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The busyness of the summer has caught up to me.  I feel exhausted by the end of each day, toss and turn through the night only to wake up tired each morning.  I trick myself into thinking that I need to keep going.  That I need to check things off of my never ending list.  I’ve come to believe that my list is self-inflicted busy-work.  I forget how to slow down.  How to be still.  How to relax.  Perhaps it is my own restlessness that pushes me into a sense of spiritual apathy that I have been experiencing for a while now.

All goes back to the earth,
and so I do not desire
pride of excess or power,

but the contentments made

by men who have had little:
the fisherman’s silence
receiving the river’s grace,
the gardener’s musing on rows.

I lack the peace of simple things.
I am never wholly in place.

I find no peace or grace.
We sell the world to buy fire,
our way lighted by burning men,
and that has bent my mind
and made me think of darkness
and wish for the dumb life of roots.

“The Want of Peace” The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint Press, 1998), 29

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I started this morning by reading this email I received from my friends, Karin and Linford of Over The Rhine.  I guess I should be clear, when I say, “my friends,” I mean people who I feel akin to.  I’ll warn you, this is a bit long, but I’ve read and reread through it and never has it felt tiresome.

Enjoy his words, I have.


April, 2009

Hello friends and extended family,

I know of a glass blower who gets up every morning in the dark to do his work. Before the world wakes up, before the phone starts ringing, in the sacred remains of the night when all is still, he gathers and begins to fuse his raw materials: the breath from his lungs, glowing flame, imagination, dogged hope.

I used to work from the other direction. I loved the feeling of still being up after the rest of the city (and world) had grown sleepy, the light of a lamp making my third story bedroom windows glow while I leaned over my desk and sailed towards something I couldn’t name.

Someone sent me this little excerpt awhile back, in a beautiful letter of encouragement I should add, the sort of letter that makes everything slow down, hold still:

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?
(GK Chesterton)

I’d really be okay with this being my epitaph.

When I was younger I would often write myself short job descriptions. I was thinking out loud about what might be worth hanging a life on, a life I was willing to sign my name to:

-Create spaces where good things can happen.

-Give the world something beautiful, some gift of gratitude,
no matter how insignificant or small.

-Write love letters to the whole world.

-Build fires outdoors, and lift a glass and tell stories,
and listen, and laugh, laugh, laugh. (Karin says I’m still working
on this one. She thinks I still need to laugh more, especially at
her jokes, puns and witty asides.)

-Flip a breaker and plunge the farm into darkness so that the stars can be properly seen.

-Do not squander afflictions.

-Own the longing, the non-negotiable need to “praise the mutilated world.”

-Find the music.

I still crave the extravagant gesture, the woman spilling a year’s wages on the feet of Jesus, the rarest perfume, washing his feet and drying them with her hair, a gesture so sensual it left the other men in the room paralyzed with criticism, analysis, theoretical moral concern – for what – the poor? Or was it just misdirected outrage in light of the glaring poverty of their own imaginations?

(Some friends of mine were talking about this scene the other night. We got to imagining Mary with a pixie haircut, which made the drying more difficult. We were drinking wine and Rob had made something to eat late at night: take a cracker, put a thin slice of fresh pear on it, then some sautéed goat cheese from the skillet, and top it with walnuts drizzled with honey from the oven. At midnight?!)

Someone once described our music as a mash-up of spirituality, whimsy and sensuality.

Thank you, thank you, thank y
ou.

Music and art and writing: extravagant, essential, the act of spilling something, a cup running over…

The simultaneous cry of, You must change your life, and Welcome home.

I’ve been trying to write songs again, and I’ve been hitting a maze of dead ends. I want the songs to reveal something to me, teach me something. It’s slow going. I’m not sure where I’m going. Uncertainty abounds.

But the writing works on me little by little and begins to change me. That’s why I would recommend not putting off writing if it’s something you feel called to: if you put it off, then the writing can’t do the work that it needs to do to you.

Yes, I think there’s something there. If you don’t do the work, the work can’t change you. (No one expects to change overnight.)

