HIKED ON NOVEMBER 14, 2022
Yesterday was "Thanksgiving Sunday" which is the Sunday before Thanksgiving. It was lovely and peaceful and--at least for me--quite moving. Today, however, I am on screech. Thursday is actual Thanksgiving, then Sunday is the beginning of Advent. There is so much to do. All I see is a long string of tasks stretched out until December 26. This is not unusual for any of us, particularly for clergy, so I am putting my head down and getting on with it.
That said, I did hike Mount Jackson and Mount Webster a week ago in a freak snow situation. The weather--which was unseasonably warm--had turned on a dime. Al got sick. I had a reservation in New Hampshire. All this added up to a very beautiful, very cold, very slippery hike!
There are plenty of things that I would do differently. I would have perhaps not gone. I would have done better research (I was planning on a different I hike with Al). However, I did go. I do not love snow but I have done quite a few winter hikes at this point. I knew it would be gorgeous at the top and that the trails themselves would have a lot to offer. The only thing that gave me any pause was that I was by myself. With that in mind, I double checked my pack, put on my microspikes, and went on up.
It turned out that--while I passed two people heading down Webster--I was the only one hiking Jackson on this particular day. It is a popular mountain. It is rare to have it to oneself. The sound of the high wind in the trees and the rush of water under (and over) the ice created the background music to my solo climb as I negotiated some deadfalls and, of course, the icy stream crossings. I was careful and took lots of breaks, too.
Finally I reached the tree line. What followed was a brief period of complete chaos! I was pushed around by the wind. I later learned that the wind chill put the temperature at -2 degrees Fahrenheit. My hat almost blew off. I got turned around and--most exciting--I fell and slid on the ice while trying to avoid the worst spot. It was chaotic but--thanks to the speed of falling and the need to figure out what to do so as not to freeze to death--I kept moving. In fairly short order I found my way to the peak and then started down toward Webster.
Those few moments of free-fall, though, became my reflection for Sunday. Every once in a while I have the experience of a sermon, prayer, or reflection coming to me in its whole form. This was one of those times. Collecting myself before trying to stand, the first few ideas came to my head. We humans are always grateful for the peace--in this case an extremely dramatic and windy peace--after a fall. Time stopped while I sat there on the edge of the earth. All I experienced was the smallness of me and the vastness and danger of what was around me.
By the time I got to Webster my reflection was pretty much formed. I am sharing it here, both because it tells the story and because it shows how a sabbath walk can have influence way beyond the moment...
I did question the reading, though. "Praise Song" by Lucille Clifton is a poem about a child's impression of an elder's suicide attempt. Still, it was the poem that came to me when I was recovering from my spill. Something about being welcomed without judgement, like a child welcomes--or like God does--stuck with me. I leave up to individual theologies as to whether I had to use it. However I did.
There are a lot of different ways to fall, after all. Each time we are saved we crave the welcome and assurance. We are grateful for how we made it through the crisis or the climb. We give thanks and praise the acts of kindness and love--from ourselves and others--that we experienced in the darkness.
In a way there isn't much to say, except that the ridge between peaks was spectacular. So, too, was the view--from a much more secure perch--off Mount Webster. On the way down I passed a few more people sensibly just doing the smaller mountain. None of them were by themselves.
I also witnessed a beautiful waterfall on the way down. Snow really does its job on the landscape, making it feel other-worldly. This is our world, though. That is another thing to be grateful for.
Winter hiking, itself, is beautiful. Solo hiking is special and dramatic. That said, I will keep my solo winter hikes to the 52 With an View list and look for companions on the big mountains going forward.
Well...it happened. I am back at work after 5 weeks of a sabbatical filled with hiking, writing, and reading. I have to say that I enjoyed it. I also learned a great deal about interacting with the natural world which, of course, was the point. I find it is good to have goals even in an ostensibly less-structured time. I like being able to look back and see what I did. Among other things, I hiked 35 of New Hampshire's 48 4,000 footers and 18 of New Hampshire's "52 With a View" mountains. I have written about many of them here. Not bad.
This is my third sabbatical. After every sabbatical at least one person will use the term "rested and refreshed" to describe my state upon returning. I don't get the "rested" part. I never really rested. I worked--and played--pretty hard actually and now I am tired around the edges. However, in one sense--perhaps that of restarting a computer, for example--I could be refreshed. Sabbatical is a reboot. It involves getting rid of old programming and updating systems. I am not done yet. There is more sabbatical to come. Still, I am in the reboot process and that is...interesting.
I had a number of goals for myself at this point in that process. One of them was simply an act of definition. I wanted to answer the question of what a "Sabbath Walk" actually is. I named this weblog after the concept, which did not originate with me. What sort of "walk" helps us to connect to the Great Whatever? How do we find ways to act in the world that will expand our horizons? In an earlier post I talked about what the implications might be for the institutional church. Here, I want to lift up some aspects of what I learned.
Now for this project my sabbath walks have been actual walks. That is what works for me. Of course they could really comprise any number of activities. Some people's sabbath walk is more of a sit or a read. There are people who explore through music or math or science. I kept it simple by making this metaphor for life somewhat literal. There are, of course, other ways to connection. Here I am talking about hiking, but there may be something in it for you even if that is not your bag.
I learned pretty quickly that not every hike fit into the category of sabbath. Some of them were too challenging. Some were too easy. There were distractions along the way. Like Goldilocks I found that there was an element of "just rightness" that I needed to get into a prayerful or meditative mood. I have hinted at this realization in a number of other posts. Just as in formal worship--where through the elements of the ritual we attempt to elevate our minds and hearts--there are conditions that help or hinder the spiritual exercise of walking in the woods.
Of course there are infinite variations to these conditions. However, for the sake of simplicity I have begun to use four broad categories that need to be present in relatively equal measure for a true sabbath walk. If they are not there the adventure can still be worthwhile, of course. It is just that the conditions make the spiritual connection--the meditative aspect--harder to find. There was much to say about ,my climb up Mount Washington and Mount Monroe, for example, but either my own state or the state of the hike itself (or both) made meaningful reflection difficult
Anyway, here they are. All four of these aspects are recognizable to most hikers as being par for the course. Which is to say that they are part of any climb or walk. When we are mindful of them, we have a better time. In fact, these are often the specific reasons we went for a walk in the first place!
