Down the Highway with an Imaginary Robert Redford and the Very Real Ramblin’ Jack Elliot

... Butch says as he comes to the Kid’s rescue at the beginning of the

Earlier this week my driving job took me from my home base in Elko, Nevada to Gillette, Wyoming. I had the good fortune of good roads there and back, with only a little snow in Rawlins, Wyoming Wednesday night. That night I hunkered down in my cab’s short sleeper with the engine idling all night to keep the heater going. On that trip, I ran on I-80 most of the way until I had to head north from Rawlins. The stretch between Salt Lake City, UT and Evanston, WY, there’s the Wasatch Mountains, with Parley’s Summit to go over. It’s a fairly long, steep grade on the west side of it, with the east slope taking interstate traffic through Park City, where the Sundance Film Festival was taking place this week.

My Imaginary Redford Encounter

The local public radio station had an interview with Robert Redford, whose character in the Newman-Redford movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid inspired the festival’s name. I listened to it as I was driving back Thursday night, trekking back through Park City, ski lifts aglow. I began to imagine meeting Robert Redford in line at a convenience store in a truck stop, going through all the fan boy rituals of shaking hands, asking for an autograph, as well as taking the obligatory selfie with Mr. Redford’s permission. It was a pretty cool day dream. I normally have imaginary run-ins with traditionally supporting actors like Bruce Greenwood (who is just plain cool) or Steve Buscemi (also very cool), so naturally, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to imagine meeting the legendary actor/director of Jeremiah Johnson fame.

Good times are always had when one day dreams about meeting famous people. So, in that same vein, it was quite a shock to hear from a tow truck friend and former co-worker of mine (we will call him “Jim”), who texted a photo of an autographed CD he received from a towing customer on Thursday, in town for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The (very real) customer not only gave Jim the CD, he also incribed a short message and signed his name on it. The fellow’s name: Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. If you know who this musician is, then you are probably a fan or a student of good music. If you do not know who Jack Elliot is, then you’re in the same boat as my towing friend Jim was Thursday when he towed the musical legend’s vehicle.

Who is Ramblin’ Jack Elliot?

Mr. Elliot is a peer of Bob Dylan. Check that, Dylan is a peer of Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. In the 1960s, they both played in some of the same circles in New York City. More perspective, before Dylan was strumming and singing Woody Guthrie ballads and before Dylan’s self-titled debut album Bob Dylan, Elliot was out there balladeering.

Jack & Bob Dylan, Greenwich Village, early 60
Dylan and Elliot hamming it up in the good ole days

I shrieked with school boy glee and a little envy when I saw the photo Jim texted me. I called him up and basically told him he better turn around and get me an autograph as well.

Jim laughed and said, “Oh so you know who he is, huh?” I died inside.

“Yeah, yeah I do! The guy is a living legend! He has played music with Peter Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez and others. He’s Ramblin’ Jack (freakin’) Elliot!”

“Well, then,” Jim replied, sounding a bit lofty, “you must be a little envious.” I died a little more.

“Meeting Jack Elliot for me, Jim, would be like you meeting Luke Bryan.” He laughed and then had to get back to work. But before he hung up he added, “Well, I might see that cool old man again later at the Stockman’s. He invited me to come have a beer with him. Maybe I can get an autograph then.”

At least I have my fabricated meeting with Robert Redford. No one can take that away.

Advertisements

The Gospel, the Milky Way, and BuzzFeed

Milky Way Galaxy Image

I read another viral BuzzFeed post last night, “26 Pictures Will Make You Re-Evaluate Your Entire Existence”. The post contained some astronomical photos and scale diagrams to show you and me how miniscule and small our galaxy, our Sun, our planet– and by extension, how cosmically small we are.

The comments on this particular BuzzFeed post are so vast one could stretch them to our Moon and back forty-seven times!

