Category Archives: Random (and I do mean random) Thoughts

Touring

It’s 10:12. I’m rather beat. I promised I’d post something every day. I shall prevail! But only with the help of brilliant friends. Tonight, a tour of the other, obviously energized minds peopling my favorite blogs of late:

For creative motivation: Working Toward Ten Thousand Hours

For artistic philosophy: What Creative People Never Tell You About Creativity

For love of friends: Stalking Wonder: The Picnic

For pure deliciousness: Molten Chocolate Lava Cake

In praise of refreshment and to spark wanderlust: Sigh

For wisdom from a modern day and very gentlemanly prophet: Mr. Wendell Berry of Kentucky

For beauty. Pure beauty: Table-turning

That was fun. I could make a habit of this.

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Voices

Ah, where to begin?

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write. I find myself confused by the pace of change, in myself and the world around me. My conscious brain is a passenger on a high-speed train that whirs carelessly through the crags and fields of what my soul is learning, being, so that I am left with only a vague impression of my own heart state. Perhaps you’ll cut me some slack when I say I’m unsure what to tell myself of late, late alone you. But it can never hurt to begin with the bare facts of things- which will give you a lively idea of the things percolating in my brain of late! With the boys both moving out, a lot of it has been a lovely, ridiculous round of family tradition, memories and last minute togetherness. So, I’ve decided to give you a glimpse of life in the present via my three favorite lasts.

Last Family Day: This is our yearly tradition of taking a day in which to mark how God has “made his face to shine upon us”, a day of remembrance for us, specifically as a family. The twofold purpose is wrapped around a theme of celebration; joy in our God, joy in each other. The day always begins with the spiritual side; after we have all been sufficiently placated with cinnamon rolls, my dad always the passage in Joshua where the Israelites cross the Jordan river and set up twelve stones in remembrance of God’s goodness. We then make a list of blessings that constitutes a figurative pile of sacred rocks for our family. When we were little, we actually used permanent markers to draw pictures of our blessings on river rocks collected from my grandmother’s land. Now, the blessings are simply compiled on a single piece of paper in my dad’s strong, angular writing, and stowed in a flame red notebook that is the record of our deepest joys. We end with prayer; each thanking God for whatever has most elated and deepened our hearts in the past year.

The afternoon bit is more about family identity. In this part of the day, we all become inflexible traditionalists. Especially now that we have lived in the same place for four years, we demand that every year follow the same pattern. Around noon, we pack our beat up old sky blue cooler and ourselves into the car (which makes for pretty crowded conditions when there’s more than two six-foot tall guys to consider) and head up into the mountains to a state park about an hour away. On this hour long drive up through cliffs, by a river and through a fir forest, it is absolutely indispensable that we listen to something by Rich Mullins, and have at least one good family discussion (this might be known as an argument in other cultures, but oh, not ours). We then slip and stumble down a pine needle trail to our usual picnic table where we feast upon the absolutely traditional lunch of fried chicken, deviled eggs, baked beans, and Texas sheet cake. This is followed by a long ramble that usually involves half of us exploring the woods while the other half cajoles any breathing creature into taking and posing for about three million artistic photos. There’s just something about those aspens that inspires the artists and the dreamers in us all.

Last Kid Photo in the Aspens: (another yearly must):

Last Family Evening: Though rather a generic “last”, the rhythm of our evenings is so much a part of my family’s identity that I have to list it as an integral part of us. We begin it with a feast (yes, we like good food in my family, and when the boys are requesting for special, it’s steak). And we treat it as a feast, almost every night, lighting candles, setting some new music to trill in the background, one of the girls carefully setting the table. With the spice of good food soon flows the spice of good conversation. There are times when this becomes overwhelming; one of Joy’s friends who hails from a rather smaller and more reserved family once asked “does your family ever STOP talking?” We aren’t that noisy, in fact, half of us are introverts, but we are all intuitive idealists who think our thoughts are vital to the wellbeing of the earth. Dinner conversation usually flows seamlessly into an evening walk, where we continue the chosen topic to the backdrop splendor of spruce and fir and darkling, starlit sky. When the dusk finally gets its hands round our brains, we quiet a bit, breathe, and share a companionship of looking that is really as good as any talking. And then home; for coffee, for a movie, for candlelight and reading or yet another discussion. I suppose in the end, we had several of these before the boys left, but I tasted them more with the spice of parting added to my palate.