1) Physical Challenge and Discipline:
It is hard to miss this one. I mark my own discipline of sabbath walking from right after my back surgery. There was rehab involved. I had to get out and get moving! Hiking was more interesting than going to the gym, where I injured myself in the first place. It was also something I was familiar with from a lifetime of getting outdoors. Most people--hikers and non-hikers alike--recognize that there is a physical challenge involved when we intentionally take a long walk. Even strolling around the neighborhood indicates that we are somehow pushing ourselves. The challenge is part of why we do it. We are "getting in shape" but we are also getting to know our bodies, their likes and dislikes. Knowing ourselves and the vessel that carries us is essential to a well-grounded life.
Now, this can often be the primary motivation for some hikers. It is a legitimate door into a sabbath discipline. Getting stronger and feeling better physically is important in and of itself. So too is the pride and joy of achieving a difficult goal. When I climbed Mount Adams and Mount Madison a couple weeks ago, I was chuffed to have done so. The trip was very much about dealing with the 5,000-plus feet of total elevation gain and staying hydrated. We were coping with the discomfort and the risk around wet trails and the slippery rocks. My brother waited at the end for us and became worried something bad had happened! We were just slow. We all high-fived each other in the parking lot at the end. That said, the physical challenges out-weighed some of the other aspects so it was hard for me to make it a "sabbath."
What I can say, though, is that one's physical presence brought about by addressing a physical challenge with intention and discipline is essential to the walk. It's just that too much physical challenge makes it hard to concentrate on other things. We must push ourselves and engage our bodies. Yet it can be--and should be--at the level of the walker. That is part of our practice of self-awareness, after all. It also needs to balance with a few other things.
2) Mental Challenge and Discipline:
Now, it may be easy to conflate this with the physical challenge. Many athletes, for example, talk about getting the right mindset for their respective competitions. I am a big basketball fan and--if this were a different kind of blog--I would tell you about the many times in the NBA and WNBA where a less-talented team beat a more talented one because their heads were in the right place.
We see this in a good walk, as well. Lets say we are climbing a physically challenging mountain and we need to find the courage and fortitude to keep going. In that moment we must push through the pain or despair to the other side. It matters that we do this. However, it also matters how we do this. For some it is a case of baring down, finding hidden reserves of power, and soldiering through. Others--and I would put myself in this category--do better through a discipline of openness. When I hike I try to cast my eyes and my heart outward into the landscape and toward other hikers, using the power of the world around me to drive me forward.
It wasn't always this way. I remember hiking Mount Moosilauke early on in this project. In retrospect I probably shouldn't have. I was still in pretty bad shape both physically and mentally. I used the "dig deep, push through" method and it got me to the top of the mountain. About halfway down, however, those reserves ran out. I "crashed" emotionally and had trouble getting myself back to the car while in full hot mess mode. This was the state of things on many hikes for a while. However, I started turning the corner while climbing the Tripyramids and by the time I hit the Osceolas--where I actually took a major fall--I at least had the sense of what I needed to do going forward. All that stuff in my posts about noticing the colors, the views, the little plants, and the people began as part of that exercise of openness. It was a very practical adaptation to help me survive.
The world/creation/the universe etc has more energy than we have on our own. It is good to find ways to use it.
3) Receptivity to the Moment:
This one logically follows from the previous ones, doesn't it? It is in some way about aesthetics. Most folks who go for walks have a view in mind. That is why we climb mountains or circle lakes. It is why we try for the most "natural" places in our lives. We are trying to be called up and out from the concerns that tie us down and reduce our humanity. An experience that points to the vastness around us helps with that.
Human constructs often demand more from us than we are able to healthily give. There are societal and economic demands on us. In order to maintain our selfhood in this environment, we naturally pull ourselves inward. We stay in our lane as much as possible. We also travel as fast as that lane allows.
Maybe we manage to live in the moment while we are drinking our first cup of coffee in the morning. After that, though, for most of us life is a series of next moments. There are things we are expected to--or want to--achieve so we going about doing those things.
This is what draws us to our sanctuaries. We are not products of our constructed world. We are products of the world before we built those things. You might want to go back and read the two previous sentences again. The solid foundation of a house of worship, or the quiet of an art museum, or the chaos of a concert, or the primal energy of the trail, are all sanctuaries for our souls where we can be present in the space we are occupying at that very moment. Our challenge is to find those places where we are receptive. There are many, many directions in which to go to seek them.
If you have read my posts here then you know that I have developed a practice of receptiveness while hiking. Particularly when I am alone, I make a point of sitting, feeling the rock beneath me, listening to the wind and the animals in the bushes. If there is a view I try to enjoy that, too. It isn't entirely necessary though. This practice has helped to save many a hike that I would otherwise deem a bust. Most recently it helped me through a soggy hike up Mount Israel.
The sabbath walk needs time to make connections to the right now, and sometimes it isn't that easy.
4) Contributing Creativity
Worship is a dialogue. Yes, in many formal settings it may not feel that way. Folks who get their information about worship life third-hand may not be aware that in pretty much every tradition there are ways that everyone participates and adds to the moment. In my church there are hymns and responsive readings. There are announcements that are sometimes longer than the sermon. There is coffee and conversation afterward that frequently lasts longer than worship, itself. A sabbath walk requires these elements as well. Our conversation--broadly conceived--creates a new thing and adds to the whole of creation.
Creativity can be intimidating. People think of painting, writing, and preaching, for example. However, it doesn't have to be that way. Do you sing along to the radio in the car? That is part of a dialogue. You are changing the original document--the song--and making it your own at least for that place and time. I sing hymns on the trail these days, particularly when things are getting rough. I picked this practice back up from my distant past on a solo hike up Tecumseh and have continued to do so when the spirit moves.
I also take pictures and, yes, I write. That is extra, though. As this project has gone on I have found it harder to post something new for each walk but I still form sentences in my heart as I go along, even though you may never read them. I also usually manage an Instagram post. Pictures don't feel as repetitive to me.
A sabbath walk doesn't just involve being in the moment and witnessing what is before us. It involves making that moment more meaningful and beautiful. This doesn't always happen. There is so much going on as we walk that we may be too distracted. There may be too much going on before and after our walk. We may not be in the right space to make something new.
However sabbath is about practice and we do get better at being creative over time. We get better at talking back to--and building--creation. We need to forgive ourselves when things don't go right. There will always be another sabbath-day.
