rise and fall, and cul-de-sacs lead off the mains like beckoning doors, to places others call home. I think about the weight of things: the books in my study, the wood beams and plywood and insulation above me, the accumulated stuff of memory in our attic, the roof and rafters and shingles that are our first defense against the elements. All that weight pressing down on the two by fours that hold it up. I stop thinking about that. This, I think, is how people go crazy. It’s like when, on occasion, I hear about the size of the federal debt, or I’m driving and wonder if the tires might spin off the car or the axle break, or I pause and consider the rather small supports in the parking garage that hold up four floors above me--and I begin to get anxious. I go to Jesus. How do people live without the certainty that Christ holds all things things together? How in the night hours do they subdivide reality into the known and unknown and not end up stuck in a cul-de-sac of longing? I think about the weight of memory--one memory piled on top of another. About all the places that I’ve slept. About when I’d visit my aunt as a child and lie awake in the cold in a big bed in her guest room with layers of musty-smelling blankets pressing down on me, with all those spooky looking paintings staring down at me, the house creaking when the furnace came on, the graveyard just behind the back yard of the house, reaching for me. It’s no wonder I couldn’t sleep. Up above geese track through a night sky, I surmise, making their way from lake to lake, like pearls on a necklace, and I think about that poem by Anne Porter telling God that You who speak without words To your creatures who live without words Are hiding under their feathers To give them a delicate certainty On the long dangerous night journey And I wonder if she’s talking about us really, about me, and I think about riding at night with my parents with our headlights searching the dark, cocooned against the unknown. Sometimes I recite by memory a verse or two of scripture, soundless though heard in my mind. I imagine the words written in the inky air of the room, like skywriting, or silhouetted in the rectangular light of the window, until the letters begin to break apart and dissolve against the night. I try to pray. The prayers come unwound, skitter off into the air, sucked up by the intake of the HVAC, only to be launched into the outside air, into the night, to climb up, up, heavenward. No, actually, as I speak them they are, like the voice over a telephone across the world, instantly before the Lord, for whom all places are as one. I used to ask my mother--who had more severe insomnia--what she thought about when she lay awake. She said she “solved all the problems of the world.” I may take that up. I may take up where she left off and see what headway I can make. Continue reading
Posted Mar 5, 2019 at Out Walking
Scott, thanks for your feedback and insights. I agree - we can’t lionize Schaeffer, as we are wont to do with those we love and admire. He wouldn’t want that. But we can appreciate his sacrificial life and love for the Lord and the lost.
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“About thirty miles south of the main road, the track we had been following led us to the edge of a vast plain. Then it disappeared. . . .[W]e came to an immense network of saucer-shaped salt pans interlaced with crescents of grass savanna, touches of woodland, and wisps of palm islands. Some pans were filled with brackish, unpotable water and flowery masses of orange, purple, green, and red algae; others were covered with a thin salt crust. We were at the edge of an alien world---no roads, no trails, no people.” Cry of the Kalahari, Mark and Delia Owens (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984) From Mabele, Botswana you can hire a boat to take you out onto the waters of the Linyanti Swamp, where you can close in on elephants standing deep in the water, wrapping their trunks around the reeds and pulling them up by the roots, shaking their great heads, ears flapping, to free them of water, and stuffing them into their cavernous mouths. Across the swamp lies rural Namibia. Natives move about between round thatched huts that dot the landscape and wave from the shore. From Mabele you can take a road through Chobe National Park, entering at the Ghoha Gate, camp at Savute, and then motor on from there to the Moremi Game Reserve, in the Okavango Delta, one of the prize wildlife regions of Africa. Much of it is a dirt road, and the ride in an open air Land Cruiser can be punishing: The wind dries your skin, a relentless sun sizzles, and dust accretes on your clothing and skin. On the map Botswana seems contained and manageable. Solid, reasonably straight yellow lines with hopeful numbers like B334 lead from Kasane, near the border with Zimbabwe and Namibia, as far as Muchenje, near Chobe’s Ngoma Gate, and from there a lesser white line leads to the Okavango, a line which grows thinner and less distinct as it goes, suggesting change---and yet the clarity and certainty of the line reassures. On the ground the going is less certain, though no less colorful as lines on a map. A rustle in the trees along the road may portend a gray mud-caked elephant, who crosses ahead of us. Giraffes’ angular heads and craning necks may bob above trees as they winnow the leaves and lope across the plain. After rains, ruts may appear in roads and the going becomes circuitous, the Land Cruiser weaving from side to side in the road like a drunken