And that’s that. One of you so sweetly commented that I ought to write about my family, and I guess bits like this are the beginning. Someday, I would like to scratch us all out in ink, our fun and flaws, our griefs and gladnesses and what we managed to create together. There was a rather hysterical scene a couple of weeks ago when one of us kids was calling home from far away and didn’t realize we were on speaker phone (no, it wasn’t me) with more than just mom and dad. Thus, all three remaining siblings crept into the room and heard the full import of the absent sibling’s heart and, well, escapades. Only at the end did said sibling hear a suspicious scratch and suddenly bellow, “hey, who else is in the room?”, at which we all scurried out like mice so that my mom could honestly, innocently, answer, “why, it’s just Dad and me.” “But I heard voices,” came back the rather suspicious answer.

And so he did. Wouldn’t it be a shame if he hadn’t? It came to me today, as I was thinking about all the lasts we have lived in the past week, that that was what we were creating with all our traditions, a circle of voices and memories and words and traditions that will surround every soul that ventures out from the familiar confines of “us”. There’s a grand comfort in having a host of snap-eyed siblings to spy on you and eavesdrop on your most candid conversations. It is a gift; to hear voices, however irritating, is to know yourself encircled, never left to the echoing emptiness of isolation. That’s what I want to write about someday, the grace of having a clamor of voices in your life, and it’s what I’ve been thinking of in these quieter days after the parting. I’m gonna start the story one of these days…

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What is creation?

Art ought always to be a response.

What do you think of that?

I don’t yet know what I think of it truly. But a fresh conviction came to me tonight, timid but persistent, that the act of creation ought always to be a response. To grief perhaps, or joy; to beauty, to pain, to any possible force or fact in the universe that can prod the human self awake. A spiritual reaction driven to expression by the wondering that woke it. My every word should be born of a need to express some knowing or emotion that has burgeoned up within my soul. I write by way of response, I speak because something has spoken into me.

I could be stating the extremely obvious here, but I am beginning to see in my life how broken a thing it is to write apart from response. Because, for me to create something apart from response to some outside emotion or beauty means that I draw creation out of the foundation of my self. What’s wrong with that I ask? Only that to write from the basis of my small knowledge, my little strength is really, to write out of a void. I am aware of a dull shame in me that knows that often I have written from the heady love of my own self worth; my wisdom, my insight, my hoarded authority. I have written in response to myself. And while any skillful expression is always a form of accomplishment, it isn’t necessarily, or perhaps almost ever, true creation. There is a sharp polarity between the well-honed words of carefully displayed knowledge, and the fitful, gorgeous torrent of expression spilling from a brain startled into speech.

In that way, I think that the act of creation is profoundly sacred because it teaches me yet again, to know that my human heart was made in all things to respond to something entirely beyond it. I’m beginning to perceive that I bring very little to the table of life… or truly poignant creation. The sort of art that embodies the cry of the human heart must be at its core, a cry of response itself. It is a cry echoed out to the Reality that provokes our hearts, pricks our souls, draws words from our mute, stubborn lips. I am humbled tonight to understand, to assent to the fact that I cannot draw great beauty or even salvation out of myself. If I tried, my creation would be only a subtly disguised worship of my own being. Creation must always be born of my heart’s response to that which cries out in the world around me.

But oh, I don’t mean that writing, that the crafting of any art, doesn’t require discipline. It does. Art of any kind requires a grand and daily diligence to show up and explore, to watch, and to follow the wakings of my heart when they come. I think I must be in some way a steward of the wonder I encounter. There is some sort of merit in me that is measured by the faith and skill I bring to the act of responsive creation. Writing sure doesn’t seem to be rosebuds and window seats. It takes gritty work to create, to encapsulate wonder, to even be the sort of person capable of response.

