Sunday, April 27, 2008


How very much of my life I have rushed through, unobservant and unaware! I was hiking a few weeks ago, stopped to catch my breath, and in doing so found myself in the friendly watch care of a gnarly tree limb that for all the world looked like a mythical sea urchin, or dragon, or something of that ilk. How long had it been there, watching hikers come and go? Had anyone ever seen it there? Will anyone ever see it again? I felt oddly chosen by a strange confluence of events: having misplaced my camera, rushed back to the truck to get it, then traversed a second time the trail on which I had earlier bypassed this forest sentry. Had I not become winded on my second traverse, had I not happened to glance back the way I came, had the lighting been even slightly different, odds are I would have missed the whimsy altogether. I’m grateful…and, hopefully, more aware of the need to be more aware. It’s as the poet says, “The world lacks not wonders, but wonder.” I wonder how much I’ve already missed in the daily rush of life?

Brothering in Illinois

The wind blew, the rain descended, and the earth shook, but the Brother Escapade continued undeterred. In our second annual April outing, Brother John & I followed up last year’s Arkansas exploration with a tour through southern Illinois. It seemed like an odd choice, but friend Bill Crisman recommended the area highly, having grown up near the swamp there. Swamp? Yes! Our whole preconception of Illinois as agricultural flatland underwent a radical shift as we trudged through not only a huge swamp of Louisiana ilk, but also rolling hills and sheer rock cliffs the likes of Arkansas.

The cypress trees in the swamp were most amazing—massive upthrusts jutting out of the dark water, reaching a hundred feet or so to the first limbs, all upheld amazingly by a root system of flying buttresses (an interlacing web of gnarly roots, much of them above water.) We were there one day at sunset and experienced a profound silence, broken only by the calls of Canadian geese and the hammering of woodpeckers against old growth timber. As we left the site we were treated to a rare sighting of a pileated woodpecker, whose extraordinary size accounted for the deep drumming sound we’d heard echoing in the swamp.

Midway through our stay an earthquake measuring 5.2 shook our area. We learned that the epicenter was only about fifteen miles away, but the 4:30 AM tremors awakened neither John nor I from our slumbers, even though it awoke Sharon back home, 250 miles distant, as our house swayed and rattled. It was a far cry from the New Madrid quakes of 1811 and 1812 that leveled entire forests in the area and caused the Mississippi River to flow backward for several days. We probably wouldn’t have slept through that one, although we were both pretty beat from a 20-mile bike ride the day before.

We managed to savor not one, but two, GREAT barecue places: Mac’s in Cairo (thanks for the recommend, Bill!) and The Seventeenth Street Bar in some little town I’ll have to locate again on a map. We also stood beneath the state’s record cherry bark oak tree (GARGANTUAN!), visited Superman’s hometown (Metropolis), saw Fort Massack, and just generally spent five days wandering about seeing what we might see—a lot like our childhood adventures to the woods in days of yore. I think our language needs a new action verb: brothering!

Poem: "To The Virgins, To Make Much Of Time" by Robert Herrick. Public domain.

To The Virgins, To Make Much Of Time

Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a flying:
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious Lamp of Heaven, the Sun,
The higher he's a getting;
The sooner will his Race be run,
And nearer he's to Setting.

That Age is best, which is the first,
When Youth and Blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times, still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time;
And while ye may, goe marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Need another RAM upgrade for my melon

What I tried to learn this evening: Paraphyletic vs. monophyletic groups in phylogenetics. Oh. And I should learn trig again.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Emitting Good Vibes

Dad's ordination is... NOW!

Good vibes!! Good vibes!!

Here's hoping you and your calling are maximally joined. :)

14 microloans before breakfast

Wow. I'm a big fan of They make it super-easy to loan money (in amounts as small as $25) to needy entrepreneurs world-wide, with a 99% return rate. We stuck some of our "getting almost no interest from the bank anyway" savings into Kiva, and made 14 micro-loans around the world, all in less than an hour.

