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Two Books About Life-Changers

I recently happened on two books about two men. I had never heard of either book or either man before I saw these books, but in both cases just a little page-flipping made me want to know about them, the circumstances of their early lives and the events that changed their lives so that they became agents of positive change in the lives of people around them.

These were two men born in southern states—Virginia and South Carolina, to different races and very different cultures. Both men started life in extremely poor families in rural areas, with little or no opportunity for an education. Both men in their youth experienced the destructiveness of alcohol addiction, the proliferation of violence and hate, and the hopelessness that saturated the communities in which they grew. Both men heard the gospel of Christ in their teen years and both made their way stormily into the Christian faith and ministry. And each of these men became agents of God’s love, changing lives in their own home towns and reaching beyond into other areas of the country. Both used automobiles to travel to serve and preach, each one driving tens of thousands of miles per year—many times with no resources for fuel but the prayer of faith.

The first book I read was The Emancipation of Robert Sadler by Sadler and Marie Chapian, published in 1975 and revised in 2012. The second was The Man Who Moved a Mountain by Richard C. Davids, published in 1970.

Redemption from Twentieth Century Slavery

Robert Sadler was born in 1911 near Anderson, South Carolina. His family was black and poor. His father was abusive, and a heavy drinker, spending most of the little he earned on alcohol. His mother did her best to love and care for her children. She had borne so many children that, by the time her two youngest, Robert and Ella, were born, the older ones had already left home, with the result that the littlest ones did not know their names or even that they existed.

By the time Robert was five years old his mother and younger sister had died. His father had remarried—to a woman who soon grew tired of the burden of his younger children—offspring of another woman. Soon Robert’s father found a way to placate his new wife. He put Robert, with his two next-older siblings, Margie and Pearl on the wagon and drove to the plantation of a white family, selling the three of them into slavery. That family sold one of the sisters to another family just over the state line in Georgia, then gave the remaining two back because of their teenage daughter’s sensitivities. She had threatened to kill herself if her father did not free the children, so he took them back and dumped them. A week later Robert’s father found a plantation family who had no qualms about holding black people in bondage.

Robert’s father sold his young children twice. This second plantation was the place where five-year-old Robert would live the remainder of his childhood, until at the age of fourteen he finally (almost miraculously) walked away down the road into the outside world.

During his years on the plantation he would experience lots of hard work, first as a houseboy, then after a downturn, as a field laborer. He would experience alternately the respect and the hatred of the folks in the slave quarters depending on circumstances beyond Robert’s control. He would yearn for the love of a father, even hoping beyond hope that the abusive white master would be pleased with him, soften his heart, and allow Robert to go to school. He never did.

Child Robert did find love on the plantation—in the slave quarters. There was a couple who adopted him, giving him a home in their cabin. And there was old Miss Ceily who told Robert about Jesus, about praying, and about the necessity of surrendering to Christ all the hate and bitterness in the human heart. She was the one who told Robert that, contrary to the white folks’ doctrine, black people have souls, and can be saved and go to heaven because of Jesus who loves every person of every race. And, even though Robert would not come to a saving faith until he left the plantation, Miss Ceily was the one who faithfully planted seeds of the gospel in his life.

After freeing himself, 14-year-old Robert went back to town, found his older sisters who helped him, and met his dad, forgiving him while he was still living. Robert went to the industrialized north as many other southern blacks would and found paying work. Eventually he learned to read, married—and gave his life to Christ for the salvation of others. Although his ministry was not the kind that made headlines, he touched with loving service the lives of thousands of black, white, native American and others.

He kept his backstory under wraps for many years. It was too painful and embarrassing. Eventually he would share it with author Marie Chapian. I’m thankful for this book; it has given me lots to think about and led me into studies I never would have found otherwise.

How Could This Be True?

It could be the reader is dubious of a story of plantation slavery in the twentieth century. I was puzzled and taken aback also. I even had the fleeting thought, “maybe this is not entirely true,” so I did some web-searching to try to find other similar stories. What I found were lots of references to “Jim Crow” laws, revival of the Ku Klux Klan in the twentieth century, and this website about a book Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon (and a documentary film about the book).

We didn’t learn this in school, but there were lots of ways and means by which African Americans were enslaved into hard labor during the period after the Civil War up until the Second World War. Convict leasing was the major practice. After that was debt bondage. I suppose Robert Sadler’s story would fall under the guise of debt bondage. The plantation owner, if asked by a moral authority how he had the right to hold the children in bondage for labor, would have said, “I lent their daddy 85 dollars.” Some of the adult workers on his farm might have come from the jail, having been convicted of vagrancy, or other charge easy to stick on black men. Then once they were in bondage they would be easy to hold in place by debt (they were not paid as much as the value of what they consumed, thus they were indebted to the plantation) and violence.

