30 December 2012

Fiscal Cliff: Bring it On!

If we were in Sparta-this would be the answer to the fiscal cliff

The congressional-constructed fiscal cliff has received more than the attention it deserves.

While the measures seem extreme and even draconian, with higher taxes and significant spending cuts, could it be it's just tough love or, maybe, hard medicine to swallow?  I think everyone agrees that the United States government is spending too much.  But spending cuts alone won't help cushion the fall of the true cliff hanger.  Given the support of moderate Republicans for the Simpson-Bowles plan, I would guess that not less than 75% understand that additional revenue is needed to fill the growing hole.  A hole that's been created by unprecedented natural catastrophes, 9/11, and an incredibly prolonged war that demands huge cash outlays for machinery and manpower.

But right-wing Republicans don't want to cut military spending or raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.  And left-wing Democrats don't want to cut any spending or increases in Medicare and other entitlement spending.

Simpson-Bowles seem the closest to a common sense-tough love approach that we need.  It may not be as draconian as the cuts and increases the fiscal cliff could drive on January 1st, but it goes a long way to address both spending and revenue.  If the spending cuts and new taxes that will be enacted, should we tumble over the cliff, go too far......then maybe we should step back from the edge and make the solution more tolerable.  Maybe we should ratchet the new taxes and spending cuts to 50% of what is proposed.  That means instead of the approximate additional $2000 a year in taxes that I will pay......I would have to pay $1000.00.  Maybe I'm just too simple-minded here, but clearly I haven't been paying my fair share if the national debt continues to rise.  I'm enjoying the peace and security the multi-trillion dollar war is providing, the patch-work infrastructure improvements being undertaken, the so-called education my children are getting, and the nearly sufficient care the seniors I know are receiving......so, if I need to pay a little extra, I'm glad to kick in my fair share.

Personally, I don't want my taxes to go up.  Who does?  But if both parties can't get serious about spending cuts and tax rates that roll back the clock (to maybe our most prosperous times in recent history-the 90s) maybe it's time to go off the edge.

And I wonder if that's not what everyone in Washington DC is thinking.  If I were on the far right and saw the writing on the wall, having taken the pledge "no new taxes" (don't read my lips), what better way to NOT be responsible for taxes to go up.  It gives me the perfect "out" when I come back home to answer to my constituents because I never cast the vote to raise taxes....it just sorta happened.  And what better way to ensure really necessary spending cuts in both defense and entitlements, than to NOT have to make that decision.....it just kinda happens too.  The fiscal cliff may in fact have been an ingenious plan, not as an impending deadline with lots of coverage, but as a scapegoat for doing what really needs to be done.

In many ways I'm hoping we go over the cliff and pick up the pieces on the other side......doing only what absolutely needs to be done.  I just hope you've got your parachute packed.

22 December 2012

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas

From our little farm to you,
we wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Hold your family tight this year and be ambassadors of peace in this world.

21 December 2012

God's got perfect attendance, even at Sandy Hook

What kind of Savior are we looking for?

Where was God?

He was in a very surprising place on December 14.  He was standing next to Adam Lanza, next to the principal Dawn Hochsprung, the teachers, the children.  He was there in the midst of the chaos.  God is bigger than the legislation we Christians have jumped on blaming for leading to this tragedy.

I wasn't prepared for this deflection from what happened on the 14th.  I wasn't prepared to see fellow Christians post pictures of Christ standing outside of Sandy Hook-looking as though he had been banned.  I wasn't prepared to see a comment that made God look like a powerless pouter in which one person asked where He was, and He stated He wanted to be in the school, but He wasn't allowed.  I like Mike Huckabee, but when he went on this rant, I wondered what kind of God he believed in.

I'm tired of Christians playing the blame game with what is wrong in our country.  Look no further than the mirror.  It seems we're quick on the right to say that people won't take responsibility for their own actions or circumstances, but what about our own lack of action?  I think it is time for the church to begin to accept some responsibility, but oh, it is so much more convenient to try to point fingers to a political solution.  Funny how that's ok for prayer in school, but the same camp says additional legislation on gun laws won't work.

We're still looking for that political savior, aren't we?  That king who will make things right, not the king who came to change hearts.  We're probably like the people who got to the manger and realized there was no way this baby could be a real king....so they just passed Him by.

There wasn't prayer or Bible reading when I went to a public grade school, nor did this happen when my parents were in school, and I'm not so certain that it happened when my grandparents went to school.  And there weren't mass shootings then.

The fact is there probably is MORE prayer and Bible reading in school today than there ever has been.  Prayer clubs and Bible clubs have sprung up around the country and the only time you hear about it is when some opposition arises.  And the truth is no one prohibits your kid from praying or reading their Bible in school.  I can't understand the thinking that if we just coerced kids who maybe don't even believe in God to read the Bible and pray-that somehow that makes them Christians and then shootings won't happen.

God never left our schools.  If you think He is somehow prohibited from entering, I have a very different idea of what God is capable of compared to your small-god thinking.  Several of my wife's family members teach in public schools, my aunt is a principal of a public school.  Several members of my church teach in the public school.  Several of my friends are counselors in public schools.  Every single one of them carry God into their buildings and classrooms every day.  Unconcealed.  They pray for your kids, and I don't doubt would also take a bullet for them.

To suggest that God isn't in our schools suggests you don't believe the Bible itself when it states "where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them".  I've heard of accounts where children are being the hands and feet of God Himself on a daily basis as they enter the school building.  My wife and several of her friends distribute the love of God every week in nearly every school in River City.

I think of some of the most profound accounts from Sandy Hook that show just how much God was in the building that day.  As the principal and staff sacrificed their own lives to save the children, I think about my Savior who laid down His life, and I think about what He said "no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend".

You are right to blame evil.  You are wrong to suggest that God was absent.

