In Praise Of Porches

World's longest porch (they claim) - Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island MI (Flickr CC License)

This is one of my favorite columns, even five years later.  And quite appropriate for this long holiday weekend. Enjoy! (Originally published July 24, 2009)

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I ‘ve had several opportunities this summer to enjoy some quiet moments on porches.  Not too long ago, I sampled my brother – -in-law’s porch in Bethesda, Maryland, not far from Washington DC.  The day was just right – not too hot, not cold, not very humid.  The porch furniture was just right – lovely couches that allowed me to sit up or lie back,  tall glass of sweet-tea close to the elbow.  The surround-sound soundtrack gave me birds, lawnmowers, airplanes, and an occasional car wandering down the street on the outdoor channel, while the murmur of voices reminded me of family members busy at various tasks inside the house.  Light patterns shifted with alternating clouds and sun, punctuated by an occasional summer rain shower that left almost as soon as it came.

It was a perfect place and a perfect time for reading – and I made the most of it. Continue reading

Fire in the Engine Room! A Parable for Our Time

Most of us have long forgotten the Carnival Splendor debacle, almost four years ago, now.  I bet those passengers haven’t forgotten, though, and neither should we forget the powerful lesson from this incident.  (Published Nov 12, 2010)

The spectacular, ill-fated Carnival Splendor

The word “ordeal” was what caught my attention first.  It was a news story about the Carnival Splendor, one of the largest cruise ships in the world, disabled off the coast of California early this week.  Ordeal?  Amid all that luxury?  This must be journalistic overstatement.

Little by little, the details started to emerge as the ship was towed back to San Diego, then came a flood of reports yesterday after the ship reached port.  Smoky corridors.  Blocked up toilets.  Stench filled hallways.  Interior rooms with no light or ventilation.  And two hour waits to be served hot dog salad and Spam.  (It is a strange footnote to this entire episode that the only thing the cruise line has disputed is that Spam was served to the passengers.  What’s the big deal about Spam among all of the other hardships?  But I digress…) Continue reading

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood – but we missed it

Aldrin on the moon (NASA photo)
Aldrin on the moon (NASA photo)

First published on July 20, 2009, the anniversary of the first moon landing.  5 years since I wrote, 45 years now since the event, the lessons are still relevant, I think:

Today marks 40 years since Neil Armstrong and ‘Buzz’ Aldrin stepped out of the Eagle Lunar Lander and walked on the moon.  It was a day of history – many of those my age remember it well.  The event culminated a decade of technical effort and nationalistic fervor – the ‘space race’ was one important aspect of politics in the 1960′s, a period of time  remembered more for other events (wars and assassinations come to mind).

Politics and possibly misguided nationalism aside, there is no question that the achievement was real and historically significant.  ‘Unprecedented’ hardly covers it.  For the first time a human being had escaped the gravity and atmosphere of our home planet and set foot on solid ground ‘in space’.

What we did is clear enough.  But what did it mean?  What does it mean today? Continue reading

Old Literature – but surprisingly relevant

Our environmental problems aren’t quite as new as we sometimes think they are.  Here, some lessons from an old, old poem:  (Originally published Jan 7, 2009)

A good friend, who doesn’t think himself an intellectual but who in fact is one of the best-read people in my life, sent me two different pieces over the last couple of months, both of which qualify as being old, if not ancient.  But which both speak volumes to our present environmental predicament:

Today, a poem that is at least 150 years old:

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

“the grandeur of God”

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge |&| shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

Continue reading

What’s in a calling?

Can you be “called” to environmental work?  It took me almost 10 years working in the creation care movement to discover a person who should have been one of my first heroes, Sigurd Olsen, and who was, he believed, “called” from missions to care for God’s creation.  Maybe he’s new to you, too?  [Originally published Feb 9, 2009]

I recently spent almost two weeks in the Library of Congress, discovering some new heros to add to my collection. One of the names that kept appearing was that of Sigurd Olson. Previously unknown to me (and I suspect to many others today), he was a genuine hero of the wilderness movement in the early 20th Century. Among his writings are Singing Wilderness and Listening Point, both written in the first half of the last century. Continue reading

The mysteries of power…

One of our favorite posts, originally published Jan 15, 2009:

I’m writing this in – actually near – Washington DC, arguably the most “powerful” city in our contemporary world.  It is both the seat of government of what is, for now, the lone superpower on earth.  The city and its surrounding communities are therefore inhabited by people who are powerful because their hands are on the levers of government.  And by many more who influence, or at least who are seeking to influence the former group.

Watching this city go through a power-transition, I’ve made several observations:

Continue reading

A Conversation about God, His Creation and Our Role in Creation