In the Notch

 

If you were ever in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, specifically in the Franconia Notch along I-93, before May 3, 2003 I hope you took the time to take in the view the Granite State’s Old Man of the Mountain. The natural rock formation overlooked Profile Lake with its broad, strong features carved out of granite by ancient glaciers. Until its fateful collapse behind the fog and clouds of the White Mountains in 2003, it was a site to be seen. At least I always thought so. It holds a special place in my soul after having spent summer after summer after fall after summer hiking and vacationing in those mountains and under the Old Man’s stoic surveillance. The White Mountains, and especially Cannon Mountain where the Old Man once loomed, feel just as much home as my home town. Once I left New Hampshire the two began to feel one and the same.
You can still visit Profile Lake. And there you will see a sign quoting Daniel Webster that reads “Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades: shoemakers a giant shoe; jewelers a giant watch; and a dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but up in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.”

I do really like that quote. Issues of hyper-masculinity aside, I think it says something about what kind of person is shaped amidst the adversity of those mountains. The weather can change at an instant as dark clouds put hikers on alert or sudden blizzards create hazardous conditions for skiers. The terrain alone along the ridges of the White Mountains is some of the most formidable on the Appalachian Trail. The geography and topography and meteorology of the Granite State alone seems to breed perseverance in adversity among its natives. And that has shaped me.
It has shaped me as all of our places of origin shape us. And sometimes when we face adversity, we long to return to that place of origin for better or worse. I know I long for the White Mountains. I long for them because they bear an adversity that I understand. I am not their master and they would most certainly beat me down or kill me if I was ever so fool-hearted and cocky to believe I was. But I know what to anticipate. I know now that I was shaped by the places I have lived and by the people I have been in relationship with. It is perhaps cheesy or cliche to say such a thing. It seems like an obvious observation. But when you see the fruits of those places, then it becomes clear. When you recognize where God was in those places, they become sacred spaces.
Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, was running away from his brother Esau who he had tricked out of his inheritance. A real jerk move by most standards. Jacob was running to Haran. I hope that sounds familiar. While on the run, Jacob makes camp for the night and has a dream. The dream is crazy and full of all this cryptic imagery and angelic creatures. It’s pretty wild and you should crack open Genesis 28 and give it a read. At the end of it all, God reaffirms to Jacob all of the promises that God made to Abraham that prompted him to leave Haran in the first place. And all Jacob can say is “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it (Gen 28: 16).”
Where are the places that we would never guess God was? I certainly can look back at my times in the majesty of the White Mountains under the gaze of the Old Man and see the presence of God chiseled into Creation in every rock face and tree line, but are there places now where if God was revealed I would say the same words as Jacob? Heavy stuff. Or at least I think so.
I can yearn to be surround by granite peaks and dense foliage again. And that’s fine. But where can i find God in this place now? If I was shaped in those mountains, certainly I was shaped for this.

And do I really believe a special type of person is sculpted in the mountains of New Hampshire? Probably not, but maybe. That’s my bias. I have friends in Philadelphia that would say the same thing about the City of Brotherly Love. I just hope we can step back in whatever place we find ourselves, and say “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

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Silence, Nostalgia, PokemonGo

If you can’t tell by how late on a Tuesday this post went up, I was struggling with what to write today. And if you read last week’s post, you know that our life (my and my wife’s) is in transition. We recently moved, I am looking for a new job, and we are overall getting used to life in a new place. Fun times.

And I opened up laptop today to write and I could think of anything. What should I write about today? I don’t want to write about grief. This blog has only been live for a couple of months, and already I have alluded to sorting through grief at least three times. And I have a work in progress where the topic is, once again, grief (albeit in a more abstract sense, I hope). Tis the season, I suppose.

But this week, I just didn’t want to say anymore about it.

If I could just sit here in silence, and ask you to do so with me, I would. But that’s awkward and uncomfortable in a blog. No one wants to read a sentence asking for silence then stare a blank white page. That would be bizarre. I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that my blog and I do not have the chips saved up for that kind of stunt.