19 December 2012

In the spirit of Picaso, Hemingway, and Ansel Adams

Drawing on a snow day

Not quite Picaso

I remember making drawings as a little kid of galactic battleships I would design and tracing over pictures of animals in the encyclopedias to create wilderness scenes.  But in terms of real “artwork” I remember the first two drawings I created.  I was about 11 years old and each was for my grandparents.  I still have them today.  One was a drawing I made of a tobacco barn in Kentucky.  I drew it while en route to my cousins in North Carolina, in the back of my grandparents’ car.  I gave it to them and it hung in their living room until after my grandpa died and the house was sold in 1995.  The other was a sketch of road lilies in a vase.  After my grandfather on my mom’s side passed away in 1980, my grandmother picked me up one summer day to keep her company and on the way to their farm she stopped along the road and picked a bouquet of lilies.  When we got to her house she asked if I would draw them for her.  Years later, after she passed away and my step-grandfather was going through her things, he packaged it up with a number of her other things in a box and gave it to us.  I pulled this picture out of the box and couldn’t believe that she had kept it all those years.

With the exception of designing houses, my pencil on paper creativity was pretty limited.  We didn’t have any form of art class until my Junior year in high school.  But those last two years of having art pulled something out of me I wish would have been encouraged much earlier.  My strongest abilities were in pen and ink sketches.  I kept many of those and continued to do pen and ink into college.  I created one drawing for my grandpa and grandma Bowen that they had framed.  When Doc had a large estate auction I was disappointed he didn’t return it to me; instead it went to the highest bidder and the auctioneer made mention who created it and that he knew me personally.  Oh well-probably the only time a piece of my art will sell.
I still do some sketching here and there.  Two years ago, while the kids had a snow day, my daughter and I broke out the pastels I had from college and we drew several pictures together of the snow storm.  And just a few minutes ago she came in and asked if we could paint together after lunch.

Even less like Hemingway

I remember writing all through high school-keeping a journal of sorts with short entries of those major events like dates, obtaining my driver’s license, hanging out with the guys, or attending concerts.  While at Bethel in my senior year I dabbled a bit with prose, certainly more for my benefit.  But while at Andrews I picked up the pen on a few occasions and at times the work became prolific.  I remember writing a core of short essays revolving around justice, death, and hope during my first year.  After those I came across a few short poems my grandmother, who had just passed away, had written and it gave me a lasting connection to her.  At that point I thought I could do the same for whoever was to follow after me.

In my third year of architecture school, probably due to some solitude and inspiration I had in living in the small cabin on the lake, I wrote like a madman during the bleak winter months after December, which continued well into late spring.  I wrote about our place in life, in this world, about memorials and the relationships that led to those.  I wrote an extensive piece about a good friend who had been killed the year before.  In my fourth year I pulled the pen out again and wrote a short stint more, some into another journal, and some attempts at rhyme.

I have never shared what I had written during this early time.  In fact to this day only one or two pieces from that period have I ever shared with anyone.  But my writing today, maybe even more vulnerable than then, is pushed out weekly into the digital world.

From those early black and white days and the truckstop counter

But a little in the spirit of Ansel Adams

I took an intro to photography class my third year at Andrews.  It was black and white film, and we did our own developing.  I had played a little with photography when I was younger and it was something that always interested me, particularly black and white.  So I took the opportunity that would count also as an archi elective.  It was winter quarter-which was perfect for black and white landscape shots.  I felt, anyway, that I did some great work, and after that class I always made some time in my life to get out and shoot.  Though I did well with people, that wasn’t my thing.  I was best at old buildings…..go figure.  Still, fortunately for me, some of the people subjects I took pictures of and still have today, are no longer with us.  I did a whole series of shots of my grandpa that mean a lot to me today.  And when I can find the time...I still shoot.

17 December 2012

Newtown: let's be honest, we know the "why"

There is a preface to this post.  I wrote this Sunday afternoon and wanted to sit on it, think about it, and look it over again this morning before I posted it.  This morning at 5:30 I was laying awake in bed and thought that I should pull the whole thing and not publish it because I was honestly concerned about my family's welfare.  I began to pray that God would work in the hearts of his church in America because I feel that we come up short when it comes to addressing these issues.  I think that American Christians' hearts are so wrapped in the defense of their politics that we have become a hollow voice in comforting the hurting in this country, and world.  And then I logged on to FB this morning and witnessed the worse venom yet coming out of Christians.  If that is what represents the body of Christ-I want out.  We all have our faults, but the difference is that we've accepted, coddled, and maybe even have celebrated some of the most un-God-like characteristics in our congregations.

So, I'm just one voice, a minority for sure, hoping to spark some soul-searching among friends.

I think I need to maybe apologize for a couple of things before I go any further.  This post may seem rambling, long, and may even seem to arrive at some conclusions that I don't necessarily intend to make.  And I apologize if I seem preachy or take shots at gun advocates.  And I certainly apologize if you saw the headline and thought.........all right already, enough is enough on the subject.

And I want to let you know that I've given a tremendous amount of thought on whether or not to post anything about Newtown, not because of the topic, or from the amount of attention it has received.  I struggle with....well.....no other way to say this than "my future".  And those of you who know me probably understand exactly what I mean by that.

But isn't it time we quit kidding ourselves when it comes to this topic?  Isn't it time to be honest with ourselves, let go of the emotion that divides this country in half and seriously consider what can be done to significantly reduce violence of the magnitude we witnessed on Friday?

Let's be honest, we all know why this happened, though we often hear that question.

If you are a Christian, or believe in God in any way, you understand that there are two realms to this world: the natural and spiritual realms.

In the natural realm, the short answer to "why" is that weapons with the killing power we witnessed on Friday are legally, or at least easily, available to people who should not have them.  Now I've managed to alienate half my audience, but I would ask that you stick with me on this.