So--once again--not all walks are reflective. That is fine and good. Sometimes we need to get something else out of an experience. That said, I do believe that there is a place for worshipful walking when we can. These four aspects in some sort of balance are--for me at least--what makes the difference between a good hike and a sabbath walk. If you are curious which ones made it for me, I have an "Actual Sabbath Walks" section which will give you a sense of what I am talking about. They can be a challenging as Mount Katahdin or as easy as Mount Norwottuck. On my list, for whatever reason, things aligned in such a way as to create an attitude of worship and of connection to something greater than myself.
I hope your walks--or your "walks"--are also satisfying. If you feel like sharing, please do! Communities--congregations in whatever form--make everything more meaningful.
When love is felt or fear is known, when holidays and holy days and such times come, when anniversaries arrive by calendars or consciousness, when seasons come as seasons do, old and known but somehow new...mark the time. Let nothing living slip between the fingers of the mind. --Max Coots
It is a beautiful fall day but I am at home. I took my usual walk--just to get my steps in--and have my coffee before me. When I sat down I thought I was going to write up another hike. However, right now I am looking toward what is to come. There will be time, I assume, to look back on some of my more recent climbs. My heart is not in those reflections, though. I return to work on Monday and thoughts of that eventuality have invaded my brain space.
When we planned out the sabbatical year we thought it would make sense to break it up into three parts. My project of experiencing the Divine through nature and creativity will benefit from a cycle through the seasons. The church, too, will benefit from have me in the saddle for the peak holiday times. Those holidays start at my church on my first Sunday back. October 30 is "Halloween Eve" and we will observe it with a concert and then our annual Jack-O-Lantern competition. There will be a service in the morning, too. I have no idea what I will talk about. I am looking past that moment for now. Instead I am musing on the many ways this rapidly approaching period of celebration aids us in our quest for spiritual connection.
There is plenty written about the domestication of Christmas, for example. It is a holiday steeped in its pagan roots that has consistently warred against its more "acceptable" Victorian trappings. Anyone who has had to plan carols for the traditional, hushed, Christmas Eve service with the candles knows this tension well. So many of the songs are meant to be sung loudly and drunkenly in streets, bars, and living rooms. A worship leader can lose the also-desired thread of that mute Holy Family with their cozy animals and non-smelly barn pretty easily.
Of course domestication--of holidays, of nature, and of other things--is frequently a goal of the powerful. Why won't everybody stay in their lane? The "Holiday Season" is made up of moments with an abundance of meaning well beyond the limits official arbiters place on them. Halloween is about fear, Thanksgiving is about gratitude. These are vast subjects we struggle to understand. Then the sprawling mass of winter festivals arrive making noise, breaking out in silence, and bringing light into the darkness. In each case there is a story or a set of rituals but...really...they take a back seat to more primal understandings. This season resists control because it touches the deep places of our hearts and souls. These are places many of us don't reach any other time of the year except...maybe...during the battery of spring holidays..
The meaning of specific holy days overlap as our "folk" elements outstrip the official ones. I know of many people who will have three Thanksgivings. There is the official one that happens on a Thursday. Then there is another one on the weekend for people who couldn't make the official one. Then there is "Friendsgiving" whenever it can be fit in. In my profession the parties really get going between Boxing Day (December 26) and Epiphany (January 6) when the secular world exhausts itself. Then, with our many gigs over, we can sing the loud carols to each other.
I am looking forward to this time; both the approach when I will be busy and the retreat when I will celebrate. There will be plenty of walks in there, too. Some will involve getting away on my sabbath to put on heavy gear and hike. That, however, won't be all. In fact for we humans have the tradition of taking walks together post-feast. This is usually a casual thing when we stroll around the neighborhood to get some air and a change of dynamic.
Occasionally, though, the walk is intentionally religious. For a few years church members would meet around midnight on the Winter Solstice to walk a labyrinth. That was deemed a bit hard core. Now we climb Pegan Hill and sing. It is good--in a time when the circle the sun makes is so noticeably different--to recognize the natural world. It is good to see each other in it.
Nature invades in other ways as well. Spooky gourds kick us off. Then there are the general fall decorations that stick around as Thanksgiving retains a touch of the harvest festival about it. Then we are bringing pine trees into the living room and putting wreaths on the door ensuring some life in the stark dead-time of early winter. We violate our own norms to do this. Even though it is now culturally acceptable, there is still some trapping of transgression in our act. It is as inconvenient as it is pretty to bring the forest indoors. After all, we think of the wild as being "out there" and compare it against our own--hopefully but not really fully--ordered existence in our human spaces.
Anyway, that is where my mind is today. I am heading back to work and the big question is how or when we can integrate this unruly nature spirit into our expectations for the next few months. The urge is to tamp it down, to follow the set passages--to stay in those lanes--to survive this time. So much is distressing and uncontrollable. Still, we can see the Holy in action, appearing under its own power and on its own time.
What can we do to celebrate it? What can we do to live into the Divine Chaos? I don't know the answers to these questions. I hope it will be fun to find them.
From this elevation just on the skirts of the clouds, we could overlook the country west and south for a hundred miles. There it was, the state of Maine, which we had seen on the map, but not much like that,--immeasurable forest for the sun to shine on, that eastern stuff we hear of in Massachusetts. No clearing, no house. It does not look as if a solitary traveler had cut so much of a walking stick there. --HD Thoreau
Hiked (via Hunt Trail/AT) on September 29, 2022
Henry David Thoreau gets a bad rap in some quarters. Specifically it is fashionable to accuse him of hypocrisy. I have done it, but now I relent.
This accusation isn't because of something he did. Instead it is the result of what people in the 1970's and 1980's wanted him to be. Thoreau died in 1862 having spoken out for a changed relationship between human beings and nature. In fact, his position was a bit of a counter-movement. It remains so. Capitalist society wants what it deems "progress" which means--primarily--financial, technological, industrial progress. The natural world, for many people, has developed into a setting for humans to exploit. This could be mining, or it could be forms of eco-tourism like hiking. Either way the question is what it can do to serve us. Actually it isn't even a question of serving all of us...just the ones who can grab those resources.
Thoreau, on the other hand, was interested in nature on its own terms.
We want Thoreau to be some sort of Medieval holy-man living in a cave somewhere. Maybe instead we wish him to be an explorer, denying himself the trappings of a comfortable life. The problem is, he didn't think of himself as an adventurer or a hermit. He was a businessman. He manufactured pencils and worked as a well-respected surveyor. He was an essayist and public lecturer at a time when these were prominent expressions of art. He worked his whole life, actually. He lived that life in Concord Massachusetts.
