BIG QUESTION?

THERE’S THAT PHASE kids go through around three or four, their favorite word is “Why?” You know the one. We offer a crescendo of answers (as if there is an answer that will pacify them).

Because one ice cream sandwich is enough… You’ll spoil your supper… You’ve had too much sugar already… You don’t want all your teeth to rot and fall out do you?

Then finally, you thrown down your coup de grâce: “Because I said so!”

AS WE AGE, the questions change; the routine, not so much. Can I get a new (fill in the blank)? Are we almost there? Can I have the car tonight? And my go to answer: “Ask your mother.”

I remember about half-way through adolescence I began to long for adulthood, when I thought I would either have all the answers, or I could at least answer my own questions. But here I am staring at 69 and I still have questions, and many times the answers I find are unfulfilling: “That’s just the way the electoral college works.” “Yes, tattoos sort of hurt.”

Just the other day, a close friend asked me a question. He put it this way: “Hey, I want to ask you a question and I want an honest answer.”

“Sid’s in El Reno!” I quickly answered, hoping he was going to ask me my favorite burger joint.


“What is your concept of heaven?” He asked.


When it comes to burgers, Sid’s is about as close as you get. But, he wasn’t talking about burgers.

Was this a trick question? Does he know something I don’t? Is it a test?

Certainly, there are ideas and imagary, in my head of heaven which come from my upbringing in church. As I page through those mental pictures now, I see that much of it comes from the old hymns I grew up hearing:

  • “I’ll Fly Away”

  • “We’re Marching to Zion”

  • “When We All Get To Heaven”

  • Or this from the old hymn, “Sweet Beulah Land”:
    I'm kind of homesick for a country
    To which I've never been before.
    No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
    For time won't matter anymore.


I told my friend that at this point in my life, to say that I have a concept of heaven would seem pretty arrogant. Who am I to even guess what it may be like? Or, to quote the latest and greatest opus on heavenly speculation: “I Can Only Imagine”.

Part of my mental heavenly tableau comes from memories I have of traveling evangelists. I always thought of them as arrogant, pompous, flashy, hucksters. These guys would stand in the pulpit telling of a place with mansions, streets of gold, painless eternal youthfulness. One guy went as far as to say he believed everyone would be 33 years old. Rationale: “Because that’s how old Jesus was when he died.”

I remember thinking, surely heaven won’t be an eternity of hearing this blowhard and his ilk rant and rave and wag his finger and King James version of the Bible in the air.

And then, as if he were reading my mind, he would seem to insinuate that anyone who didn’t see things as he sees things wouldn’t make it past the pearly gate (or is it gates?).

Before anyone begins to wonder if I’ve abandoned the faith of my youth; I do believe there is a heaven, I just don’t think any human has the capacity to conceptualize it. Our imagination is too limited. Our vocabulary lacks the words. Our faith is too constrained. Our belief is too conditional. Our understanding of God is too small.

TAKE PEACE FOR EXAMPLE—the kind of peace the Bible talks about, the kind of peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). Occasionally you get a sense of this peace (or, I hope you do), and when you do it is wonderful, but you can’t explain it or even understand it. There is a mystique about it.

For me, spiritual stuff is like that; and I like it that way. I don’t want a predictable, understandable, knowable religion. I want the mystery, the wonder. I’m okay with NOT knowing what it will all be like.

About that peace that passes understanding; we can get a sense of it from time to time. Here’s an example: not long ago, standing next to my dad as he died; at first, I couldn’t believe he had breathed his last breath. I even slapped his hand a few times to try to rouse him. But then———Peace. I don’t know how else to explain it. Because it is unexplainable. It passes understanding. Please don’t patronize me by pretending you understand it. Don’t try to preacher-splain it to me. Don’t try to dismiss it with some contrived rationalization or spiritualization. Please don’t assume a lack of faith. Can’t we just rest in the mystery of it?

I believe, as with this un-understandable peace, we also get an occasional glimpse of heaven—not a grasp, but a glimpse. For me, I see it in the sublime. The sublime defined in the Oxford Dictionary as: “of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.”

TAKE NATURE FOR EXAMPLE—some people see heaven as a mountain-top experience, thinking the valley is full of shadows of death. But I’m more of a valley guy (not the 80s dudes of southern California, counterpart to the Valley Girls) when it comes to the vast splendor of the mountains. Sure the mountaintop offers majestic views, but of what?

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” A few hours after this speech, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray.

That’s a powerful glimpse! A perspective from the mountaintop seems to belong to true visionaries.

