Archive for May, 2020

Hank Called Today

May 30, 2020
8 x 10″ signed, but now I see some more details to address . . .

A morning to turn on the spiggot with the push of a button on my ballpoint pen and watch my thoughts flow out onto the pages of the journal . . .

Opening lines from my morning journal, trying to get something going . . .

Staring at the line of books across the top of my desk . . .

Saturday morning, early, found me stuck as I sat at my desk trying to figure out what to pursue next. The latest Hank & Randy painting was signed last night, and as I looked at it first thing this morning, I found several features of it unsatisfying that I believe I can improve. But I don’t really feel like wrestling with it just yet.

Several of my “go to” books didn’t do it for me as I opened them to read for inspiration. Several lists of ideas jotted down didn’t really turn up anything of interest for me either. Saturday. Sigh.

Writing in the journal didn’t really satisfy either. After one sentence (posted above), I laughed at Hemingway’s mantra to write just one true sentence and go on from there. I thought I wrote something true; I just couldn’t go on from there . . .

Sandi, my companion, is still in Lubbock five hours away. We’ve worked hard together and separately, getting this Arlington house back in order. For a couple of days alone here, I’ve pursued several tasks and found satisfaction in completing them. But I don’t really have the initiative to start any domestic chores at this time Saturday morning either. I think I do this stuff better when we’re together.

The cell phone rang from the other room, and I almost didn’t go in there to answer it. I frequently ignore calls when I’m trying to stir up some measure of creative eros in the studio. But I decided to go and see who it was, since nothing was happening in here anyway.

It was my Dear Friend I’ve Known Since Second Grade. Wayne White, alias “Hank”. Thanks to Facebook, we re-discovered one another several years back and decided not to let the bond break again. I couldn’t believe my ears when he told me what he was doing. We talk on the phone several times a week though we only manage to get together two-to-three times a year.

So what is “Hank” up to today? Going camping! He was already on the road, heading to some property he owns in the deep woods, three miles from Big River. He excitedly relayed to me over the phone what he had packed along: tent, two Dutch ovens, campfire coffee pot, corn on the cob, baked potatoes, and fire starter (magnesium rod, hatchet, cotton balls soaked in Vaseline–Wayne refuses to bring along matches, always starts his fires with what we used to call the “flint & steel” technique). The more he talked, the more excited I became. He promised to send pictures and relay to me all that he scribbles out in his journal while he spends the weekend in the woods. Wayne is the quintessenial outdoorsman and I relish every aspect of his camping endeavors. Every time we go to the wilderness together, I swear another book is ready to be written.

Hank, thanks for the phone call. As promised, I’m sending out this blog to our readers, leaving out no details. I wish I was there with you, but I guess in a sense I am. . .

Hank Under the Stars

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.


Zwischen den Zeiten

May 28, 2020

Good day, blogging friends. It was a long drive home yesterday and I was wiped out when I hit the sack last night. Waking early this morning, I immediately went about a number of tasks that needed to be done in the house, but Hank and Randy were on my mind, and the following story played out as I worked. Finally sitting down to the computer I spilled it out, so here’s how it’s looking at this time. Thanks always for reading, and thank you so much, all of you who have been posting comments. I’m thrilled that people are actually reading this. I managed a little time today to work on the accompanying watercolor as well, so here it is, still in progress . . .

8 x 10″ watercolor in progress

The night seemed to grow quieter in response to Randy’s remark on having plenty to chew as he sounded the religious depths of his life. The coffee was doing its work, soothing his tired spirit as he gazed into the fire, watching the yellow-orange sparks drift and disappear into the night sky. Pulling an index card from his field pack, he read to Hank what he had written on it:

The understanding of history is an uninterrupted conversation between the wisdom of yesterday and the wisdom of tomorrow.

“This is from the preface of the first edition of Barth’s commentary on Romans. I wrote it on an index card and kept it in my study carrel at the seminary where I could look up at it every day while studying. Finally, I decided to memorize it and keep it as a sort of mantra. Once I quit seminary, I decided to begin keeping a journal, and the card is now a bookmark. I’m forced to confront it every time I open the journal to write something. More than ever, I’m feeling a connection with the past—past writers anyway—and I’m trying to join my ideas to theirs to see if I can come to some kind of understanding of what’s going on in my life.”