"I have traveled a good deal in Concord; and everywhere, in shops, and offices, and fields, the inhabitants have appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand remarkable ways." is how he put his observations in Walden. The man was into deeply knowing a place. He liked people and saw their burdens. When he lived in Walden--just a mile or two from downtown Concord--he maintained a regular social schedule with his friends and, yes, had his mother do his laundry. Why wouldn't he? After all, she did everyone's laundry. In a time before washing-machines, it was her job.
I bring this up now because Thoreau was also an adventurer, like many of us. It just wasn't his primary identity. He would plan expeditions around New England to the places that were still wild and relatively untamed. He wanted to see them. He wanted to record them so we would remember what they were like. Maybe, if we experienced nature on its own terms, we might value what it has to tell us.
One of his greatest adventures was a multi-week trek to Mount Katahdin, mostly on foot and by canoe. There were no roads, after all, which is worth remembering. In the end he made it to the mountain, explored the region around it, and hiked to the tableland. That he doesn't seem to have hit one of the six major peaks is occasionally brought up like the laundry story. It is worth noting that peak-bagging wasn't a thing yet. He was there for the journey and he had a long one back to civilization ahead of him.
Another reason to bring it up is that many years after his death he had an ally in Percival Proctor Baxter. Known to generations of Maine schoolchildren as "PP" Baxter, this former Governor of Maine purchased a massive section of land that included Katahdin. Then he donated it to the state on the condition that it remain "forever wild." Human needs were to be secondary to the cycles of the land. People could come to see it; to hike, fish, and sometimes hunt in it. However, it would also be rough by the standards of human parks. It privileges wildness.
In fact, this was a very controversial move. The state had refused to purchase it outright because of the hopes for future development. Baxter forced their hand.
That is plenty of context, I know. It is important, though. This mountain is not climbed like, say, Mount Washington where you park at the bottom after getting off the highway and hike between gift shops. There is no bumper sicker for your car. Just like the rest of the mountains in the park, Katahdin is special. Even on the somewhat over-populated southern section of Baxter there are no amenities. Nature is in your face and that is on purpose. That is the way here. Knowing this and planning accordingly is the difference between a good trip and a bad--possibly deadly--one.
"Man is born to die. His works are short-lived. Buildings crumble, monuments decay, and wealth vanishes, but Katahdin in all its glory forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine." --PP Baxter
My own relationship with Baxter Park is a long one. When I was young my father served as a member and then chair of the Baxter Park Authority which functions as a sort of governing board for the park and overseer of its unique mission. Along with the activist Park Director Buzz Caverly, they pushed back human encroachment in an attempt to restore PP Baxter's vision. I got to spend a lot of time there, mostly in the northern section of the park away from Katahdin. My mom--a dedicated hiker herself who is trekking through the Dingle in Ireland as I write this--liked it better on that end. There were fewer people on the trails.
I have climbed Katahdin, though, a number of times. The last time was many years ago. I was in my twenties and my little brothers, Matt and Dan, set off on what they hoped would be a southbound walk to Georgia on the Appalachian Trail.
Which brings us--finally--to this climb. Once again it had to do with the AT. Astute readers of Sabbath Walks will remember that back in March I accompanied my eldest son to Georgia for his attempt at thru-hiking. Well...he made it.
This trip was the last few miles of that epic journey of over 2,100 miles from Springer Mountain to Katahdin. His uncles are still picking away at the trail themselves. Dan and I had the chance to walk the last few miles with him and his "tramily" so we took it.
That is how I ended up sleeping outdoors in late September. The walk began in a lean-to so we could get an early start. This is not unusual for Baxter hikes. The peaks are hard to reach. Then, after a cold but not horrible night, we began the climb.
There were other thru-hikers around and a couple groups of day hikers as well. Not surprisingly, I was the slowest in our group which was fine. I can hike my own hike, after all, and it was nice to have time in the silence of the park. However, I made sure to start off early with Dan so that I wouldn't slow folks down on the other end. I don't want to inconvenience people and we had a drive south ahead of us. Over the course of the day I would lose track of the others for a while after they passed me. Trust me, though. It was more than good.
The trail starts relatively flat, just like most hikes I have done. The fall foliage was just beginning to make its presence felt. The practice of observation was useful at this point as the trees and undergrowth were putting on a show. So, too, was Katahdin Stream running next to the trail, creating a fabulous soundtrack as we worked our way up.
All this changed in a couple miles. After a while I encountered a big rock with "3 miles" painted on it and an arrow pointing up. Things started to get hairy shortly after that. After about another mile it became super-steep. The group condensed again as we helped each other over numerous rock hazards. The view also vanished (as it did for Thoreau) and we continued to stumble up toward the tableland that would welcome us to the last mile or so before Baxter Peak.
During the climb there was plenty of time to look around at the life that makes its home on the cold, rocky ledge. We were also looking for handholds and sometimes the actual hands of the people in front of us. Still, even in the hardest moments we couldn't help but be transported by what was around us in the clouds. The weather is often bad on Katahdin just as it is on most big mountains in New England. Yet people climb it anyway because it is always beautiful.
Finally, we managed to hit the tableland. At this point the thru-hikers gained some separation on me. They had waited six months for this moment and weren't going to wait another minute more than they had to. I couldn't blame them. Their excitement was infectious. Dan plodded along with me for a while but he slowly got ahead of me, too. Dan hikes in Baxter often. In fact, it was only two weeks since his previous ascent to Baxter Peak.
What that meant was that I had the tableland to what felt like myself. There were people both ahead of and behind me but I could neither see nor hear them. I wondered if this was what it was like when Thoreau was separated from his party. It looked for all the world like the moors in Scotland that I had walked through in August...except on a very hostile day. The ground cover was different, of course. Here the red came from some relative of the blueberry rising just over any number of plant species clinging close to the rocks. I paused a moment to take it in. Then I remembered my mission and started up again.
I was alone for the last twenty minutes of climbing, which was probably for the best. I had started singing in order to maintain a rhythm and keep my spirits up; Ain't No Grave, Voice Still and Small, If I May Speak with Bravest Fire, This Little Light of Mine. I trailed off on my third time through Amazing Grace as I saw (and then heard) the group at the top. The tramily was there and my brother. So, too, were a number of other thru-hikers and a couple muggles like me. It was a low-turnout day because of the weather but everyone was excitedly taking pictures of each other.
