Saturday, December 8, 2018

2018 in the rear view mirror

Books, movies, podcasts and music challenge, teach, encourage, enrich and refresh my daily life. Following is my attempt to note those that made a difference for me in 2018. Lists are not is priority order.

BOOKS I read by the fireplace in the living room, in bed for a few minutes before falling asleep, at coffee shops, while waiting for appointments and on summer camping trips (maybe my favorite reading setting). Here are 12 that found a way to dig deeper into my skin, psyche and soul. Included is a one-sentence (and hopefully not an extreme run-on) commentary for each title. You follow my reading via Goodreads:

Southernmost by Silas House

Southernmost - Silas House. I’m a sucker for a story that breathes the 
There There by Tommy Orangespiritual/faith/life journey from law to grace. 

There There - Tommy Orange. Native Americans on a “I can hardly breathe” quest driven by love, history, family, fear, rage and hope through urban chaos toward an unspeakable conclusion. (NYT Top 10 & Library Journal Best Books of 2018)

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo - Jarrett Krosoczka. A graphic memoir reflecting on a childhood journey through emotional and physical land mines with the support of (quirky) grandparents toward a (much) better life.
The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton

Sun Does Shine: How I found Life and Freedom on Death Row – Anthony Ray Hinton. A true story (that shouldn’t need to be true) of wrongful conviction, our brutally flawed justice system and gracious, tenacious perseverance to overcome.

      So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

      So You Want To Talk About Race – Ijeoma Oluo. I have a lot to learn and this book is an amazing teacher.

      Not That Bad by Roxane Gay
      Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture - Roxanne Gay. First person essays that bleed and pulse raw reality through stories often hidden, avoided and ignored. 

      Educated by Tara Westover

        Educated – Tara Westover. A story of growing up in a family dominated by religious excess, reactive paranoia and cultural escape to finding herself and her place in the greater world. (NYT Top 10)
        The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks

        The Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. Go ahead, read this book and message me every time you have it figured out…and then, let me know when you are finished.

        Hang Time by Elgin Baylor

        Hang Time: My Life in Basketball - Elgin Baylor. I knew Baylor was a great player, but I didn’t know much of his life both within and beyond the game.

        Disrupting Poverty by Kathleen M. Budge

        Disrupting Poverty: Five Powerful Classroom Practices – Kathleen Budge and William Parrett. “I love this book, it affirms my prejudices.” I have used that line as a half joke for years, no joke this time. (okay, that’s two sentences)
        American Like Me by America Ferrera

        American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures – American Ferrera. 31 essays explore the questions of the day, “Who is American?” “What does it mean to be an American?” and much more.
        Dear Girl, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

        Dear Girl – Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Paris Rosenthal. A perfect book for our annual camping trip of playing, laughing, sharing, learning and growing with our Granddaughters.


        MOVIES To be honest MoviePass may have enabled me to see more movies in theaters in 2018 than in the past decade. Special thanks to the Pickford Film Center for keeping independent movies thriving in Bellingham

        • Eighth Grade I have worked with young people in some fashion for 40 plus years and this movie bridges the current realities with freshness and life.
        • Won’t You Be My Neighbor – Fred Rogers wasn’t perfect, but he was better than we deserved and this film proves it.
        • First Reformed – I worked much of my life in ministries making this an almost too real view of the struggles of life and systems.
        • Crazy Rich Asians – Fresh, fun, warm and engaging for a great date night with Connie.
        • BlacKKKlansman – Perfect Spike Lee story telling with an unforgettable punch that should be shown to every high school student in America.
        • RBG – Wow, long may she live lead and serve!
        • Three Identical Strangers –Complex and compelling with more questions than answers.
        • Christopher Robin – “Say What You See,” has become our new favorite game while riding in the car with our Granddaughter, Kairi. 
        • The Rider – Bloody, dusty, raw, true, human and transcendent.
        • Hearts Beat Loud – Great father/daughter coming of age story, but, “Who is coming of age?”
        • Juliet Naked – Affirms my hope that life is more about redemption than karma.

        MUSIC I have eclectic interests musically but when it comes to favorites I’m usually found in the Americana, Roots streams with merging of diverse styles. This fusion can be seen by the concerts Connie and I attended this year.
        • Rosanne CashIt was a dream come true for me to hear her, and her multi-talented husband John Leventhal, at the Mount Baker Theater playing a stripped down acoustic set.
        • Bruce Cockburn – We took our sons and daughter-in-laws for a near sacred Schmotzer family memory lane evening.  

        • Mavis StaplesMavis, at 79, took us to church, no it was better than church, well maybe it was what I wish church would be.
        • Taylor SwiftShouldn’t all grandparents take their granddaughters to see Taylor at Century Link? 

        • Lyle LovettWe have cherished memories of seeing Lyle with family and friends over three decades and this, an anniversary weekend and first trip to Chateau St Michelle, did not disappoint.