My sister Grace recently sent me this quote from a slim little volume called Art and Fear:

Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.

A blessing for the writers among us: May all your dead ends be beautiful.

When I was younger and I found myself sitting down in a new season of writing, I would put my pen down and close up the pica typewriter (the only letterpress printing machine I ever learned to operate all by myself, the=2
0bell of encouragement and mild alarm ringing at the end of every line, I can still hear it) and feel compelled to clean my rooms, put my world in order. It used to take 3-4 days.

Now it takes 3-4 months.

Our messes get bigger. And bigger.

So, I’ve been getting “caught up” with taxes and filing, putting things away, making lists, getting more than a few lagging projects out the door that are overdue (the first Over the Rhine songbook?!). And on and on.

Someone in our Santa Fe songwriting workshop once confessed, I’m good at a lot of things that will kill me. For those of us who write, there are always so many options that don’t involve the dilemma, the extravagance of the blank page. When we sit down to write, there’s never a guarantee that we’ll have anything to show for it that we can touch with our hands, or see with our own eyes. In fact, life is a lot cleaner and more manageable when I’m not writing.

Yes, I’ll just admit it. I’m a writer that all too often is more than happy to run from writing. But sooner or later I realize something is dying inside. And then I try to get back to work.

**

So talk about extravagant. Spring has been trying to come to the farm. The red maples have been budding. Their branches almost seem to glow at times as if strung with hundreds of delicate lanterns. The go
ldfinches are turning golden in front of our eyes. Why do they fade for the winter?

Are we getting older? Yes. We are bird watchers. (We’ll jump out of the rocking chair for a red-headed woodpecker.)

Karin is now a three dog Mama. We took in two strays last winter on a bitter cold night. The mama cattle dog soon got adopted to a 36 acre farm with horses, a heated kennel, a family with two dog-and-horse-loving-girls. They named her Ruby. Ruby landed on her feet and has been living the good life.

The puppy decided to stay and adopted Karin. She named him Porter.

Hey Porter! (Dammit, Porter!)

So we’ve got the Great Dane, the Weimaraner and the mixed up Cattle Dog pup. Saul the cat observes it all, walks upstairs and goes to sleep. Karin’ll probably post some pictures up soon somewhere.

Karin has been twittering.

I still need four pages.

We had too good of a time and made many new friends on Cayamo, our songwriting cruise of the Caribbean. So much great music. Yup, we better had write some good songs. I think every pore of my body was rum-soaked by the end. We needed all that sunshine. Snagged a few good stories too.

Our cabin on the ship had sliding glass doors and a little outdoor oceanside porch on the 7th level, and I would sit out there at 2am and watch the moonlight on the endless waves and think of all the people who had20crossed the ocean on a boat back in the day, off to start a new chapter. Talk about sacred, all those moonlit waves, the deep rhythm of it.

And we still think fondly of the amazing 20th Anniversary weekend we had last December with so many of you. We’ve got a few more 20th Anniversary shenanigans up our sleeves.

But we are going to be home more for the spring. Hopefully we won’t grow too fond of the hearth for our own good. Hopefully we will get our work done. Hopefully we will still make more than a little room for the occasional extravagant gesture.

Which brings me to Texas.

We’re going to pack up the five-piece band and our crew for a week and head for the Lone Star state at the end of the month for a change of scenery, some old songs, some brand new songs, some camaraderie, something surprising. In this new economy we need music and real conversation more than ever.

We do hope you will join us.

Over the Rhine IN CONCERT:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009, Private Show, Austin, TX
Thursday, April 30, Granada Theater, Dallas, TX
Friday, May 1, Warehouse Live Studio, Houston, TX*
Saturday, May 2, Texas Union Theatre, Austin, TX*
Sunday, May 3, Texas Union Theatre, Austin, TX* (No OtR songs repeated from previous night.)
*(w/Special Guest Lucy Wainwright Roche)

Pls note that we are playing Austin not one but two nights. When we have opportunity to play
a city two nights in a row in 2009, we will not be repeating any songs over the course of the two nights. So there will be two completely different shows. Hope to see you!