load of partiers homeward bound from a late night bash. Roads lead out into the bush, only to peter out in brush or be blocked by a tree pushed down by an obstructionist elephant. In swamped roads the Land Cruiser sinks, water sloshing up above the running boards---none of which appears on the map. Signage is often lacking, so you depend on the driver to ferret out the way, or make a new way. I’ve pored over maps since I was a child. It’s no crime: I slept with Rand McNally, a dream on each page, a promise of adventure. Most fascinating to me were areas---then, the Western United States, and now, the Kalahari Desert of Botswana---that looked vast and empty and mysterious, or that had the faintest and loneliest of markings. In large areas of the Kalahari, there aren’t even the faint lines designated as “tracks,” which are appropriated animal corridors---vast empty places like the white space on a page of poetry. And the names on the page---Kumchuru, Kkhomodimo, Tshwane---are like one-word poems, beckoning across the miles of desert, punctuating the unfolded sheet of Africa. My eyes land on Deception Valley, and it’s a reminder of Picasso’s summation of art as “the lie that tells the truth.” A map deceives even as it tells the truth. I haven’t been to the Kalahari, yet I know that the vacant blotches on my map are not empty. Inside the cover of Mark and Delia Owens’ 1984 book, Cry of the Kalahari, there are named pans and hills and valleys that populate all that empty. Their seven-year adventure living in an unexplored area with no roads and no people but rich in lion, leopards, and hyenas is rich in detail. They survived, if barely. But the map gives little hint of the unforgiving nature of that land, only the single word: deception. To know the poem that is Africa, you must go there, just as you would go anywhere. You must walk among its lines and words, its pans and plains---all true, but more true in the living. The Psalmist may have said more than he knew when he said “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” As a map the Word is essential. Yet its interstices---all those open spaces and pans and hills and valleys hidden there have to be named in our walking. We have to get down in it, mine the poem for all it means. I just put a finger on the map, at random. Underneath is a single straight green line that demarcates the edge of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. There are no towns or safari camps where I landed, just a thin white line that tracks the wild. It’s likely that no one lives there, that weeks and months pass with no human being walking there. Yet even there God moves. His Spirit hovers over the plains and salt flats. He knows every springbok and lion, elephant and jackal, wildebeest and bat-eared fox. No map can do justice to that wild particularity. One day I’d like to walk that alien world with Him, the full moon a lamp unto my feet. Continue reading
Posted Feb 1, 2019 at Out Walking
Ring out 2018 early with a very special concert with Brooklyn's Burlap to Cashmere. Pop Matters says "If there’s room in your pop heaven for Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, the Indigo Girls, and Fleet Foxes, you oughta make room for Burlap to Cashmere, mostly-acoustic choogaloogers with a thing for lyrics both inscrutable and sincere." Christianity Today says of its self-titled album that "the new album's natural production allows acoustic guitars to sound like acoustic guitars—an important detail since the band's world-music influences remain intact (a good thing). . . .The flamenco guitars and uncommon time signatures are captivating, and the melodies in "Santorini," an ode to Greece, sound like they were snatched right off the country's shores." It'll be a treat to have Burlap to Cashmere here in Cary on December 30th. Please join us. Get your tickets now. Continue reading
In just three days we'll be hosting Brooklyn's Burlap to Cashmere in full touring band for a concert in Cary! This incredible, Meditteranean-sound influenced band can rock as well as sing soft, sweet, Simon and Garfunkel-esque songs, like "Love Reclaims the Atmosphere," a performance of which appears here. Don't miss this rare appearance of the full band. There's still room. Get your tickets now. WATCH B2C perform "Love Reclaims the Atmosphere": TICKETS: Click here. Continue reading
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In just five days Brooklyn's Burlap to Cashmere will be in concert in Cary. I can't describe the energy of hearing this band live - captivating, moving, lyrically provocative. That's a start. Listening to them you hear some deeply thoughtful lyrics delivered with passion and zest. Yet I can't quite describe their Mediterranean-infused folk rock. You have to hear it. Now that Christmas is over, think about next weekend. What's happening? Not much, right? Avoid the sometimes madness of New Years Eve and come out on the Eve of the Eve for a concert followed by light food and drink. Meet the band. Meet some new and old friends. Sunday, December 30th. 7:00. Peace Church. Cary. Get your tickets here. And check out this fabulous band in an energetic performance below. Continue reading