As he listened, Hank felt an inner stirring of something unresolved. “You know—I think I’m going to start keeping a journal. I’ve never met anyone before you who actually did this, though I’m always reading about writers from the past who kept journals as a lifestyle—Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Twain. Nobody I know does that today, except now you. Soon as we get back to town, I’m gonna pick up a spiral or something and start volume one. I really believe we’re gonna find plenty to write about on this little adventure of ours.”

Randy reached for the urn and poured a second cup of the cowboy coffee, tasting better as the night unfolded. “Sometimes I wish I had started the journal earlier in life, but frankly I don’t really think I had anything worth recording till the stuff of the past year ruptured my plans. I’ve been struggling lately for something to read that makes me feel there is some kind of hope. On the bus yesterday, I found this from Barth’s Romans:

He is the hidden abyss; but He is also the hidden home at the beginning and end of all our journeyings.

“You know, Hank, I had this fairytale image of God planted in my consciousness from the time I was five years old when my folks made me go to church. The image really didn’t change much from those years till last year, even though my intellect allegedly grew in all other areas of life. When things started falling apart last year, I found myself questioning everything including whether God actually was there. I really feel this quote from Barth nails it—God is like an abyss, hidden. But I’m actually feeling like I’ve found a home in this life, some kind of refuge, though I am now on the road and without an address.”

Hank sat up straight. “Randy, the two of us are on parallel tracks. For both of us, a past life has crumbled and something new is trying to emerge.”

Randy nodded with enthusiasm. “Hank, I believe we’re living between two worlds, between two eras, Zwischen den Zeiten as Brother Barth would have said. The Jews between the Testaments conceived a rupture between the present evil age and the age to come, the ‘olam ha-ze and the ‘olam ha-ba. We now dwell in a Zeitgeist that I have no use for. I want to know the Arcadia I believe Thoreau found at Walden. The Indians that roamed these plains must have felt this about the land before the Europeans came and took possession of it. Every time I encounter a barbed wire fence, I want to cut it with wire cutters. You know, from Mexico to Canada, cowboys used to run cattle without barriers save for gorges and rivers and of course the Indians.”

Hank nodded in agreement. “I like the sound of that.”

“Hank my friend, your collect call may as well have been John the Baptist crying out like a voice in the wilderness. I was so ready for a new direction. Thanks for reaching out and bringing me here.”

Ten more minutes passed with neither of the two speaking. The coffee’s buzz had worn off and lethargy was taking over.

Randi pulled his sleeping bag from the straps that held it to the field pack, unrolled it, pulled off his boots and crawled inside. Hank did the same.

“Good night old Friend.”

“Good night Pal.”


Thanks for reading!

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Black Medicine under the Night Skies

May 26, 2020
8 x 10″ watercolor barely underway

Good morning, blog reading friends. Right now, I’m sitting up in bed with my Cowboy Coffee (my usual morning ritual). I’m going to have to go on the road again, so this story will be paused for a short while.

For any of you new readers, let me introduce this. I have begun a series of short stories and watercolor illustrations I am calling Turvey’s Corner 63050. The zip code is invented, falling between the two Missouri towns of my youth (High Ridge 63049 and House Springs 63051, four miles apart along State Highway 30 west of St. Louis). The stories are loosely based on details from my past life along with my friend since second grade Wayne White (another blogger as well-

I can honestly say I don’t have a clearcut plan for this cycle. I just feel compelled to write these stories and make these paintings. Perhaps someday they could mature into a book, but for the meantime they are doing my soul a world of good. If you find anything of value in reading them, then that pleases me as well. Thank you for your interest.


The pair of wandering mendicants finally reconnected yesterday in Lubbock as Randy disembarked from the Greyhound bus and spotted Hank at a nearby bench waiting for him, his backpack at his feet. Now, twenty-four hours later, they were on the caprock beneath the night skies, drinking cowboy coffee by the fire.

“Hank my friend, how in the world do you make coffee taste this good on an open fire? I’ve drunk bad coffee more times than I care to remember, you know, the stuff that burns in your chest for hours after drinking? This is really good stuff. And you cooked it in an open urn. No percolating. And it’s really smooth stuff. How do you pull this off?”

“You can thank old Lizzie Allen at the freight depot in Sweetwater. I dropped by there last year on my way out here, got a bite to eat, and this recipe for the best coffee I’ve ever made. I’ll show you how to do it. I think we should brand and market this, call it Paezhuta Sapa.

“What in hell is that?”

“Black Medicine. It’s what the Ogalala Sioux called it a long time ago.”

