Nevada Series: Coffee and Neon Signs

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Downtown Elko, NV. (Photo: Matt Valdez)

Neon signs and cold nights go hand in hand—coffee from a street side café simply completes the whole deal. When I was a single man, I sat solitary in a corner booth or at the bar in such establishments. I sat with a black cup of coffee in a ceramic cup resting on the table or counter, spending the evening with my books. Biographies on James Chalmers, Henry Martyn and other Evangelical Protestant missionaries kept me company. I embodied that old country song, by Tim Spencer, which says in part:

Cigarettes, whiskey and wild, wild women

They’ll drive you crazy, they’ll drive you insane.

Except for the cigarettes, whiskey and wild, wild women, or not so wild, wild women, or wild, or any woman, my life then was exactly like that song. It was Spartan—simple, uncomplicated, and boring. Now I got me a fine woman. When we aren’t raising our children, we go raise cane all over this land. With our children tagging along. The photo above was taken on a family night out on the town, during a parade last Christmas time in Elko.

Elko Town has many neon signs, and a few coffee joints. A lot of casinos and some burlesque houses. We just settled for checking out the parade floats with our bundled up children.

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Downtown Elko, NV. (Photo: Matt Valdez)

Nevada’s Neon Roadside Museum Pieces

Nevada has some eclectic old neon signs tucked away in small towns scattered about the high desert. Some signs still operate, glowing and beckoning road weary travelers to stop. Others have ceased working but still stand, reminding the stray passersby of the once vibrant businesses. The post-war period of the 1950s was a hay day for road side diners and motels along Nevada’s now almost forgotten highways. Now, these buildings and signs are fixtures to the lonely stretches of roads, like pieces of furniture, they accentuate the uninhabited places, providing visual markers to sight-seers and vacationers. The old neon signs are roadside museum pieces, accompanied by dirt lots, old brick buildings and rusting horseless carriages out back.

I’m thinking about making a series about neon signs in Nevada, but I also think about a lot of things (some to fruition and some to the back burner of my mind). This year my wife and I plan on getting out there and exploring Nevada, so I am sure neon signs and ghost towns will find their way in later blog posts.


Veldez, a blog, is layman literature which includes observations about family life, vocation, books, music, the outdoors, and life as it is. Written from the perspective of a twenty-something husband and father of five, a Christian worldview is the common thread throughout.

Spurgeon on Self-Righteousness and Contrition

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Just slipping off to bed this evening, ending the day with a Spurgeon quote. This is for myself, and it seems always appropriate to have this frame of mind: to assign oneself the title “chief of sinners” (to quote the Apostle Paul and the likes of John Bunyan). With a title like that, it’s hard to see anything else but one’s own despicableness or anything greater that God’s grace.

“Nothing is more deadly than self-righteousness, or more hopeful than contrition. We must confess that we are ‘nothing else but sin’, for no confession short of this will be the whole truth; and if the Holy Spirit be at work with us, convincing us of sin, there will be no difficulty about making such an acknowledgment- it will spring spontaneously from our lips.”

-From the 26 February Evening entry of Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening.

What Saeed Abedini’s Imprisonment is Teaching Me

Saeed Abedini

On our refrigerator door is a magnet bearing this image of Saeed Abedini with his family with a brief reminder to pray for them. Many of you know of Abedini’s ongoing incarceration and resulting deterioration of health in Iran; I, too, am aware and somewhat informed as well as any casual reader of the news. I open my refrigerator door pretty much every day, unless I’m working over the road. Everytime I reach in and grab the plastic milk jug or lunch meat, there’s Abedini’s face stuck to the door. He’s in prison for his unabashed association with Jesus and I’m throwing a ham sandwich together.

For those who are interested, here is a short run down–information one can easily find on countless web pages. In the early 2000s, Saeed Abedini, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity, participated in ministry in Iran, prompting the government authorities to arrest and threaten him with death unless he cease his involvement in Christian endeavors. He signed an agreement to cease his involvement and was released. Signing the agreement not only spared his life but allowed Abedini to operate in “non-sectarian” activities. Having married his wife, Naghmeh, an American citizen, the Abedinis moved back to the U.S.

