Sweetwater Butte

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SWEETWATER CO., WY—This is a page out of my Moleskine notebook. The rock formations along I-80 can reasonably be ranked up there in the quintessential aspects of the West. Not quite sure what the name of this butte is, but it’s just east of Tollgate Rock, south of the interstate. I used a topo map app but this particular peak was unnamed.

Quick History: Oregon and California Trails; Transcontinental Railroad; Lincoln Highway

Sigma Micron .02 ink pen on small Moleskine Cahir Journal

 

 

Delving Into The 2016 Reading Challenge

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I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions (as usual), which means I haven’t broken any either (which is pretty fantastic). Just before Christmas, I did learn on Facebook, via a friend from Texas, about the Reading Challenge 2016 from POPSUGAR. It got me interested. Then I read of a similar reading challenge on Tim Challies’ blog, which reeled me in completely.

If you haven’t heard of the Reading Challenge, the gist of it is you read as many books as you can, generally involving a smattering of different genres in the list. Challies uses four levels: The Light Reader, The Avid Reader,  The Committed Reader, and The Obsessed Reader. Obviously, the amount of books goes up with each level. I decided to aim low and go with the first level at 13 books in a year because I’m pretty sure I can hit that bar and jump over it. Being realistic, I’m not holding out much hope of reading the 104 books at the Obsessed Reader level, which is two books a week. We’ll see how things go.

In our house, there are many books. My wife and I both have a love for books. But since we also have many children (five of them, which is relatively a lot in the twenty-first century in these United States when you’re not Mormon) and we love them also, jumping veraciously into a book just isn’t as easy as it used to be.  Child rearing generally means shoving book-reading time into the luxury category—filed next to date nights and riding a tamed Tyrannosaurus Rex. Naturally, taking part in some kind of structured reading plan (especially when it includes the word “challenge”) appeals to us.

Currently, I’m reading Winterdance by Gary Paulsen, having finished a George Grant book about Theodore Roosevelt entitled Carry a Big Stick. The latter book, a little over 200 pages, was a quick read, making me want to read a bit more on T.R. Grant focused on Teddy’s faith, qualities (including his impulsiveness), and character traits which made him the leader that he was. Winterdance is an entertaining and even poetic biographical tale about Paulsen’s training for and running in the Iditarod, an 1180 mile sled dog race in Alaska in the 1980s. The film Snow Dogs with Cuba Gooding, Jr. was loosely based on Paulsen’s experiences. I’m enjoying it so far. Paulsen’s dramatic flair for conveying the comedic and absurd makes great reading.

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On the horizon, I’m planning on reading F.F. Bruce’s The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, which was recommended by another friend of mine. My wife is reading Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? and it’s very enjoyable to see her enjoying it as I enjoyed reading it a while back. I especially like the give and take we engage in as we both are reading our respective books. On that note, I am looking forward to reading more and learning more this year with a bit of structure.

The Wayward Pocket Knife

Wayward Pocket Knife

In case you can’t read my awesome handwriting, here’s the transcript (or whatever the cool kids and hipsters call it nowadays):

I lost my new Case pocket knife Angela gave me for Christmas, prompting me to turn the house upside down in [an] attempt to find it. I commissioned the children to help me search for it after supper.

Tipping the sofa over, I found, a wooden spoon, my guitar tuner, a saltine cracker, and a Duplo block. No knife. I was losing my mind. I resigned myself to the fact that perhaps the wayward knife was lost—maybe when we went sledding on the weekend. But, then, I tripped on my dirty Carhart pants. There in the left front pocket was my beloved Case pocket knife! All was right again.

Elephant Feet on the Navajo Nation

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I revisited my fond feelings towards the Navajo Nation and all the beauty found there. I didn’t sketch this while I was there last August, but I referenced a photo I took on my way back from Kayenta and the Black Mesa (south of the ever-popular Monument Valley). I threw off the shackles of the blank page and sat on my couch and went at it for a few minutes earlier this week. I waged a good battle trying to figure out how to get our scanner to work the rest of this week. Many thanks to my wife for helping me to prevail against the Hewlett-Packard beast!