        • I’m With HerWhen Sara Watkins began collaborating with Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan as I’m With Her I knew something special was happening and this concert proved it true, very true.



        Over the years I transitioned from being a runner to jogger, to plodder and now a walker and my current work includes a daily commute. Fortunately podcast have blossomed in the same era.
        • Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me – Amazing cast and quirky trivia combine for my kind of fun!
        • Malcom Gladwell Revisionist History – Looking deeper into little known or rarely remembered events and situations that have continuing importance and value.
        • Disgraceful – True crime stories from the world of rock and roll.
        • NPR Daily Politics – Recapping the politics of the day, if you can take it (if I can take it).
        • The Bible for Normal People – An attempt to explore the Bible with new eyes.
        • Code Switch – Honest, and at times humorous, examination of race and identity.
        • 30 for 30 – Proof that sports is about people and stories more than points and competition.
        • The Axe Files – Conversations that humanize politicians and politics.
        • You Make It Weird – Let’s see, scatological humor leads to stream of conscious conversation ending with honest exploration of perceptions and practices related to God.

        I wish shalom for you all each new year and each new day.

        Wednesday, October 24, 2018

        Reflections on the life and passing of Eugene Peterson

        The passing of Eugene Peterson has hit me hard. Our connections were minimal in the scope of life and mostly long ago, but his influence, his soul and spirit touch, lasts.

        I read A Long Obedience in the early 80's. The book stirred something deep within as I was awakening to life beyond the fundamentalism of my youth. I reached out via his publisher and he answered. A handwritten letter came my way and I was further smitten. More letters and phone calls led to arranging for him to be a summer speaker at the Christian conference center where I worked and lived.

        He and Jan, his wife, arrived on a Sunday afternoon in August of 1983. He was driving a motorhome and wearing some sort of jumpsuit (something between garage mechanic and Air Force pilot). The look was quite a change from the only image I had of him in a black and white headshot wearing a clerical collar.

        I spent the week in something of a fan fog. Conversations, his teaching, running, laughing at meals, and being with him.

        Early in the week, Eugene confessed that he had made the mistake of making the conference commitment while forgetting the timing of he and Jan’s 25th Anniversary. It was happening that week. I think Wednesday was the day. He referenced it in a talk in a way that was more self-deprecating than sympathy seeking.

        On the day of the Anniversary we had a cake from a local bakery at the conference dinner and recognized them as best we could. Being a twenty-something Conference staffer I thought (now I think foolishly) they needed something more to mark and celebrate their day.

        So, after the evening session, I arranged for a kidnapping. With the help of some summer staff members, we pulled Eugene and Jan away from the crowd and were off in two camp cars. I was in the first car, maybe a Ford Pinto (?), with the Peterson’s and a second car followed. We wandered town for a time as darkness set in. Eventually, we arrived at a restaurant that overlooked the city and the bay. We had made some arrangements with the management and all seemed to come together well.

        I told Jan and Eugene that we were leaving them. I gave them directions back to the conference center, car keys and a credit card. I was soon out the door.

        The next day Eugene was gracious and we transitioned the keys and the credit card. The only specifics I remember from the conversation was Eugene saying he hoped that the credit card owner didn’t mind paying for alcohol. An indication he understood our setting too well.

        I have wondered if our antics were a fun addition to their truncated celebration or an annoying nuisance. I guess I’ll have to let it rest as a part of the mystique of Eugene Peterson.

        We had occasional connections over the following years. The intensity of knowing him diminished as others helped me along my way. But Eugene Peterson was the just right connection at a time of life need and his influence has permeated in ways I may never realize. For me he was a living example of grace and wisdom. Something we all need and long for. Something to treasure and something to miss, deeply miss.

        Thursday, May 31, 2018

        a deep dark well

        I long for Van Gogh’s eyes.
        To see dusky shadows and
        ever-changing light;
        drifting, bleeding, bouncing,
        bursting, breathing, dancing.

        Until I remember his despair,
        his unending pain. How it burdened
        and, eventually, buried him.
        How he wrote these words
        to Theo, his brother,

        “I am so angry with myself because I cannot do
        what I should like to do…, (it feels) as if
        one were lying bound hand and foot
        at the bottom of a deep dark well,
        utterly helpless."

        Sunday, April 22, 2018

        long enough

        I’ve lived long enough
        to remember long ago
        finding myself left with
        flashes and fragments,
        whispers and scraps
        that spar for dominance
        while being shaped and shared
        to become the story, my story
        in the way I choose
        at the time I choose
        with those I choose
        until I can choose, 
        no more

        Monday, April 2, 2018

        How I plan to spend Spring Break

        Read a couple of books that will alter my life arc
        Write the great American novel
        Make connections to restore long fractured relationships
        Lose weight

        Spend soul feeding time with family and friends
        Take long walks
        Wash and wax my car
        Maintain my weight

        Binge watch mindless TV
        Get my hair cut
        Not give up on the Mariners
        Not gain any weight