In July 2012, on his ninth trip to Iran to build an orphanage in the city of Rasht, Abedini was arrested by Islamic Revolutionary Guards. That September he was imprisoned in Evin Prison, located in Northwestern Tehran. Then, in November 2013, officials transferred him to Rajai Shahr Prison, located in Karaj, where he remains today. He has a wife and two children back home in Boise, Idaho.

He has suffered interrogation and beatings at various times throughout his time in prison, which has caused his health to suffer. At the urging of prison doctors, Abedini was moved to a non-prison hospital for treatment but was ultimately not permitted to receive complete treatment as recommended by medical staff.

What Abedini’s situation stirs up within me

Off and on since 2012, I have glanced and read stray blog posts and Facebook links regarding Saeed Abedini. Coupled with other Christians who have been suppressed around the world and the recent murder of Twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians at the hands of ISIS, I have been compelled to weigh my own faith in Christ. In general, we in the United States are both empowered and encumbered by our liberties afforded us in our Constitution which recognizes that these liberties are not bestowed by men but by God. As such, I am also in that “general” category.

I have unhindered access to a Bible, limitless Christian resources on the web, and I can attend my local church without an objective fear of Elko County officials storming the building an dragging women and children out by their hair and executing the men firing-squad style in the street. The presence of practical liberty is a good thing; however, it comes with a hidden cost. Abedini wrote an Easter message during his permitted treatment at a non-prison hospital a while back. In it he said he was praying for Christians around the world. He went on:

What the Holy Spirit revealed to me in prayer was that there are many dead faiths in the midst of Christians today. That Christians all over the world are not able to fully reach their spiritual potential that has been given to them as a gift by God so that in reaching that potential, the curtain can be removed and the Glory of God would be revealed. Some times we want to experience the Glory and resurrection with Jesus without experiencing death with Him.

Christian mediocrity is what is I am personally mulling over and desiring to cast off. I gratefully enjoy the freedom of religion here where I was born and raised, where only the whispers of hardship and oppression abroad are heard. We know of the oppressive circumstances around the globe in places like Iran, North Korea, certain African countries, and elsewhere, but we go on eating our dinner without having to worry more about them. To the non-Christian in the audience, Christianity may be misrepresented by partisan talking points on conservative talk radio or the ever sensational Fox News. What you may not have seen is the Christianity of the Bible. In abject contradiction to the materialism and cynicism of its time, Christians, facing no little threat of harm, are willing to follow in the footsteps of Christ, giving up their comforts and guarantee of security in order to live out the reality of their faith.

I am challenged by Hebrews chapter eleven over and over again. In part of verse thirty-five and into thirty-six, in the context of those faithful to God, preceding Christ’s incarnation, the writer tells us, “…Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment” (ESV). They did this in faith, not seeing the glorious work of Christ in redemptive history. I have God’s Word on ink and paper, but what am I doing with it? I pray that I can live out my faith in Christ not out of a sense of fear or obligation but out of grateful knowledge He has taken my penalty and replaced it with His righteousness.That’s something to not cower in comfort and false security; it’s good news to declare and be unashamed of in the face of a world bent on suppressing it’s truth.

I can easily imagine Saeed Abedini and the countless other faithful Christians out of the spotlight, who echo the Apostle Paul’s words from Colossians 4:18:

“…Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”


For further reading and action, check out Be Heard Project-Saeed


Veldez, a blog, is layman literature which includes observations about family life, vocation, books, music, the outdoors, and life as it is. Written from the perspective of a twenty-something husband and father of five, a Christian worldview is the common thread throughout.

The World in a Whirlwind: Childhood, Beauty, Sin, and Redemption

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Photo: Matt Valdez

Ring them bells for the blind and the deaf
Ring them bells for all of us who are left
Ring them bells for the chosen few
Who will judge the many when the game is through
Ring them bells, for the time that flies
For the child that cries
When innocence dies

-Bob Dylan, Ring Them Bells , verse IV

The world my children have been born into is a contradictory mix of beauty, joy, sin and and indifference; it is a whirlwind of people vying for power and little children making mud pies and receiving a catechism lesson at bedtime. A quick glance at today’s current events shatters the “Happy Humanist” illusion of humanity’s inherent goodness, provoking some to curse the God they don’t believe in while exciting others who can’t wait to use their “bug out bags.”