In the spiritual realm, the short answer to "why" is that we live in a fallen, broken world.  A friend posted an article related to just this....that even the story of Christmas is one in which evil sought to kill good, and was not satisfied until maybe hundreds of children were slaughtered: "massacre of the innocents."  Unfortunately too many Christians, when viewing tragedies in this realm, simply state that faith and hope are all that can be applied, as if we lack critical thinking.

But yet Christians are those who seek to legislate the protection of unborn children, define marriage, permit what can be taught in schools, etc., etc.  Why not just simply state that these issues reflect a broken world, much like the tragedy in Newtown?  Why aren't Christians lining up to find a way to legislate away this problem?

I point back to the natural realm.  We know two things:  1) the weapon used was made for assault purposes and 2) the young man who used it had mental deficiencies (why else would he undertake this?).  So, let's start with either of these two items.  The problem is that to deal with either runs counter to Republican/NRA held values which demand less control and screening.  I've also heard from several people that this is more of a mental illness problem.  Yup, that's right.  Are we going to profile people who are mentally ill, attempt to rehabilitate them, but all the while go ahead and let them own mass-murder weaponry?

"I'm so sorry about your daughter, Mrs. Jones, we were really trying to work with Freddie, and he was showing great progress.  We just didn't think we should prohibit him from having guns."

You offer NO solutions by addressing mental illness if you do not address access to weapons by the mentally ill.  Common sense.

So, we Christians wring our hands, neglecting common sense, and say that we can only offer the hope of Christ to those hurting, and then post our pro-gun comments on Facebook.  God forbid one of the families who will be burying their 6 year old hear you say "place your faith in God" and in the same breath say "guns don't kill people, people kill people".  That saying has gotten us no where, but more violence.

You see, this is the problem when in the hierarchy of our values, the GOP, NRA, Rush, Beck, the Tea Party, etc. are used to filter our faith, and maybe even just our common sense.

I am not anti-gun.  I am, in fact, a gun owner.  But I have yet to hear a solid, sane reason why 1) any private citizen needs an assault weapon or 2) why permits and thorough background checks should not be undertaken before any gun changes hands.  Seriously.....is this not common sense?  I would think that the NRA would be the first in line to make sure guns don't get into the wrong hands!  We desperately NEED the NRA to begin policing themselves.

People that come to the defense of high capacity assault-style weaponry, when pressed, will usually arrive at it being a need to protect themselves from the government.  Well, then we probably should legalize surface to air missiles, because if you think your assault rifle will hold the US army at bay you are fooling yourself.  And furthermore, that reasoning in itself is off-kilter.  There is a certain Mad Max/end of the world mentality that drives the strong feelings that some people have to arm themselves with such weaponry.  The shooter's mother was reported to be one of these.  Too often I think that people in this spectrum feel that the gun is an extension of their identity, that they maybe privately hope to be needed, like a hero.  I know people like this.

Interjection:  had the man been of another nationality, dare I say, religion, would we be planning a bombing raid right now?  Would we be demanding our pound of flesh?  Would we be tightening security even at the cost of civil liberties?

Two comments on FB struck me most severely on Saturday.  One was from a girl just out of high school who stated that the Newtown tragedy would not have happened if teachers had concealed weapons.  If that makes sense to you, you are probably too far gone to think logically about the issue in total.  The other comment was intended to downplay the tragedy, and I think deflect any focus away from gun violence, by stating that the toll of abortion is higher than any school shooting.  Fine, let's outlaw abortion AND have stricter gun control-would that satisfy?  Of course not, but we do like to trot out the unborn as the trump card in elections and when it makes a convenient deflection from gun violence.  I thought both comments were warped, to be frankly honest.  Particularly when I see so little effort on Christians' part to make a dent in abortions except at the ballot box.

So either we continue down this path or something needs to change.  And I know that there are those who don't believe anything should change.  I also know that probably the majority of Americans do not understand how easy it is to get guns.

The only true, natural realm, solution I see since we are entrenched in gun rights is to have trained, armed officers at every school.  What else is available to us if we refuse to approach this from a gun control or access issue?  A Republican legislator from Texas commented that since schools don't permit guns, they are easy targets.  I can't begin to tell you how stupid I think that comment is.....as if a gunman who plans to go down in a blaze of perverse glory is going to think twice about his killing spree because he might be stopped by a kindergarten teacher with a handgun.  And these are the guys leading our country?

If gun laws are not an option, then we have to look at armed officers at our schools.  To post hired police officers at River City Schools, there would need to be an increase in nearly a half million dollars to our local budget.  Where would our short-changed schools get that kind of cash?  This seems insane to me, but I think it is where we are at if we wish to avoid any new gun laws.  In many ways a push for new laws gives me grave concern for the wackos who already have their guns, legally, who may find cause for retaliation, and no doubt we will hear even more secession discussion (enter the Timothy McVeys).  My only concern is if the answer is more guns, we need to understand the principle if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword (Rev. 13:10).

So, we continue to die.

Is this culture of death the true cost of "freedom" in America?  We are a violent society that seems to be growing in intensity.  We're not going to pray it away........because, let's be real honest, we're part of the problem.  The violence is fed by the carnage on video games and the buffet of extreme ways people are murdered on prime time shows every evening.  At one time, in the Old Grand Old Party, we took up the issue of violence and sought ways to end it.  Marilyn Quayle specifically worked to address this.  That was the Republican party of yesterday-no one is talking about this today.

As I think of the faces in my own Sunday School class that I teach, and the opportunities I have to be in area elementary schools, my heart is torn for you Newtown.  I have nothing to offer you other than prayers and assurance of hope in Christ.  What I would like to tell you is that Christians will stop coming to the defense of their politics and start defending their faith.

