27 February 2013

Blue Highways & Radical: the story behind the stories, Chapter 1

I really, I mean REALLY have to enjoy a book to make it cover to cover.  Not that I don't enjoy reading and expanding my mind, but those Sunday and Saturday afternoons reading on the couch create the perfect atmosphere for heavy eyelids.  Unless, of course, the topic is like a double-shot of espresso to me.

Several years back I went on a book-binge.  My daughter would laugh because book-binge-ing is her life 24/7.  I, on the other hand, felt like I was really accomplishing something to finish a book a month for nearly a year.  Truth is, it felt nice having some positive affirmation in what was going on in my life, so I kept drinking, I mean reading.

The buzz wore off a few years back.  And what's worse is that I had a couple of half-finished books sitting in my drawer of the coffee table (yes, my wife and I have separate drawers-laugh all you want).  Toward the end of last year I started to get that itch to, at the very least, finish those dang books.  Part of the reason, I'm sure, is that I actually stumbled on a book that kept my attention...and started the thirst back up.  So I scheduled out on my calendar the books that I wanted to finish reading this year.  I think the more interesting aspect of the books aren't the content, but how I came to read them.

Beginning with Blue Highways by Native American author, William Least Heat-Moon.  In November, 2009, we had taken our Historic Michigan Road Byway program on the road to Madison, Indiana where one of our local point-people asked me if I had ever read the book.  It seemed logical to her that of course, a guy who despises the interstate, drove route 66, and finds the destination is in the journey would have read this critically acclaimed bestseller (I'm typing what I'm reading from the front cover).  I hadn't, but I asked for the book for Christmas.  It was a first-hand account of the author's trip in 1978 around America on "blue highways" (the color not associated with interstates on the atlas).  It was over 400 pages!  I read some, put it down, read some more, put it down longer, read a little more (to the halfway point) then put it down indefinitely.  I love the book....but oh man.  So, finally, being the last in my series of unfinished books, I picked it up again this weekend and started toward the finish line....only 150 more pages.  One of the best quotes I have ever heard concerning the unfortunate condition of being from a place the author summed up by saying "To live so uninformed before such grandeur is the hallmark of a true native son".  I think that of us Hoosiers.  I am re-loving this book and cheated a bit in skipping to the end because of the traveler's b-line through Indiana, and New Harmony specifically, that are featured on the last two pages.  From my estimation, the traveler had to have crossed over the great historic steel bridge leading west out of New Harmony over the Wabash into Illini territory.  The bridge, much like the culture captured in Blue Highways, is in danger of being lost.

And then there was another book called Radical by David Platt.  The book is an unintentional (maybe?) in your face look at how to live out Christ to the world in a radical way.  Well, radical compared to our comfy American church-culture, not so radical when compared to the gospel.  So we support a young man who is on the front line of missions work in a country that he could be imprisoned if found out.  He was in our 20x group that I led at our church.  He asked if I had read the book....."no"......so a few weeks after he departed for his trip to the other side of the world, a package showed up on my porch.  It was Radical, from Dave.  I've read a few books in this same vein, including Crazy Love by Francis Chan, but Platt kicks it up a notch.  The subtitle on the front cover reads "Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream".  Man, doesn't that sound like something I would blog about.  I believe the single-most harmful condition the church in America is facing today isn't from the outside-it is what we've brought into the church....politics, wealth, knowledge for knowledge sake, etc.  Platt lays it out there by saying that "facets of the American dream directly contradict the core of the gospel".  But when have you ever heard that on a Sunday morning?  As you might guess, I get jazzed up about this woeful condition the church is in.....then I get frustrated, put the book down, and think if it can't even change in my own church-what hope is there?  So, there the book sat for nearly a year with only two chapters left.  I finished it last week and sent Dave a note that said I'd be ratcheting up my prayers for him.  He's living out the gospel.....radically.

 Chapter 2 coming soon!

25 February 2013

Two Big Steps in my Life

Grandpa "Doc" and Grandma at my graduation-1987
I knew very few kids who had step-parents.  The image of the wicked, unloving, step-mother has been ingrained in our minds though book and film....but it was nothing I knew personally.  But I did have "step-grandparents" but to put those two words together seemed odd and I don't know that I ever did except to better explain the relationship I had to the people that my grandparents married after their spouses passed away.  A few circumstances over the last few days made me a bit, well, circumspectful of these two big steps in my life.

After my mom's dad passed away in 1980, my grandmother was crushed and suffered from a depression even as a kid of 12 I could clearly see.  When Doc Bowen came courting her whole demeanor changed and soon her whole life would when they married in 1981.  Doc had known my mother's family from his time as their family doctor in Bremen.  Though not a Bowen baby myself, like my sister and mother, Doc came to the rescue when I tipped over boiling water on my 1 year old feet.  After his wife, Beth, passed away and his time as governor came to a close-he too was looking for companionship and he found that in my grandma.

And so grandma sold the family farm and moved to Indianapolis, and later Washington DC when President Reagan appointed Doc Secretary of Health and Human Services.  As his time in DC was coming to a close, they learned that grandma was in advanced stages of cancer.  They moved back home, but their time wasn't about enjoying the golden years of retirement, rather it was painful and filled with very short-term plans.  Grandma died in 1992.  Doc remarried again.  I was able to introduce my kids to their "step-great-grandfather" when we had breakfast with them two years ago.