Christmas is around the corner, true, but just beyond that, on the horizon, is a very special concert with Brooklyn's Burlap to Cashmere. Pop Matters says "If there’s room in your pop heaven for Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, the Indigo Girls, and Fleet Foxes, you oughta make room for Burlap to Cashmere, mostly-acoustic choogaloogers with a thing for lyrics both inscrutable and sincere." Christianity Today says of its self-titled album that "the new album's natural production allows acoustic guitars to sound like acoustic guitars—an important detail since the band's world-music influences remain intact (a good thing). . . .The flamenco guitars and uncommon time signatures are captivating, and the melodies in "Santorini," an ode to Greece, sound like they were snatched right off the country's shores." It'll be a treat - a Christmas present - to have Burlap to cashmere here in Cary on December 30th. Please join us. Get your tickets now. Continue reading
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In 1976 I was sitting in my dormitory room, a freshman at university, reading a 1971 book by Walter Trobisch, entitled Love Is a Feeling to Be Learned. That September I had moved in with a high school acquaintance, Rick, a stocky design school student who was the son of one of my mother’s good friends. It was an antiquated building, the oldest dormitory on campus. A clanging announced the onset of radiator heat; a Southern Railways train periodically roared noisily through campus a block away, rattling our single window; and goings on by the less studious echoed off the uncarpeted hallways. But I kept reading. The noise receded to the background. Trobisch’s prose was riveting. More booklet than book, Trobisch’s point was not novel and yet was paradigm-changing for me: Love is not merely or primarily a feeling but an action, verb and not noun. Scripture gets at it when it observes that God “set His love” on Israel (Deut. 7:7). God sets His love on us. In His case, it was His deliberate choice to love the loveless, to reach across time and space, the infinite to the finite, and love, with all that entails. When we set our love on someone, we choose, irrespective of feeling, to commit ourselves to relationship with them, to do the work of love. But I didn’t know that then. Until then, I thought of love as something you fell into and out of - a frustrating roller-coaster of emotion. Trobisch changed that. I still have the book 42 years later and, on recently re-reading it, marveled at its relevancy, frankness, and wisdom. More than that, reading this book or any book by Trobisch is a warming and resuscitative experience. A pastor and counselor, you sense that he is almost across the table from you, having a conversation with you and only you, the world dropping away. Still more, Trobisch evinces a willingness to get involved, reaching out of the pages of his book and across the decades to the reader - to the perplexed, despondent, and lovelorn. Evidence: In the front of the book, he writes this: “Some of the readers of this booklet may also feel the need of a personal conversation with a trustworthy advisor. It is certainly preferable to find such a counsellor in your vicinity whom you see often at regular intervals.” Then this amazing invitation: “However, in case you find no one, you may write to me and I shall try to help you by correspondence.” He signed his name, followed by his personal address: Lichtenberg 6, A-4880 St. Georgen i.A., Austria. I would write him if I could, if nothing more than to thank him. Rick is eating cold pizza for a late breakfast, fuel for tackling introductory calculus problems. He warned me: It’s an all-male dorm, yet there’s a girl in the shower, a sometimes live-in down the hall. I thank him. “How can you eat that,” I say. “How can I not,” he says. He teeters back in his chair and sips hot tea, before diving back into the inexplicable: calculus. I don’t think Rick has a girlfriend or dates, but I don’t ask him. “You may write to me and I shall try to help you.” This and other books by Trobisch had a worldwide publication. Many of them, beginning with 1965’s I Loved a Girl, were based on such letters as Trobisch invited. Who today would carry on such correspondence? Who today would make such an unselfish offer? Trobisch founded no ministry, sought no donations, charged no fees. He simply offered to help, if he could. Trobisch was born in 1923 and came of age in Nazi Germany. At 18 he was drafted and sent to the Russian front. He survived the Battle of Stalingrad, but was severely wounded. During that tumult, he embraced Christ, the faith in which he had been schooled at home. After recuperating, he was sent to the Russian front again, where he was wounded again and narrowly escaped. During recuperation in Vienna, he was able to study theology. Yet once recovered, he was sent to the front for a third time, this time in Italy, where he was wounded yet again. In recovery there, he became convinced of the evil of the Nazi empire. Recalled to Germany to defend the Homeland, he was captured by Americans. When he was found to be a theological student, he was released. He walked 300 miles to his home in Leipzig, through a country littered with the destruction of war. Finding that the communists of now East Germany were in control, he fled to West Germany. Ultimately, he completed his studies in the United States, at Augustana University, where he met his wife Ingrid. Walter and Ingrid accepted a call to Cameroon, in West Africa, in 1953, where he became a chaplain and teacher. It was there that he entered into a counseling ministry focusing on relationships, marriage, and sex. His correspondence with Francois and Cecile, two West Africans, became the letters that make up I Loved a Girl and I Love a Young Man. In them, youth world-wide found that the particular cultural