The decade of Robert Sadler’s early childhood was the decade of the resurgence of white supremacy, the revival of the Ku Kux Klan, and in 1915 at almost the same time Robert was being sold to a plantation family, the iconic film “Birth of a Nation” fed flames that many thought had been extinguished years before.

The Story of a Tireless Church Planter

The book is The Man Who Moved a Mountain written by Richard C. Davis and published in 1970 by Fortress Press, an imprint of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Scots-Irish were Scottish Presbyterians and other dissenters in the British Isles who emigrated to Ulster County, Ireland during the time of King James I. Many of the descendents of these families, known in Great Britain as Ulster Scots, re-emigrated to other nations, mainly to the American Colonies, later known as the United States. The earlier settlers founded farms and towns in the fertile valleys of Virginia and North and South Carolina, but, as the good bottomland was taken up their children and grandchildren had to go higher and higher up into the hills and hollows to find land for their families to exploit. The Appalachian Mountains, though we in the present day think of of them as scenic and quaint, do not have many good places for large and productive farms. The settlers had to learn to use what they had available to them.

In the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia in the late 1800s the cash crops were corn (planted in small plots) apples, and trees—mainly the chestnut which dominated the Eastern forest of the United States. Supplemented by a few farm animals, that was the agricultural economy in this mountainous region. Corn and apples were a lot easier to turn into cash by making them into whiskey and brandy. And it was easy to drink what one did not sell.

It was on one of these homesteads that the subject of this book, Bob Childress, was born in 1890. The community of Ararat, Virginia was only about five miles from Mt. Airy, Andy Griffith’s town, just over the North Carolina line. But it did not resemble “Mayberry”. What Childress knew was a culture of drunkenness, poverty, and violence. Each family and clan made and carried out its own law. Government authorities in many locales did not interfere in local conflicts, fearing for their own safety.

The Mountaineer Who Wanted Something Better

There was never much to eat in the Childress home and when Bob was born, his mother was undernourished and didn’t have much milk for him. When he got colicky they pacified him with a rag soaked in molasses and brandy. His mother developed post-partum depression and roamed the woods for hours on end. One day Bob’s older brother Hasten, coming back from the mill, came upon the sheriff and a deputy with their mom in custody—in handcuffs. Hasten, about 14 years old, had a rifle with him and told the lawmen to release his mom. When they balked he brandished the weapon and insisted. They must have thought it better to release her than to fight and so she was taken home to recover.

A young girl, one of Bob’s dear neighbors, caught her dress on fire as she was fixing food for her siblings as her folks were gone several days drunk. She died, one of many deaths described in this story. Untimely and violent death was common, whether accidental, self-defense, self-inflicted, or just plain murder, and the mountain people, mostly Primitive Baptists, took comfort that it was God’s will—the time had come for that person and there was nothing to be done about it. Many times killers, often under the influence but sometimes not, were not prosecuted.

Bob tells of a Christmas when he was just three years old, being given enough brandy to make him drunk. He felt fine, but soon collapsed and slept. Everyone drank. He described both parents as heavy drinkers. They loved their children and did the best they could but alcohol addiction proved a heavy handicap and burden.

The Quakers sent a young teacher to the area and Bob’s older brother took it upon himself to make sure all the young ones got to school. It was five miles each way—two hours to get there and two hours back in the afternoon. They really enjoyed it but pressures of economy did not allow much schooling for most Blue Ridge children.

“Will I Kill a Man?”

Bob grew into a typical young man of his culture. His teen years were filled with drinking and fighting. At a funeral he heard the preacher say of a young man who died at the hand of another, it was meant to be, it couldn’t have been otherwise and Bob wondered whether fate had decreed that he would soon kill a man or be killed. One day playing cards he witnessed one friend stab another then hold him in his arms as he died. There seemed to be no reason—it just was. One day Bob got in an argument with a man in town and drew his gun on him. The man fired at him, but was so drunk he missed. Many times he considered suicide; there was nothing to live for. But the Lord had better plans for him.

By the age of twenty-one he had married and was doing somewhat better. He was working and raising some tobacco. His older brother urged him to finish his education. About this time there occured the infamous Hillsville massacre, where the head of a powerful family, on trial for murder, had his relatives come to the courthouse and attempt to rescue him. They killed several government officials and onlookers—right in the county courthouse, then scattered to hide out in the hills. Crowds of news reporters from all over came to town and young adult Bob Childress was inspired to enlarge his experience. He joined the posse and went out search for the outlaws. One by one the wanted men trickled in, many of them young boys, younger than he was. Bob came to the conclusion becoming a lawman was not good enough. There must be a better way to help his neighbors.