My five children are all young–five years old and under kind of young. Our home has wooden blocks, stray A.A. Milne books, and cloth diapers in a wicker basket next to our glider rocker in the corner. Our refrigerator is a smattering of colorful art displays, a craft-foam magnet made at Sunday school which says, “God keeps His promises,” family photos, and occasionally a crayon mark at various spots within the lower three feet of the door. Their world is oatmeal and waffles, swing sets and learning letters, anticipating Christmas and their birthdays.

In contrast to the refuge of our home, the pangs of death and murder, genocide and unspeakable atrocities occur in other places as we kiss our children good night and tuck them in. Somewhere there are mortar shells destroying, a marriage dissolving, betrayal, hearts raging against themselves and the knowledge of God they seek to suppress. And yet our children sleep.

The evidence of children is everywhere in our house, our home, a storehouse of nourishment, affection, correction, teaching, refuge and unconditional love. Children bring a joie de vivre even in a world of violence and uncertainty. Childhood is an extremely fleeting time of life. An important and precious time. I cannot believe how fast the time we have had with our ever-growing family has been spent. The shortness of this perilous time provokes an ever deepening sense of calling within me to ensure my children each have the understanding of their own smallness and God’s bigness. They need to know there are troubles and woes because of sin, but peace and joy because of Christ.

The LORD tames the rebel’s heart and atones for his wrongs,

Turns hellish shouts and sobs into contrite thanksgiving songs.


Veldez, a blog, is layman literature which includes observations about family life, vocation, books, music, the outdoors, and life as it is. Written from the perspective of a twenty-something husband and father of four, a Christian worldview is the common thread throughout.

 

 

Books: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Steinbeck

see wiki: Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones - 1899-1981 Steinbeck with Charley

I’m currently reading two books. By reading, I mean holding them at various times, opening them and staring at a page or two at a time, closing them and then just feeling them in my hands in a sad sort of way.

The first book I’m reading is The Plight of Man and the Power of God by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It’s a book on a series of lectures he gave in Edinburgh in 1941. MLJ draws out sermonic gold from the first chapter of the New Testament Epistle to the Romans, addressing “The Religious History of Mankind,” “Religion and Morality,” “The Nature of Sin,” The Wrath of God,” and “The Only Solution.” The copy I have is an unstated first edition with musty tanned pages and a blue tattered cloth cover. I just finished the second chapter, dealing with the false premises of comparative religion and the false promises of morality divorced from God.

…[M]an by nature is inimical to God, and does his utmost to get rid of God and what he regards as the incubus of revealed religion. Man, rebelling against God as he has revealed himself and from the kind of life that God dictates, proceeds to make for himself new gods and new religions and to elaborate a new way of life and of salvation.

The “Doctor” pretty much schools us on the fact that man hasn’t bettered himself in some kind of religious upward mobilization, but instead has degenerated ever since Adam’s original sin. This is my first book I’ve picked up by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I have listened to a couple of his sermons but reading is a more adequate way for me to grasp deeper subjects, and so I look forward to reading the rest of this short book of 120 pages.

The second book I have picked up is John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America. A buddy of mine, who I grew up with from AWANA clubs through high school, recommended that I read it. I had always meant to get to this Steinbeck tome, but haven’t until a week or so ago. The last time I read Steinbeck was when I was sixteen or seventeen and I read The Grapes of Wrath. I think that was when I started to listen to Woody Guthrie too; I even read his book Bound for Glory and thought it slightly similar to Steinbeck’s book, which in fact did inspire Guthrie’s writing to some extent.

Steinbeck was one of the last American male authors who could say something macho and still sound like he said something poetic. “My wife married a man; I saw no reason why she should inherit a baby.” Pure gold. I’m not very far along in this book either, but like Steinbeck’s epic journey, I’m making headway a little at a time. Presently, I’m at the part where Steinbeck is buying booze in Connecticut. I am loving this book.