context in which this couple’s problems arose were overshadowed by the universal experiences they shared with all. Returning to Austria for a study sabbatical in the 1960s, he was inundated by hundreds of letters from young people seeking answers. He answered them. Sometimes Ingrid answered them. Yet all were answered. “Happiness is only a part of love - this is what has to be learned,” wrote Trobisch. “Suffering belongs to love also. This is the mystery of love, its beauty and burden.” I put the book down on my desk and look out my dormitory window. In the park across the street, couples sit and talk, leaning in toward one another. Rick left for the cocoon of his design studio. In a few minutes William will come by for a visit, and we’ll talk of love and lack of love, of how to navigate relationships with women, of frustrations and trouble, much of our own doing. I don’t know what happened to Rick. I moved out after that year and lost track of him. I lost track of William as well. I don’t know if they married or remain alone. I don't know what they learned or failed to learn about love in the decades that followed. The next year I met my wife. I set my love on her. It’s still setting right there. I’m not nearly as wise as was Walter Trobisch. You probably shouldn’t write me for advice. But I can tell you that he was right: Love is a feeling to be learned. You learn it in the doing of it. Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2018 at Out Walking
This is my favorite song - what I consider the centerpiece - of Burlap to Cashmere's self-titled record released a few years ago. Shortly after hearing the record, some friends along with my wife and I attended a Burlap to Cashmere concert at The Arts Center in Carrboro. It was especially poignant and comforting, as at the time my mother was in hospice and, unknown to me, would die two days later. So, that concert, and this record, and this song in particular, have special meaning for me. Since that first time hearing Burlap, I have heard them four times - twice in my house, and twice in New York City. They are excellent musicians and wonderfully kind people, and love interacting with an audience, on or off stage. It'll be a treat - a Christmas present - to have them here in Cary on December 30th. Please join us. Get your tickets now. TICKETS: Click here.! Continue reading
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“I am always humbled by the infinite ingenuity of the Lord, who can make a red barn cast a blue shadow.” (E.B. White) Saturday Snow is in the forecast, yet the weather people hedge their bets, prognosticating winter weather so as to cover rain, freezing rain, sleet, or snow, to be vindicated in their predictions no matter what the Lord brings. A gray, cold sky is promising; even the birds have gone quiet; a blue shadow is over the land. A construction worker hammers away, and I hear in his frenetic tapping expectation. Advent. I put the kettle on for tea. I peruse the selections. Opting for a more radical course, I chose Holiday Chai. I’d like to say I know what chai means but confess I don’t. I look it up. “A drink of tea made with cardamon and various other spices,” I read. Cardamon? “The aromatic seed capsules of a tropical Asian plant, Elettaria cardamomum, of the ginger family, used as a spice or condiment and in medicine.” A chai is also “a shed or other aboveground building where a winemaker stores wine in casks.” A red barn, perhaps. “Elettaria cardamomum,” I say, aloud, and my voice sounds odd around such a phrase so early in the morning. Chai Holiday wasn’t bad. Like drinking a Christmas tree. The tree we bought a week ago is slurping water. Yesterday the well of the tree stand was dry. In little more than one day, it drank over four liters, measured out by the Diet Coke bottle I use to fill it. Then again, the cats have been hovering near the tree and have been known to drink its elixir. Cat chai. I need to check it. I let one cat out, with assistance. “You’ll thank me later,” I say. “Ciao.” She slinks away beneath the shrubbery. I went out for a walk alone. No one was around. Ambition seized me and I began working through a mental prayer list, yet I continually veered off the path of piety. I thought about the pine trees leaning toward my neighbor’s home and the impending winter weather. I found myself walking down the dirt streets of Kampala, Uganda, with Ugandan friends. I circled back to prayer, only to detour to lists and plans and wonderings, mixing the impious with the pious. I came in, settled in my chair, and read Psalm 121. “The Lord will keep. . . your life. . . . The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in.” The verse is an epigram in the front of a book I read entitled Picking Up. The author, anthropologist Robin Nagle, signed on with the sanitation workers of New York City for a first-hand report on their world. Her trashy book is staring at me from its perch high on the bookshelf. There are men on the roof. No, I am not delusional. Men are extending ladders onto our high roof and cleaning off the roof and gutters. Their work boots clomp up and down its incline. Pine straw and leaves shower from the eaves. High in the pines, squirrels scurry from branch to branch, busy putting away winter stores. A male cardinal alights in the tree outside my study window, cocking his head to look at me before taking flight. “Awoke early and lay still in the dark,” wrote E.B. White circa 1942, an unremarkable statement recalling an impromptu, unplanned stay in an inn found in