Education and Church

As a married man with a good wife and a child on the way Bob was motivated to give up drinking. He was thinking of right living, financial stability for his family as well as doing what he could to help the people of his community.

He took his wife to church, sometimes borrowing a horse and wagon to visit more than one church on a Sunday—trying to keep his mind off the urge to drink. There were Methodists, Presbyterians and Quakers, besides the numerous Primitive Baptists, who were known as Hardshell Baptists.

The Hardshell preachers were all laymen; educated preachers were considered unspiritual and unqualified in their culture. Bob Childress was not drawn to them—their satisfaction with the status quo, disdain of education and sometime hypocrisy did not move him to associate himself with their churches. He fellowshipped around and began to help with different churches, finally joining the Presbyterians because of their good work, good theology, and their non-sectarianism. They held open fellowship with other groups, which was important to Bob (as it is with me, your reviewer, JWP) because he did not want any barriers to helping people.

He and his wife Pearl were the parents of two little children when the Great War brought the flu to North America. When Pearl died Bob searched for strength. He repeated the Lord’s Prayer and sought a deeper relationship with God. Grieving for his wife and caring for the two children, he heard of a neighbor family who were all so sick with flu they didn’t have the strength to care for their little girl. He stepped in and helped—successfully. The child lived; Bob had begun the life of service he would become known for in the years to come.

He remarried, had more children, worked, dreamed, and—against all odds—got a college education and a seminary degree. He was ordained to the ministry and, because of his powerful and colorful way of preaching, got offers from churches in several places. But he was called by God and by his heart to go back to the mountain people who he loved; he lived and loved among them until he died in 1956.

This is the way he explained one of this theology lessons to a neighbor: “Moses gave us the laws. Jesus gave us love. Without love there can be no forgiveness. Where the law strikes, love heals. Law and love walk side by side.”

Mountain ministry Bob Childress’s way was not easy. Opposition came from many sides. People died needlessly and without God and he redoubled his efforts. His own sons nearly witnessed a violent suicide. A close neighbor, feeling blue one morning, had asked his wife to come back to bed and lie with him. But she was too busy and he went outside the house and blew his brains out. The children heard the shot, came running, and saw the results.

A Life Whose Effect Could Not Be Hidden

Bob ministered with all he had. He preached, he started schools, he joked, he gave people groceries and money. He arranged bank loans for people whose potential he believed in. He began a sawmill business in order to employ good men who needed work and to finance the construction of churches in the area. And he lobbied for the government to improve the roads. Second wife Lelia raised the kids, kept the house, took people in, and balanced Bob’s tremendous outgoing energy with a stable home environment. After so many years of an almost constant zero bank balance the kids had to encourage Lelia to save money secretly just so the family would have an emergency fund.

Bob Childress drove thousands of miles in a Model T Ford on roads that were barely passable in good weather, much worse in rain and winter, to minister regularly in a charge of several churches. He drove people to doctors and hospitals. In the 1920s, before integration was in vogue, he fellowshipped with and included local African Americans, inviting them to his services and visiting theirs. He went to the home of a notoriously mean man to invite him and his family to church. And they came. They came and their lives were changed. Others, seeing the lives of notorious sinners changed, were attracted.

The Childresses, with their neighbors and friends, planted at least seven churches in the area. Six rock-faced buildings and one frame one are there giving testimony, but even more lasting are the lives of many changed for the better and for eternity.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book call The Tipping Point in which he describes the process by which great changes come in society. They often start out small and gather momentum until they reach a tipping point and things become different. Bob Childress was a part of the changing of everything in the Blue Ridge of Virginia. He, and the Spirit he carried in him, were agents of change and the region tipped for the better. Thank God for men and women such as these.

The authors of both of these books did great service and wrote well. I would call them page-turners. Once you start you don’t want to put them down. And the lives whose stories are told here will leave their marks on your life.

A footnote: when I was helping my wife Ruth go through her dad’s books (he had passed away several years prior) we found a copy of The Man Who Moved a Mountain. So that, even though I have not known him in adulthood, I feel maybe God is winking again, just a wee little wink.

Rope Tow

When I was a teen I liked to ski. I wanted to be a real skier and race down the big hills. But in order to race down the big hills one had to learn on the little hills. I remember in the northern city where we lived there were two hills for winter sports. One was a regular ski hill for real skiers; I’ll refer to that as the big hill. The other, which I’ll call the little hill, was at the other end of the park. It was just a sliding hill for sledders, toboganners and beginning skiers like me. It was not as steep and long as the big hill.Skiing down an unplowed road

As a note of introduction I’ll say that skiing is, of course, the sport of sliding down hills and mountains skillfully and artistically and I will write about that one of these days. But this story is about the skillful and artistic ways of getting up the hills.