Here’s to more reading and thinking, and writing also.

Wheeler Peak

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While Boundary Peak, located in Esmeralda County on the Nevada-California line, is the tallest point in Nevada (at 13,147 feet), it shares its glory with the Golden State’s Montgomery Peak (13,441). Wheeler Peak, however, is the tallest peak entirely within Nevada. Located in White Pine County and Great Basin National Park, it stands at 13,065 feet above sea level. That’s pretty cute compared to taller ranges in North America, but in its own right, Wheeler is impressive enough, having a topographical prominence of over 7,000 feet.

My wife and I have been talking about making a summer visit to Great Basin National Park and Wheeler Peak to hike up to the bristlecone pines. Hopefully we can do it this year.

For my fellow geeks out there, for the sketch, I used a Pilot G-2 gel pen (because I like to keep it real) and a small Moleskine Cahir notebook. If you have any tips or outdoor destinations you’d like to share with me, feel free to comment.

Newborn Symphony No. 5

Photo: Matt Valdez
Photo: Matt Valdez

Dear little one, new to this earth,

Your sweet eyes sparkle with mirth.

Dear little one, new to this place,

Your little form speaks of God’s grace.

We were blessed with our third girl, our fifth child, yesterday morning at 6:42. Earlier that morning, my wife woke me at two o’clock telling me something apparently important, but the gist of which I could not fully comprehend. I had gone to bed at midnight after scratching out a blog post, so initially, I selfishly desired to return to sleep. When my cognitive gears began to grab, I realized my very lovely and alert wife was telling me her water broke. Time and babies wait for no one.

I then calmly freaked out and went into wild-eyed daddy mode, kicking it into high gear. Then I got out of bed. Fortunately, we live within ten minutes of the only regional hospital in Northeastern Nevada. My wife is like a packing ninja. She had pretty much everything packed in advance, so all we had to do was throw it all in the car, get in and burn rubber.

…[T]he contractions began intensifying, making me cringe and silently stand in wonder, once again, that my wife hasn’t suffocated me in my sleep out of reprisal.

Once at the hospital, checked in, and in the birthing room, the contractions began intensifying, making me cringe and silently stand in wonder, once again, that my wife hasn’t suffocated me in my sleep out of reprisal. She is amazing and God is good. As some-what detailed above, the duration from the time her water broke to the miraculous moment of sweet delivery was a grand total of four hours and forty-two minutes.

A Stranger and a Vagabond—and Old Lunch Pales

Photo: Matt Valdez
Photo: Matt Valdez
“Further up and further in”
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Topically, my blogging is all over the place. I reckon I’m in a state of restlessness as I wait anxiously for my wife to hatch out the new addition to our family. That restless feeling shows up in every day situations as a regular special guest on my own personal imaginary day time talk show. You are welcome to go back and read that last sentence to try to forge some sense from it–you have my blessing. My whole personality is in the middle of a paradigm shift, betwixt being a father of four to being a father of five. I’m not the one who will go into labor–my wife will. I’ll be there with her, but it will be her doing the laboring. So, in my traditional way of writing, with no real clear thesis, I believe I shall jump to the next paragraph.

Regaining coherence from the first paragraph, I am trying to convey my shotgun style writing as of late. In some posts I may write about some rock in Wyoming. In another post I may jot out word counts about aging folk singers I have never met, and in others still, I may rant about hypocrisy–the Church’s hypocrisy and my own hypocrisy. All over the place kind of blogging; a smorgasbord of a melting pot of literary cheese.

I really am searching for a common theme for this blog. My initial intention in starting this blog was to contrive a boat load of posts that would attract a million followers, magnetize the advertisements and ivory tower publishers, get stupidly wealthy churning out wordy basura, and retire in the Caymans while I blog about my successes. Since that may be a logistical nightmare to materialize, my secondary purpose was to be content with what I have and write about whatever comes to mind. As a Christian and recovering All Dogs Go to Heaven watcher, the common thread [subliminal message alert] is to do whatever I do for God’s glory.