14 December 2012

A long, long, long drive to Red Deer

Randy and I at the Twin Sisters Cafe overlooking the Twin Sisters Peaks at the border crossing into Montana
Why wouldn’t someone drive nearly a day’s journey to the other side of Calgary? A good friend from Andrews architecture, a Canadian and the recent Daybreak taunt, was getting married in his wife's home town of Red Deer, Alberta and so I and another friend of his from the Midwest decided we would drive that crazy distance to be at his wedding over Labor Day, 1996.  We started out on a Thursday after work and drove my Mustang all through the night, the next day, and into the next night before reaching Calgary.  When we switched drivers and Randy took over at about 1:00 am I had just drifted off to sleep when he said “I think we have a problem” and I opened my eyes and saw flashing red lights in the side mirror.  The officer asked “between you, me and that fencepost over there-exactly how fast does this car go?”

Border crossing-where we were detained
After that I didn’t sleep a wink.  Driving across North Dakota was in many ways euphoric.  The pattern of wheat fields, small towns, grain elevators, abandoned farms and little churches did some good in my soul.  We were diverted with a detour across gravel roads for many miles, plastering the car with dust.  When we finally made it to some remote border crossing into Canada, the border patrol insisted we come in for interrogation as dogs sniffed all around my car.  I’m sure it did seem strange-a couple of guys who hadn’t shaved or showered in a brand new Mustang that was covered in dirt crossing at a remote location.  Evidently our story checked out and we were free to continue after about an hour.

The euphoria turned into a bit too much bucolic overload and soon, crossing the great Canadian highway, things seemed desolate.  Thank God for Calgary.  We were able to sleep a few hours, woke up refreshed-refreshed enough to take a side-trip into Banff National Park and a long hike up to a coffee house at the base of a glacier.  It was amazing.  And the wedding was great too.  Red Deer was a little city on what seemed like the edge of the great white nothingness of Canada.

We were there exactly 24 hours before we left again to make the drive home.  This time it seemed we weren’t so pressed for time and could do some sight seeing along the way including “Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump” and the “Twin Sisters Café” at Glacier National Park, and even a return trip to a ghost town I remembered from trips to Montana as a kid-Elkhorn.  We caught a few hours of sleep in Wyoming before making the last leg home.  What a trip.

12 December 2012

Daybreak....every day

an ice-covered Daybreak kinda' day
Recently an old archi-buddy's birthday popped up on Facebook, so I wished him well and asked the Canadian native where he was and how he was doing.  Ottawa and well, he said.  Then he taunted me by saying he had been back in Berrien Springs and had even dined at the Daybreak.
Ah, the Daybreak.  It was our time at the Daybreak that brought the most exchange of ideas and probably the greatest education experience during those college days.  The Daybreak was a somewhat dank little diner in downtown Berrien Springs that became the hub for architecture students who did not live on campus, and often supplied us three meals a day.  I can still remember most of what I would order.  Breakfast was ham and grits (a little soupy as Donna the waitress would say) and brown sugar.  Lunch was usually a mushroom or olive burger and fries.  Supper would be a selection from their specials menu.  Every meal was accompanied by coffee, and lots of it.
There were times that we would close down the place.  Literally.  We would vacuum the carpets and clean the tables for Lacey in order to have a scoop of ice cream.  One friend, Chad, was convinced that the owner-Bernie-was raising his prize poodles in the basement.  That idea nauseated me.  Some of the guys tried to get me to shift our business to the Dam restaurant on the other side of the dam...I think they just liked the name.

Because so many of my colleagues would also dine there, often with smokes in hand, we sort of had “our table”; it was a round table right in the front corner of the dining room where we could watch the world out the large windows.  Friends would come and go from the table as class schedules dictated, and I recall on at least a few occasions staying behind from the car that we came in for breakfast and having lunch with the consecutive crowd and going back to the studios with them.

We talked about broader issues of community that included politics, faith, education, and of course architecture.  Those were good times sitting around the table and clutching the coffee mug as the days and weeks, and years passed.  The Daybreak is still there.  It is still open for dining, and discussion.

I became really tight with a number of friends in the architecture department at Andrews.  I’ve been blessed to have maintained a few of those friendships post-graduation.  I know a good part of it was the work we did together for the program and the subsequent “generations” of leadership that came after.  I would sometimes drive across the border to see these guys the year following graduation before I was married.  Then they moved-to Illinois, Washington, and later Florida.

Facebook has its faults-but I do appreciate being able to stay in touch.  The Daybreak's webpage is www.mydaybreakcafe.com

And tell them I sent you.

10 December 2012

Sometimes leading gets ugly: AIAS

“It’s about commitment.  To you, and to the program.”

That was my campaign theme as I ran for Andrews AIAS president at the end of my third year.  AIAS is the American Institute of Architecture Students; most schools of architecture have student chapters.  I watched as things had in many ways digressed in the architecture department and morale among students was pitiful.  We lacked leadership from the top down, in both the student body and among faculty.  Learning a great deal about myself in my third year and wanting to put into practice a life of service, I joined the race to lead the student body.  A good friend and fellow classmate, and later roomie, said he would run for vice president, and together we won.  Big time.

Having served in student government both in high school and at Bethel, this seemed like a natural thing, right?  Well, I have to admit, I was intimidated.  The reason was because I felt that what I could bring to the table for the student body was somewhat limited based on my own theories, or lack thereof, on architecture.  But what I learned quickly at the beginning of my term in my fourth year was that the students simply needed a unifying person, not an intellectual.  And I wholly admit, I'm not an intellectual.  I was humbled in realizing how overwhelmingly God would use me.

That year our accreditation visit was scheduled for the spring.  The students understood that a great deal hinged on this and all were concerned that what seemed like a lack of leadership producing the direction we needed to go could jeopardize the years we had already spent in school.  So, doing our part, we turned our little AIAS chapter into the most active and unifying force in the program.  Student membership had always been around 50%.  We were over 90%.  We established a mentoring program that continued for many years after I graduated.  We established a committee for program advancement that became the one-two punch in rectifying a number of bad situations in the curriculum and faculty.  At the end of my fourth year our AIAS chapter, which had never even participated in national events, won 4 of the 6 national honor awards given annually.  And one of those 6 we didn’t apply for.  By the time the accreditation team had come for a visit, nothing was lacking on our student body’s part.  We were a unified and powerful force.

