the great adventure: day 12

•October 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

time does weird things to memories. sometimes it clouds them with forgetfulness and other times it infuses them with additional information that may or may not have been there during the actual experience. i think there’s a little bit of both going on here.

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we woke early and set off from snohomish, facing a 12 hour drive to our next destination. i regret that i slept through the first leg of the drive as we crossed out of the cascade mountains and onto the columbia plateau where brian stopped for gas and i awoke to find the snowy peaks far behind us – just tiny jagged white bumps on the fading horizon.

my first memory of the day was of the brilliant blue skies littered with clouds that rolled across the road ahead of us like a herd of flying white buffalo and of crossing the i-90 bridge at vantage, where the columbia river becomes wanapum lake, as we headed for what seemed like a dead end into an abrupt wall of rock before turning north and then northeast toward spokane.

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in this part of washington, i-90 is just a long stretch of concrete cutting through gently rolling countryside marked by crop circle irrigation and silos, and it reminded me of my wife’s family farmland near smith center, kansas.

i don’t recall a whole lot of dialogue taking place during this part of the trip and i’m not quite sure why that was.  i simply remember gazing quietly out the window as the irrigated land slowly gave way to brown grasslands gradually populated with more and more trees, many of which were evergreens, as we neared spokane itself.

it was beautifully serene.

most of our trip up the northern half of the western seaboard had been in the dark and i had been asleep, not fully recognizing the shift that was taking place not just in our location but inside me.  now, as we drove east, away from where those experiences had taken place i felt something i couldn’t quite explain and still can’t exactly put into words.  it was as if the more the scenery changed the further away from my experience on the beach at el capitan i felt.  like i was leaving god behind right where i had found him.

but his words still hung in my mind:

i am with you. even at the end of the earth.

and this thought lingered with me as we pulled into spokane and began looking for a place to have lunch.  being unfamiliar with spokane we google searched and decided our best bet was to get some fast food in order to get back on the road and try to make our campsite before nightfall.  we found a jack-n-the-box on west 3rd and as we made our way off the interstate and onto the side-streets we ran into an angry looking god painted onto the side of a halfway house called pioneer pathways.

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and it bothered me. a lot.

mostly because in my experience the people who believe in that god have generally been church members who have in one way or another inflicted pain and suffering on me, my family, and friends.  in fact part of the catalyst for taking this trip had been to escape the aching depression that had set in after my most recent encounter with such people.

i grew up with an image of god based largely on my broken relationship with my own father who was an angry and often violent man.  my interactions with him taught me that if i wanted to be on his good side i should be quiet, out of sight, and never bother him with any questions.  i also learned the hard way that if i didn’t meet his unspoken expectations i was going to receive his unbridled wrath.

my image of god growing up was informed by these experiences with my father.  as i understood it, god was not terribly interested in me and only took notice of me at all if i did something that bothered him at which point i was sure to see his wrath poured out.

this fearful image of god dominated my entire life but it clashed with the god who had spoken to me as i dangled my legs from the south rim of the chisos mountains 20 years ago and it clashed with the god who had spoken to me again just a few days prior as i sat astride a piece of driftwood on the beach in santa barabara.

i was having difficulty reconciling this vitriolic image with the god who had spoken to me.  i had an angry father.  i wasn’t interested in an angry god.

i saw a video one time with author philip yancey who wrote what’s so amazing about grace.  speaking of the angry god, he said: “i think for a lot of people we need to fire or at least scrub off that image of god we grew up with and discover the god that is revealed in jesus because it really is good news.”

i don’t think i could have said it any better.

after finishing lunch we parted company with the angry god and i couldn’t help but think of leaving him behind as a metaphor for actually leaving that angry god behind once and for all.  it felt good.  i felt free.  and once again god seemed to be speaking to me without saying a word.

the rest of the drive was like a long peaceful sigh.

as we entered idaho we passed through a section of the rocky mountains and i was surprised to see many of them covered in some sort of wildflowers that gave it a distinctly purple hue in the sunlight.  having sung ‘america the beautiful’ enough times i had heard of such a phenomena but had never seen it with my own eyes.