At the little hill in the park there was no special apparatus to assist one to the top. One had to climb the hill under one’s own steam. Near the bottom the hill was fairly shallow and we could head straight up assisting ourselves by thrusting with our ski poles. As the hill became a little steeper we resorted to the V-form climb. We could turn our feet toes-out about 30 degrees so that the skis formed a V—the point of the V in the back. And we would walk in this fashion, a little bit awkward admittedly, nevertheless we could advance up the hill. Now when the hill steepened a little more to its steepest part or if we were out of breath from the V-form climb, we would turn sideways to the slope of the hill and inch up sideways. This way takes longer but uses less cardio-vascular energy per foot and there was no chance of slip-sliding backwards down the hill inadvertently.

Now imagine seeing these impressions on the snow. First it would be two straight lines going straight up, then it would be the disjointed V’s, then they would resolve to parallel lines close together at right angles to the slope of the hill. Once, while I was inching up sideways a group of girls who weren’t very good at steering their toboggan came careening down the hill straight at me. I seem to remember them running into me and knocking me down, but that’s the movie version of the memory. Really they just missed me and ran over the ends of my skis.

The other factor was whether dad had parked the car at the top of the hill or the bottom. If at the bottom then we would “pay” first by climbing up and get rewarded second by skiing down. If he parked at the top of the hill then we would get the fun first and pay afterwards, the final cost would be the last climb up to the car—not much fun at the end.

So much for the little hill. I was ready for the big hill with the rope tow.

The big hill was in the city park just above the ice skating rink. It was all free. I had watched as the skiers zipped up the hill holding effortlessly to the rope—their poles looped around their wrist. Then they could come skillfully and aristically down the hill dipping and curving, sailing gracefully through the air off the big bumps. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a ski jumper. But first I had to get up the big hill.

Dad and I got in line for the rope tow. The rope was about an inch thick, maybe a half-mile long, a continuous loop. It reportedly had an old Model-A engine powering it in a building at the top. There were pulleys up high on poles to hold it up as it came down the hill and as it went up it would drag the ground, unless, of course, there were skiers hanging onto it, whizzing up the hill. A rope tow is one awesome piece of machinery.

The line wasn’t long. I was in front of dad. My turn next. I slid forward to where the rope was coming off the big pulley. The rope was on my right and it was whizzing by pretty fast. I looped my poles on my left wrist. I put my left hand behind my back and my right hand in front of me and to the right. So far so good. Dad said, “let it slide through your hands.” So I picked it up and let it slide through my hands. I had my ski mittens on—the kind with reinforced palms, so the rope slid nicely through my hands. But I wasn’t going anywhere. There were people scooting up the hill in front of me. The gap was widening and skiers were waiting behind me. I was just standing there with the rope sliding in my hands. I was holding up the line.

I must have glanced at dad for instruction on what to do next, because he instructed me, “grab it real slow.” So I waited a few more seconds real slowly, then grabbed it. Next thing I knew I was being jerked off my feet and dragged up the trail in a prone position. I thought this is not how it’s supposed to be and tried in vain to regain an upright position while still hanging on to the rope. Let me tell you right now you can’t get back upright on your skis when you are being dragged about 15 miles per hour—your skis dangling behind you.

Then dad hollered my third instruction. Apparently I never would have thought of it myself. “Let go!” “Let go!!!” So I let go, crawled off the tow-track and regained my feet. How embarrassing—but how exhilarating. I wanted to try again right away.

Dad changed the instructions this time. “Hold the rope loose at first then tighten your grip gradually.” That did the trick and the challenge of the big hill (going up and coming down) was mine. Over the course of the next couple winters I would find myself at the zenith of my skiing career when one of my fellow skiers, a classmate, would praise me with the words “You fell like an expert Joe.”

Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis

Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis

I had read just about everything of Lewis’s that was published,
but I read it all in the 1970′s and early 80′s. All my Lewis books were setting on the shelf; it had been quite a while since I had partaken. Over the past twenty years I might have re-read some of the Narnia stories and I did listen to the audio recording of Lewis reading The Four Loves By C.S. Lewis [Audiobook]
which is very fetching, by the way, and well worth buying the cd’s. The Four Loves was a series of radio talks that was commissioned by the American Episcopal church and Lewis agreed to write and record. But then, when the tapes were shipped to the states the church folks balked at airing them because of the discussion of eros and love in marriage. They thought them too racy for Episcopalian ears. (I learned this little tidbit from Jack, the book I am now supposed to be writing about, which I will do presently.)