a place with the unlikely name of China, Maine. And yet I identify here, 76 years later. I always awake early. This morning I awoke aware that for the first time in a couple of days I could breathe easily, having had until then a tremendous head cold. I lay there breathing thanks, grateful for the ingenuity of the Lord in giving us two nostrils, as in practice I have found that even though one may be occluded, the other will function. And that’s probably more than you wish to hear about that. “Lay still in the dark,” wrote White, “listening to the singing in the next room.” Two nights ago, after a showing of Disney on Ice with a far younger crowd, I sat in my study listening to my 24-year old daughter sing. That is a beautiful sound, liquid and pure, seeping in between the molecules of the drywall. I stopped my typing so I could listen and smile. That I get to be here, that I get to see and hear all this. It’s humbling, here, in the shadow. Continue reading
Posted Dec 9, 2018 at Out Walking
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"Tonight you had real musicicans." That's what one attendee told me. "Incredible night, incredible venue, one I will not forget." That's what another person told me. And what a concert is was! On both occasions when I have had Burlap to Cashmere in the house, tickets have sold out. 75 people willingly cram together in my home for this popular band. This is a band that really connects with an audience and stays around talking to each person until the very last fan leaves. That's rare. Now, however, you have a bit more room, better stage and lighting, and a full band for the first time in the area when the band plays at Peace Presbyterian Church in Cary on Sunday, December 30th at 7:00. What are you doing that evening? That's what I thought - nothing! Avoid the NYE crowds and come out on the Eve of the Eve. And hang around for food and drink afterwards and talk with the band. Get your tickets now for this incredible show by clicking here. What do they play? Songs from their entire repertoire, audience requests, and new tunes from Freedom Souls, their newest release. And a few bonuses: Covers like "Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash, and "The Boxer," by Paul Simon, and perhaps even a little B2C Christmas cheer. Wise cracks. Confessions. "Family" ribbing (Johnny and Steve are cousins, and Teddy may as well be, as he grew up with them.) And the fans? Many die-hard, some new. All convinced that this is a great band. The first time I hosted this band, one couple called to apologize that they could not make the "drive FROM OHIO due to the rain." Wow. Others drove a couple hours in the rain. But all were excited to be here. What a chemistry this band has, what warmth, what soul, and what heart. Brooklyn and Jersey come South. HERE'S MORE: READ: For a band that many wondered what had happened to, the last few years have seen Burlap to Cashmere blow back into the national scene with gusto. In 1998 the band released the critically acclaimed debut Anybody Out There? After a whirlwind of tours, awards and an ever-growing fan base, they did what no one expected. They disappeared. And then, they were back. In 2010 the band headed into the studio with acclaimed producer Mitchell Froom (Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Tom Waits). The result? A self-titled album of new, organic sounds with faith-tinged lyrics that won't leave your head. And with this year's Freedom Souls,they continue with that same organic sound with just enough tweak to keep us guessing, With its core lineup intact – singer/guitarist/songwriter Steven Delopoulos, guitarist John Philippidis, and drummer Theodore Pagano — Burlap to Cashmere returned with renewed focus, drive and energy. “There’s something about family and people you’ve known forever that makes the chemistry happen,” Delopoulos says. “There’s a sense of honesty and trust. That’s Burlap to Cashmere.” This is a band that has a deep and accomplished musicianship and a really distinctive sound. This is particularly apparent in the songs that incorporate their unique approach to traditional Greek rhythms, songs that recall the musical intimacy of Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel, coupled with Delopoulos’ introspective, poetic songwriting. Fans of modern troubadour outfits like the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons will find common ground with Burlap to Cashmere’s output, with the added textures of the Greek and Mediterranean influences further fleshing out the band’s unique take on 21st Century folk-rock music. WATCH B2C perform "Closer to the Edge"... Continue reading
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A couple years ago I wrote a review of Burlap to Cashmere's last album, Freedom Souls. I called lead singer Steven Delopoulous on the phone and had a good chat, distilling this review from listening to him. I think it gives a good insight into the soul of this band. "I still don't know how to write a song," says Steven Delopoulous, lead singer and songwriter for Burlap to Cashmere. "It's still a mystery, but still something I want to tackle."When Burlap to Cashmere burst into the Christian music scene in the late Nineties, they were in their twenties - a hardworking Brooklyn band fighting for every gig they got. A 1998 Squint/A&M debut, Anybody Out There?, garnered excellent reviews and better gigs, as well as an opening spot on a Jars of Clay tour. Watching a YouTube video of their performance of “Basic Instructions” at