I was reminded that Doc's birthday is tomorrow (26th) and he will be 95 years old.  He was Indiana's first two-term governor and clearly has enjoyed "favorite son" status all these years.  I was reprimanded once by our party chair to wit he added "you should have learned more from your grandfather".  I think the chair should have.  While I may be the first to attest we all have our blindspots......Doc was in no way like the Republicans of this generation.  I think his stomach would turn at Tea Party politics.  I was blessed to have grown up under the mentorship of the "old system" which seems to be out of vogue today, but never more needed.

Grandma Alice and Gramps at Christmas-1988
And then there was my dad's dad whose life was absolutely wrapped in my grandmother.  My grandma died way too young and was a saint by anyone's standard.  So he too sought out a companion to grow old(er) together.  She happened to have the first name of his first wife, which often led to confusion as we would try to explain relationships to the generations that followed.  I don't know that my "new" grandma Alice knew exactly what she was getting into.  My grandfather was cantankerous, mischievous, and several other adjectives that would warrant specific explanation...so I'll skip them.

This Alice was strong and giving and our family thought very highly of her, particularly considering we knew the gramps she married.  One thing I will never forget is the car grandpa bought for her.  She had driven a small Ford Escort and that bothered grandpa.  So he went out and brought home a Grand Marquis (back when they were large cars).  Alice was surprised.....and she didn't like it.  So she went out and bought another Escort and the Grand Marquis sat, brand new, in the garage for many years.  Grandpa called it "the funeral car" because he insisted that Alice should drive it to his funeral.  Gramps died in 1995.  Alice drove the Escort.  And our family continued to stay in touch with her all these last 18 years, though she had her own life that included several siblings and her grown children.

 Last Friday morning my brother called to let me know that she had lost her life in a car accident.  We certainly feel loss, but we really grieve more for her children, one of which pastors at the church my brother pastors.  It feels somewhat strange to, in some ways, be "reintroduced" to this  era of my life.  It is one before my children, before my wife, and seems like so long ago.....yet in many ways causes the feeling of loss of my own grandparents all over again.  A friend of mine recently lost his father...I can't even imagine going through the goodbyes of a generation only once removed.  Life goes on-until that eternal reunion.  God bless both Doc, and the memories of Alice both our and her family cherish.

21 February 2013

Holy One Rush of Fools

Heard this song for the first time yesterday.....it's a few years old, but what a great message.

12 February 2013

Perpetual Clearing?

It is hard to believe that it's been 5 years ago this month since I wrote about my experience in a cabin at Whitewater State Park.  I couldn't have appreciated how much that time away for a "spiritual retreat" would come to mean to me.  I walked away from that cabin with the understanding that God had brought me into The Clearing. ...a time in my life before which, and after which, all hell had broken loose.

There are times when I'd like to go back to the cabin.....back to the clearing.  But I know that's not where life is at right now.  And I realize, had it not been for the short clearing I had found myself in, spiritually I don't know that I could have survived such a significant test of my faith at my church, or when I launched out on my own only six months later.....which would have come as a surprise even to that guy held up in the cabin.

In some negative ways now I feel like I am in a perpetual clearing.........or maybe I'm just not seeing any path to continue on.  Don't get me wrong, life is good....and life is certainly quiet, but I feel like I've slumped into some kind of retirement out here on the Hill.  And I don't like that feeling.  I am busy, I am productive, and I feel like I'm giving back.....but somethin' sure is a missin'.  Patience has never been my strong suit.

02 February 2013

Alive and, well.....?

After the last comment left on HH, I wanted to put folks' minds at ease.  I'm still here and alive.  I even considered posting a picture of me holding a sign that says "HH HR 2-2-13" as proof.  But I guess that doesn't really prove anything these days.  I have been soooo stinkin' busy and, to be honest, got so disturbed by comments left on another social media outlet (ahem, FB) that I wanted to be certain I wouldn't add to the volatility tearing at our country's fabric.

I might have also been a bit depressed by Notre Dame's showing in the BCS bowl....and, well, ugh.

So this is what has been going on over the last month:

I wrapped up a big project for Michigan City's Redevelopment Commission.  I had put it off over the holidays thinking I would have plenty of time in January and that's when all Alabama broke loose.  Travels to Monon, Rensselaer, and Beecher, Illinois took center-stage and a couple of projects ramped up again locally.

A number of my non-profit commitments also seemed to fill the calendar more than I anticipated.  The good news is that raising funds to begin installation of Michigan Road byway signs is moving full-speed and we are well on our way to purchasing the first lot of 100 for the north half of the state in March.

We were invited to celebrate the 30th birthday of one of our former youth group kids.  The feeling of deep pride in that guy's life eased the feeling of "man, I'm getting old".  A number of friendships were strengthened over the last month, my wife and kids continue to make me proud, and I've been reminded by so many how dang lucky I am.

Our final interior home renovation project also started this past week.  By next week we will have opened the original staircase to the second floor and climbed the well-worn steps that haven't been used for generations.  I'm thinking about a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

And I've gotten my history-geek-on.  I'm researching a Swedish enclave along the Marshall County and Starke County line, through which the Lincoln Highway was routed.  I never thought much about its uniqueness until I worked with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on a similar situation near Chesterton.  I'm also diving deep into family history which has uncovered so many cool stories I want to share.  The most recent came with an adventure to Indiana's western frontier of the 1830s.....and as I stood on a ridge in Illinois looking back across the state line trying to imagine what my ancestors saw, I wondered about the generations that would come after me.  And I teared up.  But that may have also come from the unyielding wind across the prairie which felt like -20.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm living life large off-line.  "How 'bout you?" to quote a country song by Eric Church.  I'll be generating stories soon-stay tuned.