Missing in this sketch, the Navajo craft vendors with their lovely wares. When I stopped to admire these sandstone formations beside the highway, a few Native women were  setting up their folding tables, laying out table cloth and setting up their chairs under awnings which were also methodically assembled. There is so much to see and discover there in Navajo country. It’s little curiosities, like the subject of this sketch, which so often catch my attention.

Perhaps I may take my family back next time, making Monument Valley a priority on the trip. Of course, I’d have to take them to see the Elephant Feet at some juncture; a sign pointing travelers towards real fossilized dinosaur tracks near Tuba City also grabbed my fancy. Now, if only my job allowed the highway wanderer in me to run rampant.

 

 

A Very Short Contemplation on Christmas Time

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Christmas time is here again. It feels very appropriate that it is the end of the year when Christmas comes. The joy in our anticipation is teamed with happiness, euphoria, tinges of melancholy, and sober contemplation. When Christmas Day finally arrives, the whirlwind of all my expectations, all my preparations and all yearnings for the quintessential Yuletide experience comes to a head. There and then, in the middle of the emotional letdown and the semi-euphoric trance of the “Christmas spirit,” I can’t help but see the reasons for both melancholy and rejoicing. Melancholy for my sins, and rejoicing for God condescending from his throne on high to a feed trough in a stable built to house oxen, perhaps, or other beasts of burden- to demonstrate his love for sinful man.

Just a short thought on this season, in part, to keep my blog going and to shuffle my thoughts.

Discovering Charles Simeon

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“A firebrand of an Evangelical was thrust upon them instead.”

Arthur Pollard, Introduction to Let Wisdom Judge

When Charles Simeon, in 1782, became the vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England, he was a disappointment to his parishioners, who wanted a popular lecturer at the University instead. In the introduction to Let Wisdom Judge (University Addresses and Sermon Outlines by Charles Simeon, Inter-Varsity Press, 1959) Arthur Pollard wrote, “The parishioners had wanted the afternoon-lecturer, Hammond, as their new vicar. They were disappointed in their desire; and, instead, a firebrand of an Evangelical was thrust upon them instead” (Let Wisdom Judge, p.10). I know little about Charles Simeon but what I have made time to glean from this hardcover book has been rewarding.

When Simeon first began preaching at Holy Trinity, it seems his Evangelicalism was met with disdain at first. “Pew wardens tried more than once to lock him out of his own church” and pew-holders (those who rented their pews) locked the pew doors and refused to hear him preach. Simeon took appropriate measures to make sure the doors to the church were unlocked and those who wished to hear him could do so. Those who did want to hear him preach were unable to use the pews (out of respect to the absentee parishioners who were renting them, I assume) but delighted to stand in the aisles instead. Soon the aisles were full and soon enough those defiant pew wardens and pew holders were won over. Church doors, the doors to oak pews, and the hearts of many were opened. It’s this very fact that grabs my own interest in Charles Simeon.

Humility abounds by bringing forth the ‘riches of Christ’

Contrary to a common assumption today, Simeon did not capture the hearts and minds of Cambridge folk by entertaining them with fancy soliloquies or by flattering the hearers’ ears. From what I’m learning about this giant of the faith, he preached an unpretentious gospel, and he believed and acted like his calling was a great honor which did not puff up but humbled and incited worship of his Redeemer. Simeon gave an address at Cambridge in 1824, entitled “The Richness and Fullness of the Gospel.” In the introductory remarks he said, “Yet, methinks, instead of calling this a duty, I would rather describe [bringing forth the “riches of Christ” as revealed in the gospel] as a ‘grace given,'” citing his texts, 1 Timothy 1:11 and Ephesians 3:8. He went on,

For no higher honor can be conferred on mortal man than to be sent forth by God to minister unto his fellow-sinners ‘the glorious gospel of the blessed God’. Let it not be thought, however, that this high commission has any tendency to generate pride in the hearts of those who have received it. On the contrary, it will operate to rather to humble and abase the soul under a sense of its own unworthiness and insufficiency (Let Wisdom Judge, Ch. 9, p. 126)

As a layman, I am personally challenged by men like Simeon, who, I will admit, I just only very recently “discovered”. His love for Christ, the Bible, Christians and other sinners shines through his printed university addresses. I look forward to reading more by this saint, who was indeed a “Bible Christian”. Even though I am not a pastor or elder (which I am sure many of his addresses in Let Wisdom Judge were meant to reach) I am more than superficially spurred to drink deeply from scripture and know who and what I was before God drew me in His own good pleasure. O how great a debtor I ever shall happily be!