I felt like an observer at somebody else's graduation party which--by the way--is a good feeling. I was proud of these humans, most of whom I had never met. I was proud of being human. What an amazing achievement for all of them!
I arrived late and left early of course. I was the slowest and needed to get going again. Back down the peak and across the tableland I went. I encountered some day hikers I had passed and told them they were almost there. The others passed me again and then Dan and I started down the rough part behind them.
The best thing is...we had a view. Just as Thoreau had experienced on his journey, the clouds started to blow away as we descended. They continued to hover at the top of the mountain, of course. It wasn't that the clouds were moving so much as we were. On the way down, though, we caught glimpses of the land around us. It was an excellent backdrop to our labors. Going down a mountain is difficult. It is hard on the knees and the back. Gravity and the mountain conspire to do all sorts of things to your pack and to you so as to twist you into a crevice and a puzzle of their own making. Still, we had made good time and had nowhere to be, so we took as many breaks as we could.
The tramily finally disappeared down into the trees and rocks. Dan and I took a long break to snack at the final viewpoint. From our spot we could see a number of mountains, some of which I have hiked in the past and some that remain for me to explore. Dan has hiked all of them. It is his happy place.
This may have been the toughest hike I have done since surgery. It is hard to tell because I am in much better shape than I was and didn't suffer the way I did on the earliest hikes. Those early ones--like Tripyramids and the Osceolas--felt more arduous than this day. They also felt more arduous than Washington.
After our break Dan sped up and I hiked the last couple miles relatively alone. There were other people out and we leapfrogged a bit, but no one was feeling conversational. For me it had been quite a day. For most of my companions it had been a life-changing one. It was great to be back on the park and on the mountain. I don't think I will wait quite as long for next time.
I don't usually post church stuff here, but this service is about my sabbatical project and includes some background to why. The sermon starts at 40:44. I tried to peg this there but failed. There is some good stuff before that, however, so feel free to skip around!
After my climb up Black Mountain, I went apple picking. I had noticed the place on my way to the trailhead and was tempted. Then the woman I talked to at the peak told me her family works there. When I was younger and the children more pliable, Al and I used to take them picking quite frequently. It got us out on a Sunday afternoon and was a low-stress social option for adults and families alike. Also, in the end there would be apples. Who can complain about that?
I grew up working for my grandfather on school vacations and during the summer. He had apple trees. That said, the apples--like the extensive garden next to it--were for family use. The big sale items on the farm were Christmas trees, actually. Also, he contracted out to raise heifers for Heifer International. He cut hay for himself and other local farmers. He grew corn and other crops primarily for the heifers. Once he boarded someone else's sheep for a while.
The apple trees were the personal passion of a guy with plenty of passions. They would be pruned and the pests abated in the off-season. Then we would harvest them throughout the fall and put them in barrels on the porch, pulling them out when we felt like it. I remember sitting on that porch the day before Thanksgiving munching apples while waiting for my cousins to arrive. I did this more than once.
At home we had apples, too. There was a big, old apple tree whose variety is best described as "green and wormy" along with a couple crabapple trees. My mom--not to be outdone by her father--built a cider press in our yard. We would spend days grinding apples and squeezing them, producing gallons and gallons of unfiltered, unpasteurized apple-and-bug juice that we would start drinking immediately. Jugs of the stuff would go down in the basement for safekeeping. Then it would slowly ferment through the winter. We usually ran out in early March.
As an adult, of course, the whole process has been a bit more commercialized. It is safe to say that the cost per bushel and peck is substantially over the free-with-labor rate of my youth. It took me a while to get used to that. There is something strange about paying to work instead of the other way around.
I have learned, of course, that this is how the local orchards survive; preserving an endangered economy along with varieties that would be hard to find otherwise. That there are more than Macintosh, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, and Cortland apples in the grocery store is a direct result of these orchards maintaining their many trees in all their variety.
This is part of the fun, of course. One place we used to go to when we were younger parents had a tree that was older than the memory of the family that ran it. Every other year those apples are the best ever. On the off year they taste like rotting grass.
Nothing compares to an apple so I don't know how to describe the flavor. They taste like fall, family, and farm work to me. I am going to pretentiously say they taste like America, or, rather, its best parts. That said, there are sweeter ones and less sweet. Some outliers have their own thing going on that can be pleasant or really not pleasant depending on the environment they are raised in. The taste also depends on the mood of the eater. Even the varieties themselves vary by tree.
Let's talk variety for a minute. When I was growing up it was either the green wormy variety or Macs at home. Mom still insists on Macs to this day. My grandfather's fruit were varieties of Golden Delicious although some of the trees were more delicious than others. Maybe because of how may of these particular apples I ate when I was a kid, I tend not to get them now. Also, I am not fond of off-season varieties. They are mealy and taste a bit manufactured.
It turns out only two members of my immediate family can be counted on to consume apples in any quantity. One is me. The other one is still living in a tent somewhere in the Appalachian Range. This means the demand these days is low. Usually, therefore, I forego the whole event of picking and just buy a half-peck of local apples that are in season. In fact, that was my plan when I arrived at this particular apple place. There was a school bus full of small children. There were family groups with their seniors. It appeared I was the only one flying solo and the smallest bag for picking is the $14 peck. What a frivolous pursuit for a serious middle aged man! At least that was my initial impression and fear. Then someone in front of me--probably a decade or so younger with a couple bags if donuts--bought an empty peck bag for himself, too. That was all the peer pressure I needed.
In the end I had a good time. It wasn't the full-on picking experience of some of those places closer to home. There thankfully wasn't a petting zoo or a pony ride. They sold cider donuts in theory...but that guy in front of me bought the last. There were also a few corny hand painted signs but they kept themselves to defining the boundaries of various varieties and warning people not to bring their dogs. The environment was pretty no-nonsense for an operation like this, which was just what I was looking for.
I took my bag and spent about 20 minutes filling it with Macouns and Paula Reds while munching on a Cortland held in my other hand. One of the painted signs said I could eat on the job; "Sample, Don't Feast!" After the Cortland I had a Paula Red. It is early in the season in New Hampshire--and the bigger apples go in bags for the orchard store anyway--so the apples in the field are small and tart. You can't find them at the supermarket like this, where the ideal of the big, puffy, red or green, unblemished apple reigns supreme. Maybe I will make a pie, but really these should be eaten straight up, on the porch.