“Well, if you put it on a label, I think ‘Black Medicine’ will market better than whatever that other name was. Do you even know how to spell it?”

“No. But I like how it sounds.”

“When did you learn about the Sioux?”

“Oh, I’ve just been picking up stuff here and there since I came out this way. You know, I never had any interest in Native American life before. Cowboy and Indian movies were my only exposure growing up, and that Hollywood crap wore off by the time I was in junior high. But I never had an interest in the real culture of these first Americans until I watched something on Dick Cavett a couple of years back.”

“I never watched late night television. Native American stuff on Cavett?”

“He interviewed John Neihardt, the one who wrote Black Elk Speaks a long time ago. It just came out with a third edition because everybody was buying and reading it. I picked it up in paperback at Waldenbooks at South County but never read it. The only reason I brought it with me out here was because of my interest in the history of Turvey’s Corner. You know it was Osage Indians who murdered the first inhabitants of our town. Once I decided to come out this way, I decided I would try to find out more about the pre-history of this country.”

“Were you always interested in history?”

“Not really. In fact, in school I wasn’t interested much in anything, to tell you the truth.”

“That’s certainly true of me. But you always made better grades than I, and seemed to be with the program.”

“Nah. I just gamed the system, did enough work to pass.”

“Well, look at us now. Real success stories, yeah?”

“Might be. Why don’t we raise a cup of Black Medicine to the stars and chant awhile?”

“So. What exactly is your angle on this Native American quest? Reverend Elton said you were on a vision quest.”

“Frankly, I’m not too sure what that is, exactly. All I can say for now is that I have a genuine interest in their religious perspective, grounded more in their observations of nature. Church back home never really did it for me, and my friends on college campuses were getting stirred up by the Jesus People. I just thought I would get away from Turvey’s Corner and St. Louis to see what was out here under the open skies. See if I can glean words with more meaning than ‘Far out'”.

Randy laughed out loud, took another draw from his coffee cup, and looked up into the stars as Hank continued:

“Of course I don’t have all the religious background that you have. What are you now, by the way, a recycled theologian?”

“More of a re-tooled one, actually. I hadn’t given much thought to Native American religions, but I cannot honestly say that church life ever really penetrated to my inner life. College and seminary opened me up in ways that I’m thankful. But I have far more questions than answers when it comes to religion. I’m grateful that they taught me Greek and I packed my New Testament along with me. I’ve done a little translating on the bus along the way. But I’m also getting a lot from this theologian Karl Barth. I brought along one of his books, and now the Reverend has given me a second one. So I’ve got plenty to chew while we’re out here.”

Over-the-Road Pondering

May 25, 2020

The pounding of the Greyhound diesel vibrated the interior, nudging Randy toward sleep as he sunk back into the softness of his seat. Once again he was charging across the Texas plains eagerly anticipating his rendezvous with his childhood friend, but this second day of over-the-road travel was beginning to wear him down. Writing in his journal was somewhat difficult with the bounce of the tires on the seams of the pavement, but something urged the drowsy Randy to keep writing . . .

Finally met the Reverend today. He exceeded all my expectations though Hank had really played him up over this past year. When someone insists I make an acquaintance, I am always skeptical. But this man Elton certainly strummed some profound musical chords deep within my psyche. And I’m grateful for today’s encounter.

The conversation was coming back now. Randy was back in the minister’s study, in genuine conversation with Elton Bauerkemper . . .

“How is it you and Hank became friends?”

“That’s an easy question. Hank Shelton, Randy Singleton. Since second grade, our class seating charts were arranged alphabetically. Hank was always in front of me. Lots of years to make mischief together during and after school.”

A smirk lightened the minister’s countenance as he eased back in his chair. He was looking less like a Man of the Cloth now. “Hank came in here about a year ago as I recall. He was on some sort of vision quest. How’s that working out?”

“I really don’t know much. He sure doesn’t want to come home to Turvey’s Corner. And I reached a point where I no longer wanted to stay. I guess I’ll know more in a day or two when I see him again.”

“How about you? Hank wrote me right after our visit and told me he had a friend who was a Lutheran minister he hoped I would one day meet. Though it’s been a year, I’ve pulled that letter from the files and re-read it several times and thought about this possibility. As soon as I saw you step off that city bus down the street with the backpack and walk this way, I knew it was either a homeless chap looking for a church handout or it might be you.”