The following year we learned what we had feared, that the program was on academic probation and had two years to change course or lose accreditation, which would mean any class below me would not have an accredited architecture degree.  With a student leadership consortium that now included three representatives on the faculty board, and one on the architectural academic advisory board to the university (me), we pushed hard for changes in the faculty which resulted in the ouster of two professors.  Then came the moment when armed with a crushing survey taken of the students we made a demand that would essentially remove the dean of our department.  We were within two hours of a sit-in over the demand when it was announced he would resign.  Sometimes leadership is ugly and bloody, and for those times it isn’t always healthy to look back at what brought you to the point you are today…..sometimes those difficult years can be left unspoken and just allow people to reap the benefit of those who did the dirty work.

My time in student government with AIAS over the course of two years was the most rewarding, most productive time in serving others I have ever experienced in my life.  The model we established lived on for several presidents after me.......and this all came back in a flood of memories when I saw that one of our former presidents made the front cover of Maine Today.  Congratulations!

07 December 2012

The "Re" Formative Years

Andrews Graduation
I had wanted to be an architect since I was 12 years old.  When graduation was staring me in the face at Bethel, and my long-time girlfriend had broken up with me, I realized if ever there was a time to pursue it-it was then.  So I looked over architecture schools and realized my decision was between Ball State and Andrews University.  Andrews offered a 2 year associate in architectural studies and would essentially be like going to school part time since my general studies would transfer from Bethel.  When I visited the university, which was just across the state line in Berrien Springs, Michigan, I felt at ease since it was a small school, but yet was impressed with the university feel and global nature of the school.  Bethel was like a small town high school with classes held in a few separate buildings.  During my first visit the guide asked me if I was "SDA", which sounded a lot like ADA....I looked puzzled back at him.  I wondered what it would be like attending a Seventh Day Adventist school, but it didn’t dissuade me.  I applied and was accepted during my senior year at Bethel.

During my first year at Andrews I quickly became acclimated to the architecture program and by my second quarter the professors came to me and encouraged me to switch from the associate program to the bachelors program.  Believing that I had found my true calling, it was an easy decision.  I loved architecture, architectural theory, the history of the art form, and the students who were tremendously more like me than I had experienced at Bethel, or growing up for that matter.  Everything about being at Andrews felt right: a small university setting, a school forming a missional aspect of architecture as service to the community, like-minded people, and the deep satisfaction of being able to exercise my God-given creative abilities.
Which is probably why such a shift began to happen in my thinking.
I think everyone in college goes through a period when they really start to question what they’ve been taught, even when the teaching has been rock solid.  I think that it’s healthy and necessary for moving forward in spiritual formation.  This was no different for me.  I think the thing that I became most keenly aware of was the universal idea of spirituality.  I better explain that…I believe that God placed in all people a desire for spiritual awakening.  The evolvement or understanding of that awakening is where we have our divisions.

And as I had opportunity to develop my own thinking and really wrestle with precepts, some taught, some just understood, I realized my thinking was being pulled to a broader acceptance of spiritual and even political thought.  And it was in that I saw the greatest shift in my understanding of why we were placed on this earth, and about the earth itself.  I can mark the development of two significant core beliefs that drove a wedge between the “accepted” belief system I embraced growing up and who I am today.  The first occurred while I was at Andrews and involved my embrace of “community”, what it means to truly be a community, the benefit a community can be to its people, and how even in the development of community we also have a responsibility to God’s creation.

I was probably a bit naïve in thinking that community, as a standard for good, would be embraced by others if only explained in terms of benefit and Christian duty.  But I couldn’t have been prepared for excommunication, much less being demonized.  But this is where God led me in my education and understanding of His purpose for me.  The core of my thinking became the understanding that careful and conservative use of God’s creation would provide for future generations and thoughtful relationships and exchange of ideas would provide for synergy to produce a better citizenry.  I felt that this truly is the core of being a conservative, and a Christian.  It just doesn't seem very Hoosier-friendly.

05 December 2012

Doped on the GOP

My locker from high school-note all of the Reagan items
I grew up such a political junkie.One of my favorite television programs was the McLaughlin Group-a political analyst’s panel on PBS.Yes, this was during high school and college. River City elections were being held in 1987, with the primary in May-the month of my graduation.I sent a letter to the candidate I thought most worthy to become mayor, an attorney, and asked if I could help on his campaign.He invited me to his office to talk with me and I think I impressed his socks off.I worked for his campaign-though brief since he lost in the primary-but that was my first taste of campaigning.

I started following politics with a terrific zeal, some would say “obsession”, during my Bethel years.  The interest was intensified as I started listening to Rush Limbaugh by about my Junior year.  I soon became a Rush-addict and wondered how anyone with half a brain could possibly not see eye-to-eye with my sold-out, die-hard Republican identity.  I thought Rush embodied the clearest possible thinking for what was wrong with our country and found myself taking what he said as gospel.

What does the obsessed do?  I video-taped Republican convention and inauguration speeches by Ronald Reagan.  I attended the start-up of the young Republicans’ club in Republicania County.  I helped with John Hiler’s congressional campaigns, stood outside in the frenzied crowd when George H. Bush came to Notre Dame to speak, watched election results with great anticipation, and when Bill Clinton was elected President I proudly put a “don’t blame me, I voted Republican” sticker in my car window.  I had perfected GOP-speak and understood party strategy so well, having enwrapped myself in the party, that my future in politics looked very bright.
Ha…little did I know!