Oh yeah, one more, and one of our all time favorites:

Saturday, June 6, 2009, The Ark, Ann Arbor, MI

Check out OvertheRhine.com for more details.

Well, we’re glad we’ve found each other. Thanks for sticking around. Hope our paths cross soon. See you in Texas!

Peace like a river,

Linford (and Karin) of Over the Rhine

PS Pls pass this letter around freely to your friends and family. Chop it up and twitter it. Crumple it in your mind, strike an imaginary match and start a fire. Print it out, line the birdcage with it and let the white doves crap all night long. Spread it on the floor and train a puppy to squat and pee. Make a paper airplane out of it and toss it off the Golden Gate Bridge. Slip it between the pages of an old Southern Baptist hymnal, or into the yellow pages of a phone booth phone book if such a thing still exists. Maybe a writer will find it, God help her.

I’ve wanted to write a bit about the season of Lent that begins tomorrow, but I haven’t carved out the time I really need to write intentionally.  I will say a few things though.  I never grew up in a church or community that practices Lent (or any church calender, for that matter).  It wasn’t until I was in my early-mid twenties (it’s kinda weird that I can say that) that I found an interest in participating.  The first few years I gave up things that now feel like “typical evangelical” things to give up: coffee, soda, desserts.  Looking back on this initial experience of Lent, I realized that I allowed the practice of Lent to be built up with some form of legalism.  I gave up coffee for 40 days, but I found other methods to dull the caffeine headaches that followed.  I gave up soda, and found myself drinking a lot of Brisk ice tea.  I established my own Lent Laws, and quickly found ways to subvert them, like drinking a lot of caffeine-rich tea instead of coffee.  I think I completely missed the point when I did that.  It would be like giving up watching TV for Lent, when all the shows are still available on the internet.

I was thinking about writing about what I think Lent means and how I want to approach it this year, but I found some words that are much more eloquent than what I could write.  I’ve never met this guy, but by the looks of his picture I’m sure we’d get along just fine.  He looks bad ass.  Kester writes, toward the end of the post, about what it means to not just deprive yourself of something for Lent, but to make sure to fill the space back in with something good.

What happens then is that we begin to experience resurrection. Not just resurrection in our own minds and hearts, but resurrection that pours out into our families and friendships. Resurrection that pours out into our workplace. Resurrection that pours out into our neighborhoods. Our communities can be forever changed if we treat Lent as an opportunity not just to rid ourselves of something old, but to begin something new.

You should take the time to read his whole post.  It’s good.  Really good.

Another post that I want to link to pointed me to some Lenten resources that look very helpful.  If you aren’t familiar with The Jesus Manifesto, you should be.  Even if you disagree with everything that they write about, they write in such a honest, compassionate, thought-out way that cannot be dismissed easily.  Apart from the suggested resources, Mark wrote a sentence early on in his post that brought to light how so often, it’s easy to have ulterior motives when we are deciding what we will give up for Lent.  It’s good.

The last link that I want to share is to a guy named Jason.  I met him and his wife last August and a Justice Kitchen get together.  I recently found his blog and recently he had a post entitled, “What do you Believe.” You should read it.  It, too, is good.  Reading Jason’s thoughts in this post and in others gives me hope in people who call themselves followers of Jesus.  It wont take long in poking around on his blog, and you will see his heart for living out the gospel of Jesus in a physical way.

So, that’s that.  I pray that if you are participating in this Lenten season that your heart will remain focused on the reason you are giving something up.  May you find peace in the difficult moments ahead.

When I hear the stock market has fallen,
I say, “Long live gravity!  Long live
stupidity, error, and greed in the palaces
of fantasy capitalism!”  I think
an economy should be based on thrift,
on taking care of things, not on theft,
usury, seduction, waste, and ruin.
-from Some Further Words by Wendell Berry

I’ve been mulling these words over for the past week.  These words are abrupt and forceful, yet I find them captivating.  What do you think?