Check out our lender profile. :)

Talk about saving the world. I wish I had written that software. :)

Abraham, Martin, & John

Last week was the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., during which I again heard excerpts from King's final sermon, delivered impromptu in support of a sanitation worker's strike in Memphis, Tennessee. To paraphrase his remarks, "I fear no man tonight. I would prefer a long life, but length of years is not the ultimate concern. Though I may not get there with you, I have seen the Promised Land!" One can only wonder what might have been the happy result had King been able to pursue his growing vision not only of an integrated US but of a world where ALL (both oppressed and oppressor) were "free at last."

I was reminded of a 60s song about Abraham, Martin, and John, with its references to Lincoln, MLK, and JFK, concluding "it seems the good they die young." One could surely add Jesus to that list, and Gandhi, and so many others, both women and men. Of course any such list would need to avoid sentimentality--the "good" are not without human foibles. But the greater truth is that such souls show the unitive potential of our race.

So what is it about our ken that so often causes us to snuff out the bright lights that could illuminate the future's path? Fear and greed are two commonalities evident in these early deaths. Who was fearful of, who stood to lose from, the abolition of slavery, the end of the Vietnam War, the freeing of India from colonial rule, a Poor People's March on Washington, the abolition of Temple rituals? The answer is caught up in Walter Wink's phrase, "the powers and principalities of this world."

The testimony of Abraham, Martin, and John is that these powers and principalities may have their moment in the sun, but ultimately the universe "bends toward justice" in a great reversal where the greatest shall be least and the last shall be first. Thank you, brothers, for your faith-filled witness. You give sanitation workers and the likes of us renewed hope. May we have the courage to pick up the fallen torch and carry it forward.

Past Observances

Sharon and I presided at the memorial service yesterday of a woman whose wedding ceremony I performed nearly 29 years ago. The odd thing is that I don't recall anything about that earlier occasion, even after seeing a wedding album that includes my photo and a signed letter I sent the couple at their request following the ceremony with references from sources I had used in my remarks. I was pastor of the Englewood congregation at the time, and 1979 was the year we accepted full-time church appointment, so shortly after we moved to Canada and were gone from Independence some 17 years. This may help explain my lapse of memory, and subsequent contacts have only been once or twice going to their home to offer prayer, but it's still most peculiar to stumble upon a record of my past as though I were an outsider rather than a participant. I hope this is not an early symptom of Alzheimer's, surely one of the cruelest of diseases for both that person in their confusion and their loved ones as they increasingly become strangers. I remember the "long farewell" of several parishioners in Sioux City, IA with this illness and I shudder to think any of my loved ones would be similarly burdened. I tend to think this particular void in my memory bank may be more an expression of my general inattention to life as I have filled it to overflowing with busy-ness and over-commitment. I hope to more fully experience those things I am blessed to encounter in the future and live more intentionally rather than frantically.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Voice from the Past

Listening to the voice of my father-in-law, recorded more than fifteen years ago, I remember why I miss him so. He was a man without guile, having no need or desire to impress a single soul. He had a ready laugh for the human condition, beginning with his own. He had a genuine curiosity about life, with little need to defend his views or ideas (with the exception of an occasional close-minded Baptist preacher, whom he engaged in bouts of scripture wresting until they wearied of the sport and came around no more). He was genuinely content with the simple joys of life, having no need for sophisticated entertainment or consumption. He was down-to-earth, genuinely in love with the mystery and wonders of creation. He had a zest for life, without fear of death. So many of these things which define what I consider fulfillment, so easily seen in his life, elude me altogether, or are grasped only with much difficulty. I wish I could talk with him more to learn how he came by these traits I so admire.

Model T in the mud

Transcript of file 1 is complete.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Earl C. Humphrey oral history

I received digital copies of all 6 tapes yesterday, and have started a transcript. It's amazing to hear my grandparents voices again after so many years.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A tutorial to last a hundred lifetimes

Criminey. This "tutorial" on would take many lifetimes to master. It covers just about everything I've ever heard of (and more) in the overlap between biology and computers.