A Few Thoughts on Psalm 51

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I was a blind man stumbling
But now I see
-Burlap to Cashmere

I love maps. I like to see where I am in the context of the country around me. The sobering fact is that I am not the center of the map no more than the earth is in the center of the universe. More often than I’d care to share, I do act as if I believe that I am the center of everything. Referring to Tozer¹, I forget to think rightly of myself because I have shifted from rightly thinking about God. I don’t believe I am a god just as I don’t believe other people are little gods and goddesses running around, but in the course of it all, there still is in this body of flesh, sinful from birth², that which rails against the sanctifying work of Christ. Once I was a slave to sin, but now, happily and joyfully, I am a slave of God³.

The most wonderful thing about knowing what you truly are is knowing that any kindness and mercy received from the God of the whole universe is how low He condescends to lift you out of the mire and how badly you needed His rescuing.

Looking at King David, who in Psalm 51 goes weeping before God in light of his adultery and ordering the murder of the husband of the woman with whom he committed the adultery, there is a picture of one who knew rightly of what he was, a transgressor, a sinner, a rebel. To be those three things, requires one to transgress, sin, and rebel against someone. In Psalm 51:4, David, wrote, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (ESV). David repents, knowing he sinned and who he ultimately sinned against. In verses 12-13, the contrition leads to David requesting restoration with God. “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” I personally ache with the sweetness of the gospel which permeates this whole passage. Sin, conviction of sin, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.

The most wonderful thing about knowing what you truly are is knowing that any kindness and mercy received from the God of the whole universe is how low He condescends to lift you out of the mire and how badly you needed His rescuing. With John Newton, the converted slave ship captain, who once nearly perished in a gale, I can say with conviction and gratitude: “I once was lost, but now am found– was blind, but now I see.” Thinking rightly of God, by default, is thinking of one’s self in the right light. It’s like looking at a map with a flashlight in the dark to see the work of the cartographer’s hand and a compass to know by which direction you must go. I love maps.


¹ The Knowledge of the Holy, Ch. 1: Why We Must Think Rightly About God (A.W. Tozer)

² Psalm 51:5

³ Romans 6:20-23

Pilot Peak Selfie

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Work often takes me to or near historically significant landmarks, such as Pilot Peak in Elko County, Nevada. The natural thing to do is to whip out the ol’ phone and snap a selfie. What else? Pilot Peak was an important landmark for 19th century emigrants heading west to California; the ill-famed Donner Party knew that clean, drinkable water could be found at a spring near it’s base. If they had not taken the long shortcut called Hastings Cutoff they might have successfully traversed the Sierras. (But that’s another subject in itself…)

Landmarks are splendid things, and if you are like the Donner Party and have taken an awesomely long shortcut like, say, across the Salt Lake Desert, where everything is flat for a hundred miles, you probably are relieved, too, whenever something ahead of you gives you bearing and direction. As an aside, the Donner Party probably could have taken some interesting selfies.

In Two Paragraphs: Beards, Night at the Museum, and The Vigor of Life

Be not afraid of greatness: some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. -Twelfth Night

I’m growing a beard at the moment. It’s slightly itchy, but it is filling in nicely. If I shape it a little, it may turn out alright. By alright, I mean it’ll do until I decide to stop being lazy and shave it all off. That’s where I’m at on this whole beard bandwagon–a lot of guys make a conscious decision to build a facial follicle masterpiece while I basically decide it’s too hard to shave. It’s not with aspirations of bearded grandeur which I aspire to by keeping this beard thing around another week, it’s just that I don’t aspire to ridding myself of it.

I somehow feel as if Teddy Roosevelt has something to say about being deliberate and intentional in whatsoever one does. Perhaps if I read his Vigor of Life I may have a swanky quote to include in this beard post. To mitigate this, I shall quote Robin Williams’ T.R. quoting Shakespeare to Ben Stiller’s character in Night at the Museum: “Some men are born great, others have greatness thrust upon them.” Trying to render that into the beard train of thought I began with in the first paragraph: Some men are born with beards, others have beards thrust upon them. It works in a stream of consciousness sort of way.