“Well . . .” Randy was amused at the thought, “Homeless is how I’m feeling right about now. But it’s not as bad as it sounds.”

“But you’re a Lutheran minister?”

“I was. Now I don’t really know what I am. I quit seminary a couple of months ago, went back home and found a room to rent. Worked a meaningless job, and now have cut all of it loose, even a marriage.”

“Seminary. Concordia?”

“Yeah. You too, from what Hank told me.”

“What happened?”

“Well, I guess I just tried too hard to force on a shoe that never fit. I felt lost when I went away to college. The Jesus People embraced me, made me feel like I had an identity and a real family. The ministry came over me before I really knew what was happening. Seminary came next. Then marriage. I was swept away by all the changes. And then Karl Barth happened.”

“Oh my.” The minister paused in silence, hoping he hadn’t ruptured the bond of communication and trust with his involuntary response, followed by this silence. Randy didn’t seem inclined to continue. Elton hoped he hadn’t broken in too soon or inserted a measure of disdain with his remark.

“I’m sorry I broke in. Your mention of Barth set off deep feelings in me. I couldn’t keep silent. Barth has been a real mentor to my inner life for over thirty years now. Do you want to talk about what he did to you?”

Randy just sat in silence, his expression not really downcast, just distant and pensive. Elton let it ride.

Finally, Randy looked up again, the light returning to his eyes as he began to speak. “All my life, others have told me what to do. My parents brought me up. My school told me what to read and think. My church told me how to live right. Once off to college, five hours away, I had no one directing me. But the Jesus People swept in, and they seemed so confident, so ebullient in their life’s direction, and again I let others tell me which way to go. Before I knew it, I was entering the ministry, entering the seminary and even getting married. Looking back now, it seems I just continued doing what everyone expected of me. And it wasn’t bad. I wasn’t complaining. Seminary was hard, but I met every benchmark, passed every test, completed every course. Whatever was handed to me, I handled the responsibility.”

Randy’s expression took on again that haze of bewilderment. “And then in theology class I read Karl Barth. His commentary on Romans.”

“The one that exploded like a bomb in the theologians’ playground,” interjected Elton.

“Yeah. The bomb.” Randy’s shoulders sagged at the memory. “This book didn’t read like anything I had ever read before. The language slashed like a razor. How could someone expound a book of the Bible and not sound like all the others I’d read before? Beneath his words pounded a heart of conviction, of genuine authenticity. And then . . . I read his metaphor of the crater left by a giant explosion and it suddenly happened to me. Everything I had embraced over the years suddenly was blown away as if a bomb had been dropped. And then, nothing remained. Before I realized it, my faith, my marriage, my profession, my identity—all gone. Incinerated. I suddenly felt this enormous crater, this unspeakable void that once was my life. It all sounds so bad, but I just don’t really miss it. I don’t feel that I lost anything of considerable value. I feel I am young enough that I can still start all over again and try to replace it all with something solid and real. Am I making any sense?”

“More than you think. I feel genuine pathos in what you’re saying. You’ve paid a hell of a price to get to where you are now, and contrary to your feelings of being homeless or unemployed or disenfranchised, in reality you are dizzy with a freedom that is priceless. I want you to feel confidence and adventure as you move forward, not defeat or despair. You say you lost your faith, but right now you are acting in faith. And that takes courage, my friend.”

Randy was suddenly heartened by what he was hearing. “I can’t thank you enough for what you just said. I don’t really think I’m falling into atheism. It’s just that my religious stirrings are primal and always have been. But in the church and seminary settings, I’ve felt the language and metaphors were always conventional and shallow. I’m still reading my Greek New Testament. And Barth. But the ecclesiastical language has crumbled away and I guess I’m heading west to the wilderness to see if I can find a more honest and direct way to address my beliefs.”

The Reverend offered something further: “You’ve been reading Barth’s Romans commentary. I spend most of my time in his Church Dogmatics. I read last night a passage where he pointed out Augustine’s perspective that recollection means inwardness, man’s return from the distractions of the outside world and re-entry into himself to find God there. Listening to you today convinces me that you are on that kind of track. I seem to recall Hank had a fondness for Thoreau. As you probably know, he went to Walden Pond to clean out all that conventional debris that tried to clog his understanding of life. He would never have achieved epiphany had he held down a job in Concord and avoided Walden Pond. And you, my friend, would most likely have never experienced enlightenment traveling your conventional paths.”