I don’t want to say anymore about it because there comes a point where it almost becomes white noise. It resides in the background like a fan left on while you sleep, or the sound of a cicada on a summer’s eve. You know it’s there. Sometimes you embrace and go through the cleansing of weeping and sobbing, and other times you just let it be. You just let it be and find something else to do, right?
It’s not good, it’s not bad. It is just there. And you let it be.

And lately, I let it be and play PokemonGo. No joke. I’ve had it since it launched, and it’s glitchy and it crashes, and now I live in an area with two PokeStops and hundreds of Pidgeys. But it’s something to do. If you’ve been a shameless fan of the Pokemon franchise since the fifth grade like I have, there’s more than a touch of nostalgia with it.

Nostalgia can be a cool thing. It can bring you comfort, or merely bring a soft smile to your face. However, you can also get addicted to nostalgia. You can cling to it for the comfort at the expense of those around you. It can mire you down with a compulsive longing for “way back when.” And that’s bad news.

So I guess I wrote more about grief. And PokemonGo.

To all those who are grieving different stuff in their lives, I’m sitting in silence with you when it’s too much. And when I pray for my wife and I, I’ll pray for all of us.

Then I’ll head back to that plaza nearby and see if that Dratini shows up again. Gotta catch ’em all.

The sun is nice, too, and my dog enjoys the walk.

Peace.

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Did Abram Cry for Haran?

My wife and I very recently moved. For reasons financial and otherwise, we packed up and left our faith community, our town, and the place where we met, dated, and were married.  It has been a difficult transition with set-backs, confusion, doubt, and anger. And grief. There has been no shortage of grief.

I have spent the last couple of months reading the opening chapters of Genesis in my spare time. Several weeks ago, I was reading about Abraham. If you’re not someone who has grown up in a Judeo-Christian tradition, Abraham is the progenitor of the Jewish people. In Genesis 12, God tells Abraham (at this point his name is Adram) to leave his country and kindred to strike out and settle in a land that God has set aside for him.

So Abram and his wife Sarai pack up and leave their home of Haran. Abram is seventy-five years old. Seventy-five! Sarai isn’t any younger. And they are leaving their home. At age seventy-five. Abram and Sarai have spent a life time in Haran.

The biblical narrative doesn’t have much to say about Abram’s emotional reaction to the transition. In fact, the text paints the picture of a dutiful, obedient Abraham. And for my part, i honestly believe he was. But Abram ran into some setbacks.

Abram, Sarai, and Abram’s brother’s son Lot (and their whole household) strike out towards the promise land of Canaan. Early in the journey, Abram builds two altars to God to invoke God’s name and signify the divine’s presence with him and his convoy. No sooner does the narrative recount this, then the gears shift. A famine has hit the land and Abram is forced to make a pit stop in Egypt. Abram makes some pretty impulsive (and kind of revolting depending on how you interpret the text. See Genesis 12:10-20) decisions that result in he and his family getting kicked out of Egypt. Then while en route back to Canaan, Lot’s people and Abram’s people have some drama. Strife. In-fighting. To keep the peace, Abram and Lot agree to separate and settle different regions. Abram’s takes Canaan and Lot settles in a region of ill repute.

There’s much more to this narrative and I encourage you to check it out. Yet, as I’ve already mentioned, we are given no glimpse into Abram’s emotional process. Thus begins my speculation:

Did Abram cry for Haran?

When he and Sarai packed up of their belongings and left their home, did Abram weep? Did he shed a tear as he looked back at the land of his childhood? Did he feel pangs of doubt and regret as he saw the plots where he buried his mother and father?

When famine struck the land, and this band of travelers found themselves without food, did Abram cry in silence for the familiar landscape where, when famine occurred, he at least knew where to find the last spring holding out in the heat?

When Abram and Lot chose to part ways, did he wipe his eyes on his sleeves and say to himself “We never had these tensions in Haran…”

I think we should aspire to the obedience illustrated in Abram. And yet, isn’t it dysfunctional for us to ignore the reality of the human experience simply because the author of Genesis didn’t write that bit? What pain did Abraham feel in the pit of his stomach for the first few weeks or months of trekking across ancient Palestine when he remembered home?

I just wonder. Because I’d like to read that story. I’d like to know it’s okay to believe you are acting in obedience, pressing into the unknown, and that you can still grieve and doubt and question. As long as you are still walking forward.