Like all things Internet these days, we are easily wowed for three minutes before we’re bored and begin ranting about the wackos who believe our “entire existence” was created. I enjoyed the twenty-six photos in said viral post, but when it comes to re-evaluating anything, I’m pretty sure that was hyperbolic language designed to snag as many viewers as possible. In the end, what really grabs one’s attention is the ocean of comments below the post. Merge back on to the Facebook highway and you’ll find more of the same comments. In my completely fabricated calculation, the comments on this particular BuzzFeed post are so vast one could stretch them to our Moon and back forty-seven times!

To paraphrase one Facebooker, Christians are arrogant because of their belief in God Almighty’s choice, out of all the countless galactic quadrants, to care about humanity. Let’s camp out on this viewpoint, breaking it down clause by clause.

Christians are arrogant…

Yes, we can be arrogant. Dead eighteenth century Enlightenment philosophers do not have the corner on pompous bilge. The deviation from a gospel-centered, Christ-centered worldview is where we err. We Christians do a disservice to the rest of the Church and to the world when we place the Word of God on the shelf or nightstand to adopt a Fox News attitude or similar worldview. Christians are less than persuasive when acting as armchair pundits than when we daily labor to humbly reflect Christ to our families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. We need less simplistic tracts and more gospel living coupled with a strong emphasis on time spent in studying the Bible and listening to sound, biblical exegetical preaching.

The Apostle Paul, who had almost every laudable credential one could have in his time and culture, wrote that he “count[ed] everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:8). Whatever was of worth to Paul became like trash compared to gaining a relationship with Christ. There is a profound humility in the

…because of their belief in God Almighty’s choice, out of all the countless galactic quadrants, to care about humanity…

Again, it’s apparently arrogant to assert that this universe we live in was created, but much more that it was created and is held together by God. I’m not trying to build a straw man here because that’s not why I’m spending my evening time. In fact, no amount of evidence from one end of our universe to the other can satisfy or convince the committed skeptic. I am simply dwelling on one assertion, namely, whether it is snobbery to believe in God’s attention when we’re only one insignificant planet among perhaps innumerable planets among vast amounts of solar systems in an incomprehensibly vast cosmos.

That depends on one’s perspective. Such a belief would be arrogant and lunacy if it were paired with the idea that mankind can do something to gain God’s attention. In the first place, a humanistic philosophy has no place for God in its dogma; by definition, humanism places man at the center of existence, deferring any meaning at all to depend on whatever man makes of it. So I am with the humanist if he thinks Christians are arrogant based on the idea that we believe we can be great enough to attract his gaze.

The gospel…refutes the idea that man in his depraved state could ever be rock star enough to gain God’s attention, love or saving grace

The gospel (εὐαγγέλιον in the Greek, transliterated as euangelion, meaning “good news”), by it’s name and in the biblical context of God becoming man to atone for the sins of those he created, refutes the idea that man in his depraved state could ever be rock star enough to gain God’s attention, love or saving grace. We who profess the name of Christ and him crucified and resurrected hold fast to the clear teaching of scripture which states:

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:3; cf. Romans 3:10-11, ESV)

The gospel, in a nutshell, and really the entire Bible, speaks of how messed up we are on our own account and how pitifully incapable we are to rectify our folly. If anything the gospel would be our epitaph instead of a proclamation of life if it was not for God’s grace. The attention God has given the human race is laughable to the godless because they say in their hearts, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). The mercy of God is unfathomable to the broken soul who knows he or she is inherently evil and has maligned God over and over. There is more pride in the former than than latter.

Isaac Watts knew of God’s holiness, justice and grace. In one particular well known hymn, Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed?, the words of a broken, humble, and thankful soul sings:

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

Again:

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.

Alas! and Did My Saviour Bleed? byIsaac Watts

I’d like to write more often but I have to work

image

I’d like to blog more, write more, but I must pay the bills in the mean time. I reckon that’s how it is with most of us on here. Creativity is a leisure ballasted (a maritime term used by a land lubber!) by work and other responsibilities. We do a) so that we may get to b).

More incomplete thoughts and half finished blog posts shall come. My truck is about warmed up and ready to haul. Carry on!

Prone to Wander

“How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell” -Robert Robinson

At work today, hauling back a water truck to Elko from a gold mine off Nevada’s Highway 50, the “Loneliest Road in America,” I enjoyed some thoughts about God’s grace towards me. How far beyond charitable He has been! That He rescued me from my sinful plight is incomprehensible in and of itself, but to make me, an enemy by birth, a son through Christ’s atoning death on the cross is too wonderful for me to completely grasp. Meditating on these things, part of a stanza came off my lips:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.

These words come from the oft-sung Christian hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, by Robert Robinson, an eighteenth century Calvinist-Methodist-turned-Baptist minister in England. The hymn itself is ripe with amazed gratitude in response to receiving God’s grace, and a poetic reaction to being pursued and rescued by Christ. The whole song is worth including here because I am wholly unsatisfied with quoting it in part.

Among the many variations, both old and contemporary, the 1758 version is one of my favorites. Despite my own aversion to reading block quotes, I include it below.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening Devotional

Spurgeonbook2

I purchased a devotional book last week from a bookseller in Gloucester, England. It arrived two nights ago in our mailbox, along with my wife’s recent cloth diaper order. We were both happy as school children on a snow day when our respective parcels arrived. My wife bought a Louis Armstrong-themed cloth diaper for our littles ones. It’s pretty cool,but I’m going to head into the rest of this blog entry.

The rest of the blog post

The book is Morning and Evening by C.H Spurgeon. I have enjoyed Spurgeon’s works for the past eleven years or so, but have never read his devotional works, including The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith in addition to the title I purchased. There are apps for these two devotionals one can download. Also, one can go to Spurgeon.org and read the daily entry for Faith’s Checkbook or Morning and Evening. There are many good electronic resources, but if you’re like me, paper and binding wins over the glow of phones, tablets, or laptops. No batteries are required for old-fashioned tomes.

Small and travel-friendly edition

This edition was published by Christian Focus Publications, under their Heritage imprint. It is leather bound, with lightweight offset pages (“Bible paper”) with gold edging, and is 765 pages in length. The book doesn’t weigh more than a pound and can fit in a shirt or coat pocket quite easily. Each daily morning entry has it’s evening counterpart on the opposite facing page. Succinctly put, this is a beautiful and hardy copy.

I look for forward to reading each morning and evening entry from, well, Morning and Evening. To be sure, any devotional book does not replace regular Bible reading and meditation on the holy text. My hope is that this particular daily devotional will aid my own desire for and study of God’s Word.

Why I Identify with WALL•E’s Awkwardness

My wife and I recently had a discussion about two movies we own and how I like to watch them over and over again. The two movies are Dan in Real Life and WALL•E. What I find appealing about these two films in particular is the awkward way in which the protagonist in each engages his love interest.

In Dan in Real Life, Steve Carell is a widower with three girls, who meets a woman and hits it off with her while on a weekend in Rhode Island only to discover she is his brother’s new girlfriend- a fact he would have learned if he didn’t do all the talking. Throughout the movie, Carell shines, in all his comic glory, as his character deals with the complicated situation, fighting off (to no avail) falling in love with a woman who is in a relationship.

In WALL•E, the protagonist is a robot, whose name is an acronym (“Waste Allocation Load Lifter- Earth Class”). He appears to be the last moving thing on a waste-covered Earth- other than a cockroach. When a spaceship lands and deploys EVE (“Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator”), a female robot and love interest to WALL•E, he becomes smitten. The montage sequence when he tries to get close to and woo her is classic.

My whole point in blogging about this is I was an awkward mess when I first became “smitten” with my wife. I was twenty years old and she was nineteen when we met; I had zero skills except being my strange self. Bumbling and stumbling, that was my game. I have to admit, there are those gents who seem to be suave and los capitanes de amor, but they still are awkward in their own right. As far as courtship goes, I think God made men to be generally awkward at first in order to humble the proud and give game to the humble.  The guy who can laugh at his own eccentricities can work with his opposite-of-suaveness. The fellow who thinks he’s a balling vaquero will sooner or later become the former… or die lonely and macho.

 

[Postscript: Me and my E.V.E. have been married for over seven years and have  four children with one due in February. Awkwardness is good.]