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it was unexpected and beautiful, but even as we continued on our way i once again felt it was a whisper from god reminding me of his presence.  we saw other such reminders as we drove into montana.  from volcanic uplift along the northern pacific railroad…

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to open prairies bordered by stretches of the rocky mountains…

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to the rising moon over the foothills outside of missoula.

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we stopped for gas in butte and while filling the tank we noticed a strange white spot on top of a mountain just to the northeast of town.  we asked the lady at the register what it was and she pointed to some tourist brochures of our lady of the rockies, a 90 foot statue built on top of the continental divide after blowing off part of the original rock.

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i apologize for the bad picture but we were a long way from the statue and didn’t really have time to move in for a closer look so this was what i ended up with.  if you are interested in seeing just what she looks like, google can help.

as i continued to find god revealing his presence to me through his creation i wondered why it is that so many people choose to set up statues and shrines or to travel to them in order to hear from god or feel closer to him through the piety of their journey.  when the entire creation reveals the glory of god, why do we insist on setting up our own handmade reminders?  isn’t that how we ended up with the angry god to begin with?  because we created him in our own broken image instead of allowing his handiwork to speak for itself?

i decided to dismiss the idea just as i had dismissed the angry god and instead focused on the rolling hills and countryside that was sweeping up toward another arm of the rockies to the southeast.

we reached us 287 near three forks and turned south toward our camp at hebgen lake just outside of yellowstone national park in the gallatin national forest.  within a few miles we encountered a wildfire being attended by several fire fighters and emergency personnel.  apparently it had been a naturally occurring fire but they were busy trying to put it out.

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i remember tweeting a picture of the smoke and my friend chris, who is quite the outdoorsman, commented that “fire is good for the mountains!” and he was right. naturally occurring fires and fires purposely set by trained forest management personnel actually help the environment by removing underbrush, cleaning up dead debris, and opening the forest up to more sun. all of which helps the forest grow.

and it reminded me that sometimes in order to get rid of some of the junk in my own life, god allows naturally occurring fires as well.  they hurt, but they also burn away the debris.  and after spending the day in contemplation about my angry dad and the angry god he had given me i was thankful for the fire that had been burning all of that away.

as we neared our campsite, we passed along the edge of earthquake lake, the result of a 7.5 magnitude shakeup that ripped open the ground beneath the madison river and simultaneously caused a landslide from an adjacent mountain, which temporarily dammed the river, forming this lake.  yet another reminder of the natural balance between slow gradual change and quick violent upheaval that god has used to give us such magnificent wonders as are present in places like yellowstone.

and in our lives as well.

we continued along the edge of hebgen lake which feeds the madison river just upstream of earthquake lake as the moon began to sink in the south.

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we turned off us highway 287 onto a dusty cougar creek road as sunset silhouetted the evergreens of the gallatin national forest.  the day was ending, but we reached rainbow point campground just as dusk painted the sky orange and blue above us

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and the moon checked in on us as we finished off our supper and cleaned up for the night.

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it was another long but meaningful day and as i sat on our picnic table enjoying the sounds of the night coming alive i was thankful for the chance to have such an experience and to share it with my brothers.  i was also at peace.  a peace i had not experienced in a very long time, but that had become a growing aspect of the journey.

Picture 956we talked a bit over our meal and collectively wished we had the materials for a campfire and i really wished we would have had the stuff because i think we would have stayed up a bit longer and talked.

as it was we finished eating and bear-proofing the site, then retired to our tents.  the strong scent of pine and the crisp night air made it feel like autumn, so i cocooned in my wiggy and closed my eyes, thankful for another day in the wild.  thankful for gods peace.  thankful beyond words.

the great adventure: day 11

•April 3, 2014 • 1 Comment

Picture 817heavy clouded skies released their tears as we slept. it was a deep sound sleep encouraged by the rain tapping out a gentle adagio on the geo-dome windows above us.  it was as if some benign siren was singing an enchantment over us.

when we awoke it was late morning and we were eager to see seattle so we showered and headed into town, our main target being pike place market and the puget sound waterfront overlooking bainbridge island.

the drive into town was masked by a hazy drizzle, but as we emerged from the east portal and made the big i-90 s-curve the skyline came into view as a ghostly shadow before us, haunting my imagination like a vision from some post-apocalyptic movie. but as we drew near and found our way to the market the experience was anything but frightening. entranced by the weaving together of sky and shadows in the midst of an evergreen forest that gave way to concrete and steel, i looked around in wonder at the emerald city in its misty morning glory.

