Small Fish but Grand Times

It has been written, “I’ve gone fishing thousands of times in my life, and I have never once felt unlucky or poorly paid for those hours on the water.” To that I say, yes and amen.

It is never just the fish, or just the water, or just the sun, or just the breeze, or just the way light shimmers off the surface of water, or just the scents of spring, or just the splash of toads into the shallows, or just the tug on the line, or . . .

If it has to be explained, you probably should do something else, anyway, but I’ll be in at dark-thirty.

1 Quote, 4 Books, 5 Pictures, and a Hope

Words over pictures, that’s my preference. I know I’m very much in the minority, however. Emojis, images, and simulacra carry the day. Tweets, texts, and electronic mail have often jettisoned grammatically-correct sentences with coherent written expression. I get it. We want things fast–whether it’s our mail, our food, our energy, or our messages. People who know me well joke of my being the Luddite, and I’m guilty as charged. I love nearly all things involving the written word–notebooks, pencils, pens, pads, journals, desks, reading chairs, soft-shaded reading lamps, and the old classic: the smell and feel of books–real books, with real paper, preferably with sewn bindings, books you love to read, hold, look at, and treasure. Why? Because they become part of you. They take you places you’d otherwise never venture.

Below are four volumes I’m either reading currently or recently completed. Each was/is worth the time required, if you’re of a literary bent.

I discovered William Gay’s writing less than two years ago and he so captured me, I am reading his entire oeuvre. If you like Southern Gothic literature a la Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Larry Brown, Cormac McCarthy, you’ll adore Gay’s works, too.
Short stories are perhaps my favorite genre of literary fiction, and when you see that Jennifer Egan is the editor of a volume of some of the best short fiction, you’re in good company.
I read almost all of Dostoyevsky’s works when I was studying philosophy and literature, when a young man. He still moves me. Why? I think it’s because his life was extraordinary and he was unafraid to follow ideas to their natural outworkings. He wrote scenes of ballroom dancing where French was spoken and also wrote of crazed men who took atheism and existentialism to their logical conclusions. He was granted faith and repentance in his life and he, in my view, died a Christian, after a life of struggles with gambling, booze, women, prison, and producing some of the most important works in world literature.
Alice Munro is a clear master of the short story. She has a precise eye for human mannerisms, human tragedy, human pretense, and a marvelous eye for landscape. Her silences in her stories ring out like Whitman’s yawps.

As promised, some pictures, too.

Enjoy the images, yes, but give the written word a try. Words, when strung together well, last. They seep into us. We are linguistic creatures. We write plays, stories, and novels. We write and read poems. We put quotes on headstones. We memorize Scripture. We’re designed a word people so that we reflect the Word. May we always be so.

This last one does not really do justice to my intention. Here was the context of my intention. I had just walked several miles. The sun was out. It was breezy. Temperatures hovered in the 80s. The field above is adjacent to where I walked. The wind was blowing and the crimson clover swayed with the winds. The red tops bent from the invisible hands of the winds. And when I was a boy, my family had a horse. She was a Quarter Horse named Poco. I used to ride her bareback some days and she could smell the crimon clover in the spring and summer, and she’d fight against me if I tried to ride her going away from the clover. She loved it. I would often give in to her stubbornness because I loved to watch her munch on the clover. Her whole demeanor would change when the clover was lush. And today when the sunlight and the wind hit the clover just so, I was taken back to my days sitting on Poco’s back, watching her munch clover.

*The bird pictures are courtesy of my friend Jim. He knows beauty when he sees it. The other shots are mine, from areas where I often trod.

Still Reading Conroy

Sometimes rainy days are blessings. Just one rainy day and a bit of another day is all it took for me to read Pat Conroy’s book, A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life.

In it we readers encounter the flood tide of linguistic power that was Conroy. The tumult of his formative years of physical and psychological and emotional terror at the hands of Don Conroy, his Marine fighter pilot father; the toxic relationships his family demanded and honed; the suicides of family and friends; the tortures of the plebe system at the Citadel, and stories upon stories–some hilarious, some self-effacing, and others self-promoting, and often tragic, pervade this book.

I was a high school boy in Atlanta when I read The Lords of Discipline for the first time. I was hooked on Conroy’s storytelling. If you enjoy stories that peel the skin back from the bones of your soul, give Conroy a chance to speak. Open his books and read them. He’ll grip you, just like literature gripped him, and Conroy’s words will leave you with a longing for tidal marshes, shrimp and grits, glimpses of blue herons, and an awareness that stories are what we live for because they remind us that it all matters.

Showtime

I have a friend who loves birds. He and other people in his circle photograph them. He knows their names and where they fall in their taxonomy. Below are two pictures from the bird world he sent me recently.

The blue one is an Indigo Bunting. I am learning about birds, thanks in part to my buddy’s inspiring photographs. I love the sounds they make. It’s music. If you attend, you can hear them call and answer. There are different calls–some of, “Come here, there’s food.” Others are calls of warning. Others are of a more amorous nature. But there’s also the color. How would a consistent atheist explain or even begin to come to grips with the beauty and complexity of an Indigo Bunting?

When I pulled into our neighborhood last weekend, the dogwoods were blooming. Dogwoods are among my favorite flowering trees. That their blooms coincide with fishing season does not hurt my feelings, either. The pinks and whites of the dogwoods burst everywhere in clusters of color where development has not destroyed these blessings. I have a deep abiding love of all things trees. Dogwoods, for me, hold a place in my heart that takes me back to my earliest memories of childhood and my fondest memories of small-town life where I could see them, plant them, tend them, see them bloom, and witness birds make homes in them.

When my wife was out with some of her friends, she snapped a photo of the Japanese maple below. The colors shout divinity like Whitefield from the Scriptures.
Chance? Random? Accidental? Totally unguided? Purposeless?

Only a fool would say those things. Psalm 14’s a good reminder.

The Cedar Waxwing above steals the breath. Look at those eyes, those black talons around the tree, the shades of spring color on the chest and tail feathers.

Random? Accidental? Hardly.

These things are spectacular and stunning. We cannot even create neon lights with this much nuance and beauty. And this beauty flies!

And because I’m such a softy for dogs, here’s one of our beloved Cavalier King Charles, Lady. We call her “Ladybug” usually. She has a tough life. She has to sleep, eat, go for walks, hang out with our German shepherd and our cat, Jo-Jo. That usually wears her out till it’s nap time again. Yep, if you have a chance, try to be Ladybug; she pretty much has it made.

What’s the takeaway? It’s showtime. Spring is here. The dogwoods are in bloom. The fish are jumping. The birds are displaying their sounds and colors for you in indigo and green and teal and red and cobalt. And the dogwoods burst upon your eyes in color. And the whitetail fawns will appear soon, wobbly-legged and close to Mom. Be on the lookout. It’s showtime, I say. And it is no accident. It’s as if there’s a good God who created, preserves, and governs it all. That’s quite a story, quite a reality. Awake yet?

What Does Holy Week Have to Do with You?

This week in Christianity is what is known as Holy Week, the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, the week when he entered Jerusalem, cleansed the temple, gave the Olivet Discourse, had the Passover/Last Supper meal, was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, stood before Pilate, was crucified, buried, and raised bodily on the third day–all in precise fulfillment of covenantal promises made by God in the Bible.

Why is that so important? First, God has entered history. This world is not without empirical eyewitness testimony of God’s nature and existence. Jesus has made God known. “[Jesus] has made him [God] known” (John 1:18). As Francis Schaeffer put it, He [God) Is There and He Is Not Silent.

Second, in a world dead in trespasses and sins, God has come to save sinners. When Paul wrote to Timothy, he (Paul) phrased it this way: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Third, what we sinners do when faced with the holiness of God in the face of Christ is definitive. What do I mean? Simple: Who do you say Jesus is? C.S. Lewis’ way of putting it was this: Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord.

Even hardened unbelievers admit that Jesus was sinless, that he was not a liar. Even Pilate said, ” . . . I find no guilt in him” (John 19:6). Jesus was not a liar. And he wasn’t crazy or a lunatic, either. He told the truth about people and they hated him for it. He told the truth about God and most people hated him for it. He told the truth about judgment and the narrow way of salvation versus the broad way of destruction, and the masses hated him for it. Jesus was and is Lord. That’s why Holy Week matters for you.

It’s because Jesus is real. He’s not some conjured spirit of happy-clappy spirituality. No, he is the author of life (Acts 3:15).

He entered the world in humility (Philippians 2:1-8) but he is now exalted because he triumphed over death and sin by way of his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15).

Holy Week matters, you see, because history matters, because truth matters.

Why do you think revisionists labor to not teach history nowadays? It’s because the world’s system hates the truth. They want to manufacture robots who cannot think but can only parrot propaganda and platitudes with which they are programmed.

But Holy Week was a real week in Jerusalem, Israel, just over 2,000 years ago. And Jesus really did enter the city mounted on a donkey (Matthew 21:1-5). He really did overturn tables, confront hypocrites, preach judgment and grace, cleanse the temple, and weep over the city. These things really happened. It matters.

And Jesus really was kissed by a false brother and betrayed for money. And Jesus really did wash the disciples’ feet. And Jesus really did come to save sinners. It all matters.

Holy Week does not save. Observances and liturgies do not save. But Jesus does. But we must come to him in repentance and faith to be forgiven and redeemed and made right with God. The storm of God’s grace in Jesus Christ is good news, folks, but it means dealing with the truth. And if there is one epithet that encapsulates Jesus, it is that one word: truth. That’s why Holy Week matters for you. Because it bears witness to the truth.

Stompin’ & Swampin’

Currently we are under tornado warnings. Sirens are blaring. And the rains are falling across the area. Lightning was streaking the sky earlier and pulsing in flashes that startled even the calmest of personalities. And the thunder is so loud currently it shakes your frame.

But yesterday it was sunny and warm and I was able to get some miles in the woods on the trails, especially in low areas. The swamps are green now with this spring’s new growth. The turkeys abound, as do the wild hogs.

My camera phone does not do the scenes justice, but my soul was fed nonetheless. Love time in the woods, especially when you can walk, jog, and/or just pause and take it all in.

Glad to Receive This

Today the mailman and I pulled up at the same time.

“I have something for you,” he said with a smile, handing me the package.

There are many writers and thinkers I admire. There is a smaller group of writers and thinkers whose works I have read more than a few times. And then there is the group–smaller still–that I read, and read, and read again–because I discover therein wisdom for the ages. There’s a vast significant difference between entertainment and wisdom.

For me, Lewis is in that smallest group. In his works, there is wisdom. Like all wisdom, it is for the ages.

With and through his pen, he spoke to the scholar, to the thoughtful adolescent, to the skeptic, to the believer, to those with questioning faith, to those with courage to examine their own presuppositions, and to all who would think clearly about how every person matters.

Lewis excelled in showing the specifics as the universal. He wrote about how we spend our time, about how cupboards and books and walks and homes and streams and wardrobes matter. Why? Because they signify. They are signs to a bigger story, to the story.

He wrote about the centrality of our minds. He understood that the souls of men matter. They truly matter.

Well done, Jack. We owe you, still.