Getting Out Of Dodge For A Food Tour

Several weeks ago my wife suggested that we go on a little adventure and asked me to check out a food tour taking place in Black Mountain, NC, a little over and hour and a half’s drive from our home in Boone. Apparently a friend of hers had taken the tour, was really excited about it and thought that we might be interested in it as well.

And as it almost takes an act of congress to get me out of my comfort zone, I was a bit reluctant to check it out, but after a few proddings from Sandi, I looked into it and signed us up to take the tour at 2pm last Saturday the 28th.

At the time, I thought the price was a little high but decided that we hadn’t been out of town in a while (a long cold winter) and what the heck—let’s live a little.

In the two weeks after signing up, the weather went from the high sixties to the low forties and this past weekend was forecast to be below seasonal norms with lows in the twenties and highs in the thirties. However, as it turned out during our tour, the sun was out in Carolina blue skies and the temperatures reached the low fifties with just a little breeze.

This is fairly typical weather for spring in the North Carolina high country—ups and downs every which way and almost a vengeance in letting go of winter. Sometimes it seems we go directly into summer without ever experiencing the delights of a milder spring that slowing advances into shorts and tee-shirt days outside.

Anyway, we get to Black Mountain and have a few minutes before the tour begins and being Terry and Sandi, we start walking around the small mountain town on our own. Our first stop was a garden center on the main drag that seemed to stock everything a backyard gardener would ever need. I could have spent several hours in that shop but was limited to buying a few High Mowing seeds and some other seed starting supplies. After that, it was quick trip around the block and then back to our food tour beginning destination.

We began our delightful tour at the restaurant inside the Monte Vista Hotel. The chef fixed a pulled pork empanada and a half a glass of a good Pinot Noir and at that point, with such an auspicious beginning, I was glad we had made the trip. Within the next two and a half hours, we visited 5 more food places and were treated to what amounted to at least three lunches. We were served chicken on waffles at the Red Rocker Inn, vegetable soup and a half sandwich at the Black Mountain Bakery and a great ruben and pasta salad at the Dark City Deli and Pub. At Louise’s Kitchen we ate a pulled pork quesadilla served with their homemade lemonade and ended the tour at the Asheville Place with spiced tea and pound cake. Not to shabby for an otherwise lazy Saturday afternoon.

It was on the way to the third foodie place that I realized that the price that we paid was not really that high and that this adventure would be one that Sandi and I could add to our scrapbook of things that we have done over the past 10 or 12 years. This includes a walking food tour that we took in NYC, which at the time I thought cost too much as well. After it was done, I realized that I probably would have paid more had I known what we were getting for our investment of time and money—lots of good memories to share on those long, cold winter evenings.

As you can suppose, I can’t say enough about this recent tour. Each and every host was genuinely happy to see our group of 12 arrive and most importantly to me, each and every one seemed to take great pride in serving the community and were grateful to be a part of the tour. During the many question and answer times, we were able to ascertain that most used locally sourced ingredients in their food preparation and that each an every one worked very hard but felt satisfied and fulfilled in their chosen occupations. This feeling that they shared, was to me, almost worth the price of admission as was the food and town history that accompanied the tour.

In Ecclesiastes 5:18 we read: “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.”

To enjoy what we do on a daily basis, that which we call work, is indeed a blessing. And one that I was reminded of several times last Saturday, walking through a small town in the mountains of North Carolina.

That’s what I call a great ride.


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Alternative To What?

It seems like just about anything can stimulate me to begin thinking about my life and the lives we collectively lead.

Just the other day I was given a mix CD entitled “Songs you should know, If you don’t already” by a young coworker. My department at work is suddenly full of people who are just beginning their lives or are starting to put on some years of experience. Suffice it to say that our daily conversations have become something of an adventure and are always thought provoking and real.

Since I had never heard of 18 of the 19 groups listed on the aforementioned CD, I took a trip to the iTunes store in order to find a genre of music these songs belonged to. What I found was that all of the songs were listed under the Alternative genre. Which in turn got me to thinking about what alternative really meant since most of the songs are quite different in tone and vocal approach.

According to Wikipedia, “Alternative rock (also called alternative music, alt-rock or simply alternative) is a genre of rock music that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1980s and became widely popular by the 1990s.”

In other words, any type of music that didn’t fit under the more established categories, (ie: Jazz, Folk, Rock, Metal, etc.) are thrown into the Alt category.

The music genres that I am most interested in are the singer-songwriter, folk and jazz groupings. Pete Seeger, Miles Davis & Bruce Cockburn fit very comfortably into these three genres.