03 December 2012

College living as a transient neat-freak

Cabin on the Lake
One thing that greatly aided in my enjoyment of college life at Andrews was embracing a new found freedom.  Apartment living.  I commuted the whole four years to Bethel College.  That wasn’t going to work going to Andrews, and besides, I really wanted my own place.  So I got an apartment at Castle Point in South Bend with a couple of Bethel friends.  I learned very quickly that what I expected of myself wasn’t what most college guys lived out.  That first apartment was a great set up, but evidently I was a "neat-freak" and only performed at my best when everything was in its proper place.  My two roomies tested this theory from time to time when they would make minor adjustments to items on my desk or bookshelves.  Not knowing I was being played, I would stop as I walked into my room, sense something was wrong, and then turn the items to their proper place or position.  I'm a lot less like this now, though my family would probably disagree with that.

Once when I stopped by our place over Christmas Break, and my other two room mates were back at home in Michigan, I was confused why there were three people I didn’t know hanging out in our apartment and eating our food.  And sleeping in my bed.  And wearing my underwear. I wonder what the three bears would have done had Goldie Locks been wearing their briefs.

The next year we were down to just two of us.  We found a smaller pad on the west side of South Bend at Indian Springs.  It worked out great, but we rarely saw each other as architecture studio was making bigger demands on my time.  The following year I moved across the state line into Michigan.
It wasn’t the typical college or bachelor pad, but it was awesome nonetheless.  I knew that I would be looking for someplace new my third year and it was mentioned that some of my mother’s cousins had a few lake cabins at their fishing resort in Buchanan, Michigan.  This sounded intriguing.  So one summer day I drove to Buchanan to check it out and they were willing to rent me the only cabin in which you wouldn’t freeze to death during the winter.  The cabin looked like a bit of a shack, but it had that quintessential fishing/lake cabin feel that I couldn’t pass up.  And the drive would take me half the distance it had from South Bend to Berrien Springs.
I moved into the cabin in October and had the place to myself.  The living room was perched well above the shore so it felt as though nothing separated you from the lake which was largely surrounded with wilderness.  And since I was the only one around in the off season, I found that I enjoyed the solitude.  Having the escape from studio where I could still work on my projects was also a good thing.
I remember the seasons probably the most in that little cabin.  After a few weeks of living there the fall colors broke onto the scene and reflected off the lake some days as if it were on fire.  An old friend, Dave, who had helped me move into the cabin, surprised me one afternoon as I pulled up by yelling my name from a boat he was fishing from on the lake.  The next weekend we both went out on the lake.  January was a particularly cold month with a lot of snow.  I remember hunkering down for a few days while roads were shut down from the heavy snow that Buchanan seemed especially prone to receiving.  The benefit was that I was also taking photography and used the whole wooded resort as my photo studio, particularly given how snow can be an incredible subject in black and white.  As the warmer spring months landed at my cabin door I would open all the windows and fall asleep on the couch to the brushing of the waves on the shore below.  I have called this experience my own “Walden Pond” as it probably came at the pinnacle of a shift in my ideology.
A good friend and archi-colleague and I found a place together our 4th year in Berrien Springs.  It was one of the near-slumlord ran houses-turned college apartment that filled the little village.  Roland moved his girlfriend (now wife) in the day after we signed the lease.  I don't think I was expecting that.  Most of my time was spent at the studio or office anyway.  There was one night while I was working upstairs in my room I heard power equipment being used.  And it sounded like it was being used on my oak table in the kitchen.  And it was.
By my fifth year, and unless you think me a lackie-there are 5 years to architecture education, I had blown my summer savings on that Mustang and I honestly thought that I would only need to bum a night off my buddies here and there since I was very part-time.  The night here and there turned into every night except for Friday and Saturday, and sometimes Sunday.  My friend Chad called me "homeless".  I mostly slept on Chad's couch.  I tried Sean's couch, but he had built it himself.  Enough said.  Later I shifted to my buddy, Krazy's couch after Chad got a girlfriend and kicked me out.  It was sad, I lived out of a black leather duffel bag.  I still have it today.  In my defense, I always bought the guys groceries and dinner out.

30 November 2012

My Life in Cars

The Grand Am
While I had my eyes on a sporty older Olds Cutlass to be my first set of wheels, my dad was pretty insistent that I buy a new car in an effort to avoid repairs and maintenance costs on a used car.  Well, that made sense to someone who knew he could afford to make the car payments….and well, duh, what guy wouldn't want a brand new set of wheels upon graduating from high school?  So about mid-summer after graduation I went car shopping and bought a new white Pontiac Grand Am.  It was a nice looking car-sporty, but some nod to class (as one girl called it).  That was good enough for me.

So, I began my new car payments.  $212.and some odd change.  I still remember that today.  I took my summer earnings, my graduation money, and most of my life savings and made the down payment….then drove the car off the lot.  I kept the car absolutely spotless and forbid anyone other than me to eat or drink in it for the first two years.  Then a buddy sitting shotgun once opened a can of pop and it exploded all over the seat and upholstery overhead….which never came clean.  After that-food was permitted.  I loved that car.  I would wax it in my parents garage and then turn down the lights so that it would glow.  It served me well as I commuted to Bethel College all four years, went on good and bad dates, made multiple trips into Chicago, South Carolina, Pennsylvania (twice), Missouri (twice), Kentucky, and plenty of places in between.  It was only in one wreck-when someone miscalculated and turned in front of me.  The down side?  Car payments for five years! And it seemed like no one else was ever willing to drive when a group of us would go out.  I thought that would change when I got my Mustang with a very small back seat-but nope.
My parents bought it off me and gave it to my brother, then he sold it a year later.  For a few years I would think that I’d catch a glimpse of it while I would be driving around town but I doubt she’s out there anymore-she’d be 25 years old and probably met her fate under the cash for clunker program.

The Mustang on Route 66 in Illinois

Enter....the Mustang

Every guy has to have this moment, right?  Where they blow all their hard-earned cash on a new sports car.  I did this during the summer between my fourth and fifth years at Andrews.  I figured I had worked my butt off between full-time truckstop work, miscellaneous house painting and landscaping jobs, and working in the trustee’s office.  I was due a little something for myself.  So I started checking out the new Mustangs.  I was sold.  I ordered my all-black baby and then set off to get a pair of shades to fit the image.  A mere $120 for a pair of Gargoyles.  And then, knowing that I would also need to pick up some CDs for the new mega-bass stereo system, I went out and bought the latest U2 release.  Then I picked up my car.  Oh, baby-that was awesome!