George Sayer’s Jack

I was immediately (while perusing the book in the book shop) captured by the preface in which the author recounts his first meeting, as a young student, with the man he would in future refer to as his close friend Jack. The description of the ancient campus and the author’s young thoughts as he made his way to Lewis’s rooms make the reader feel a kinship—a kinship that I felt strongly through all the chapters. So “we are there” with young George Sayer as he climbs the stairs and happens to meet J.R.R. Tolkien loitering outside Jack’s door waiting to squeeze in for a minute to pick up a manuscript. When the previous student bounds out the door “Tollers” goes in and Sayer overhears his conversation with Lewis. How’s that for a proper initiation into life and literature? Of course the year was 1934 and Sayer had never heard of either one of these giants; they had not published their great works yet.

I loved this book. It is factual but personable. The first chapter begins some generations back and brings us down to Albert and Flora, their courtship and marriage and the lives of their two boys, Warren, the eldest by three years, and Clive, born in 1898. The two brothers, though very much different in personality remained closely associated throughout their lives, Warren surviving Jack by ten years.

George Sayer certainly did his homework for this book. Not only does he cite letters, diaries, articles and reviews, he also refers to conversations with the primary players in Lewis’s life. Sayer was not only a biographer, but he was for many years one of Jack’s best friends, of whom there were many. Some of the warmest and most personable passages are the ones in which Sayer relates details of weekend visits and hikes which the two of them, Jack and Sayer, had done. Lewis has sometimes got an undeserved reputation of stolidness and gravity; Sayer shows that he was one of the most fun-loving Britishers who ever lived.

Once while strolling with friends near the Sayer home Jack impulsively announces he is going to bathe and, removing his outer garments, plunges into the river. He seemed to believe any body of water was fair game for a plunge. This was a University lecturer in his fifties! Then once while the two were on a hike, dressed in their usual shabby hiking clothes, they found themselves at an unfamiliar hotel at meal time. Enquiring concerning food and drink, they were sent to the back door and instructed to make sure they had money in their pockets and to see that they wipe their feet—the explanation being the management was expecting “gentry”. (I could almost see it as a scene in John Cleece’s “Fawlty Towers”.) But Jack took it all in stride and the two dignified professors removed their shoes and dined in the kitchen.

Some of the other expanded threads in the book are these:

  • the life-long friendship with childhood friend Arthur Greeves of Belfast
  • the foster mother-son relationship with Janie Moore
  • friendships with J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and other personal and literary friends
  • his scholarly writings and poetry
  • and of course, the popular Christian writings and novels

Sayer does a good job covering the Joy Gresham years. He presents insights into Lewis’s conscience about divorce and remarriage, as well as the cultural and religious climate that surrounded the couple as they entered into an unorthodox relationship—marriage in name only eventually blossoming into real marriage. And we learn of her illness, the priest who prayed for healing, and also Jack’s substitionary prayer that he might carry her pain and illness. She got better for a while but after she died Jack got sick and died—on the same day Jack Kennedy died.

The story of his last days, death bed and survivors was well and sensitively written. He had a good death. He left only £37,772—a small estate for a popular author. He had given away most of what he had earned. He provided in his will for those close to him. But Paxford, the gardener/handyman, was surprised to receive only £100 to which he remarked, “Werl, it won’t take me far, wull it? Mr. Jack, ‘e never ‘ad no idea of money. ‘Is mind was always set on ‘igher things.”


Expecting the Impossible

I love a quote that agrees with me and so I love this quote from Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.

No, not one shall be forgotten who was great in the world. But each was great in his own way, and each in proportion to the greatness of that which he loved. For he who loved himself became great by himself, and he who loved other men became great by his selfless devotion, but he who loved God became greater than all. Everyone shall be remembered, but each became great in proportion to his expectation. One became great by expecting the possible, another by expecting the eternal, but he who expected the impossible became greater than all.

The book is an exposition/commentary on the sacrifice of Abraham. It’s a little bit shocking in places and a little bit heart-rending in other places. If you read it well it will change your life.


I found this in The Devotions of Bishop Andrewes on Christian Classics Ethereal Library. When I started reading this Confession I wept bitter but cleansing tears. The words touched me at such a deep level, triggering a very much needed spirit of repentance.
Let me invite you to read, confess and repent.