Anyway, as I was listening to the mix CD, my mind wondered into another related direction—how we tend to simplify and categorize what we know about people and the information they give us about who they are and what they are up to in life.

For instance, a friend of mine has spent the last seven years of his life in Tanzania, Africa, and teaches a course called “Farming God’s Way” to locals in an attempt to help them out of poverty. I had some basic understanding of what I thought this course taught only to find out yesterday that I had made several assumptions without ever really exploring what this Farming God’s Way process actually entailed.

What I realized is that most of us tend to take a piece of information and our minds sort of attempt to fill in the blanks for us to create a “whole”. It is like that line drawing sketch of a face that you see and our brains fill in most of the details that are left out of the basic drawing. We aren’t even aware that we do this—that we create conclusions based on a few fundamental pieces of information without ever considering that what we really know about anything (not fully studied) is only piece meal and almost as useless as putting a group under the Alternative banner when they don’t easily fit into another category.

Recently I read an interesting article that attempted to explain the human condition called a “crush”. Most of us have had “crushes” and understanding what the real dynamics are is quite compelling. You (a guy) are on a bus and see a girl several seats away with an unusual smile or a unique hat or you are struck by the way she turns her head to look at you. What the article explained is that our minds take this little piece of attractive (to us) information and then go on a runaway train trip to create a personality, which is most likely a thousand miles from the actual truth of who this person is. In so creating this “reality” we form a crush based on one or two observations of something that we like about this person and many times even create a scenario where our lives might end up were we to actually meet.

On a more personal note, many people assume that because you identify yourself as a Christian, you are this way or that way when it comes to politics, etc. and they in turn create many impossible-to live-up-to expectations based on their concept of Christianity. If I have learned anything it is that there is more grey than black and white in real life. Not that there aren’t truths’ that form our foundational beliefs, but that life is not always that cut and dry.

I guess by now you can see how my mind took a little turn to the left or right beginning with a few songs on a CD which I had no category to fit them into. Not that categories are bad, but what I have learned is that we can’t let ourselves be trapped into thinking that people and music and art always fit neatly into something that we can know in a brief moment of time. We owe it to everyone to not jump to conclusions and realize that the many boxes we have put things into over the years might need emptying every once and while and thoroughly cleaned out.

Not bad for a days ride or two.


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Back In The Day

According to the urban dictionary, “back in the day” is a reference to a time period previous to the present, usually recalled with a somewhat blissful vision.

And if our own history is taken into consideration, I would have to say that most of us remember the good times more than we do the bad times.

In my own life, many of my memories are compressed into what I would call “thought-bites” which are short on detail and long on the feelings that surrounded the “back in the day” event.

I remember my early twenties, taking long, pipe-smoking walks along lake Huron during the early evening hours of summer in Port Huron, Michigan. What I recall is that sense of loneliness which led me to take these walks in order to settle my wandering mind. Walking was a way to wear me out but also provided a moving medium within which I could paint my thoughts. And that is not to say that I was unhappy during that time—my walks, although precipitated by a sense of aloneness, actually were the source of some of my happiest memories.

I have since come to realize that we create coping mechanisms which enable us to bear the weight of our lives and that what we are left with, at the end of the day or decade (as it were) is who we are. We are shaped by these events, small and large, and I have made peace with that part of me that requires movement in order to feel at rest.

There was a time (keeping our back in the day theme) when I thought I was a poet. That feeling lasted until I realized that what I had to say had most likely already been said by someone else and that too in a much more elaborate way. Reading good poetry has always had a singular effect on me—that is a desire to write my own. To this end I have numerous journals of all sizes and shapes that go back years and years and are filled with my thoughts and musings.

I began Looking For The Long Ride in November of 2006 as a way to deal with the feelings I was having about leaving a church I had been a part of for 20 years. The theme fit my life and still is an effective tool that allows me to express that part of myself which  continues to move forward, talking long bike rides and endeavoring to understand the world around me.

I still enjoy reading poetry and even write my own on occasion. And though I write for my own pleasure, I believe there is always a part of any writer, musician, or artist that hopes there will be someone on the other side of this or that creation, reading, listening or looking at what has been created. I think that is called “feedback”.

So, even though I have come to recognize that I am not a poet in terms of being published and earning a living from my writing, I still have these feelings that there is something left to be said and shared with whomever has the time to follow these threads of thoughts and wanderings.

The ride is less lonely knowing this. Enjoy yours today.


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The Fine Art Of Getting Older

George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying that…“youth is wasted on the young”, which seems to mean that the young waste their youth doing things of little value and those who are mature enough to do meaningful things have little youth remaining to do them.