But for some reason, I was still always the guy that got chosen to drive everywhere, even when three guys had to cram into the back seat of the mustang.  At least I had some pretty cool wheels to drive around.  I remember once getting a bit upset, since no one was allowed to drive it, when I left it at a buddy’s, Sean, while our class went to Milwaukee for our thesis projects.  We got back and the car was not where I left it.  It wasn’t even at his house!  Oh crap was I hot and it was going to hit the fan.  He thought he’d just take it out for a spin…come to find out, he was driving it to campus for classes and drag racing down US 31.  I think I would have gone nuts if it weren’t for the fact that I felt so sick to my stomach that I had to lay down on a couch until I had recovered.

After the Mustang I started driving a black F-150 extended cab pick-up....which I don't even have any pictures of, but it is the one vehicle I wished I had kept.  Today I drive a Mazda 626-which officially became the car I've driven the longest....4 years ago!  A political-consult of mine always suggests I just keep driving it, I supposed because it shows I'm common?  Well I may, until my son starts driving to high school in a few years.  He already knows it is waiting for him, and by then, at over 20 years old it will be a classic!

29 November 2012

Part of the Family Business

I’m not exactly sure how or where it began, but for more than half my life I identified myself more with our family business than anything else.  Many of my earliest memories conjure up memories of being in the kitchen at the truckstop, or behind the counter, or listening to the juke box from a booth.  The place was started by my grandfather in 1949 and continued by my dad.  It became a pile of rubble just a few years ago.  I've written some about the family business, including this three part story: History of Garners, Keep on Truckin', and The Boom Years.
I remember a night I spent at grandpa and grandma’s, and being awakened in the middle of the night I walked to the truckstop in the dark, at 4:00 in the morning because that is where I thought I was supposed to be.  I remember a few times being taken to the truckstop and sleeping in a booth during a third shift.  I remember helping myself to pickles out of the giant pickle barrel, chocolate ice cream from the soda fountain with marshmallow topping, and candy bars from the candy case.  I remember sitting in the large corner booth on Friday nights and eating fish sandwiches for supper.  When I was barely tall enough to reach the sink, I washed dishes on Saturdays and grandma would tell me at the end of the day to go to the station and ask grandpa how much I was worth that day.  It was usually a silver dollar.
Of course, I doubt I would have continued working there through high school and college if I had only earned a dollar a day.  My contribution was mostly in front of the three bowl stainless steel sink.  However, I did a fair share of grill cooking and spent one summer pumping gas.  Given the choice among the three, I would chose the grill.
I loved this place.  I loved the community that it offered by connecting me to neighbors, family, locals, and people from far away places.  There are so few of these places left.  It seems that the advancement of civilization almost assuredly has no need of places like this.  Well, at least they don't think they have the need....but I think we all agree that something is missing.

29 October 2012

And all they really needed was an Irish coach-go figure

While growing up, our household's loyalties may have been with Indiana University for basketball, but I was all about Notre Dame football.  This was particularly true in my college years as the campus was but a wee stone's throw from mine and many of my friendships had connections back to the university.  One of those connections resulted in a memorable meeting with Anthony Johnson from Notre Dame's Holtz-era.

When I wrote this post in 2007, We Are Done, about a history-making game I attended (and not in a good way), I said "a great school deserves a great football program".  Well, if the previous 7-0 winning streak for the Irish didn't prove that the glory has returned, certainly a win over Oklahoma on Saturday, in a big way I might add, has shown that Notre Dame is a football powerhouse once again.

After years of ND's head coaching position looking more like a turn-style to certain purgatory than salvation, I think that it now seems all too obvious with Brian Kelly......all they really needed was a head coach with an Irish name.  Go figure.  Go Notre Dame.

24 October 2012

Celebrating 14 incredible years today! I love you babe!

It  was a warm October afternoon, much like today, when the best thing that has ever happened in my life unfolded before me.  Fourteen years later....through a lot of ups and downs.....God continues to show me just how lucky I am.  And if I could attribute the strength of those fourteen years to anything other than our common love for each other and God, it would have to be the examples we have in our parents.  This year marks 100 years combined wedded experience between our folks.  That's a lot of love, and a lot of wisdom.  What will 50 years look like for us babe?

20 October 2012

HR's Raid on Corydon

at Morgan's Raid battle site
This summer the family got away for a few days to southern Indiana.  It seems that given the options, we almost always choose to vacation in the Hoosier state.  Go figure.  Earlier this summer we were at Turkey Run, a halfway point between family graduations in Greencastle and Lafayette.  Having the hiking trails of Turkey Run and rippling waters of Sugar Creek as a stopover point is a pretty good deal.

Indiana's first state capitol
In August we headed further south and went to McCormick's Creek State Park, visited with some friends in Bloomington, stayed in Corydon, then visited the Falls of the Ohio State Park before making a b-line back home.  Corydon just oozes Indiana history, and being the Hoosier heritage geek that I am....I soaked it up big time.  Our trip included stops at our first state capitol building, the governor's first residence, and the formerly massive elm under which the state constitution was adopted.  "Constitution Elm" is but a large stump today.  There are parallels I could draw here, but I'll keep this positive.

Legislature Hall, state capitol

Second floor hall, state capitol
Lest you think it was all history, the family also played a round of "black light golf" complete with 3D glasses and found one very remarkable old fashioned candy store/ice cream fountain.  But then, I guess I would also have to include our visit to the only Civil War battlefield site in the state, on a hill on the south side of Corydon, where Morgan's Raiders clashed with the local militia.

Governor's house, kitchen
Man, I wish our dining room looked like this!