It wasn't like when I was a kid. I didn't prune these trees, or mow between them, or fight the battle of the bugs. I did not feel like a farmer. However, I got my hands a bit dirty to get the freshest new apples I could and that is enough for now.
We still haven't had much time for hiking since getting back from Scotland. Today--with everyone off at their various schools--I put on my day pack and walked a 7ish mile walk that I like. It starts and ends at the parsonage door. It cuts downtown. Then I loop to home through the Wellesley College campus. The college is pretty this time of year. It has this sculpted-nature look popular with Olmstead-influenced parks. The campus pretends to be wild around the edges but you can see the artifice behind it. Still, it is pretty and my body doesn't know the difference.
I probably won't be walking there for a while, though. The students are slowly returning and the place was starting to get crowded. I feel like I am in the way then. There is a certain energy and bustle at a college campus when it is in session. Everyone has a reason to be there...except me.
Walking around and thinking of the new school year I found myself reminiscing to myself about a hike I took back in March. It was a road trip with a hike in it, actually. That was when I drove my eldest son down to Georgia to begin the Appalachian Trail. I am not great at transitions, so I volunteered to drive to the trailhead and do some of the approach trail with him before he got on his way. I am glad I did. We took a couple days to get there and then we hiked for most of a day. I was with him half the time and then left him in a grove of trees chatting away with other through-hikers. They were speculating on the adventure rolling out before them.
This phase of parenting is strange. When my eldest was born it was all hellos. Slowly the goodbyes crept in and now the goodbyes are more frequent and more difficult.
I have seen the boy a couple times since. Once we got to spend a few days in Harper's Ferry at the symbolic halfway point. Once we took him and his friends out to dinner in Woodstock, New Hampshire for his birthday. They all call him "Trumpet" which is a cool trail name based on his tendency to rehearse before others get to camp.
Yesterday I helped his middle brother move into his first apartment with his girlfriend. It was quite a summer for both of them. He went to study in Oxford, England (this is the first sabbatical I will have that doesn't include his unschooling). She visited family in Michigan and got them both ready for the move. They are doing the sorts of things people do at their age. I remember a similar moment in my own life, of course. Here is the thing, though, each time is still the first time.
I was invited to visit today as well but didn't go. I regret it. Like I said, I am not good at goodbyes. They just live a couple hours away. It is a chore to drive out but doable. I think they will get lots of visits from many people. Neither his mom nor his girlfriend's mom have been able to get out there yet. I am already thinking about hitting them up next week and do some hiking in the valley. I also have a couple of nieces out there who might let me buy them lunch...
I drove the girlfriend's dad home yesterday and we were both in a thoughtful mood. We were remembering the kids we once knew and feeling proud of the adults they have become. They are great people and this new chapter is very exciting. I cannot wait to see what it brings.
I didn't go up today partly to give them some space but there is another reason. The littlest brother's first day of Junior year was on Wednesday. This is Friday. With Allison still away at grad school I thought a hello was in order for that boy, too. We will have dinner, talk about the week, plan for the weekend and probably watch TV. Then we will wait for Mom to come home. As with his brothers, I value the time I get to spend with him.
Anyway, I have gotten some practice at these goodbyes over the years. They aren't any easier and every time we reach this period, I wonder where the children are--the former children really--who I used to spend time with. The year Trumpet went away to college there were a number of other youth groupers who also went away and ceased to be youths. This morning walking through Wellesley College I remembered a letter I wrote to them all back then. Here is a part of it.
"I want to point out something that as kids you may not have noticed but that you might notice as you get older and hang around Eliot Church. What I hope you notice (because it is true) is that this congregation loves you.
Imagine Thanksgiving Sunday--the first one after graduating high school--and you go to church with your parents (actually some former youth groupers show up on their own these days). You get there at the usual time--right before we start--and the deacon at the door says your name and gives you a hug. Then when you sit down, the old woman in front of you (who you may never remember ever talking to) turns around to pat your hand and welcome you back. I may have waved to you from the chancel. Other adults come to say "hi".
Then what happens? We do church. It is just like it has always been except there are some new faces and a few people who aren't there. Maybe--now that you are a college student--you fidget a bit less. The familiar hymns sound better. Hopefully, even the sermon makes some sense. Then it all starts again at the potluck. You look around for your high school friends but it takes a while to get to them. It's those darn old people. The pastors want to talk to you and see how you are doing. Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of your time.
Please be patient with us. Whether you remember us all or not, we are the people who saw you crawl down the aisle as animals in the pageant. Since that time we have witnessed your development. We saw you reach the exalted heights of "Innkeeper". We saw you sing in the choir, or play in the Ukestra, or do readings. We even saw you when you held back. We saw you at the ski trip and the baseball game. Some folks taught your classes (we hope you remember us!). Others didn't, but they still noticed you. Your parents have kept us informed of your adventures.
I could go on. We remember when high school got busy and you couldn't make it. Some of you might feel even that you "dropped out" of church. It doesn't actually work that way. We still notice--and appreciate it--when you do make it. We are always happy to see you.
The church--particularly a small church like ours--is a kind of family. We have always seen you as a part of that family. We keep a place for you. When you return to fill that place, it brings us joy. Next year, and for a number of years after, there will be a lot of you moving on. We know that is part of the drill. I hope that wherever you go, you remember us fondly. I will remember you and so will all those other people whose lives you touched and who touched yours.
Don't be strangers. You can't be, after all.
Faith and Hope,
Here is to all those adults who say their hellos and goodbyes to the young people they love and care for. Let us remember that there will be more hellos.
This is the trail to the top of Bradbury Mountain near where I grew up in Durham and Lisbon Falls, ME. My love of hiking comes from this place. There were too many picnics to count and the view from there "all the way" to the town next door (where later I went to high school) was probably one of the first expansions of my horizon.
I am taking a break from hike-posting. It will probably just be a day or two. The reason is simply that I have work to do for my job. This is the job that theoretically has nothing to do with this blog...mostly. Of course in some ways they are related. After all life is not compartmentalized into "work and home" or "spirit and mundane". This morning I have to sit down and do some studying. The new church year is almost upon us and--like most church years these days--it presents us with a slightly higher degree of difficulty that the year before.
Just a couple days ago we had our first Parish Committee meeting to plan for the fall. As is common every time, there were problems to be worked out and some victories to be celebrated. This year we have financial worries, worries about attendance and worries about how to sustain our small volunteer base. Our programming is shrinking, too. We are living in a world where people don't join things like they used to. Houses of Worship are struggling and dying not so much for theological or political reasons, but because people are turning inward. We are in trouble for the same reason the Rotary, or the VFW, or any other voluntary association is in trouble. Folks don't think they need to join with others for sustenance. They stick to their own now. Life is becoming transactional rather than connectional. This is to the world's detriment.