For me, I prefer to be knee deep in the mountain stream, the deepest point of the valley, where there is life. Here are a few of my favorite lines from literature, from one of my favorite books, “A River Runs Through It”, by Norman Maclean:

“Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

“I am haunted by waters.”


TAKE ART FOR EXAMPLE: I see the sublime and get a glimpse of heaven in art.

“If a work of art is rich and vital and complete, those who have artistic instincts will see its beauty, and those to whom ethics appeal more strongly than aesthetics will see its moral lesson. It will fill the cowardly with terror, and the unclean will see in it their own shame.” — Oscar Wilde

Experiencing art is sensory: full-on, right? Whether it’s a walk through The Met, or The Philbrook, or sitting at a beautifully decorated table to an artful meal surrounded by good people and good conversation with good music playing in the background. Full-0n sensory. And even that sometimes passes understanding for me. There are times I get the inkling that I may have another sense beyond the five. I can’t explain it. But, what if, maybe one of these days as heaven-dwellers, we discover that we now have seven or maybe more senses? Because maybe it will take that many.

I’ll never forget the first time, my first Grand-Girl, the one who made me Pops, played her first piano recital. I was transported: how or where, I don’t know. It’s un-understandable to me. But, it gives me a glimpse.

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So, what is my concept of heaven? Maybe it will be many, many firsts—new and fresh every day. Like this:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;

therefore I will wait for him.”

— Lamentations 3:22-24

Pups & Pops

Apparently it’s National Dog Day. I was hoping I had misunderstood and it was really National Hot Dog Day. That day apparently was in July sometime.

Malachi (grandson) and Ivan (his dog who is now the size of a Shetland pony)

Malachi (grandson) and Ivan (his dog who is now the size of a Shetland pony)

Dad, me and Calidonia

Dad, me and Calidonia

Is it a bit existential to wonder if National Dog Day has meaning if you don’t have a dog? There have been many dogs in my life. The first was Calidonia. I have no idea where the name came from. I think she was a member of the family before I came along. I do remember the milkman accidentally bumping into her with his milk truck, sending her to doggie heaven.

Now, I guess my tendency toward self-absorption has made it unlikely that we will have another dog. I do like the idea of a dog. My ideal dog would be a rescue of course, who do you think I am? She would be a mix of golden dogs like retriever and labrador. She would unfortunately be unable to have puppies. She wouldn’t shed or go in the house. She would, like me, only want to go for walks if the temperature was between 69 and 74, humidity below 20%, pollen counts immeasurably low, with a breeze of less than 5 mph. She would love the grandkids when they visit. And, like me, when they’ve all gone home, she would want to recline and watch Seinfeld reruns. I would call her Pups, and she would bark softly which I would understand is dog talk for Pops.

Oh, and she would be really smart. If we were out for a hike and I fell in a big hole, she would run back home and bark at My Amazing-Missus. And she would sense the urgency and say, “What’s wrong Pups? Did Timmy, I mean, Pops fall in a hole again.” Then they would come and help me out of the hole and we would go home and have a bowl of Campbell’s soup. Probably “Bean with Bacon”.

Maybe we would write a series of children’s books called “The Adventures of Pups and Pops” and the first one would be “Pops Falls In Another Hole”. And it would be picked up by a Hollywood producer who would turn it into a successful franchise with stuffed Pups and Pops toys, and a really sugary breakfast cereal that looked like little dog treats. And we would be bigger than Sponge Bob and Lassie.

Of course if there was a dog like Pups, her list of what she was looking for in a good human would far exceed what I can deliver. I would rub her belly, buy her good food and bag her poop on long walks. But she would always want more. She would look at me in disgust and wonder why she couldn’t have a pair of those young “dog parents” who take them everywhere including places where food is served. She would think to herself, “look at this old geezer, he’s like 10 in dog years! Maybe I’ll go sit in a corner and chew the straps off his Birkenstocks-stupid old hippie.”

But then an episode of “The Adventures of Pups & Pops” would come on Netflix (you know the one where Pups and Pops sit in front of Trader Joes and make fun of cats) and she would remember the special bond we have, and how Pops always remembers National Dog Day with a treat and a new squeaky toy.

HEY, SLOW DOWN

THIS MORNING I’M DOING SOME SLOW THINKING. I needed the perfect soundtrack for this. Mile Davis’ “Kind Of Blue” is just right.

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I’ve read Gladewell’s “Blink”. I’ve tried to read Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. Without getting mired down in the deep stuff of his ideas, he says we need to do more slow thinking. An example in his book demonstrates whether a person solves a problem "quickly with little conscious deliberation" or through reflective, slow thinking:

A bat and a ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

So, did you solve it fast; or slow?