Of course we know that this quote is only as true as the people it is meant to represent. I am sure there are many young people who have a mature perspective on life and many older folks who are literally wasting their time away.

However, that is not the point, is it? The point is really that most young people have no idea of their own mortality and we can truthfully say that when we were young, we thought we were going to live forever.

During those tumultuous late teens and early twenties, I thought that I wouldn’t make it past 30, which as I grew older became 40 and then that idea was put to bed after having made it that far without checking out.

I am now 65 years old and yet “feel” as if I am still a young man—that is just before I look in the mirror and realize that time is really passing. When I was younger I took every opportunity to check myself out—every reflective surface assured me of who I was and how I thought the world perceived me that day, week, or month. Now I joke with friends that I take one look in the mirror in the morning and carry that image with me all day—as if that is all it takes to assure me that I truly exist.

Some mirrors are unrelenting and highlight every nook, crevice and wrinkle that time has left on my face. It is like there is one person inside peering out at another person looking at himself. The man inside peering out seems so much younger—filled with hope at the same time trying to reconcile the image being flashed back at him. There have been and continue to be, so many instances of me—one reality overlapping another as one dreamscape fades only to reveal a hundred more.

Suffice it to say that it is amazing at this point to ponder the waning of my life—we all seemingly begin at about the same point and end the same—with all sorts of diversity in between those two points. In between the beginning and the end, we meet at times on the road to find out as Cat Stevens once sung. Flesh and blood is what we share as well and a common ancestry in the Garden—we are all a mixture of this and a little bit of that.

This past Saturday, as I sat in the rocking chair with one of my granddaughters, I was struck by the fact of how different our skin textures were. As the sun shone in on us both, I noticed the highlighted flesh on my hand and was amazed at the somewhat waxy, wrinkled and pale, translucent skin that covered my veins, knuckles and fingers. My granddaughter’s hands were quite the opposite in their smooth, pearly white display—kissable I would say.

There are no instruction manuals given to us when we are born or when we become parents and within certain cultural structures we are more or less on our own learning path as we proceed through life.

Getting older is a process of noticing the changes which is an awareness not unlike looking through a frosted window pane. Change is gradual, not overnight—the longer you go without looking the more frightening it is when you finally take a peek. I am sure this is something that all older people share in—the awareness of aging and the changes that this process brings with it.

And with that awareness comes the dichotomy that I have mentioned previously—that of how one feels on the inside and how one begins to look on the outside—that discrepancy, that difference between actual age and the perception of who we are that we carry in our thoughts and dreams.

As I have grown older, I have come to the awareness that our culture is all about the young and looking good and that there is very little about the waning life that is taught in our churches or schools. I have felt the disrespect that comes from the younger generation who, like we must have been, feel that they have the inside scoop on how things are supposed to be. I have been on both sides and can see the strengths and weaknesses of what I perceive to be a know-it-all attitude. Yet I am a firm believer in the proverb that says, “…in the multitude of counselors there is safety”.

I was reminded last week by that still small voice inside my head that we need to be thankful for all the little things that bless us. From now until that last big “event” we need to be ever mindful of the people that are in our lives. Scripture says that it is the blessings of the Lord that make one rich and I know that most of us would like a little more money in our pockets. Instead of this being a monetary thing, I think that this type of blessing is an enrichment of our souls.

Indeed, these last days, however many they may be, can and should be the best of our lives. What is wasted on the young is this perspective that begins to acknowledge the eternal while yet living in the present. These states of being overlap with a fulness that can only be expressed through being thankful and living each day with the understanding that this life is only a part of the bigger picture.

And that is a part of the long ride that we are all on.

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What Is Sound Doctrine?

One of the most amazing events in my life was that moment in time when I “became” a born-again believer. I was in a friends living room and had just asked for prayer in order to help me keep my nicotine habit at bay. The guy leading the meeting that evening asked me a few questions before he began his prayer. One of the questions was asked to determine whether or not I was, indeed, a Christian. Since I had been raised in church, I certainly thought the answer was yes, but after a few more questions, we both agreed that I had never, fully, been “born-again”.

I had moved to the southern appalachian mountains several months before this with my girl friend, who, within a few weeks after we arrived, became my wife. God was working in both of us underneath the surface of our lives—but that is a story for another time.

Suffice it to say, without going into any more detail, I left my friends house that night a different person. Everyone that I knew noticed the change in me and I would like to say that my early days as a Christian were all positive and without serious repercussions. When I began telling a couple of my pre-conversion buddies that I was having a dialogue with God rather than a monologue, eyes began to roll and I quickly found myself on the outside of our friendship looking in. Maybe I was a little scary at the time, but I was truly excited about the adventure that I had begun.

How can I sum up the next 34 years quickly in order to create a launching pad for what I would like to say today. Sandi and I went on to have four children, a blessed life by most standards, and now enjoy our grandkids and the life that we have been allowed to grow into.

Becoming a Christian brings with it a desire to read the bible and fellowship with other believers. As we grow in the faith, our understanding of the bible’s teaching becomes clearer and more personal. In turn, we develop belief systems based on what we, sometimes communally, agree upon. This then becomes “our doctrine”. There are many beliefs that are shared among the many diverse denominational church expressions. The most central belief is that Christ died for our sins and that after being crucified, rose on the third day and now sits at the right hand of the Father (in heaven, wherever that may be in your understanding of things).

Many doctrines have risen up over the years since that time in history. However in scripture, we are given the strong impression that “sound” or good doctrine will not always be followed.

Paul tells us in 2nd Timothy 4:3-4 that: For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

We currently live in a culture that seems to think that Christians are behind the times and are hopelessly mired in superstition and fables.

While I don’t believe the church has handled some of the more controversial issues it has faced in a biblical fashion, I firmly believe the church is currently facing some decisions that will affect it for a long time to come.

One of the hot topics during the past several years has been the issue of same sex marriage and/or homosexuality as it relates to historical doctrinal understanding. I know those are somewhat separate but trend toward being a package issue.

Recently, Rob Bell, a controversial Christian author and former paster, has suggested to Oprah Winfrey that he believes the church is close to the point of accepting same sex marriage. In a Charisma news article he is quoted as saying, “I am for marriage,” the best-selling author said. “I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think that the church needs to just … this is the world that we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.”

As a Christian, I would have to question whether Bell is fostering “unsound” doctrine with his belief that the church, in order to address the culture and indeed, in Bell’s words, become more relevant, needs to change its thinking as it relates to same sex marriage.

Technically, I am not saying that I oppose same sex marriage. From a biblical standpoint I can’t endorse it but from a legal standpoint, it is only a contract between two people intended to protect each other’s rights. If a business wants to provide insurance to a same sex couple, that is their prerogative. But for the church to endorse it, that is another issue entirely.

If your doctrine/belief system, as protected by the US constitution, leads you to conclude that same sex marriage is not biblical, I am OK with that. I am not OK with the way many groups calling themselves the church have handled this topic. I am also not OK with the venom and hate which has been thrown at this group.

Romans 12:18 reads: If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

To the best of my memory, I was still a smoker and had a stack of men’s magazines when I was “saved”. Because salvation is a gift, I didn’t have to clean up my act before I accepted this gift. I got prayer for the smoking and it wasn’t long before the magazines made their way to the green dumpster.

I don’t live a perfect life and I am still trying to understand the many events I find myself surrounded with as I move through this life. I don’t speak for the “church” and am not saying that I am a biblical scholar either. I do think there is a higher path than the one that many of us find ourselves traveling. Let’s agree to walk in one another’s shoes for a day or two before we find ourselves on one side or the other of a wall that can’t be moved.

Life is very rarely like a box of chocolates….!


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The Journey To Freedom Continues

My wife and I have not been associated with a denominational Christian gathering for most of the past seven or eight years. During this time we have continued to fellowship with friends and others, mostly in a small group/home group setting. Some who participate attend Sunday church and some don’t—the bottom line is that we are all Christians-In-Process.

We continue to meet from house to house and share a meal, worship with music and exchange thoughts on common scriptures. Occasionally there is a “teaching” but most often we relate to one another around where we are in our Christian lives.

This past week as wintery weather arrived in Boone, NC, my wife and I reminisced about how we used to feel so compelled to attend church on Sunday’s, that we often found ourselves in foot deep snow or traversing slippery, icy roads in order to get to the weekly meeting. In was almost as if the most important aspect of our walk with Christ was making sure we were present and accounted for at each and every meeting.

Hindsight is 20/20 and what we now realize is that we were part of a system that rewarded outward actions in order to show each other that God loved us and accepted us. This is part of what can be called living under a “religious spirit”. We deny the power of grace when our relationship with God is centered around our ability to perform spiritual tasks. God does not love us because we pray, read our Bibles, attend church or act nice, yet many Christians think God is mad at them if they don’t perform these and other duties.

Galatians 5:1 reads: It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

I am pretty sure that what Paul is talking about in his letter to the church at Galacia was the fact that they had begun their journey with Christ by faith and were now trying to redeem themselves by the works of the law—the do’s and the don’ts. They wanted back under the religious system from which they had been set free partially because it was what they knew and partially because being a slave seems so much easier than being a free-man—as there are fewer decisions to make as a slave.

In Matthew 23:23 we read: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”

In this passage Jesus was addressing a group of people who had perfected the art of spiritual performance. With them, it was all about outward appearance and not about the state of their heart. According to their tradition, it was ok for them to ignore the needs of their immediate family in order to bring their offering before the congregation (Matt. 15).

I guess that I have said all of that in order to say this: walking in the freedom spoke of in scripture is not as easy as it would seem on the surface. As human beings we are a tangled web of history and habit—actions and responses—do this and don’t do that’s. We have grown up in a culture that shouts everything is relative and have it your way in a 50 shades of grey landscape. We have arrived at a time in history where same-sex marriage is not even at the tip of the iceberg even though many think this is at the top of the long list of our sinful actions.

Recently I was placed in a situation which brought me to this thoughtful point—how do we exercise our personal freedom and yet fulfill our responsibilities to one another.

I met with a group of believers every other week on Sunday afternoon for worship, prayer and fellowship. Though I don’t consider myself to be a “praise and worship” leader per se, I do have a musical gift, no matter how basic, that I often share in a group setting. Sometimes the simple songs I bring open up the heavens and allow us to enter into a dimension of Godly perspective. During the past several months I have had the opportunity to lead worship by myself and also back up people who have come in order to share their gift of music with us.

Last week, a young man came into our meeting with his guitar and sat across the room from me. I had arrived early and had my guitar plugged in and the music stand up and was ready to ease into a few songs that I had practiced for this time. I invited him to set beside me so that he could see the music and after a short opening prayer, without even looking at me, this guy started playing a current, contemporary praise song. With that intro, he continued to play for the next hour or so without so much as giving me an inch to move into the musical flow. As he was much more talented than I and being slightly insecure anyway, I tried to play along with my uke and or harmonicas but the wind had been taken out of my sails and I felt discouraged and disrespected.

As I hadn’t talked with this fellow beforehand, I really didn’t know what he had or had not arranged with the pastor of this small fellowship. I tried to let my feelings go but I felt like a bucket full of cold water had been poured on me and all I could manage was to bide my time until I could pack up and leave. For some reason, I couldn’t find it within my self to take part in the music and bring it back to where I thought I was supposed to go with it when I showed up that afternoon.

In talking with the pastor later that evening, he wondered what had happened to me and asked why I had “let” this young man take over the entire service. I told him I didn’t know what had been arranged and that I would not “fight” for a place to fit in order to play music. He then apologized to me for letting the situation go and at that point I asked him what his expectations of me were.

You might be asking yourself at this point, where does walking in freedom fit in within this scenario. I am not totally sure but will attempt to flesh out my thoughts surrounding this concept.

First of all, we live in a world filled with expectations and obligations—commitments and consequences.

When I showed up on Sunday to fellowship and meet with this group, although it was unspoken, I felt a responsibility to exercise my musical gift. Since I had played during the last several meetings, the expectation was that I would continue to move in this direction.

Yet at the same time, there is an implied freedom within this group to follow the spirit’s leading and as a result, I am “free” to attend or not depending on the circumstances in my life. Since I feel that I am a part of this group an obligation exists on my part to let the leader know if I am not planning on being there so that other plans for music, etc. can be arranged. Yet even that curtesy is not specifically required for attendance and/or acceptance.

Hopefully you can see where I am attempting to go with this post.

In other words, walking in freedom does not eliminate our obligation to one another to be respectful and considerate within all of our interactions.

Freedom does not mean that I can do anything I want anytime I want without regard to how my behavior affects others around me.

My value as a person and my relationship with God is not determined by whether or not I make it to “church” on Sunday but at the same time, how I handle myself before, during and after a meeting is a direct result of my commitment to a lifestyle based on a relationship with Christ.

It is a wonderful feeling to not be tied into a belief system that rewards you for doing stuff for God. But navigating within this freedom is not something that can be taken lightly. It is much harder to be flexible in our relationships than it is to follow a set of rules and regulations.

Ultimately, even though I was offended by this young musicians behavior, I believe that God causes all things to work together for good and even this situation, which hurt me in the making, has pushed me beyond my understanding and into a new realm of being. As I have mentioned before, I am still in process and still open to the hand of my heavenly Father ushering me through another series of events in order to bring me to a better understanding of the freedom He has offered me.

Not a bad “ride” for a cold, wintery day. Enjoy yours.


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It Can’t Be That Complex

I will have to admit that I am one of those people who enjoy having Facebook friends that post viewpoints that are contrary to what I currently believe. There are many “friends” who are Democrat, Republican, pro-gun, gun control, same sex marriage, anti same sex marriage, and so on down the line of our most advertised current events.

I am often amused by the posts and comments that I scan on a regular basis from my computer or my smart phone. I love the sense of keeping in touch with my friends wanderings and the updates that my kids send about the grandchildren’s activities.

During the many years that I have been a Facebook member, I have only stopped following a few people who, more often than not, had gone off on the deep end about one thing or another. I have, like many of you reading this, found that commenting on Facebook can often lead to more misunderstanding than a comment will ever warrant. As long as you stay somewhat surfacy all is well in that digital world—but real conversations are best left for coffee shops and over a glass of wine.

Lately, I have noticed a particular poster has delved into what I would call “disputable” matters as Paul writes about in Romans 14:1. His belief that the King James translation is the only true Bible has perplexed me more so than I like to admit in public.

I have also come to the place that man’s attempt to categorize the Bible’s plan for mankind is not only disquieting to me, but is so intellectual as to be almost not understandable.

I mean, who can really get what the Calvinists are saying about “election” or what the Arminians believe about free will. And then there is the Preterist view of the end times and perhaps several hundred other doctrines that endeavor to explain what is being said in the Bible. To me, most fall short of giving me a true picture of God’s plan for my life.

And this coming from a person who tends to approach things from an intellectual standpoint. You would think that I would love to wade in this fountain of unlimited information and thought processes.

I firmly believe that these attempts to sum up in a neat package the 66 books of the Bible and all that lies between its covers, is not only obscuring God’s intents and purposes but in the extreme are far more dangerous than we give them credit for.

I am reminded of a paragraph or two from a little book I read several years ago which says to me that you don’t have to be a brilliant intellectual in order to understand the Bible. In the book “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ” Jeanne Guyon says about those who would like to know God that: “I especially address those of you who are very simple and you who are uneducated, even you who cannot read and write. You may think you are the one person most incapable of this abiding experience of Christ, this prayer of simplicity. You may think yourself the one farthest from a deep experience with the Lord; but, in fact, the Lord has especially chosen you! You are the one most suited to know Him well.”

Don’t get me wrong—I am not saying that we don’t need to look at the Bible’s teachings with an intent to understand them and with that done put them into practice in our daily lives. What I am saying is that, once again, men have complicated something that was really meant to be much more easily understood and practiced.

In other words, I am at that point in my life where I will readily admit, there are many more questions than there are answers. The concept of a creator/God is so big that I can’t really, readily, wrap my arms around it—I am fooling myself to say that I ever was.

In one telling Bible story, Christ’s disciples asked Him to show them the Father. His response to them was, if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.

It doesn’t get any simpler than that, does it!



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The Hardest Project

Last spring, after several years of thinking about it, Sandi and I purchased an unheated hoop house kit from a company in Virginia. Since they wanted almost $1,800 to assemble aforementioned green house, I choose to have it delivered after asking them if the house came with “good” instructions.

A week or two after I ordered the structure (notice how I have used at least four words to describe it) I received a call that it was on its way to Boone and I left work and went to meet the delivery guy. When he showed up he told me he had a bad back and asked if I wouldn’t mind helping him unload all the pieces. Somehow this should have been a sign to me what was in store for the next month and a half.

After unloading all the parts and pieces I laid a tarp over them and waited until the weather warmed up enough to begin what was to become one of the hardest projects I had ever undertaken in my mid-sixties journey.

During the next several days I pondered the directions that came with it and began to wonder if this project was even remotely possible with the plans in front of me. What I did not know at the time I asked the nice lady on the other end of the hoop house company phone about the plans was that I would encounter lots of steps where leaps would be made and only a builder or carpenter would understand what I was being asked to do.

Needless to say, by about the 2nd day into the project I had the cell phone number of the company’s owner on speed dial and I was sure that I was looking at the project to end all projects. Granted, I have a tendency to over think things and the fact that I am slightly perfectionist only worked against my ability to do almost anything I set my mind to. Many things in the instructions didn’t seem to make good sense and I was often left with the uneasy feeling of making an unfixable mistake if I were to continue without getting clarification from the buildings maker.

At one point in our almost daily conversation, the owner told me I was going at it all wrong—that I should lay down the plans and only consult them if needed and that I should just go out and build the hoop house. This is after his son admitted to me that the plans could indeed use a little work for the sake of clarity. I have to guess that their hope was that most people would hire them to put the green house up and is probably true based on the fact that many people were using grant money to get their houses built.

Anyway, during this building process, I would get ahold of the next step or two and then head to the back yard in order to make it happen. Many times, in between, my wife would find me in a state of bewilderment and almost hopelessness, wondering if I could ever get this thing up and finished. I was discouraged by my lack of understanding and the inch by inch progress which seemed to tire me out ever more so as the days and weeks rolled past.

I am grateful at this point that I had the help of my good friend Carey, without whom I would have had to give up the self-help dream and hire the building’s finish. Also, there was another hoop house from the same company in the next county that had been erected by a farmer’s market friend of my wife. I went by his farm one day and took several pictures of his building which helped me visualize some of the finer points of construction magic that had been left off the directions.

Once the frame was up and it came time to put the “skin” on it, I was faced with the prospect of getting at least 4 or 5 people at my house at 7 am in the morning on a day when the wind was not blowing. I started making calls based on what the local weather guy said was going to happen, wind-wise, and on that fateful morning, rose early and got all the plastic covering and tools ready to rock and roll. Oh, and did I mention that a lot of work had to be done on tall step ladders. Just add that to the mix in your imagination.

So, I have several friends helping me put the skin on and it seems to be buckling in places that I don’t think look to nice and I am using speed dial again to find out if we are really doing it right. The guy on the other end of the line says to me (hoping this is my last call) that we only have to pull the plastic with our thumb and one finger and only as tight as this will allow—and yes there will be wavy parts and remember, this is only a hoop house—it’s not supposed to be “perfect”.

So, I guess that was my whole problem all along and the cause of most of my frustration with the directions and so forth. I thought every piece was supposed to fit together and that everything was already cut to size and that I would not end up bending stuff this way and that in order to make it fit. What I didn’t realize was that this project was a work in progress just like our lives—that adjustments often have to be made in the most awkward of situations—standing on top of a ladder with a drill and a self-tapping screw that doesn’t really want to bite into that galvanized metal framing.

We often have to push beyond our natural limits in order to get the job done and for most of us, this is uncomfortable and unwelcome.

Is the hoop house perfect—heavens no. But is it a functional tool that I will be able to use and enjoy for years to come—yes indeed. After several weeks of living with the finished product I was able to over look the flaws and appreciate the whole building for what it is—a place to grow stuff and extend my season by a month on either end of the growing calendar.

And that my friends is a good ride anytime.




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Our Future Is Now

I remember working for the Jefferson Times in the early eighties as if it were yesterday. Well I don’t remember everyday as if it were yesterday, just a few highlights of my 3 1/2 years there as a reporter, photographer and ad salesman.

Up to that fateful day in January when I got the call to interview with the Times owner, David Desautels, I was a non-paid apprentice with White Top’s legendary fiddle maker Albert Hash. I would make the 50 mile round trip everyday for a month or two until we learned that Sandi was pregnant and the prospect of being a luthier took a distant second place to getting a “real” job in order to provide for my soon-to-be family.

Being a reporter was a job I was to hold until Sandi and I went into the mountain basket business and began the crafts show circuit in August of 1983.

Sandi and I arrived in Ashe County in August of 1978 and were quickly married on the hill behind the house we would fix up, rent-free, for the next 5 years. The house had been abandoned several years before and needed our fresh from Michigan touch in order to begin our life in the northwest mountains of North Carolina.

I mention Michigan because I believe that perspective set me apart from the people I worked with—people who had grown up in the country and were sometimes not able to see the changes coming to their quaint village. Arriving from the industrialized north, the rust-belt of America, gave me a glimpse into what was in store for the mountains I lovingly called home.

For instance, in the column I wrote every week for the Times, I often alluded to the fact that tobacco would not always be a crop local farmers could depend upon—the death knell drowned out by the tobacco auctioneers sing-song sales pitch. I also witnessed the birth of the fraser fir Christmas tree industry and saw that this two would not be something that could be counted on for a living if everyone that owned a few acres planted trees and began selling them on light bulb lit vacant lots in small towns everywhere.

My idea at the time was to suggest the local Agricultural Extension agent begin to outline plans that would help the family farmer transition from one type of economy to another, more sustainable source of income—an idea that I don’t think has ever been implemented.

In other words, not everybody can plant cabbage every year. During a good year there is too much and the price plummets. The next year, fewer people plant it and the price is much better. What we need is bio-diversity not too much of one crop and not enough of another.