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The Life and Times of Jacob Travlers Chapter 2

Chapter 2: The Thaw

Jacob Malachi Travlers, you are hereby evicted from Travlers’ Mill and adjacent grounds. Please vacate within a day’s time. Jacob read it over and over again, sighs punctuating each read.

The month and day were scribbled at the bottom next to his brother and sister-in-law’s signatures.

“So you are evicting me.”

Margaret nodded. “You have until tomorrow morning.” Jacob tucked the notice into his coat pocket and reached for a biscuit, then withdrew his hand and shuffled to his room. Next to his bed was his pack. He hadn’t used it much beyond an occasional overnight hike and it was apparent it had been set out for him but Margaret. It had been a gift from his uncle Malachi. Malachi had always gifted Jacob with more adventurous items for birthdays and holidays, despite Jacob’s not being too keen on adventure. It wasn’t that he disliked adventures per say. As a child, he was captivated by Malachi’s stories of sailing on merchant vessels and visiting foreign lands. Once Jacob had matured, Malachi had even alluded to some of his exploits with exotic women. He assumed many of his uncle’s tales were exaggerated, especially the ones involving women and Malachi’s insufferable charm, but Jacob soaked them in like a tavern mop. Yet, when it came to striking out on his own in search of swashbuckling and romance, Jacob shirked away from the prospect the way a chick shirks from the edge of the nest.

“Travlers weren’t christened that surname for nothing, lil’ Jakey!” Malachi used to say around the fire while camping in the foothills. “Our people earned it through their own sweat, blood, and piss. We used to draw maps, not grind flour!” And his uncle would spit and pound his chest with a surly grin.

Jacob pulled a trunk from under his bed and sifted through its contents. Compass, spyglass, flint and steel. All gifts from his uncle. At the bottom lay a knife and whetstone.  One side was honed sharp, the other serrated. Malachi had made it himself and it was the last gift he had given Jacob before he and Jacob’s father had a falling out. He left the chest open on the bed and packed his other two sets of clothes. He rolled up a wool blanket, wrapped it in a cloak, and strapped it on the bundle. Finally, he emptied the chest into the pack. The gifts from Malachi, as well as a quill, ink well, and two pieces of crisp folded parchment, were most of his possessions. He set the pack on the bed and stared at it. Where to now? he wondered. A knock on the wall behind him startled Jacob.

“I brought you something, ” Esau said. In his hands he held a small, maple chest with brass bands and clasps. It was about half the size of the one Jacob kept under his bed. Esau also held a hatchet. It was Esau’s last gift from Malachi. “Here is your portion of the inheritance, in the chest. And take my hatchet.”

Jacob didn’t move. “I’m not even sure where I’m going yet…”

“You could go anywhere, Jacob.”

“I may just rent a room at the Dragon until I can earn my keep in this village.”

Esau shook his head. “It’s your’s to do as you please. But maybe Fate is granting you a new life just beyond the horizon.”

“What a wonderful way to view an eviction… Fate seems to have conspired with my own brother and sister in-law.”

Esau mumbled something to himself, the only audible words being “…not Fate, exactly.” Jacob’s long face kept his brother locked in a stare. “Well,” Esau continued. “We wrote to Uncle Malachi. His response came into town last night and Harper’s youngest ran it out this morning at first light in exchange for a shilling. Said it was brought to town by a traveling peddler who rolled in looking for grain for his mule. Delayed by the storm, I suspect.”

“He wrote back already?” Jacob’s mouth dropped. “You must’ve written him months ago.”

His eyes searched the the floor for something. “You and Maggie have been discussing this since the dead of winter!”

The silence hung in the air between them like a heavy fog. Finally Esau spoke and offered the letter to the younger brother. “Uncle didn’t address it to us. We do not know what he thinks. He wrote to you, Jacob.”

Jacob took the letter and broke the wax seal. “Here’s hoping this is better than the last note I received,” he muttered. Esau winced. “I’m sorry, Esau. I didn’t mean it. I know the mill is yours, and you and Maggie desire to start a family.” Esau merely nodded in consent.