Creation Festival in 1999 is to behold a Greek version of an Avett Brothers/ Gypsy Kings mashup, band members full of movement, interacting with the crowd, and enjoying each other. This is family music, soaked in the sounds of the Mediterranean, mixed with a little Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel, and simmered in the stew of what you imagine to be a big, lovable, sometimes loud Greek family, with profound lyrics that won't leave your head. But while this talented band made a good start, constant touring took its toll. So in the early 2000s, band members each went their own way, some to marry and have families, all to steady jobs. After an incident of road rage left lead guitarist Johnny Phillipidis in a coma for three weeks, it wan’t clear that they would ever perform again. Yet, after a miraculous recovery, in 2011 the three founding members — Phillipidis, cousin Steven Delopoulous, and Theodore Pagano regrouped, releasing a critically acclaimed self-titled album on Sony/Jive. They recently returned with a crowd-funded follow up, Freedom Souls. OnFreedom Souls Greek rhythms once again appear, whether in the “The Great I Am,” a lyrical statement of faith, or the crowd-pleasing closer, “Dialing God,” which has a rousing three-minute coda of dizzying musicianship. In between, there are familiar folk and country strains, as well as a few departures, as in the title track, with its lounge music vibe. And while their 2011 album was lyrically rich but often veiled in meaning, like fine poetry, Freedom Souls is driven by more overt expressions of belief. The opening track, “I Will Follow,” is both a statement of deliverance from sin and a commitment to follow Christ, with lyricist and lead singer Deloupolous lamenting that “I have followed my bones, I have followed this world/ But in the long run it seems it never cured my woes.” In a way, Freedom Souls hearkens back to the declaratory statements of their 1998 debut, strained through the crucible of life experience. Deloupolous attributes the lyrical freedom to this being a fan-supported record. With the previous mainstream release, the label wanted him to “dumb down the lyrics, even though I naturally write that way. I enjoy writing faith-based records because it’s freeing for me. There’s a lot of meat and potatoes in a verse out of the Bible, and I like playing with that.” If there’s a lyrical centerpiece here, it’s likely the folksy mid-album ballad entitled “Passover,” which while not instrumentally incendiary has the memorable musical feel of the last album’s “Closer to the Edge.” With it’s reference to “blood on the door,” Delopulous summons up that familiar scriptural narrative of judgment and deliverance to animate the prayer of the chorus,... Continue reading
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"Tonight you had real musicicans." That's what one attendee told me. "Incredible night, incredible venue, one I will not forget." That's what another person told me. And what a concert is was! On both occasions when I have had Burlap to Cashmere in the house, tickets have sold out. 75 people willingly cram together in my home for this popular band. This is a band that really connects with an audience and stays around talking to each person until the very last fan leaves. That's rare. Now, however, you have a bit more room, better stage and lighting, and a full band for the first time in the area when the band plays at Peace Presbyterian Church in Cary on Sunday, December 30th at 7:00. What are you doing that evening? That's what I thought - nothing! Avoid the NYE crowds and come out on the Eve of the Eve. And hang around for food and drink afterwards and talk with the band. Get your tickets now for this incredible show by clicking here. What do they play? Songs from their entire repertoire, audience requests, and new tunes from Freedom Souls, their newest release. And a few bonuses: Covers like "Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash, and "The Boxer," by Paul Simon, and perhaps even a little B2C Christmas cheer. Wise cracks. Confessions. "Family" ribbing (Johnny and Steve are cousins, and Teddy may as well be, as he grew up with them.) And the fans? Many die-hard, some new. All convinced that this is a great band. The first time I hosted this band, one couple called to apologize that they could not make the "drive FROM OHIO due to the rain." Wow. Others drove a couple hours in the rain. But all were excited to be here. What a chemistry this band has, what warmth, what soul, and what heart. Brooklyn and Jersey come South. HERE'S MORE: READ: For a band that many wondered what had happened to, the last few years have seen Burlap to Cashmere blow back into the national scene with gusto. In 1998 the band released the critically acclaimed debut Anybody Out There? After a whirlwind of tours, awards and an ever-growing fan base, they did what no one expected. They disappeared. And then, they were back. In 2010 the band headed into the studio with acclaimed producer Mitchell Froom (Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Tom Waits). The result? A self-titled album of new, organic sounds with faith-tinged lyrics that won't leave your head. And with this year's Freedom Souls,they continue with that same organic sound with just enough tweak to keep us guessing, With its core lineup intact – singer/guitarist/songwriter Steven Delopoulos, guitarist John Philippidis, and drummer Theodore Pagano — Burlap to Cashmere returned with renewed focus, drive and energy. “There’s something