Like I said, these are wispy, just forming thoughts. I’m not sure how absolutely to state them. But I’m curious… are you?

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A Tribute to Dinner-time Debate

Someday I am going to write a brilliant essay on the link twixt dinner table discussions and the making of people with opinionated and highly convicted souls. I have a sneaking suspicion of late, you see, that much of my vim for ideals and zest for life came from the rollicking discussions (i.e., friendly arguments) that took place on a nightly basis in my growing up years. I cannot help but wonder how much of my thought has been formed in the candlelit half hour after dinner. It’s something that’s on my mind a good bit of late as I ponder the importance of family and community to the shaping of culture. I was reminded of it again tonight when friends came over and we just happened into a debate about “calling” and “vocation”, followed by a hearty wrangle over the heart religion of John Wesley. The candles guttered low, our latest mountain storm wailed out the dim window and we talked the evening away.

I suppose my interest in the family tradition of discussion is piqued again because of my renewed appreciation for my family and the gifts of thought and heart they passed on to me. It is highly fashionable of late to reach the teen and early twenties years and make the supposedly cathartic move of rejecting much of one’s childhood values. I think, to an extent, I was tempted to this especially in the area of family opinion. I wanted to have my own, quieter, more introverted thoughts. The temptation to autonomy in this particularly individualistic culture is strong, especially when the rest of the family would like to argue you out of it. My brother once spluttered in mingled pride and exasperation that “you know, we’re like these big, noisy families you see in movies, like the family in Big Fat Greek Wedding, or wait, I know, the mafia.” Hmm. Perhaps a slight exaggeration.

And yet, in a strange way, I’m proud of us; proud even of our likeness to those infamous, noisy families. For like them, we have a current of shared thought, strong convictions, a hearty way of seeing the world and believing any idea to possible. Even in my more autonomous teen moments, those ideas and convictions held me to a way of living that has brought me into the sunlight of the present with a strong heart and steady mind. In those dinner time hours, comforted by feasting, gentled by candlelight, my belief was forged, my ideas tested, refined. And I am finally coming full circle, realizing how blessed I am to have parents who wanted to engage my mind, to have the freedom to bandy thoughts, to speak doubts, to experiment with my own new-grown intellect.

So this is my rather random tribute to the family dinner table and its endless debates. To the color and life, the sparkle of argument and words. To my parents, willing to engage the growing minds of their children. To the hours of words woven into ideas, I pay my tribute with a wakened soul and mind. Those hours have formed this living heart. May you all find the same in your own home, on a stormy, candlelit evening of your own.

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The New Anne

My beautiful sister Joy is on a new adventure; an audition for the role of Anne in a new prequel to the beloved Anne of Green Gables series. This promises to be a great movie as it is being done by the same company who produced the series we have all grown up loving so much. As part of the process, Joy has submitted a video of herself doing an Anne monologue to YouTube, where Anne fans can vote and comment on the various submissions. So, I want to let the world know and tell you all to go on over and see how darling she is, and VOTE! Vote for Joy!

YouTube Video
Sullivan Entertainment

Thanks!

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Work

Hey everyone! Here’s a random, rather rambling essay containing some of my recent contemplations on the goodness of work. Especially when it is back among the old ways of garden and kitchen… Joel and I head out tomorrow for lunch and a tour of a nearby manor house with a gracious older gentleman from the nearby village. I met him during a lecture and ensuing debate on art and standards of beauty and he very graciously invited us for Sunday dinner. So I’m sure I’ll have a lovely tale to tell soon. Until then, happy summer day to you and may God “confirm to you the work of your hands” as he has of late to me…