In my opinion we have reached a place where our local mountain families cannot take care of the area’s nutritional needs if the big-ag trucks were to stop coming in order to stock the shelves of our supermarkets. Not that any area in our vast nation can be 100% self-supporting—the problem as I see it is that there are no plans afoot to even address this eventuality.

The bible has a lot to say about stewardship. In simple terms a steward is: …one who has been given the responsibility to manage or care for someone or something. He’s not the owner. The steward is simply the caretaker. He’s the manager of property belonging to another. From biblical point of view, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein…” (Psalm 24:1)

Giving away the production of food to large, multi-national corporations, is not being a good steward. Allowing Monsanto and others to patent hybrid, genetically modified seeds, means to me that we have already begun the slippery slide into corporate anarchy. Furthermore, accepting the use of Monsanto’s Roundup on our corn, soybean and wheat crops to control weeds and hasten harvest, is another step towards the twilight zone of agriculture. Just like Enron bet future earnings against their day to day operation, we are risking the health of future generations with these largely untested practices.

What I see we need is a program to begin the re-building of the family farm, which served America for many generations. However, not in the way it was practiced then. I see a system where, on a local level, we begin to produce the crops that are needed on almost a subscription basis. In other words, you grow a crop that will supply 50-100 people for a year or season. One person grows potatoes, another kale, another broccoli and so on down the line. We grow for our area and our people only. The harvest is already spoken for before it is even planted. The local extension service could be the conduit for federal or state or local program money that would be used to get the whole thing started. We would attend classes held specifically for the local grower/participants that would train us to do the work of the family farmer.

Before long, many of us would be growing enough produce to fulfill the needs of our local “clients”. Distribution channels would be created and our farmers markets would thrive on a scale of historic proportions.

Of course, we are not talking about making millions of dollars here. What we are talking about is becoming good stewards and taking back our future from the for-profit corporations that currently control most of what we eat.

This may be a pipe dream, but I believe that this or something similar, is doable and could be a way to even the playing field between the haves and the have nots.

It is certainly worth a little time and effort and would no doubt bring us closer together as a human family on the planet earth.

Not a bad ride indeed.



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Closing A Door On Some Past Stuff

As many of you know I was an elder for several years at a local church. During this period of time, I began to address some areas within the leadership structure that I and several other elders thought problematic and which needed to be modified or simply eliminated. Had I known then what I know now, I would have quietly slipped away with my wife and family and looked for another group to fellowship with. But alas—hindsight is 20/200.

All of this happened after a planned change in leadership that ended up feeling more like a coup than a simple re-structuring of leadership titles and responsibilities.

All I can say at this point is that relationships began to fall apart after this and the situation got very contentious. After about a year into the transition, as things continued to fall apart, I became a leaky vessel with an imaginary target on my back, taking hits on an almost daily basis. The only reason I stuck it out as long as I did was a naivete on my part and perhaps a sliver of a hope that one day things would be better.

I will be the first to say that I didn’t always act in a keep-your-mouth-shut Christian manner. A couple of the people I trusted with my “opinions” actually formed a committee to “expose” my opinion/sin and then when the sit down meeting happened, didn’t actually say a bad word about us. But the damage had been done. They were on their way up in the church and I was on my way down. Sounds pretty carnal, right!

Ultimately four of the six elders left that church and began another group that served as a transition place for many of the people who would also leave.

Nobody won the war and everybody lost something during the fallout that followed.

My point here is not to re-hash ancient history, but rather release an update and a conclusion to the aforementioned mess.

As I was cleaning out my e-mail inbox today I noticed one titled “Elders Stuff”. As I clicked on one e-mail after another I began to sense a somewhat angry sadness fill my thoughts and wondered just what I was I was trying to prove by re-living some of those, crafted by the enemy, scenarios. So, after reflecting for a moment on the 4 or 5 years of back and forth e-mails (my identity at the time), I scrolled to the bottom of the page and deleted the whole box of several hundred texts.

Yes, I have finally reached a point in my life where I can say that I no longer need to linger on that particular past, play those mental tapes again, or imagine how things might have turned out better.

I am grateful for all that I have been through and endured in order that I might become one of my generation’s disillusioned ones. To become such is to be released of any illusions that I had of how things really were.

What I know now is that it is much easier to go through a door we believe God has opened than it is to close one in the right way and in good fashion when that time finally comes. I believe that perseverance is a good thing but we also need to know when it is time to move on to the next station in life.

Most of the frustration I felt during that time and the hurt that I sustained might have been eliminated had I had my ear a little closer to the ground. Yet at the same time I realize that the lessons I learned the hard way would not have been as profound.

All in all it has been a good ride and I will certainly stick with that.

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