Like a single thread of yarn stretching into the void of history, attached to solid mooring of ancestral days, unraveling ever on toward the future. The thread connects all of us, from the simplest peasant to the grandest king, past, present, and future. Every beautiful life hangs as a colorful flag on that thread, gently waving in the breeze of time.
I was on the tail end of a Greyhound backpacking trip around the United States, meeting interesting people and hitching rides when I could. So far, I’d been to the Grand Canyon, spent a few days in Las Vegas, and stopped at various cities along the way. Earlier, I’d caught a taxi to Mount Rushmore.
After fifteen minutes of walking, the city’s business district gave way to rundown restaurants and boarded up windows. The street became narrower, hemmed in on either side by parked cars. Scents turned from tantalizing to putrid. I didn’t pass anyone walking, although clusters of men, speaking Dutch, stood outside of a few bars.
We’re not tied to rules of the church; nor are we required to follow rules to earn God’s favor. That’s the gospel, the good news.
At night, back roads along Nova Scotia’s southern coast are treacherously dark and terrifyingly narrow, especially when fog rolls in off the ocean.
Everything turns inky black.
That’s how it was around 12 a.m. one spring night in 2015, as I sleepily persevered behind the steering wheel toward Murphy’s Camping on the Ocean. Months before, my girlfriend, Brianna, and I had booked the camping destination online while planning a roadtrip through New England and northeastern Canada. We’d only seen vague pictures of pitched tents, ocean water, and campers; we didn’t know what to expect.
The seeds of my obsession with traveling by bus were sown more than a decade ago in 2006, when I was 15, on a dirty tile floor in the heart of Pittsburgh, Pa. While on a cross country trip to Mo. with my Dad to see the oldest of my seven brothers, Peter, graduate Army Basic Training, we were snowed-in at the city’s Greyhound station for 28-hours. After the first day, the local Red Cross brought cots and distributed food vouchers. There weren’t enough cots, though, and I ended up sleeping on the floor instead, coat balled-up under my head, sweatshirt covering my face.
Thus, the pursuit of truth is the pursuit God, because at the end of every search for meaning and truth Jesus stands as the ultimate expression of both (Whether or not the seeker acknowledges his or her findings as such is a question investigated another time).
In light of that perspective, Jesus’ claim to Pilate suddenly becomes huge. And Pilate’s question takes on the same.
As evening sunlight fades, the charming city comes alive with twinkling lights, like those shining on the Smith College sign overlooking Main Street’s historic brick buildings. They also hang in strings above Pulaski Park, watching over couples strolling past, and old friends lounging at outdoor tables.
A single pinprick of light that overcame the darkness, which draws our gaze like a candle burning in darkness.
On the overseas travel front, I went to Mexico and visited with El Rancho Del Rey boys for the third time, traveled through West Sweden for the second time, and experienced Iceland for the first time. In-country, I went to New York a few times, Georgia, Alabama, Cape Cod and Boston.
Those news agencies that aren’t as ingrained into the online community haven’t fallen prey to this click-bait storytelling concept: these organizations haven’t sensationalized the Hampshire College story, because it’s trivial.
As an example: 22News, a locally based 24-hour broadcast news station covering Western Mass. has written and posted 42 articles about Hampshire College. The Springfield Republican, a newspaper (not 24/7), which posts its stories on MassLive.com (which is 24/7), has written roughly 15 stories. Western Mass. News, which is on the 24-hour cycle, driving its profit from online traffic, has written about 20 articles about the controversy.
In contrast, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, a local paper covering Hampshire County, not on the 24-hour cycle, has written about 10 articles on the controversy, with about another 10 or so letters and columns submitted to the paper by its readers.
I carry my burdens to God: take this atlas stone of other’s pain to the Creator of a love so encompassing, so overarching, so blindingly bright, that even darkness cannot remain dark any longer.
This truth I believe; that God so entirely and completely loved the world that He sent His only son, Jesus, to save humanity from itself.
Truly, Emanuel: God-with-us. Now, in this desperate, painful time, God is with us.
Cars pass by sending mist up into the night. Slowly, slowly, the moon creeps up over the mountain’s edge, casting pale light onto the peaceful valley, painting soft texture into shadows in the back parking lot of Jerry’s Place. My perch, about 15 feet up from the ground, is a perfect alcove of serenity in the midst of a pretty chaotic existence down below.
America is held hostage by a Trump shaped gun: a vote for anything other than Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is a vote for Mr. Trump.
“Where were you when the towers fell?” That question will be posted on every social media platform today, or asked in coffee shops and around dinner tables, as it is posed to billions of people around the world. It’s the defining question of my generation, and has forged an entire social identity of patriotism, influenced wars and rallied a nation to unity, violence, hate and peace.
The day after seeing Josh, while sitting at home alone in my apartment, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t more excited to see him, and he, to see me. It’s not that we don’t love or care for each other; on the contrary, I deeply care about every one of my brothers, and would gladly give my life for their safety and happiness.
Yes, there is deep-seated racism in the United States that stems from a mass genocide slave holding culture that segregates the entire nation and causes black men and women to suffer under the chains of an unequal justice system; that forces people with dark skin to walk uphill their entire lives — can’t I fight against that inequality, and at the same time, say that the vast majority of law enforcement officers deeply care about the people and communities they serve and would step in front of a bullet for anyone?
All these years later, her words and assurance stay with me: God is still bigger; than hate, which drove a man to walk into an Orlando nightclub and murder 49 people in the dark; than fear, which drives America forward on a vengeance path; than anger, which fuels the ongoing chaos in the world.
Two men stand in the crowd, one, in front, is trying not to cry while holding a lit candle up in the air. His eyes are closed, his grip is firm yet gentle. Another man stands behind him, with his head on the first man’s left shoulder, eyes squeezed shut and a look of agony on his face.
In the same way, this inmate had a choice about how to respond to his present circumstances. And he chose to write me an unpleasant letter. From his perspective, I understand that I must seem like a villian. However, I did nothing other than report the facts (of course, that doesn’t make me feel any better).
In the midst of all this jubilation, I’m reminded of a verse my father has told me many, many times: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Dad would pull the pallet onto the work floor with a hand jack and slap down another in its place. The scent of that building has lingered with me after all these years: a mixture of stale ink and dust. It was so dry I’d have to run to the bubbler every half-hour or so for a disposable cup of water.
El Rancho Del Rey is a bright light that shines through the dust. Just off the highway in the middle of a growing neighborhood on the outskirts of the city of Monterrey, the white walls provide a safe haven from dangers that lurk outside. About fifteen boys stay in the residence each school year. They’re given a safe place to run around and be kids; three square meals a day and an opportunity to pursue education. Since its start in the 1950s, the home has given thousands of boys an opportunity for success.
Infinite possibilities are borne on the wings of time as it ticks past. Unmade decisions; unrealized choices; unsaid words; they are all carried forward on the momentum of the present. Time is impregnated with excitement, adventure, sadness, pain, anger and every other possible human emotion; however, despite the importance of time, most seconds simply pass by unnoticed and disregarded, almost as if they didn’t carry any significance at all.
University of Chicago, 1962: Civil turbulence swept through the campus hot on the heels of the national black rights movement; students protested the segregation of dormitories—driven by staunch idealism—the forefront of student-led protests around the country.
The University’s discrimination spurned public outrage which culminated in a 15-day protest outside of a campus administration building. Among the protesters, soon-to-be-president of Congress of Racial Equality (the protest organizer), a pissed-off 19 year old Bernie Sanders:
Bernie on the other hand, has taken the Democratic Presidential race by storm. He has come out of nowhere to fill arenas and raise the biggest crowd-sourced campaign ever, from the ground up. He has created a revolution, and united people around his ideas. It’s possible to defeat a person, but it’s impossible to overcome an ideology.
I never had a choice; thrust into the cold light of a dawning earth thrown back into caveman days. No one cared about anyone but themselves. My first breath wasn’t freedom, that’s for damn sure; and when the inky blackness slid away from newborn eyes, all I saw was pain. I didn’t choose this.
A bitter cold midnight wind rips through my jacket and squeezes my heart. Snow crunches under thin shoes; branches weigh heavy with frozen tears.
Through my cold haze flashing lights snap into the darkness, bathing the night in angry color. In front of me, a slumbering form is covered with a sheet. I see a stretcher beside it, unused. Backlit smoke drifts up from the idling ambulance. Men raise an emergency spotlight. Cars slow down to gaze in horror. Color blinks; extremities shiver.
So that we can transcend pain, strife, misery, depression, etc etc etc etc, and find peace and hope and fulfillment that lasts — not just while we’re on this earth, but forever.
That’s where my hope rests.
In World War II, boatloads of Jewish refugees were turned around because of the inconvenience and fear they brought with them. Native Americans were thrown out of their homes because they stood in the way of freedom. Men and women were shackled and driven to the fields in pursuit of happiness. Do you see the trend? America offers freedom only when it’s convenient.
Tell that to the 343 firefighters who perished under rubble with sweat pouring down their faces and the blood of fellow citizens on their hands, and the children whose parents leapt from the one hundredth floor — who might be silently sitting in your classrooms, afraid to speak up.
Lately, I’ve been feeling a little bit empty – and for a while I didn’t know why: I mean, I have everything and more than I could ever ask for.
And then it dawned on me: I’ve been feeling like David did when he penned “as a deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs after You, God”; I’ve been longing for more of God and less of me – I’ve been trying to fill a spiritual void with material things that can never replace Him.
I write along with A. W. Tozer, who, in his book The Pursuit of God, wrote: “To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.”
The same year I graduate from eighth grade, 1967, my dad accrues thirty days of vacation from the General Electric Company. He proposes a cross-country road trip pulling an Apache pop-up trailer. My parents plan all year for this month of visiting every relative, long lost friend, and national park from Niagara Falls to Disneyland.
In the dark of winter, I fall asleep to the nick, nick, nick of my mom’s sewing machine in the guest room on the other side of my bedroom wall. She stiches drawstring cases for each of our sleeping bags. Mine is pink calico with turquoise flowers. My brother’s, a Navajo print on a maroon background. My dad’s, nautical strips in yellow, navy and red. My mom’s, the same strip in red, white and blue. She makes herself a mumu in a psychedelic pattern for the baking Southwest. For me she fashions summer blouses, shorts, and my first two- piece bathing suit with padding in the cups.
Recognizing that humans understand moral concepts is important in understanding what makes us human. Because we can know when we have been wronged, we are able to reflect the forgiveness and grace that have been given to us by a God of ultimate love.
We are human, when we embody the Creator, in whose image we have been made; when we love in the face of evil, we throw off nature, and put on something greater – something higher, and unnatural: We love, because He first loved us.
I hurriedly pack up my camera and tripod, and turn toward the woods to flee for shelter. Suddenly, two figures emerge from out of the gathering dusk. One is slouching heavily against a tree; the other is to his left, hands in pockets and face obscured by night – he takes a step forward. Behind me, is a two hundred foot drop: in front an unknown menace; I prepare for the worst.
My daughter coaches me beforehand on how to hug and air kiss on both cheeks, but her dainty future mother-in-law gives me a bear hug and pets my hair. I’ve learned to communicate by cheating with words I know in Spanish, easily recognized by speakers of Italian. We make small talk over spaghetti and clams, and whole sea bass that my son-in-law carefully bones. We finish with cherries, Nonna’s favorite, and sweet tiramisu made by his dad.
Travel: a temporary cure to a hereditary existence. I travel, for brief respite from my pain; but, like scratching an itch, the longing becomes stronger after the respite. There is nothing quite the same, as an open road ahead of the car; there is nothing better than trees rushing by the window; or waking up to a new city.
I pulled out my umbrella and it was immediately flipped inside out. So we hurried back to the Port Authority, soaked. There’s nothing like running through the rain in downtown Manhattan.
Yoga in Times Square.
I’m feeling sick: literally, I feel like I’m going to throw up – thinking about the tremendous hate, that drove a young man to walk into an elegant white church, sit down and converse with a group of loving people during a Bible study, calmly pull out a handgun, and shoot them like animals.
At 9 p.m. Dylan Roof stood up, declared that he was “here to kill black people;” and massacred 9 innocent people in cold hate. One man asked him to stop – he shot him in response. He left one woman alive so that she could tell what happened.
There’s something about trees passing by the window, that makes me forget about yesterday, and live entirely in the moment. Something about the rumble of wheels over track, that lulls me into a dazed stupor of nostalgic thoughts. Or maybe it’s sleep that sweeps over me like a phantom.
Read about a whirlwind trip through Europe, by train.
But through it all, I have felt a gentle current pulling me back; the tide is changing. I can feel its pull. like shifting sand underneath my feet and between my toes; slipping back out to see. I am pulled by gravity towards love incomprehensible by human mind. I cannot explain it; nor can i escape it. I am desperately loved by a being that I cannot understand, regardless of myself: regardless of what I do.
“I struggle with balance. No, I don’t mean the keeping-myself-upright kind of balance (although I will be the first to admit that I can be a bit clumsy sometimes), I mean in a less literal sort of way – I mean trying to juggle spiritual life, school, relationships, actual work, family, freelance work, and fitness.”
Learning to balance responsibilities, relationships & fitness is difficult: humility is the key to a happy and a successful walk over the tightrope.
“All flesh is mortal; there is birth and there is death- no one can slow down or speed up the inevitable process. We are perishable creatures; destined for destruction. Existence never stops: “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4). The groundskeeper will trim the hedges over your lifeless form, and no one else will care after a while; because all flesh is linear and has an unavoidable end. Death is the natural process of mortality. Everything has an end and a season.”
The world is like the song: “Dust in the wind;” nothing matters, except for God.
In this photograph (above) illustrating an article of mine published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette in October, Alia Starkweather, then 82, was leaving her clapboard cottage in Belchertown to embark on a new and exciting life on the road. She purchased a 1987 Toyota Minicruiser and set out on her own after Thanksgiving. I met Starkweather while writing […]