Elton rose and walked over to his shelves lined with volumes. Pulling down a new black hardbound book, he turned, walked over to Randy and placed it in his lap. “Here. I want you to have this. The first volume of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. It’s like new. I bought it because I so thoroughly marked up and annotated my tattered copy from seminary days. I thought I wanted a clean copy, but over the years I keep returning to the used copy to find the passages I had marked before. This one is just gathering dust on my shelf, and I’d really like someone Special to have it now. I think it’s cool that someone drawing nearer to the Native American ethos under the open skies takes Barth along with him for dialogue and perhaps rapprochement between the natural world and the scholarly. Keep me posted. I’m really interested to see how you and Hank come out on this Odyssey. Wouldn’t it be something if you found Ithaca after all.”

Randy Seeks Out the Reverend

May 17, 2020
Our Savior Lutheran Church

Life moves on its course in its vast uncertainty and we move with it, even though we do not see the great question-mark that is set against us. Men are lost, even though they know nothing of salvation. Then the barrier remains a barrier and does not become a place of exit. The prisoner remains a prisoner and does not become the watchman.

Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans

It was Sunday morning when Randy got off the Greyhound bus in downtown Dallas. He did this for a reason: Hank had written him a two-page letter nearly a year ago, a week after sending the postcard. He was thrilled over the conversation he had had with a Lutheran minister, so thrilled that he wrote the man as soon as he landed in Lubbock, thanking him for what he had said, and telling him he had a friend he hoped would one day get to meet him, a fellow Lutheran minister.

Though Randy had dropped out of the seminary and abandoned the “call” to ministry, he retrieved the letter that he’d saved and recalled that that minister had also attended Concordia Lutheran Seminary. Feeling somewhat lonely as a stranger in a strange land, Randy decided he would get off the bus while in Dallas and look up the minister.

Hank’s letter said the Reverend was at Our Savior Lutheran Church on the corner of West Clarendon & Gilpin. Thankfully, the city bus station was next door to Greyhound, so Randy strolled over to look up the route that would take him to this section of Dallas, a suburb called Oak Cliff.

As the city bus droned along the residential streets, Randy re-read his year-old letter from Hank.

The minister’s name is Elton Bauerkemper and he prefers to be called Elton. I really hope you get to meet him one day. He introduced to me this idea of living “a life of the Mind.” I had never heard that expression before. And what impressed me about him was his broad scope of reading, talking to me about Emerson, Thoreau, Wordsworth, Kerouac and Ginsberg. But I’ll be he’ll talk theology with you, since both of you attended the same Lutheran seminary. Who knows–maybe you had some of the same professors.

The bus came to a stop at the intersection of West Clarendon and Gilpin. It was 12:10. Church was dismissed and he could see a man in a black clerical robe standing on the front steps of the church shaking hands and talking to parishioners as they exited the building.


Thank you for reading, and I hope you are enjoying this story as it unfolds. If you haven’t read the background for this Dallas Lutheran encounter, the titles of previous blogs are “Church and Introspction in Dallas” (April 8) and “In the Minister’s Study” (April 9).

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Westward on the Greyhound

May 16, 2020

Here is my latest installment of the Hank & Randy saga . . . (two stories precede this on my blog)

8 x 10″ watercolor

You moved out from the city?  I don’t blame you. In a world where they can split a tiny atom and blow up hundreds of thousands of people there’s no telling where it’s all going to lead. Best to find a quiet place and do what you have to do.

From the motion picture Pollock

Oklahoma. Randy gazed tiredly out the window of the moving Greyhound bus as it cleared the small town of Vinita. Squinting across the prairie under a bright sun, he tried to visualize Hank camped beneath the stars there eleven months ago.

He pulled from his pocket the postcard saved from the day he received it.


Oklahoma stars are winking at me tonight in Vinita. I found a stretch of wide open prairie to sleep on.

More later,


Smiling now, Randy decided it was time to read. He still had hours of travel rolling out in front of him. Taking his field pack down from the overhead rack, he drew out his tattered volume of Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans. This along with his Greek New Testament was all he retained from his seminary years.

The barrier marks the frontier of a new country . . . Looking up from his book, Randy mused over the barriers that had hampered him. Until now. Turvey’s Corner was virtually a town hemmed in by a Medieval wall to keep out cultural invaders. Lutheran piety sheltered him from “the things of this world” his church leaders continually reminded him. College could have been an “opening up” for him, but he simply found the Jesus People wall a substitute for the Medieval one. Once out of college, he withdrew once again into the Lutheran fortress, in fact Luther’s Wartburg castle. Inside those walls, he studied his Greek New Testament, believing he had finally found genuine sanctuary.