It’s no secret, I enjoy YouTube. I just love that people are creating this amazing content and sharing it so socially. Some of my favorites are:

  • MonaLisa Twins

  • Marques Brownlee

  • Pomplamoose Music

  • Casey Neistat

  • Memphis Drum Shop

    Numerous road-tripping vlogs like:

  • Drivin and Vibin

  • Travelling K

Lately, my obsession is with vlog called “Cruising The Cut”. Did you know that there are canals all across Great Britain? They were cut through the land in the 1700s. Today, there are people who cruise these canals on “narrow boats”. These boats are just under seven feet wide and 40 to 60 feet long. These are live-aboard boats. One of the guys that lives on board a narrow boat, cruises the cut at speeds up to two miles an hour and vlogs about it is a guy named David Johns.

Yes, two miles an hour. And I sit and watch video after video of him doing this slow cruise. I’ve mentioned this to a few people and they say, “What?” If I can convince them to watch one with me, they’re hooked.

It reminds me of the value to going slow, of taking in the sights, of paying attention.

Our great friend, mentor and travel advisor, Doug Manning is always encouraging us to take the “blue highways” as we travel. Those are the blue roads on the map, the ones less traveled these days. Any time we’re ready to hit the road Doug tells us the route to take and it rarely involves Interstate highways. He also is a human atlas and knows the sights to see along America’s byways. His mode of travel demands slowness.

Recently on the Airstream website, they had a survey you could take and it would tell you what kind of traveler you are, and, of course, what model of Airstream you need to do that kind of traveling. I took a look at the survey and thought: this is stupid, but I was waiting on my truck to be serviced so I took it. Here’s a screenshot of the results:

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Hmmm, maybe not so stupid afterall.

About that bat and ball; if you’re a “fast” thinker like apparently 86% of the test takers are, you answered: 10 cents. And you would be wrong.

Want a chance to slow down and solve it properly? Go.

I feel like I am slowing down, that probably comes with becoming a man-of-a-certain-age. But I like going slower. I drink my morning cup from a insulated tumbler kind of vessel. It holds a little more and lasts me all morning. I read slower these days, not because I can no longer read phrases rather than just words, but because I want to see what words the writer has chosen. I think all good writers agonize over the choice of a word and I should honor that.

Even when I practice at my drum set, which I do most every day, I’ve slowed down. I used to press hard to develop more and more stick speed. Now I play for nuance. I remember my jazz band instructer yelling at me that the bass drum should be felt and not heard. I vehemently disagreed (in my mind) with him at the time, now; I play that way. I agree that the space between the notes is just as important as the notes themselves.

No doubt by now you’ve figured out that the correct answer is five cents. Way to slow down. Makes you wonder what else you’re missing by being all in a big rush doesn’t it?

WHAT WOULD YOU DO

IF I SANG OUT OF TUNE? I don’t know where I was 50 years ago today but it wasn’t Woodstock. Oh, to be there though.

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August of 1969 was the end of the summer after high school for me. Probably, I was giving some thought to heading off to college in a few weeks. Along with my release from high school in May, was the release of the album, “Crosby, Stills & Nash”. One thing I know for sure about the summer of ‘69, that album was my favorite and it’s still in my top five in the category of “albums by bands other than the Beatles”.

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Seems like the best, credible estimate of crowd size at Woodstock was 400,000. And the line goes: if you count all of those who said they were at Woodstock the number goes up to 4 million, give or take a million.

I wasn’t the only one not there who would like to have been there. Joni Mitchell, the folk singer was not there either. She did, however, write the song that has sort of become the anthem for the phenomenon called “Woodstock” and most famously recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him where are you going
And this he told me
I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm
I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land
I'm going to try an' get my soul free

We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

(first verse and chorus)

I watched a special about the festival on PBS the other day. It was done as a day by day chronicle of the “Three Days of Peace & Music”. As they got to day three, I found myself feeling a bit wistful; not because the final scenes were mainly of bedraggled kids in a muddy mess, but because the festival was drawing to a close, and somehow it seemed something else was closing too. I don’t know what it was. Probably something that could not have endured anyway.

One of the bucket list stops on our extended Airstream roadtrip when I retire is Bethel, New York, to visit Max Yasgur’s dairy farm, to stand where the festival took place. I don’t know why, but I want to stand on that spot.

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For now: how best to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Woodstock? Maybe I convince my Amazing-Missus to put on a pair of bell-bottom jeans and we’ll stand in the backyard, turn on the sprinkler and listen to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and, of course, Crosby, Stills and Nash with the bluetooth speaker turned all the way up.

Or maybe we’ll string some beads, tie dye a shirt and watch “Wheel Of Fortune”.