about family and people you’ve known forever that makes the chemistry happen,” Delopoulos says. “There’s a sense of honesty and trust. That’s Burlap to Cashmere.” This is a band that has a deep and accomplished musicianship and a really distinctive sound. This is particularly apparent in the songs that incorporate their unique approach to traditional Greek rhythms, songs that recall the musical intimacy of Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel, coupled with Delopoulos’ introspective, poetic songwriting. Fans of modern troubadour outfits like the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons will find common ground with Burlap to Cashmere’s output, with the added textures of the Greek and Mediterranean influences further fleshing out the band’s unique take on 21st Century folk-rock music. WATCH B2C perform "Closer to the Edge"... Continue reading
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It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones; just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak. (“Praying,” by Mary Oliver, in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, 2017) At lunch a few days ago, a friend said, “Look, you have four hours in a car. What do you do? You don’t want it to be dead time. You want it to matter.” He’s right. I want to pay attention. When I pull back the curtain on the single window in our hotel room, a rectangle of cool blackness fills in. There’s a sheen of water painted on blacktop, tree limbs shellacked with ice, a dusting of powdered snow on car tops. On the ridge above me the lit squares of apartment windows tell me someone’s home. Dreams flicker in the night. I want to pay attention. A man leans against a car, huddled against the cold, smoking a cigarette. A lonely car passes on an elevated road, taillights winking. A light pole leans in over the car park as if to say, all is well, light dispels the darkness, and then straightens, dutiful and mum. All is not well, I know. Sidewalks are broken, paint peels. Walls crack and cars rust. Weeds push up through cracks. Light wanes. Houses sit abandoned by roadsides. Rooms sit empty during long days, waiting for their people to return. And a million pines and oaks and maples stand in the chill air, waiting, Spring deep in their veins. Sometimes I think you can hear even the inanimate groan for redemption. Yesterday, in a moment of weakness, we bought doughnuts and while eating too many sat and watched a conveyer carry the unglazed holy ovals through the waterfall of sugar, yet a bearded worker plucked a few off the line and without emotion threw them away. My wife, who is tenderhearted toward even the inanimate, said, “Why is he doing that? What’s wrong with them?” What’s wrong with everything, I thought, a decidedly true yet too sober thought I did not share. Malformed and misshapen, I continued, following my rumination, born in sin and broken. All of which is a lot for a doughnut to carry, too much metaphor for dough. I want to pay attention. I’m not beyond making much of a few small stones or weeds in a field. Or lights in a window. Or a doughnut. On my desk: a leather wallet, fitted to me, made by Toyo, a leather worker, now 20 years old and rich with the memory of his Arizona shop; a collection of essays by E.B. (Andy) White, on the cover of which he sits on a hard bench tapping loudly away on a typewriter before a window open on the Atlantic, salt in the air and licking his keys; a small folded card with the handwritten name of Amber “It was my pleasure to tidy up the place,” the letters full and round and leaning back on their heels as if to say “do you have a problem with that?;” a coupon for one dollar off at a local restaurant, at the thought of which I feel my son who is 2000 miles away nodding behind me, knowing me and my ways. Reading glasses staring at me. A black rectangle I have just put to bed. Virgil Wander, a book that carries the scent of Lake Superior and rusting factories and a musty theater. Car keys splayed out, my house key inviting. A keyboard missing the number two button. And an index card bearing a verse that ends with “the upright shall see His face.” And so we shall, at the thought of which my melancholy lifts as light dispels darkness. I rise and look out the window again. New, unblemished snow covers the ground, and the light pole leans in and says “behold His face” - a promise which holds my attention. Continue reading
Posted Nov 17, 2018 at Out Walking
This is my favorite song - what I consider the centerpiece - of Burlap to Cashmere's self-titled record released a few years ago. Shortly after hearing the record, some friends along with my wife and I attended a Burlap to Cashmere concert at The Arts Center in Carrboro. It was especially poignant and comforting, as at the time my mother was in hospice and, unknown to me, would die two days later. So, that concert, and this record, and this song in particular, have special meaning for me. Since that first time hearing Burlap, I have heard them four times - twice in my house, and twice in New York City. They are excellent musicians and wonderfully kind people, and love interacting with an audience, on or off stage. It'll be a treat - a Christmas present - to have them here in Cary on December 30th. Please join us. Get your tickets now. TICKETS: Click here. Continue reading
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Lord, I curl in Thy grey gossamer hammock that swings by one elastic thread so thin twigs that could, that should break but don’t.