And then, he read Karl Barth. In that second year of seminary study, Randy experienced the equivalent of Europe’s eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Die Aufklärung, the clearing. The scales fell from his eyes, and he felt he was looking at life squarely for the first time, like Matthew Arnold’s record of the ancient Greek “who saw life steadily, and saw it whole.”

With that Enlightenment came a heavy price: a young marriage and an established profession. Randy continued reading from Barth: But the activity of the community is related to the Gospel only in so far as it is no more than a crater formed by the explosion of a shell and seeks to be no more than a void in which the Gospel reveals itself.

Closing the book, Randy leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, recalling all Professor Kirkpatrick had shared in the theology seminar last year. Barth’s commentary, written during the first World War, “fell like a bomb on the playground of the theologians,” wrote Karl Adam. Randy sighed deeply, thinking over the ramifications of the crater left in his life by recent convictions and decisions. As he journeyed westward, he wondered, what would now fill this enormous cavity opened up in his life?

Randy recalled Hank’s final words as he was saying good-bye to Turvey’s Corner nearly a year ago. Continually citing Thoreau’s Walden, Hank shared with Randy on that final day that Thoreu walked away from his parents and friends who continually hounded him with questions such as “When are you going to make something of yourself? With your Harvard degree, why don’t you get a job? When are you ever going to grow up and take responsibility?” Hank’s words before he turned to walk toward the highway leading from town still whispered in Hank’s memory:

Thoreau moved to Walden Pond in order to clear the cobwebs that clogged the ductwork of his daily consciousness. This is the only way epiphany could happen, by entering the Great Silence. I’ll get back to you soon, my Friend.

Closing his book, Randy stretched in his seat and closed his eyes for a nap. He was entering the Great Silence, no longer afraid of the crater.


Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Shed the Burden and Travel Light

May 15, 2020
Leaving Town

During the work it was often as though I were being looked at by something from afar, from Asia Minor or Corinth, something very ancient, early oriental, indefinably sunny, wild, original, that somehow is hidden behind these sentences and is so ready to let itself be drawn forth by ever new generations.

Karl Barth, Letter dated September 27, 1917 to his friend Eduard Thurneysen

“If ya ask me, a fellah should be able to fit everything he owns into one of these. Ten bucks.”

The middle-aged veteran tossed the field pack down from the shelf of the Army/Navy Store. Randy caught it and was surprised that the twisted mass of green canvas and wagging straps wasn’t heavier than it appeared to the eye. The retired soldier climbed down from the ladder and stood there silently at attention as Randy examined the merchandise.

Feeling the cold stare from the pale blue eyes of the warrior, Randy nevertheless sensed the disciplined patience of a man well seasoned, and took his time looking over every compartment, every buckle and stitch of the pack. No one else was in the store, and there was no hurry. Randy needed to be sure he was selecting the right gear for the journey waiting ahead.

“I’ll take it. I need to look at some mess gear as well. And a sleeping bag.”

Hank had phoned collect less than two hours ago. Already Randy Singleton had determined he would leave Turvey’s Corner to join his lifelong friend. Would he be coming back? Maybe, but hopefully not for a long time. The town no longer felt like home as he had moved away to attend college six years ago, and upon graduation, chose to live in St. Louis nearly an hour away. Being married to one not from here, there had been little reason to linger any longer in Turvey’s Corner.

Randy was no longer the young idealist that left the small town in 1966. At college five hours away, he had experienced a profound, existential loneliness. It was not just that he was separated from his parents and homelife; something much more debilitating crippled him–that feeling of being lost in an unfamiliar world seemingly unaware of him and harboring no regard for his achievement or failure.

Then the Jesus People embraced him. This West Coast movement that Midwesterners derided as “freaks” enveloped his small, rural state college campus like a warm quilt during those gray winter months, and Randy for the first time in his life felt accepted and regarded by a large number of peers.

After two months of nightly prayer gatherings, praise meetings featuring live acoustic guitar and enthusiastic singing, Bible study rap sessions, and coffee house leisure, Randy accepted the “call” to serve Christ. Suddenly his college studies paled in interest; he only wanted to pore over the Scriptures. His life had in every sense converted–he was on a radically different couse than he had ever known before.