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in spite of the thick moisture in the air, the market was  bustling with activity. people shopped for everything from fish and produce to clothing and art as we wandered down the street in and out of the shops and booths and i was struck by the small irony that in the middle of this city whose claim to fame is rainy grey days, a fascinating palette of colors, sounds, and smells filled the cityscape canvas all around us.

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near the pure food fish market where they toss the fish as a matter of habit, we found a local busker by the name of carly calbero whose vocal power betrayed her slight frame as she belted out her songs with a passion that transcended the noisy atmosphere surrounding us.

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we spent the better part of the afternoon taking it all in. from the fish tossing

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to pike place chowder located on post alley where we stopped for lunch and savored some fresh and delicious bread-bowl chowder

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to a mandatory stop at the original starbucks in the market, where i picked up a unique blend of pike place special reserve coffee that i am still enjoying. apparently they only sell it at the original store and one other location on pike place. its a bold latin american blend that goes well with a relaxed morning in my reading nook. especially if its raining.

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after getting our coffee we hung out at the waterfront next to some indigenous totems

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and stood overlooking the sound as the shadows swallowed and spit out the islands in the distance.

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after walking the length of the market we hopped back in the car and drove by the space needle

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and while its a pretty nifty landmark, i was somewhat more impressed with the artistic architecture of the EMP museum which was designed by frank o gehry and apparently inspired by electric guitars.

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for a long time i have possessed a deep uneasiness about big cities. im not entirely sure why but generally big buildings and lots of people triggers something akin to claustrophobia and i feel pressed in on all sides. the noise is another issue. the hum of freeways coupled with sirens and airplanes squealing by overhead somehow feels threatening.  but there was a deeper, fuller hum in seattle that felt entirely different.  a hum that seemed to come from somewhere outside the concrete and steel and yet to reverberate within everything around us.

the more i paid attention the more it seemed as if god was there and that he was speaking without saying a word.

as ive stated previously in this travelogue i highly prefer wide open spaces because i find it easier to connect with god in those environments. but something about our experience in seattle was unlike my previous experiences in large cities. there was a beauty in it that i think i was able to see because my eyes were open and new and everything was once again filled with wonder. i was beginning to sense that god was humming there in the city, making himself known in the bustling vibrations of life. drawing my attention to his presence in places i have generally found uncomfortable and menacing.

but this revelation was on a slow burn and would continue to simmer in my mind for the remainder of the trip, even after we had departed seattle and left all major cities behind us, headed to yellowstone and the grand tetons for the final days of our journey.

as afternoon drew toward evening we headed back to snohomish for supper with our awesome hosts, the jeffs family. we talked about various things over supper, from our trip to god to the crazy awesome geo-dome designed and built by mr jeffs himself.

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then we all got schooled by brian while playing 3d blokus.

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it was a relaxing end to a wonderful day and though the sky was still full of moisture as darkness fell in the sleepy hills, i felt the quiet hum of gods presence all around me and knew the days ahead would be full of radiance.  and since we had a long days drive ahead of us i tried to get a good bit of sleep because i didnt want to sleep through anything interesting on the road. it was like the old aerosmith song was becoming my mantra because god was revealing himself in fascinating new ways and i didnt want to miss a thing.

shifting the sermons

•April 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

i have decided to return to actual blogging on this site so i have shifted all sermons over to the marathon baptist church blog. i will continue to update the sermons there from now on so please feel free to continue following the sermons at: http://marathonbaptistchurch.wordpress.com/sermons/

while we were yet immortal

•November 5, 2013 • Leave a Comment

for my brothers, brian and jase

 

remember when we read thoreau

and whitman

and frost

and we longed to be somewhere

outside on an adventure

in the wild world of their words?

remember when we read nietzsche

and kierkegaard

and sartre

and we ruminated and postulated

about being and existence

around a fire beneath a bridge?

remember when we read rumi

and eckhart

and rilke

and we dreamed of intimacy

with god and ourselves

as days fell away to years?

remember when we read shakespeare

and keats

and dickinson

and we contemplated life and death

while we were yet immortal

and the fading of our hearts had not begun?

what kind of father?