Essence beyond essence,
Nature increate,
Framer of the world,
I set Thee, Lord, before my face,
and I lift up my soul unto Thee.
I worship Thee on my knees,
and humble myself under Thy mighty hand.
I stretch forth my hands unto Thee,
my soul gaspeth unto Thee as a thirsty land.
I smite on my breast
and say with the Publican,
God be merciful to me a sinner,
the chief of sinners;
to the sinner above the Publican,
be merciful as to the Publican.
Father of mercies,
I beseech Thy fatherly affection;
despise me not,
an unclean worm, a dead dog,
a putrid corpse,
despise not Thou the work of Thine own hands,
despise not Thine own image
though branded by sin.
Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean;
Lord, only say the word, and I shall be cleansed.
And Thou, my Saviour Christ,
Christ my Saviour,
Saviour of sinners, of whom I am chief,
despise me not,
despise me not, O Lord,
despise not the cost of Thy blood,
who am called by Thy Name;
but look on me with those eyes
with which Thou didst look upon
Magdalene at the feast,
Peter in the hall,
the thief on the wood;—
that with the thief I may entreat Thee humbly,
Remember me, Lord, in Thy kingdom;
that with Peter I may bitterly weep and say,
O that mine eyes were a fountain of tears
that I might weep day and night;
that with Magdalene, I may hear Thee say,
Thy sins be forgiven thee,
and with her may love much,
for many sins yea manifold
have been forgiven me.
And Thou, All‑holy, Good, and
Life‑giving Spirit,
despise me not, Thy breath,
despise not Thine own holy things;
but turn Thee again, O Lord,
at the last,
and be gracious unto Thy servant.

“Write or Die” application

I found a new web app called Write or Die. It “encourages” you to keep on writing and not stop. Here’s what I wrote on it:

Yeah, I think it’s time for me to stop messing around and start writing. That’s the way I’ve been feeling lately. This is an app that forces you to do that if you want to be forced.
I think I might want to be forced.
Now for some writing.
Now for some writing.
Once in a lifetime a person arrives at the point of now. Now is the time that has arrived at this point in time and no other. It is a very exclusive point in time because no other point is it exactly.
Although it is exclusive it is also common because every other point in time is like it. Maybe exactly the same in generic quality. But different in content. I see it’s quite a punishment that comes your way – first the color of the bg changes, then the sounds start. The babies crying.

Here’s the site:



In our early morning study-prayer group we have been working on this little book for more than a year now. We take a couple pages each week, reading and discussing and talking about our lives, praying for each other before we leave.

The book is TrueFaced written by the team of Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John Lynch. I love this book. We all do. Rob Frazier, our group leader, recommends it highly. Even though it’s written by three men, it doesn’t seem like it came from a committee. It is a very personal book written for personal people.

The sub-title of the book is “trust God and others with who you really are”, which is the one of the essences of love. How can we love and be loved if we can’t trust enough to allow others to see beneath our mask? A quote from Shakespeare adorns the cover below the sub-title: “God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another.”

These are the masks, the personal covers, that keep us from lives of grace, hope and love. This book is a comfortable refuge in which we can get used to the fact that there is an alternative to this lonely, frustrating thing we call “doing the best we can”.

The authors write in the first chapter,

We wrote TrueFaced for those who pant for a life worth living… for those who have tasted of their destiny, but have lost its flavor in brokenhearted disappointment… for those suffocating under hope-stiffling masks… for those longing to see their God with eyes no longer filtered with fear, self-disgust, and desperate proving.

I found a home in this book. It’s a great place to live for a while and be reminded daily of these freeing truths.

Chapter two is entitled “To Please or to Trust”. It uses the metaphor of “the room of good intentions” as contrasted with “the room of grace.” Attempting to please God by acting on good intentions – we have all tried it and know how frustrating and ineffective it is. But the room of grace is the way of trusting God with who we are, allowing Him to accept us. It does take some getting used to. We are prone to return to the old ways. But the room of grace is always there for our good if we receive it.
And it is the only way to please God after all. Trust = faith. And faith is, after all, our justification in the sight of God.

In Chapter three, speaking of our sin issues, the grace and acceptance of God is shown to be the practical means of dealing with sin problem.

The environment of grace provides me with truth, acceptance, healing, safety, perspective, freedom, and power that I did not before know; these realities are foundational to resolving my sin issues.

On the other hand, good intentions and the stiving associated with them do nothing but “suck grace—and therefore power—right out of the room.”

There is one chapter each on the gifts of grace love, repentance and forgiveness. Repentance is treated in a refreshing way. The grace-filled gift of repentance is contrasted with the striving, ineffective willpower-based intention we all have gotten caught up in many times. True repentance is a gracious meeting with God and other people in which love and grace is showered upon us. It is a room with a warm hearth. It is a homecoming.

The Edge of the Sword We Dance On

When I was a child I went with my family to a performance of Scottish highland music and dance. I liked it just fine but I kept thinking, when are they going to do the sword dance? I was all ready to see the guys come out and swing swords around, dancing around and swashbuckling with them – but no. They just gently laid two swords down flatways on the floor and proceeded to do fancy footwork around the sword blades. It was alright – it obviously meant a lot to them, but, to be truthful, I was disappointed. There was no danger, no threat of violence. I was underawed. They never even came close to getting cut on those things, assuming they were even real swords.
But I am not underawed concerning our real-life sword dance. How can I be? In the realm of actuality the art of the dance is not symbolic, it’s for keeps. We dance not because we choose, but because we have no choice. We dance under threat of violence, in the overwhelming fear of the unknown, for our life or our death and the separate but equal dread of them both. We dance spontaneously, not according to a prescribed set of steps (however well-meant that preset plan might be). And we dance not in the spaces between the flats, but right on the sharp edge of the freshly-honed blade. Extreme sword dancing, we can call it.
But maybe that metaphor is a little extreme. Maybe that picture of life is over-the-top. I don’t think so. Consider the bad dreams that wake us up in the night. Those ought provide a clue, or a key, to the dread and anxiety that baseline our reality. So dancing on the edge of the sword? I think it’s a great metaphor. Just let’s wear some good strong-soled shoes and let’s look to the master of the dance —the Lord of the Dance. He ought to be able to help.

To Put a Picture in your WordPress Weblog

Open your picture in Irfanview and resize it to at most 400 pixels wide, if it’s larger than that. If it’s smaller do not resize it.)
To do this

  • click in the horizontal menu “Image” then “Resize/Resample”.
  • Then in the dialog box that popped up make sure the “Set new size” button is selected.
  • Also make sure the “Units” “pixels” button is selected.
  • Then change the width to 400 pixels or less. I say this because often a larger picture will get the WordPress page out of alignment.
  • When you set the width you should see the height adjust itself in proportion. If it doesn’t
  • Check the box below that says “Preserve aspect ratio”
  • Hit “OK” You should see the picture shrink.
  • Now go to “File” then “Save as”.
  • Name your picture with a descriptive name like “autumnleaves400px”. That tells you what it is when you are looking for it and tells you it is 400 pixels wide. (You’ll thank me for this advice later.) Be sure to save it in a folder that you can find when looking for it later, like “My Pictures/picsforblog” or some such.

Now you are ready to log into WordPress.

  • Logged in, start a new post (or edit a pre-existing post or page) and decide where you want to place your pictures in the post. If you want text above the picture then type your text first.
  • Look below the text box and click where it says “Upload”, then click “Browse”. That will give you a browse box to find the picture on your hard disc.
  • Find the picture you save earlier, select it and click “OK”
  • Then type a descriptive name for the picture in the “Title” area and a more descriptive phrase in the “description” area.
  • Click “Upload” and wait.
  • Now you should see a small version of your picture. If you don’t click “Browse” or “Browse All”.
  • Where it says “Show” click “Full size”. If you want the Title you entered to show then click “Title” also.
  • Where it says “Link” click “none”.
  • Now click “Send to editor”.

Continue typing below the picture and go on till you want another picture, then repeat the process.

Wood Buddy Jumps the Empire State Building

This is my good friend Wood Buddy. He likes to try new things.

wood buddy jump empire state
On this particular day he is inspired by the Olympic Games. He wants to jump the Empire State Building.

wood buddy missed
Too bad, Wood Buddy. Try again another time.

Jon Aquino Reading Jon Donne

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That’s Your Number!

I was riding down to the country with my friend Eric. We talked about all kinds of things. Did our work. Told each other all kinds of things. Learned things about each other’s lives. All in a day’s incidental conversation. But there comes a time when a friend has to tell a friend something he does not know, has resisted learning, will never know unless his friend comes right out and bluntly, flatly tells him, “This is the way it is. Period.”
You see I had been having a little trouble with my cell phone since the Tracfone company changed over to a different provider, even sent me a new little phone. It’s purrrrty. And it seemed like it was going to be just great. I spoke to a kind and polite gentleman in India. He got all the details and fixed it and I said, “God bless you.” as I signed off. He even gave me some extra minutes for the trouble. Hey, what more could you want? cell phone and weblog
And the phone worked great. The coverage was equal or better. Only thing was after a few days I heard from a friend, “I can’t reach you on your cell. It says no such number.” Then another friend said the same but, “I can only reach you if I hit the “call back” button in my missed calls list.
Hmmmm. So then I thought, this phone is just no good any more. I’ll use up my minutes calling out and then toss it when they are used up.
What a plan. My phone is funny, so I’ll toss it.
Then yesterday as we drove through the mighty Fairview, TN, as Eric checked his own phone, I had the bright idea to ask Eric to test my phone from his.
Here’s the number 631-****. He dialed it. It didn’t ring, plus he got the same old message – no such number. So I had the even brighter idea to call his phone from mine. (Notice: I was pulled over while doing all this.)
I dialed his and asked him what number was showing on his. “336-****” says Eric.
So I go, “see what I’m up against? It doesn’t show my right number on your display. Try pushing the call back button.”
He did and my phone rang. “Why does my phone ring for the wrong number?”
“Because,” says Eric humbly, pointing to the 336 # on his readout, “that’s your number.”
What a concept.
That’s your number.
I’ll make a note of it.

Two roof panels blew off

Roof Panel MissingThere it is across the other side of the yard.Temporarily patchedLeft the ladder on the roof till next time.

Creative Self-Portraiture

Taking pictures of myself has never been my favorite thing. As a matter of fact it’s been my least favorite thing. I’ve always been dissatisfied and ashamed of pictures of myself—I would rather not look at them nor distribute them. Now on the other hand, I am not averse to others taking pictures of me. Is that a contradiction? Maybe for some it would be but not to me. When someone says, ‘smile, I’m taking your picture,’ I am compliant and obedient out of love because I know they respect me and really and truly want my picture. Now, with the coming of online photo and video sharing, I’m seeing self-portraiture from a whole new perspective.

Now, I have long since seen the value in written self-disclosure. The internet and the world wide web has really blown that wide open. From the time I started using the web, I have been using the written word to reveal what I am thinking and feeling. Sometimes more than others to be sure—nonetheless I have used the written word to reveal myself to others. Before the web came about I used letters to communicate, then the telephone of course. But those are just verbal, not pictorial. And now I have found, a web site that facilitates sharing your life with your friends by photos, subject lines, and conversational comments.

The first thing I noticed on BeenUp2 was the profile pictures. Some people used disguised, blurry or cartoonish pics for their “avatar”, but others used clear self-portraits, snapped with their cell phone or digital camera. When I joined I used a five-year-old photo my friend Randy took for fun one day in his home office. I have been using it all that time for everything online, But, as I carried on conversations with my online friends, I was encouraged to show a more contemporary portrait of myself. I felt I owed them that. Honesty is the best policy after all, so showing a photo that shows how much I have aged would be more honest. True? True. I searched my computer files and found surprisingly few good photos of myself, old or new. Finally I cropped myself out of a picture of Leslie and me that our friend Elizabeth took. Maybe I liked that photo because the person who took it was someone who loves me.

Maybe I wouldn’t want to do a self-portrait because the photographer in that case, or I, do not love myself as much as I suppose others might love me. In other words, any self-portrait I could possibly make would be marred by my own self-hatred. But now I saw others revealing the details of their daily lives using honest, but creative self-portraiture.

Britt snapped a photo of herself driving along in her car whistling. That got a big conversation going in the comments about the virtues of whistling, both as a solo and in concert with others.

Ian snaps photos toward the back seats of the car to capture his kids, but in so doing he usually gets himself on the side of the picture. Jen does the same, though it seems like she sometimes avoids getting herself in the picture. But she has progressed as time has passed and now includes herself more in the pictures she posts.

Layton and Jocelyn are another couple who use the creative, often dramatic self-portrait to great effect. Layton snaps his face as he works on improvements for the web site, sometimes showing triumph or elation, sometimes tiredness. Jocelyn—now she is not ashamed to show her face. She emotes and shows it as she snaps herself at her workplace (tired), on the way home in traffic (angry), or in front of the television (enjoying) as she views her favorite show. My favorite was when she had got a good report at the dentist’s and illustrated it with a great smiley self-portrait. When I saw that I wrote a response saying, “Jocelyn, you are a radical girl.” (And I don’t say that to all the girls.)

Some of the other BeenUp2 users have been growing more self-revelatory with their photos as well. Once, after Brooke posted a new picture, Ian commented that was the first really full-faced picture we had seen of her. The previous ones were all far way or taken at an obtuse angle. Reading and waiting She has gone forward to include others, some with herself and her husband and some with the baby. Revealing the truth about oneself always helps others to love one. I believe that whole-heartedly.

So others are learning the same lesson, I think, the lesson that other people really do enjoy and benefit from seeing our self-portraits. Jonathan, another online associate, posts on his weblog the candid shots his computer takes automatically every six hours, just to see how he looks at different times of the day.

I have taken the cue and am now sharing self-portraits online. People want to know us and love us and being able to see our facial features helps them to do so. My BeenUp2 page.

Field Guide to Evangelicals

There are many ways to love your neighbor into change and spiritual growth, and Joel Kilpatrick does it best with satire. I thought Californians were supposed to be mellow and laid back but Joel has the proverbial elbow in your ribs the whole way through this book, A Field Guide to Evangelicals and Their Habitat.
Read my review on DotLove.

Novelists Against Churchianity

I wrote a review of three books on a common theme. The authors are Booth Tarkington, Harold Bell Wright, and the team of Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman.
The article is posted on my dotlove website, which is devoted to Christianity, love and the media.

True and False

The reason why so many false effects are credited to the moon is that there are some true, as the tide.
Blaise Pascal, in the Pensées