Graduation came quickly, it seemed. The four years were a blur, and suddenly the Jesus People evaporated, many of them migrating further East, some quitting, most graduating and scattering to the winds to find employment. Suddenly wihout a community, without a support group, Randy was alone and directionless. Again. He held in his hand a college degree with a teacher’s certificate, but felt no inclination to enter a classroom and collect a monthly minimal paycheck. There had to be something more.

Returning to Turvey’s Corner, Randy determined that he did not want to be a teacher come fall. So what else could he do? Sitting up late one night with his boyhood friend Hank, the possibility of seminary study came up. Having been raised Lutheran, he was aware of Concordia Seminary in the St. Louis region an hour away. Why not? More schooling didn’t seem such a bad idea. Better than going to work as a schoolteacher.

Concordia was a campus that seemed to have more regard for Randy’s welfare than the state college he had endured before. Had it not been for the Jesus People, he would not have felt any depth of concern for his well-being. This was different. Support groups abounded. He never felt alone, and in his second semester he met Debbie, a secretary in the Office of Admissions with southeast Missouri roots. Her lifelong dream was to be a minister’s wife. The small-town chemistry between the two seemed solid, and ten months later they were married.

Then came the earthquake. In the third and final year of seminary study, a profound change came over Randy. He didn’t feel comfortable confiding in anyone what was happening, but in June 1972, Randy knew for certain that he would not be entering the ministry. When approached for ordination, he quietly said “No” to his elders. Debbie was shakened to the foundations. For years she had embraced dreams of church life, of social engagements, community organization, and Lutheran practices. She dreamt of children nurtured in a Christian home and a loving pastoral husband. Suddenly, Randy was saying “No.” Why? Everyone asked. Randy wouldn’t answer.

Tomorrow would be September 27. Randy was buying supplies and would board a Greyhound bus in the morning to roll toward the Southwest and renew aquainance with Hank. And maybe he would be able to talk about this.


Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

It is Now “Hank and Randy”

May 14, 2020
Hank & Randy

“Collect call from Hank Shelton, will you accept?”



“Hank! Is that really you?! Where the hell you calling from?”

“Lubbock, Texas. Can you believe it?”

“Jesus! How’d you get so far away?”

“Long story, and this call’s gonna cost you already.”

“Are you alright?”

“Aw yeah. Things are good. I just wanted to hear a friend’s voice. I’m all by myself still. How ‘bout you. Seminary treatin’ you right?”

“I dropped out.”


“Yeah. And Debbie and I are through too.”


“Yeah. Lot’s changed since you left.”


“Don’t be. I think this is gonna be the right thing.”

“Hang in there, buddy.”

“Hey, Hank.”


“Call me back in a couple days, promise. After 5:00 when I’m off work.”

“O.K., sure.”

“I wanna come out there where you are.”

“Really? You’re kidding!”

“No, really. I need a change. Bad.”

“You’ll hear from me, promise.”

“Thanks for calling, pal. I’m gonna tie up some loose ends here and get ready to hit the road, so call me. We’re gonna raise some sand!”

After weeks of traveling between Lubbock and Arlington, Texas and working on this house daily, I was struck with a new idea yesterday to continue my Hank saga. Enter Randy Singleton, Hank’s friend since second grade.

In answer to friends who have asked “Who is Hank, really?” my reply is that Hank has been a combination of my life and my friend Wayne White since second grade. Thanks to Facebook, we found each other a few years ago after being separated since high school graduation. Since then we have camped together, fished together, and sat up all night telling stories. Wayne still lives in Missouri, so I don’t see him nearly as often as I wish. But he also keeps a blog ( and we stay in close touch.

My stories and paintings hit a snag recently, not only because of this move back and forth between two cities five hours apart, but because I ran out of steam with Hank always being alone and my having to create interior monologues. I knew he needed a companion. So . . . I am now introducing Randy and will attempt to flesh out their separate identities as they prepare to join each other on the road.

The painting posted above is of Wayne and me, camping. I created it a couple of summers ago. I already have plans for the next painting of the pair of characters for the story, but I have yet to start that actual painting. Hopefully, it won’t be long. Since yesterday I have written three brand new stories of this pair, and plan to launch them soon, after some more editing.

Thanks always for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Sheltered in a Cloud of Affirming Witnesses

May 9, 2020

Morning Bliss while Sheltered

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.