•July 2, 2013 • Leave a Comment

this is a sermon i gave at community north baptist church on fathers day. i apologize in advance for the alternating audio quality. my mic was problematic.

99 years

•June 26, 2013 • 1 Comment

for my mimi

6.23.13

how can words describe a love
so deep and full and true?
it was an everyday way of life
when we spent time with you.

whether we were cooking supper
or dancing in the living room
or exploring islands on our walks
there was never any gloom

your smile was like the midday sun
always warm and bright
chasing fear and darkness away
filling our lives with light

each song of praises on your lips
pointed us toward the throne
you lifted high the name of jesus
with a sweet melodic tone

and in your hands we knew we were
no less than safe and sound
a prayer away from the hands of god
his mercy and grace unbound

no words can capture who you were
your impact is too great
we mourn the absence we will feel
we grieve beneath the weight

part of the world is empty tonight
one less breath on the wind
youve gone away until he comes
to set things right again

the great adventure: day 10

•May 11, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Picture 807with a promising day ahead we woke early and after a good breakfast with the maytons said our goodbyes and headed out. we were only minutes from the golden gate bridge and came upon it before i was really prepared. i scrambled to get my camera out and take a few shots as we passed under the wonder of suspension and human ingenuity and like so many events in life it was over before i really wrapped my mind around it, much less my viewfinder. despite the clouds and hanging fog the red coating still pulsed in my eyes as we crossed and as i looked back san francisco glowed in the early morning sun.

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a short winding drive up into the tamalpais hills brought us to muir woods national monument and our early arrival allowed us a rare privilege: walking among these giants without the bustle of noisy tourists.

the indeterminate growth of these coastal redwoods pushes them ever skyward and because of their proximity to the ocean they get a vast amount of moisture, creating a huge natural ecosystem with a diversity of living things thriving beneath their umbrella.

as with many of our experiences on this trip words fail to adequately describe what it was like to set foot in these woods and the unreasonable quiet offset by the ancient grove of giant trees reaching ever higher drew me into gods presence yet again. walking underneath the canopy felt like being in another world and i considered the fact that this place was already here quietly minding its own business around the time jesus walked the earth.

in the hour we spent slowly drifting along the trails i found the harmony of big and small mesmerizing. from the intricate roots system..

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to the undergrowth..

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to the giant trunks..

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to the treetops..

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everything there, though vastly different in size, lives in unity. there is an interdependence that allows life to thrive because these differences are complimentary in this setting. in many ways this is how i understand being a part of the kingdom of god; we are all vastly different but we share an ecosystem of faith in jesus. so while we may disagree on certain theological ideas or how to worship or how to bring the gospel to this generation we live and move and have our being under the same canopy of gods mercy and grace.

for me this concept is vital in keeping me humble and tethered to a faith that was around several millennia before i was – much like these woods. and i believe we need such tethers; ways to keep us grounded as we gaze up into the lofty branches of our hopes and dreams and remain connected with the past as we move into the future.

as we drove up i-505 to the 5 and headed north through the valley the clouds grew dark and ominous. we crossed the stunningly deep blue mccloud river reservoir twice and then chased Picture 753alongside the river itself up through logging country, past the aptly named castle crags and on to mount shasta where we pulled off to gas up. after a few hours in the car it was nice to stretch and while we unfolded we talked with some young guys who looked like rastafarian hippies.

our conversation was short but we discovered they moved there from ohio…just because. the dense fog inside their little subaru outback gave me the impression that they may have moved here for other reasons and after a few minutes we wished them well and got back on the road, passing the small town of weed just a few miles north and confirming my suspicions. i couldnt help but be amused by this for a good while.

we veered northeast on us highway 97 and passed some old lava flows from shastas eruptions, the most recent taking place only 200 years ago. the overcast sky hid the valley in shadows and the clouds obscured the peak but it was still an impressive sight.

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further north we passed into oregon and watched as the hills rolled off gently in every direction. we tracked alongside upper klamath lake for a bit, which is a beautiful but lonely stretch of road. as we pressed further north, the hills gradually grew populated with more and more trees and with so much natural growth i was surprised to discover a sign calling this area the “high desert”. 