As the tagline to my blog, Another Wayfaring Pilgrim, suggests, I have a passion for the nomadic and sense of not belonging in this world. The random lunch pale photo above somehow ties into this vagabond sentiment I have, though I am really not sure how. Perhaps if I throw out big words I do not understand, the connection will magically appear and this post will not be for naught. Negatory on that, Rubber Ducky.

I’m going to have to buckle down and work hard to makeshift some semblance out of this post. Starting with the photo, the lunch box and book beside it incite a fleeting desire to ramble which has some connection to the very heart of what lies deep in this reality of Christianity. As C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”  I believe that’s what that “rambling fever” that we all find exists within us is driving at.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Among other things, it’s Thermos pales, stray reading material, a compass, and Moleskine notebooks which arouses my soul to feel this overwhelming peculiarity, the desire for that other country. It’s not some subjective wantonness to abandon all loved ones and  responsibilities, but it’s the desire to reach that glories destination where my Redeemer is. This wanderlust, if you can call it that, actually causes me to refocus and enjoy, love, and appreciate my wife and children and all the new responsibilities that come with having a family. If anything, the understanding that “this world is not my home and I’m just a-passing through” obliges me to take care of how I dwell here and how I care for the blessings God has entrusted to me. Again, it’s overwhelming and wonderful.

Natural Born Sinners

An Overview of the Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“I shall have no right”, Bonhoeffer wrote to Niebuhr before leaving America, “to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people….Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose; but I cannot make this choice in security.”

From G. Liebholz’s Memoir preceding the introduction to Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship

I sometimes wonder what we Christians mean when we say “we’re in the world and not of it.” Of course, I realize we usually mean we dwell here but we don’t allow the world to influence us—we have no part in the evil of this world. I cannot help but think we forget that we were natural born sinners, born to Adam’s race, enemies from birth, raging against the God who made us (Romans 5:10). We were “the world.” I had a conversation with a co-worker recently in which we discussed the self-righteousness found so often in the body of Christ. Have we so easily forgotten the grace of God?

The hypocrisy of Man the Repentant does not justify the wickedness of Man the Unrepentant as surely as it, in itself, does not bring honor to Christ What good can come of our hypocrisy? A couple of things can happen. Recognizing our hypocrisy will break our hearts and humble us to the point of repenting before God the Father, and from that repentance our humility will sympathize with unregenerate sinners for one thing. I believe we Christians so often neglect this when we’re trying to distance ourselves from the world. Also, the fruit of our humility will eventually be apparent to those in our lives, and in this God will be glorified.

The meat of the matter for myself, because I really am writing this to myself primarily, is that when we see this world run faster away from God, the more we should mourn for it and those in it. I for one do not revel when the wicked act wickedly and incriminate themselves before their Creator all the more, heaping judgment on themselves. I find myself desiring less to retreat into the hills away from the evil found in the cities below, and more desirous of striving with their denizens because I know how much God has forgiven me. If I were trying to analogize, I might seem to be going against Bunyan’s allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress but I am not.

Bunyan’s protagonist, Christian, dwelt in the City of Destruction. He had an overwhelming burden on his back, and being approached by Evangelist he was given a parchment and instructed to flee the city which (true to its name) would soon be destroyed. He did flee. So I might sound a bit like I’m saying Christian should have stayed. I’m not suggesting this, and also, Bunyan wrote it as an allegory. In a straightforward way, I will say to myself and other believers: we have been delivered from perdition by God’s grace. We fled the City of Destruction and ran to the cross because Christ came to us first and took our sin and became our righteousness.

We were natural born sinners with the death penalty like Barabbas; Christ was crucified in Barabbas’ place, and in our place as well. The Bonhoeffer quote at the beginning of this post spoke to me in a way few quotes do. In 1939, he gave up security and freedom to return to the despotism and godlessness in Nazi-controlled Germany. Surely he knew there was danger in that place as well as God’s judgment on it’s leaders and those who shut their eyes and hearts to the atrocities perpetrated. Still, he went. I suppose it could be said that he was “in the world and not of it.”