Hebrews 12:1 (King James Version)

On this Saturday morning, I feel that I’m sending up a rather wan smoke signal, but I feel compelled to put something out there. Sandi and I moved back into our Arlington home after being at her place in Lubbock for long stretches at a time. We’ve been working on this house for several days now to make it as nice as it was in the days she lived here long ago. There is still much to do, and studio time has been hard to come by. But those times will return.

This morning, before returning to the daily tasks, I had this thought fleeting through my head that I posted above, a quote from the New Testament. I made use of that passage a number of times long ago when I was in the pastoral ministry. In recent decades, it has taken on a modified meaning for me.

The “cloud of witnesses” surrounding the writer refers to the list of faith heroes mentioned in chapter eleven of Hebrews. The writer envisions them as a spectator crowd in the stands cheering on the current participants in a race. I have preferred “journey” as a metaphor for life, but “race” works for some people.

For the past thirty years, I have journeyed in this life through countless struggles, many of them devastating. I’m thankful that those are in the past and not abiding with me in present years. I never tire of saying that retirement has been a real salve for my spirit compared to all those years in the workforce. Nevertheless, throughout my years of teaching, I did in fact fall back on this New Testament passage, thinking on the intellectual and creative heroes in a pantheon that I created in my mind throughout those years.

And as I served daily, especially when things got tough, I imagined those heroes cheering encouragement from the spectator stands, yelling out their approval. If this picture works for you, perhaps you should consider writing out a list of your own pantheon of encouraging heroes. And if you choose to post them on this blog, I for one would be delighted to see them. Here is a portion of mine:

Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Paul Tillich, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, William Carlos Williams, Jack Kerouac, Walt Whitman, Martin Heidegger, Rainer Rilke, Neil Young, Robert Motherwell . . . these are some of those in the stands whose presence I feel when I am alone and musing over some creative task.

Thanks for reading. I should get back to painting soon.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Shaking Off Post-Travel Lethargy

May 2, 2020

I paint so I’ll have something to look at. I write so I’ll have something to read.

Barnett Newman

Having arrived back in Lubbock at 2:30 a.m. recently after pulling a loaded trailer through the night, I still find myself shaking off the cobwebs of unusual working and sleeping patterns. We have been moving things from Lubbock to Arlington in stages, and at this age find ourselves lacking the energy we knew ten-to-twenty years ago. Hence another blogging hiatus.

Rising early this morning, I went into the kitchen to engage in my customary ritual of grinding coffee beans in an antique hand-crank grinder. As I cranked the handle, I envisioned that I was turning the flywheel of my imagination in hopes of turning out a meaningful sentence by the time the coffee was French pressed and poured. It didn’t happen. So I pulled a few of my recent books from the bag and commenced reading for inspiration.

In a recent blog, I shared my interest in re-reading a most engaging biography on Thoreau, authored by Robert Richardson Jr. His dedication page honors W. J. Bate “who teaches that ‘in and through the personal rediscovery of the great, we find that we need not be the passive victims of what we deterministically call “circumstances.”. . . But that by linking ourselves . . . with the great we can become freer–freer to be ourselves, to be what we most want and value.'”

Reading the dedication spurred my memory to something I read years ago from the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. In his Untimely Meditations he advanced a particular discipline of historical study that he labeled “monumentalistic.” This particular method concentrates on past heroes in order to confront contemporary mediocrity with the possibility of greatness.

My personal reading preferences shifted to biography right after I finished my doctoral dissertation in 1987. Still uncertain of my career path, and weary of the technical reading I had pursued for over ten years, I suddenly found myself curious about the lives of intellectual heroes who had inspired me through their creations. And as I read the lives of these giants, it suddenly occurred to me that they at one time had been young men no better than I. Emerson wrote it better than I, so here he is . . .

Meek young men grow up in libraries believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote those books.

That particular insight set me free to pursue my own path, chart my own course, carve out my own destiny. The journey has taken many detours throughout the decades, but my most recent endeavor has been to write the story of Hank and pour in as much richness as I can recall from my own personal journeys as well as those shared by my friends. Hopefully I’ll be able to create and illustrate a character who is a mirror to many of our own lives.

Traveling and moving lately has made it difficult to spend quality time in the studio, so reading has been my source of inspiration, as well as much writing. New Hank stories have been composed and soon I plan to put them out on the blog, hopefully with new paintings to match.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.