Not too long ago I stepped away from being a pastor to a small group of people.  It was a very significant thing for me to do.  I have felt the call of pastoral ministry on my life for almost ten years and to step away was an identity-shaking decision.  The past months have been filled with questions and doubts about my role as a pastor.  I question whether or not I am really “called” by God into that type of role.  I doubt that I might have the character to pastor people.

I see so much about the American church that I don’t understand or believe is rooted in historical Christianity, yet I feel drawn to the church nonetheless.  When I think about the possibility or probability of working for a church again I find myself shaking my head or throwing up my hands in confusion.  I have lost hope in the church lately.

I have thought that my calling to ministry was not to a particular age group or city, but to the work of reconciling the church to the people who have left — working with broken and bruised churches to seek forgiveness from the people who they have hurt.  This isn’t the type of language that is in most ministerial job descriptions.  I have felt awkward and out of place lately as I have contemplated going back to a ministry position.

But when I read Eugene Peterson I am reminded of the hope that I have lost.

I’m close to finishing “Under the Unpredictable Plant.”  I’m not going to explain the book or try to tell you whether or not you should read it.  There are plenty of qualified people to do that for you.  I will say this:  When I read Peterson’s pastoral books I dream of being a pastor again.

Peterson writes about people.  The people behind the pulpit and the people in the congregation and the people who want nothing to do with church.  He warns the pastor of becoming consumed with “pastoring” to the point of losing sight of the people that he should be pastoring.  This is such a strong encouragement to me.  Without people, the gospel is not the gospel, and if we lose sight of the purpose of the gospel we have no right calling ourselves “pastors.”

In the middle of this book Peterson starts to borrow words from Wendell Berry.  And at this point I’m in bliss.  Peterson writes that “whenever Berry writes the word farm, I substitute parish; the sentence words for me every time.”  Then building off of a thought about “treating the land not as a resource to be cared for but as loot,” Peterson writes:

It is a prevalent attitude of pastors toward congregations, and one that I have held more often than I like to admit.  When I take up that attitude, I see the congregation as raw material to manufacture into an evangelism program, or a mission outreach, or a Christian Education learning center.  Before I know it, I’m pushing and pulling, cajoling and seducing, persuading and selling.  It would not be nearly as bad if our congregations resisted and resented and challenged us when we work out of this attitude, but they are so used to being treated this way by businesses, public relation firms, educators, medical practitioners, and politicians that they don’t see anything amiss when we also do it.  (And, in fact, when we don’t do it, or quit doing it, they wonder why we aren’t acting like a pastor anymore.)

When I read Peterson I am reminded about the work of a pastor– to be present with people, guiding them along the path of the cross as they are reconciled to Jesus, not to sit quietly in a pew and fill up the plate as it passes by.

  • If you haven’t yet, go seek the wisdom of the great Starbucks Oracle. That’s the most blog traffic I’ve gotten since I wrote this post.
  • Three times I’ve sat down to write a reflection for the Experiment’s blog about our time in prayer last week. Every time I sat to write I found myself starring at a blank screen. Maybe there should be no post about it. Maybe it should just be remembered by those who were there. If you have any thoughts, though, please don’t hesitate to share.
  • If you are an avid blogger/blog reader you probably have blogs bookmarked of people you don’t know. Often times you put them in the right folders to remind yourself of why you bookmarked their page. You might also have a blog or two that you can’t remember how you got to their page or why you bookmarked it in the first place. Letters from Kamp Krusty is that for me. I just recently found out that his name is Brent and I think he’s a Christian radio DJ. His post today made me glad I’ve got him bookmarked. Scroll through his site and enjoy it.
  • Last but not least one more reason to question why I don’t own a book of Wendell Berry’s work:

I am trying to teach my mind
to bear the long, slow growth
of the fields, and to sing
of its passing while it waits.

The farm must be made a form,
endlessly bringing together
heaven and earth, light
and rain building back again
the shapes and actions of the ground.

Cheers.