There is an innate human resistance to the idea of work; especially to the demand of physical labor. It is all too present in my heart. Contemplation is so much easier a task than the forcing of my fleshly hands to the tilling of ground, the making of food, the cleaning of a house. Of course I do work hard; few people have much of a choice, and I do it with an admirable sense of duty, telling myself that this is part of the ebb and flow of life in a fallen world. Something is always falling apart and always needing to be put back together again.
But my days here in the quiet of this rambling house have shown me work in a new light. Perhaps I have simply seen it as it was meant to be. I have been advised in romantic matters to be sure and see a man in his own environment before making any hasty judgments and oddly enough, I feel that way about work. Initially, it repulses me with its demand on my time and personal thought, but here I am reconnected with work as it was in the beginning. I am seeing labor in its native environment and am strangely attracted. Living as I am amidst an earthy, rhythmic reality of daily labor, I have found a goodness in work that I had long forgotten.
Because this is an old house that runs quite counter to much modern thought and technology, I feel that I have travelled back in time and been set down again in the middle of God’s own reality: in the presence of wood and stone and water, of fresh vegetables from the garden and crisp sheets dried by the wind. Removed from the usual electric whir of machines and convenience, work here takes time, and it is the accomplishment of a morning to peel buckets of vegetables, to pick lettuce from the garden and hand wash the old dishes. I am connected in a present, consequential way to the fruit of my labor and it is strangely delightful.
But I am also beginning to think that it is necessary; that physical labor is needful to the right living of a holy life. And the discovery is strangely exciting.
I first realized this as I was cooking one dappled morning in the solitude of a small kitchen. A quiet came to me, a rest in the round of my mundane tasks that astonished me with its refreshment. The constant whir of my introspection and frenzied thought finally slowed.  I think that our culture has a societal ADD because of the ceaseless march of activity, technology and constant distraction. I have found more and more in the past years that my brain is in a near constant state of rush. But physical labor, apart from ever-present technology, stops me in my tracks, slows the whir of my busy thoughts. This earthy labor of hand, head and muscle forces me to step aside from the flood of my activity and sit for awhile in the quiet. The rhythmic labor of my hands is restful and the absence of entertainment or distraction eases my brain into a much needed quiet. Work, I have decided is a necessary stop to my modern craze.
But it has also humbled me. And that realization struck deep. It would be easy, especially in this environment of study, to be caught in an endless round of introspection that convinced me of my own importance. There is, in our postmodern culture, a real tendency towards narcissism in our quest for truth and meaning. It is easy to become increasingly self-centered as a result of uninterrupted hours of introspection.
But work reminds me that I am one of many and that true understanding requires me to serve. Work sets me back in the center of community, drawing me out of the tunnel of my own thought into the incarnational reality of my family and the people with whom I share my life. I am simply one more thinker, one more worker, no more or less important than any of the other eternal souls perched around the house. We are all required to love, to work, to consider, but we are also required to serve. The Christian life isn’t just about the thinking up of grand thoughts or the culling of insightful Truth. It is centered on a kingdom made real through the love and thought and work of all those who love God.
After all, life in God is really just all about Love incarnate; in Christ, and in us, His people. We make Him real through the effort of our minds and muscles, head and hands and heart. His grace becomes tangible through the lives we live. It is all too easy to drop the tangible half and claim the autonomy of deep thought alone. Work, daily, rhythmic work, forbids it, reminding me once again that I am one more soul in a kingdom that will one day embrace the world.
So it’s good. Work, I mean. And I am determined to live a little more in the grace of its reality, to actually give thanks now and then for the grace of labor. I even intend to remember this when I am home. Now, if I can only remember that next time I wash the dishes (by hand)…

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Sunny Day Tidbits

The all-encompassing blur of packing has come upon me. Four more days and then…England! I had to share these few tidbits however, as they brought me quite a bit of delight in the last couple of days.

First, for the mind, an interview with Gordon Pennington over at the Boundless site (Focus on the Family’s website for college/twenty-somethings). I am so challenged by the way Mr. Pennington thinks about media and culture, spurs me on to want to do something about it. His thoughts on this are definitely worth some hefty contemplation. And as a side note, I actually met him at a C.S. Lewis a couple of years ago and was so impressed by both his grasp of our culture and vision to change it, as well as just his graciousness in general. So take a look.

For the soul, check out the artist I have just discovered: Daniel Gerhartz. Wow.

And for a random bit of delight for the heart, look who I met on my afternoon walk. The photo does not do justice to his blue-eyed baby cuteness. He wasn’t a bit afraid.

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