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just north of the lake we turned northwest again on oregon state highway 62 and as we crossed into crater lake national park we noticed several small patches of snow on the ground. it was the end of june and we were barley above 5000 feet in elevation which made this quite an unusual sight but before we had much of a chance to marvel at it snow began falling quickly all around us. we pulled into the gift shop by the rv camping area and took a few moments to take in what was happening.

a freak summer blizzard hit crater lake the day we showed up and covered the whole area in a foot of snow? it was hard to believe. yet as we crested the rim and walked up to the ledge it was true: the sudden storm had fogged in the lake and while it was beautiful and surreal it shrouded from view our very reason for being there.

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i was torn between my desire to see crater lake with its majestic hues and my love of experiencing snow. as it continued to fall we walked along the ledge and read some of the plaques depicting mount mazama and its volcanic activity.

as it turns out the klamath tribe of the area claimed that crater lake was created by a battle between llao, the god of the underworld, and skell, the god of the sky, who fought to the death between mount shasta and mount mazama until skell defeated llao and cast him deep into the underworld. he then used the top of mount mazama to imprison llao and after sealing it, covered it with water to restore peace and tranquility.

the story reminded me of a latin phrase i learned while studying the protestant reformation: post tenebras lux. translated it means after darkness, light. this idea shows up a lot in mythology around the world and is a foundational element in the creation story of genesis. the jewish people still mark days in this manner, and in a sense it is a concept that offers great hope because however dark the night, the dawn will prevail.

i knew nothing of mount mazama and the klamath myth before our trip, i just had a burning desire to find god in the wilder places of his beautiful creation. but in truth i was also running away from my own darkness of anger, depression, and a growing fear that my life would never get any better. walking along the edge of an ancient volcano that symbolized the struggle between darkness and light as it was steadily covered with a flaky snowfall i desperately longed for skell to defeat llao and the promise of post tenebras lux.

for the end of my bitter darkness

and the warmth of light.

the klamath tribe long ago understood this volcano in terms of this longing for peace in the face of chaos; a longing to be alive and in the light, enjoying the tranquility of creation. it is a longing shared by paul in romans 8:1-2

with the arrival of jesus the messiah, the fateful dilemma is resolved. those who enter into christs being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous low-lying black cloud. a new power is in operation. the spirit of life in christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

and further in 8:19-23

the created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. everything in creation is being more or less held back. god reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. meanwhile the joyful anticipation deepens. all around us we observe a pregnant creation. the difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. but its not only around us – its within us. the spirit of god is arousing us within. we are also feeling the birth pangs. these sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance.

so as we huddled back into brians little honda fit and tried to escape the mounting snow the weight of the battle being waged inside me, the conflict between chaos and light in my past, present and foreseeable future, landed on me like the snow – enshrouding my thoughts and obscuring the way forward. and while i eagerly anticipated the possibility of glorious times ahead i remained entangled in the existing conflict within; fearing what it would mean to face my own darkness.

god had showed up throughout this trip and had assured me he was with me “…even at the end of the earth…” but now i wondered what that meant when i walked away from the end of the earth and back into the everyday reality i left behind in dallas. would light follow this darkness? or would i just have to trust that the beauty was there on the other side of it and hope to see it someday?

the snowy fog hiding the beauty of the lake was a perfect metaphor.

with this mystery circling the sacred labyrinth in my mind we stopped to take a picture at the wizard island overlook as the blizzard continued

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wary of sleeping in the snow we discussed pushing on to portland and finally decided to take turns at the wheel and drive through the night to snohomish outside seattle where we would stay with the jeffs family, parents of some of my close friends, clint and melissa brackett. we called ahead to warn them of our change of plans and desire to arrive ahead of schedule albeit late in the night. wendy was more than hospitable and even agreed to keep watch and let us in whenever we arrived.

we passed mount hood and mount st helens in the dark and i don’t remember much of the trip other than a short few hours behind the wheel as i took a shift driving from just north of portland up through tacoma. we stopped for gas in my namesake of kent and finally arrived in snohomish around 4 am to find wendy waiting up for us. she set us up with beds and we decided to just sleep in and head into seattle whenever we all awoke and got ready.

i snuggled into my pillow on the couch and said a quick prayer of thankfulness as well as need but after a long day and almost 900 miles on the road the weight of the day dragged me into a deep and welcomed sleep

somewhere close to dawn.

 
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