My Sister-In-Law Hanne pointed out to me recently that online social networks are becoming the new "third place" set between work and family. They are mere shadows of the institutions that brought us together in past but that doesn't seem to matter. It is easier to exchange pleasantries with some acquaintance across the country than it is to chat with our neighbors. We can ignore our Facebook friends, after all. That is not the case with three-dimensional people. Also, like many toxic third places (the church has certainly been a party to this over the years) they are more about making us feel bad; pointing out perceived inadequacies rather than celebrating our strengths.
Anyway, maybe I am being a curmudgeon. Whining won't alter things. Also, I do actually believe that something better is coming. We will draw back together. However, we are living in a period of transition that won't necessarily end soon. Those of us who have committed ourselves to healthy community--religious or otherwise--are in the position of envisioning what comes next and making our old groups (they may not be old institutions by the end) adaptable and flexible.
On the side of Mount Welch in NH they have put up this stick barrier to protect the sensitive "crevice ecosystems" that are struggling to survive. You walk to the right of the sticks to do your part for this fragile part of the natural world. I wonder what adaptations we can make to protect and nurture the places where we gather.
So this is why I am doing this project: I am hiking and gardening, playing music and writing because the old way is falling away but the spiritual life is still part of a full life. Membership or even affiliation with a specific religion has fallen below 50% in this country. That alone is not something I worry about. What I worry about is where we can still find connection in this changing world. For me, I find it in the ways that I describe in the Walks Blog. In my mind this is more than "what I did on my summer vacation." It is a spiritual exercise. I am trying to find meaning. I hope that you can find meaning, too.
The purpose of these essays--and I have few illusions concerning how many people will read them--is about exploration. I joined the church in high school and it has been a part my life since, but reaching outside its doors for meaning has always been part of my life. Now I am entering another year as pastor of a small, loving, non-creedal, progressive congregation. That said, I am drawn to see what there is outside our doors even more. I want to report to everyone what I find. We actually may not be a church so much as a group, anyway. This is about serving as the scout for that group to whatever comes next.
Of course, what actually becomes of this group--this congregation--I serve is not for me to decide. Our future is being made by thousands of tiny personal decisions. That is how groups work--the healthiest ones anyway--and the process of discernment belongs to everyone. Here is what I wrote in my report for the Parish Committee concerning my upcoming sabbatical:
As you know, I believe that the modern church is in the process of fundamental changes that will ultimately leave it unrecognizable. Pessimists would say it is dying. I prefer to think of it as transforming. However, it does mean that some churches will die and others will shrink as we adapt to the new world we live in. Again, I have talked about this pretty consistently for years so I won’t get bogged down here.
The question for us is how we adapt to lower budgets, lower attendance, and lower commitment in general. I will be (as I have been) doing some reading and reflecting on this subject while I am away and you will hear about those reflections upon my various returns. I hope you will see me as a resource during this time of transition.
Here is the thing: What Eliot Church becomes is mostly dependent on what you make of it. As staff we have led, advised, and imagined this congregation toward a future. Ultimately, though, it is you who marks the path and walks it. As always I will be encouraging you to think about what is most important to us as a congregation and what we can do to maintain excellence in those areas while understanding that we may become leaner than we have been before. Our congregational polity puts the responsibility for direction on the congregation, itself.
Anyway, Thanks for listening. I have a warm pot of coffee and a lot of reading and planning to do. My sabbatical is indeed coming up and these explorations are a big part of it. I do not plan on sprinkling much about the church into my posts. I certainly haven't yet! I do hope, though, that you find something useful either here or elsewhere on your journey. In any case I will be reporting in when I can...
I was out in my garden this morning harvesting potatoes and then planting squash and peppers in their place. They are an experiment. Everything is an experiment these days. While I hope they grow and create food for my labor I do not expect it. I do it because I like being outside, even in this heat, taking part in the ecosystem around me. Its not like a hiking trip at all. However, in the midst of the constant sound and presence of cars, lawnmowers, walkers, and leaf blowers there is some nature to be had. It is in the garden and under the trees where the landscaper doesn't go. Sometimes, it is in the sound of the river that runs just across the street.
The Charles River (called the "Quinobequin" in Algonquin) here in Natick is a catalyst for argument these days. You see, there is the issue of the dam (an earthen barrier referred to more often as a park) and the spillway (a concrete barrier colloquially referred to as a dam). Regulators say that something must be done. It is unsafe as it is and the solution comes down to repair of the spillway--which would require removing all the trees (and therefore the ecosystem) in the park--or removal of the spillway (which would mean restoring the flow of the river and lowering the water level above it as well as taking away our tiny waterfall).
Emotions are high. It will be a change either way and people are rarely comfortable with change. I feel it too. I know that--after the better part of two decades living here--whatever will happen will feel a little bit like a loss to me. I have raised my children by the river. We have paddled as far as we could manage both upstream and down. I walk past it many times each day and wave to the people I know enjoying their coffee and watching the water go by. I have sat by the spillway with family, friends, and congregants having some fairly momentous conversations. I have made observations concerning the local flora and fauna here in the weblog. I will miss the way it is now and am grieving what is to come.
I have friends on both sides of this debate--repair v. removal--and I understand why people feel so strongly about this issue. We are talking about our home and our homes. However, things have gotten heated in some quarters in ways that reflect the current political landscape. No doubt they will continue to be. On the social networks (which I am not fond of but have to use) it seems that we cannot help but slide a bit from finding our way together into devaluing the opinions of others. There is lots of snark these days. There are arguments about whose opinion "matters most."
Just like on the national stage each side even has a different language for the discussion. I will tell you my opinion, but fellow Natickites already know it because I used the word "spillway" instead of "dam" to describe...um...well...the spillway.
I have recently noticed that most (but not all) of my neighbors have put up signs in favor of maintaining the spillway in South Natick. This does not surprise me. I will not hazard specific reasons because they can speak for themselves. It is a nice spot and--as I described above--part of a profound set of memories and connections for all of us who live on its banks. That said, I cannot agree with them. I am in favor of keeping the trees in the park and removing the spillway.