Constitution Elm

Old fashioned soda fountain & candy store
And we continued that drive south of Corydon, all the way to Boone's Cavern.  Squire Boone, the brother of Kentucky's famous son, Daniel, established a farmstead around a large cavern he discovered.  It was our kid's first cave experience.  Aside from some kicking and fighting, we did all right.  I had been in the cavern back in 1996 with a college buddy.  Since that time a portion became too unsafe for the owners' insurance company to accept responsibility for, so the hike in and out, while still worth it, was a bit repetitive....which may have led to some of the fighting.

Squire Boone Cavern and Mill

13 October 2012

Small Town view

I crossed this bridge a few weeks ago, which caused me to stop in my tracks and snap a few photos.  And then it reminded me of something I wrote a long time ago about this same location.  It was the beginning of an essay I had written in architecture school in 1995 entitled "What constitutes the understanding of Community".  This is the introduction:

Forgive the dialogue if at first it would seem trite or experiential only in the emotional context of "small town"; however, I must begin with this recollection I have and am reminded of again and again.

It was a fairly warm but breezy July evening with clear, starry skies.  Some buddies and I that had grown up together were out and about and up to no good.  We had dad's old pick-up truck that I had equipped with speakers you could pull out from behind the seat and place outside on the hood-should you want to play a quick game at the park.  We were outside of town on Oak Road where we crossed the legendary "spook bridge".  It was an old iron bridge with wood slats for a deck-it had been there for nearly 100 years I suppose, crossing the railroad below.

We stopped and looked back toward town where the railroad led.  We were in no hurry, so we broke out a couple six packs of Coke and pulled the speakers out and put them on the hood.  The three of us sat on the extra-wide handrail and talked about...whatever, school and girls mostly.  We could see the glow of our little home town, bouncing off my old school, and the grain elevator's flag hoisted high on a tower next to the tracks.  And wouldn't you know it, Mellencamp's "Small Town" came on the radio.  It was a modern Rockwell moment.

Well, two years later they tore the old school down.  The grain elevator has changed hands and there is no flag on top of the silo.  And just a year ago, after it had been condemned, they brought down the old bridge too.  Don't cry for our small town though-since then we've had an Arby's, McDonalds (and now a Burger King), along with two mini-marts open.....at the expense of two (now three, with our family's place) long-established restaurants and a family grocery that had been around since the 1920s.

There is a lot of sarcasm, I know.  But I ask, with what sense of community will this next generation grow up with?  Is my generation X the first to be so nearly completely deficient of community?  Or have we just simply redefined it?  So many factors play into the idea of community, it would be nearly impossible to explore them all.  The best avenue to "know" community is to be "of" the community.  Understanding community must begin with playing particular attention to the mundane experiential aspects of common life.  Understanding community is searching out the common-ness of life.  It comes from seeing a little league game at the local park, from listening to the farmers gather and discuss crop conditions over coffee at the local cafe.  It comes from being with some buddies out on a summer night drinking Cokes and gazing back toward town.  These combined define a place in which to experience "community".

Certainly the loss of aspects of our built environment can have a profound negative impact on "community".  These are the things that tie us to a place, that give rootedness to our lives, and provide in real concrete form aspects of the memories we have.  In this situation, it was both the beauty of the place and memories that caused me to stop on the new bridge that now crosses the tracks.

09 October 2012

Hunter's Paradise

It never ceases to amaze me as I travel down these Hoosier roads, stumbling into small towns, the unforgettable people I meet.  And certainly the unforgettable things I see.

Such was the case when I landed in LaFontaine earlier this year.  LaFontaine is a little town between Wabash and Marion, Indiana, slightly off the beaten path after Highway 15 bypassed the burg years ago.  Taking an abbreviated walking tour of the town, it became evident to me that the folks here are very proud of their history.  But it was the barber, who called my touring partner and me into his shop, who took the prize for....well...."most bizarre" decorating.

As I was lost in the jungle of taxidermy trophies on his wall, a certain distraction for anyone, he pushed a track into my hand as I'm sure he thought he had a soul caught in his cross-hairs.  I smiled back and said that God's arrow hit me many years ago........well, not exactly in those words.  And then I wondered about the poor souls hanging on his walls.

I'm not a hunter and never had the inclination to shoot a gun, really.  But I have to admit that his trophy-covered walls in this little downtown storefront put a big smile on my face.  So this post goes out to all my gun-totin', bow-pullin' buddies out there.  Happy hunting, wear some orange, and don't end up on anyone's trophy wall this season.

06 October 2012

A perfect place, a great couple, and one amazing wedding

I remember shortly after we purchased the farm, my sister-in-law asked a question along the lines of "how can you guys bless others with this place?"

Regardless of what you have, but I think particularly so of land, I believe God has placed us as His stewards over it.  We simply are the caretakers of what shall one day slip through our fingers.  The question is what do you do with what God has given you?  Abuse?  Neglect? Make it better or worse than when you received it?  I guess that's a question with differing interpretations of "better".  I know that we feel blessed by what He has given us here on the Hill so we are always looking for ways to, in turn, use it to bless others.

So when my wife caught on that a young friend of hers from our church was looking for the perfect, yet unorthodox, place for a wedding, my wife volunteered our barn.  With a little bit of preparation, and a lot of hay removal, the couple which we had come to know well in the 20s ministry we led were united.

In a barn.
On a perfect September day.

And as I sat there, on a bale of hay, taking in the surreal nature of it all I couldn't help but find a great deal of satisfaction in just having the opportunity to be a small part of their day....by sharing what God has given us to enjoy.  And in turn, I got to hear a strings trio echo in the old hand-hewn rafters.

And as I was tallying the numbers in each barn bay, it was a relief to know the structural capacity of the barn floor withstood 140 people.  Whew.  Congratulations Lizzey & Troy!

Gafill Oil Company in Argos

My great-grandfather (above) may have started our family in the fuel business with his employment as the agent for an oil company in ...