 * I do nothing. I give You nothing. Yet You hold me minute by minute from falling. Lord, You provide. (Denise Levertov, excerpt from “ Psalm Fragments (Schnittke String Trio),” in The Stream & the Sapphire) While I have downed a Lake Superior of iced tea in my six decades of life, the amount of hot tea I have consumed would, I estimate, barely fill a bathtub. Mostly I drink hot tea when in Africa, where ice is as scarce as gold. Everybody’s doing it there, one of the better legacies of colonialism. Here, not so. But today I awoke with a scratchy throat and, after a nap, told my wife I would take some hot tea on the veranda. Well, we don’t actually have a veranda, but I liked the sound of that word, “veranda,” which I read is not of European but Hindi descent. That’s exotic and makes up for the fact that I am drinking hot and not iced tea. Besides, piazza is a stretch; patio, too pedestrian. My wife brightened at the thought that I would be drinking hot tea and were he here my son would join her in her gladness. Somewhere, a trumpet sounded. She began to educate me on the finer things involving tea: the cupboard with its many kinds of tea, including Russian tea (“heartier,” I think she may have said), Five Roses (South African), and so on. She bid me smell that Russian tea, and I did, unscrewing the lid of its container and dipping low for pass, a sniff. “I’ll just have this,” I said, reaching for the English Tea. Black. Pekoe. (I need to look up “pekoe.”) I need to start somewhere. On the blue packaging it said “good anytime of the day,” which is a surprisingly optimistic statement for the English. I can’t really believe them, yet I’m in. On the veranda where I write, a single leaf just sashayed its way from twig to earth. Why did it decide at this very moment to let go? What wooden thread snapped? Then another, yellow; another, red. The backyard is like a brilliantly trashed urban back alley, overflowing in color. “This is a big lemon slice, so we can share it. If you like lemon in iced tea, you’ll probably like it in hot tea.” And yes, I allow as I probably will. If I like tea, that is, which I don’t much like, hot that is. I watch the teapot. The cat watches me. I don’t look at her. I know what is on her mind. Our copper teapot has long lost its whistle. Now, it just makes an airish sound, like me trying to unsuccessfully whistle through my fingers. Or a novice trying to play a saxophone. It’s lost its music. It soldiers on. “I think I’ll have it without sugar,” I say bravely. “You won’t like it. Try some honey.” I agree honey sounds good. Besides, it may be good for my throat, which is the only reason I’m drinking hot tea. That, and the veranda, just the thought of which makes me smile. The honey is reluctant. I tip the bottle up and squeeze, harder than I think I should have to. A drop appears, stretching slowly toward my waiting spoon. It’s taking its time, I think, and yet I fill two teaspoons, dive them under the tan-colored liquid, stir, and turn toward my wife. I tell her I am going out on the veranda, tea in hand. To write, I say. Something will come to me. I take a few books for inspiration. It feels very righteous, even if I haven’t even written a word. She reminds me to put the honey back in the ziplock plastic bag, and I do, cautioning me that I should make sure it is completely sealed because “if even a tiny corner is left unsealed, an ant will find it.” And I imagine a scout ant not believing his good fortune when he sniffs the stout honey smell wafting from that corner, the message he will bear for his queen. Yet not this time. The cat is still watching me, trying to catch my eye. I see what she’s about. The sun just dropped below a cloud, rooflines outlined against a graying sky. Red maple leaves are piling up. The window opens, and my wife’s head pops out. “Are you praying?” “No.” Well, maybe I am. Or want to be. Or should be. “Can I ask you a question?” Please ask me a question to take my mind off the blank page staring back at me. It’s our inexpensive intercom system, floor to veranda. I crane my neck up to meet her smiling face. We talk. We don’t resolve a thing, really, but I enjoyed the talk and think she did too. The sky darkens. I think of all that lies in front of me this week and all that drags behind me, and I begin to feel the weigh of left undone and still to come. The window opens again. “I have another question,” she says, smiling. And I think, so do I. I like questions. Someone is blowing leaves, with no regard for their kaleidoscope display. The cicadas have begun. The temperature drops. The gossamer hammock invites. So, here at dusk, I give in, rock in its grip, do nothing but be held by a heavenward thread that will not break. Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2018 at Out Walking