There are reasons for my position and, again, if you live here you probably already know what they are; Removal of the spillway would increase biodiversity, expanding the range of a number of species. This is something I believe in strongly. Heck, I have an ecology blog. Also, restoring the river has been a priority for the local Nipmuc people for a long time. After all we have done to Native Americans in this country, removing a spillway that serves no clear purpose seems literally like the least we could do. Finally, removal and restoration is the most cost-effective choice. This town is growing and will be for some time. Our needs are growing too. I would like the money to be put elsewhere in support of this community.
There is also another concern. Maybe it is a personal one but I will share it anyway. When I decided to become a minister (I was 19) I decided also to walk a path of faith as I see it. Seminary, fellowship, and ordination reinforced that decision. My theology has changed but my walk has not. Part of that walk is doing what you think is the right thing to do. I fail plenty of times. I am a pastor not a saint. That said, When faced with as clear a decision as this--where the ecological, cultural, and economic impact point in one direction--I cannot go back on that walk because right now it might feel inconvenient to me. I believe the world isn't about me. It is about the "Great Whatever." It is about living in harmony with nature and with each other. It is about taking the time to set aside my own ego to work for restoration of rivers and, frankly, of many other things. I have to stand on principle, even if I don't know exactly what will happen next.
Of course, another part of the walk of faith is understanding that change--the very thing that makes us anxious--does, in fact come. We cannot stop it. There will be change either way. Things will not be the same. Both paths can lead us to wonder what it will be like in our neighborhood in a few years. However, I have spent a great deal of time on and beside rivers without dams and honestly they are pretty, too. I expect that--no matter if the spillway is there or not--people will still be called down the banks of the Quinobequin with our coffee and our thoughts for a very long time.
This post is already too long. I am going to stop now and just leave you with some links to more information that might help if you are interested in either my reasoning or the specific issue here in town.
First, my ecological theology is in development. However, I have posted a three-part "curriculum" that I wrote here at the Walks Blog;
Environmental Literacy In Creation I
Environmental Literacy in Creation II
Environmental Literacy in Creation III
Also here is the link to the FAQ page from the town government. It is regularly updated as we learn more about the project and its impact and is worth looking at. Generally the evidence here--written by engineers and scientists with expertise in dams and their removal--supports spillway removal. So...
Here is the webpage of Save Natick Dam
Finally one version of a psalm I wrote for the river as the first thing I posted here.
Sometimes you are never good at something but it still makes you happy. As we go through life there are many things that feel--or become--too difficult, even when we put in our time and effort to get good at them. As the years and days go by the results trickle in and we slowly turn toward the things that complement our skills and abilities. There is a toxic way to go about this--just look at the comments on the Celtic's fan page--and there is a non-toxic way. The non-toxic way requires maintaining interest and appreciating the skills and gifts of those who have succeeded. When we fail we also learn. We gain insight we wouldn't otherwise have and even though we drift away from the doing, we still find joy in experiencing the success of others.
Sometimes, too, we keep on doing the thing...even though we do not expect much growth or success. I mean this is a good way. Continued trying also brings joy. For me, one of those areas is music. I play (or try to play) a number of instruments pretty poorly. I do not seem to get better. There was a period, in fact, when I was a kid where my piano teacher kept giving me easier and easier method books. I was literally and measurably getting worse as I played! However, I enjoy it. It is part of my "walk" as much as walking, itself. Therefore, I am sharing with you a bit of that journey too...when it makes sense.
It kinda makes sense these days because I am getting ready for a gig. You see, I am in a loose band of sorts that mostly plays in church. There is a core of three or four people and then a broader cloud of participants when they are available. We play folk and gospel songs in church mostly as hymns and "special music". The group is an outgrowth of a youth ministry called the "Eliot Church Ukestra." Kids grow up of course. This leads us to the gig. Some of the former ukesters went on to form a much better band and now we amateur few get to play during their lunch break once a year at a party known as the Endwar Biathalon.
This year I am playing the banjo. The banjo deserves its own post, of course. It was born out of the African-American experience when enslaved people adapted the gourd instruments of Africa using the material around them on the plantations of the south. This is why a banjo looks so different when held up against a guitar, for example. There is a drum head and metal bits creating a sound that can be sublime or can be unpleasantly--and occasionally pleasantly--like witnessing a car engine throw a gear or two. However, that is part of its appeal. It is not "nice." It has resistance built right into it.
It is worth noting that if you didn't know that the banjo is an African American instrument there is a reason. Of course that reason is racism. The banjo was nearly taken over by white people in black-face during the "Minstrel" craze of the early 20th Century and then continued to be popularized in "country" music as defined by the traditionally racist recording industry in Nashville. As a white person who plays, I find this important to be aware of. Of course black banjo players didn't go away. Now the banjo is being taken up again by innovative performers like Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons, Hubbie Jenkins, Layla McCalla, Trey Wellington and many others. It is good to see and to hear.
Banjo is actually a family of instruments. The most famous--and the one Americans refer to as "the" banjo--has five strings, is open-tuned (if you strum it without pressing any strings it makes a recognizable chord), and is featured in bluegrass, country, some rock-n-roll, and anywhere hipsters gather. It has a pretty sound with each note ringing (according to Pete Seeger) like pinpricks or tiny stars. I love it. There is something special about lying out in a field some summer night at a music festival listening to the banjo, fiddle, and mandolin (I also play mando) bouncing off the hills.
However, that is not the one I play. I play a four-string tenor banjo. To be precise (because it matters) I play a 19-fret, open-backed (no resonator), "Irish Tuned" tenor banjo. The tenor (in all its iterations) was adapted for jazz and was a go-to for filling out the rhythm section. They are ideal for choppy, staccato chords that can be heard over the horn section. If you ever go to Honk, you have seen them near the drums in the marching line. The tunings vary, so does the body. In any case it is loud and sometimes harsh sounding. Today it continues to have a place in New Orleans jazz, Irish music and folk-punk. To hear it played well you can look up Don Vappie, the Dubliners, The Pogues, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dropkick Murphys, and Devil Makes Three. Those last two bands have mosh pits. The tenor banjo has edges which I like, but, of course, that makes it hard to play and--as I mentioned before--I am not a very good musician. I have to practice a whole lot over the next few days.
Anyway, this is a long post to ask you to pray for me as I once again try to find joy in the midst of my inadequacy. If you have a similar hobby I urge you not to give up. Not because you are going to get better--though you might--but because it brings you joy and you bring joy to the world.
I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.