“We are sorry, Jacob. You’re just too old to stay here. With the thaw at hand, new life is upon us all. The rhythm of the seasons beckons for rebirth and new possibilities. Just like in all those stories elder Hector tells. You know, of spirits and sprites and the blossoming of flowers and the reaching of trees towards the sun. The renewal of the world…” It became apparent that Jacob wasn’t listening. His eyes were wide, his hands gripping the letter from Malachi tight. “Brother, what does it say?”

Jacob slowly met Esau’s eyes.

“I’m leaving to sail across the sea.”

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Independence Day: Resurgence- Blockbuster Destruction and Minor Spoilers

Did you see Independence Day: Resurgence? I did. It didn’t stand out as a masterpiece but, by golly, it was so much fun. Space ships, lasers, Jeff Goldblum’s cynical quips. It even climaxed with a Cthulhu inspired, Kaiju-esque alien rampage. I ate my popcorn and watched the extraterrestrial mayhem unfold. So many explosions. And to my knowledge, it is the first time a mainstream movie has introduced the potential for a large space ship to have its own gravitational pull. A ship three thousand miles in diameter devastates the eastern seaboard of the US and all of the UK because it has its own gravity! WHAT!? Now that earns mad science fiction props in my book. The Death Star doesn’t even have its own gravitational pull (at least not in the films) and it’s the size of a moon! It was visually terrifying and mind-boggling. The sci-fi nerd in me laughed out loud in the theatre at how unnerving the scene was. What gleeful, popcorn movie destruction.independence-day-resurgence

Tuesday morning I came into work and made a quick scan of the headlines. They all reported the current presidential race. But a close second were the suicide attacks in Baghdad and Saudi Arabia (Let that sink in. The media would rather repeat the same pig swill about Clinton and Trump that it has since April than cover terrorist attacks outside of the US and western Europe). Several weeks ago, our nation was focused for a hot second on the violence perpetuated at a night club in Orlando. We live in a world full of violence. This is nothing new. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the book of Genesis as early as chapter 6 describes the world as being filled with violence (Genesis 6:11). Six chapters earlier, the narrative describes how good Creation was. It is repeated over and over that it was good. Now only six chapters into the book of Genesis, a book which has been broke down into 50 chapters throughout tradition I might add, and the world is full of violence. The horror we watch in the news is not new.

The entertainment value we place on violence is also nothing new. Gladiatorial games or public executions were a day at the county fair in antiquity. What is new is the medium and volume through which we can be entertained by such violence. Have you watched any of the Transformers films, or perhaps Man of Steel? Watch the climaxes of those movies, then watch clips of the World Trade Center bombings. I sincerely hope it makes you very, very uncomfortable. While one could argue that the similarities are intentional and meant to be poignant (somehow), I’m not convinced the summer blockbuster is striving for anything more than flashy spectacle.

Blockbuster is a curious term. Fun fact: it was originally used in the 1940s to refer to aircraft deployed bombs capable demolishing whole city blocks. Thirty years later it would be applied to describe hit films and other media. Today in 2016, if you go to see a summer “blockbuster,” you can expect explosions and mayhem and chaos that threatens life as we know it. Thank heavens for the Avengers or Optimus Prime or Earth Space Defense for using more explosions, mayhem, and chaos to save the day. Redemptive violence at its best. It is ironic that we call these films blockbusters. And poetic. And tragic.

But I love watching the spectacle of these movies. I had a blast watching Independence Day: Resurgence. I am excited that the groundwork was laid for a sequel (Interstellar travel! With a giant Apple alien kick ball!).

This morning, I do not have any statements to make. I haven’t found a soapbox to stand on. I just have questions. How do we bridge that seemingly insurmountable chasm between the summer blockbuster we dish out billions of dollars to watch with popcorn and Red Vines, and the horrific scenes of bombings and shootings we see (all too briefly I might add) on the news? Where do I begin to change my thinking so I am not amazed at the sight of all of London being crushed and burned by catastrophe merely because it is at the hands of CG aliens? Can I or should discriminate between when it is or isn’t part of the art form and narrative of a film? And finally how do I encourage art that doesn’t seek entertainment in violence, mayhem, and chaos? I wish I had answers. Because I did enjoy the sequel to Independence Day. But should I have?

 

I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

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