        Alternate ending:
        Remember to take my daily meds
        Sleep without an alarm
        Finish the damn taxes
        Not gain too much weight

        Monday, February 26, 2018

        Lenten Reflections for 2018

        Following is my contribution to From Ashes to Glory, St. Paul's 2018 Lenten Devotional:

        February 20, 2018
        AM Psalm 45; PM Psalm 47, 48
        Genesis 37:12-24; 1 Corinthians 1:20-31; Mark 1:14-28

        Where is the one who is wise? Where is the Scribe?
        Where is the debater of this age?
        Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
        For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God 
        through wisdom. God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, 
        to save those who believe.
        - 1 Corinthians 1:20-21

        Information is available, it’s easy, and can be overloading and stressful. The Technology Revolution has brought us to the Information Age; played out in Smart Phones. In a nanosecond we can Google the answer most questions or curiosities. We no longer wait for the evening news or morning paper.

        No matter how much information we have we still need something more. That more is wisdom. Wisdom goes deeper. We can “learn” information but we must “earn” wisdom. Wisdom grows through struggles, listening, time, perseverance and well, life. Information can make us feel smart, but wisdom is more.

        Living within a church community provides numerous opportunities to grow in wisdom. Some of those are:
        • ·Realizing that we are not God. Proper perspective and humility are a great place to start.
        • ·Space and opportunities for listening and learning where even questions and doubt are valued and encouraged.
        • ·Serving others. When we serve we clarify and live out our values.
        • ·Being with others. Relating, listening and laughing all encourage growth.
        • ·Traditions and rhythms. Helping find the balance of life that goes beyond urgencies and reaches to depths of soul and substance.
        • ·A breadth of ages. Mixing across generations provides opportunities to understand life from broader perspectives.
        When crisis arise we want, and need wisdom. May this Lenten season be one where each of us and all of us are learning and growing in wisdom. 

        The complete devotional can be found at:

        Friday, November 3, 2017

        The extended family

        When my oldest niece was about five years old, she cried to her mom, “How come I couldn’t be adopted like the other kids?” At that time, there were six cousins on that side of our family; four of them had joined the family through adoption. We laughed at the story, but also found a sense of gratification in seeing our families grow in unusual ways.
        It’s been nearly twenty-five years since my niece cried to her mom. Our two adopted sons are grown with families of their own. We now have a grandson who has come into our family through adoption. My wife and a sister-in-law both work for Bethany Christian Services Northwest, an adoption agency. Adoption and foster care has shaped our extended family history in a variety of ways.
        The need is always before us. Every child deserves, needs and longs for a stable home and family. It is also critical for the health of the greater community that we care for those who cannot care for themselves. Open adoptions and cultural shifts have changed the face of adoption and foster care greatly in the past twenty-five years, but the reality is that every child is an important child and many are in need of a home.
        Adoption is not always easy, nor is the result always perfect. As with any family situation, it involves a messy mixture of people and lives. But there are many stories of life directions changed and families made new through this process.
        Have you considered extending your family through adoption or foster care? There are numerous ways to get involved. If you have considered extending your family through one of these methods, here are some of the steps that can help prepare you for the commitment.
        1. First, educate yourself. Learn about adoption and foster care processes in your state. In doing so, you will discover the reality of life for the children who spend their youth in systems that are caring, but overloaded. The Child Welfare Information Gateway of the Administration for Children and Families provides up to date statics related to the current needs related to adoption and foster care.
        2.  Consider helping a specific child or children. Evaluate your situation and see how to best respond. Can you build a family in a way you had not previously considered? Are you able to help kids in transition through foster care? There are many agencies available to help you learn about foster care and, when ready, begin the process. Bethany Christian Services is one of the largest organizations providing services for both foster care and adoption with branch offices in numerous locations throughout the United States. You can also refer to Child Welfare Information Gateway and the Administration for Children and Families to learn more about national resources.
        3.  Consider an alternative. If you are not in a position to bring children into your home, consider sponsoring a child through a reputable relief agency. Compassion International and World Vision are two international organizations with years of experience in caring for needy children around the world.
        4.  Act locally. Join with a child service agency in your city as a volunteer or supporter.  Big Brothers Big Sisters has been providing positive role models for youth since 1904. Volunteering as a “Big” or donating to support programs can help make a difference in the lives of numerous children in need. Many communities have locally-based programs that provide friendship/mentoring opportunities for volunteers to work one-on-one with kids as well.
        5.  Get involved. Become informed about what’s going on at the government level and communicate with officials on behalf of children. This might involve contacting your state representatives, your community government, or your area school board to see what is being done with local resources and funds to protect at-risk and needy children.  
        It is not important how each of us responds. The crucial thing is that we work together to help needy kids and families in the best way we can. The need is great, the opportunity is before us, and the future depends on it. Each November is designated as National Adoption Month, but there is no need to wait. You can make connections now to get involved and make a difference. Kids will thank you for generations to come.

        Originally written in 2011 with Teresa Tanner (Carpine) and published in Catapult Magazine: