Archive for the ‘compost’ Category

Be Still and Know

December 17, 2017

be still 2

be still

Many of us are willing to embark upon any adventure, except to go into stillness and to wait, to place all the wealth of wisdom in the secrecy of this soil, to sow our own soul for a seed in that tract of land allocated to every life which we call time–and to let the soul grow beyond itself. Faith is the fruit of a seed planted in the depth of a lifetime.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion

After a long, cold, rainy night, I rose this morning before dawn to a 37-degree wet morning, but was glad to know that the only task before me was changing out the exhibit in the gallery. About 50% of the paintings have been replaced with others, and I was surprised to have it all done before the gallery officially opened at 10:00.  Even more surprised was I to encounter several patrons and make sales before 10:00. Once 10:00 arrived, the typical quiet Sunday morning set in, and I was able to collapse into a chair and breathe. Allergies have dragged my system down the past couple of days, and I regret that my energy level is low, but not my capacity for contemplation.

Reading from the Heschel text has been satisfying, particularly the piece I posted above. I recall the impatience I felt in the years of my youth, when studying under the guidance of teachers and professors, wishing I knew more, wishing I had more talent, wishing I had some kind of a defined purpose in life.  My mentors usually smiled and said, “It will come. Just be patient.”

In my current senior years, I cannot claim to be wise, but I do understand now that the qualities for which I yearned come over a stretch of time. There is no royal road, no shortcut, no cheat sheet. Hegel said the owl of Minerva flies only at dusk. I’m deeply thankful that I have been granted the gift of living this long. I’m grateful that foolish mistakes from my past did not prevent me from getting to this place. My twin loves of art and scholarship have finally taken root to where I can detect some progress, yet I still know the drive of wanting to know more, wanting to push the boundary into new territory.

I have pursued a train subject in painting since March and am glad that this show has finally ended. I already know what I wish to study next, and will gladly unveil that project in the new year. I have a solo show opening just around the corner, in January. Once that show is up, I plan to chase this new project and share it with you.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


The Sublime in the Pre-Dawn

September 6, 2017


Like a bird which alights nowhere, but hops perpetually from bough to bough, is the Power which abides in no man and in no woman, but for a moment speaks from this one, and for another moment from that one.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

I could not resist pushing aside my morning’s work for a moment to hang out another blog entry. While looking for an Emerson reference to illustrate one of my points in this morning’s lecture, I came across this one that I underlined in my book about a week ago and forgot, until this morning’s reminder. What a wonderfully poetic way to describe what I’ve known for decades–that the “power” of ideas is always flitting from one voice to another, and we can never pin it down in one place to stay put for us to dissect. I recall the theologian Karl Barth saying that attempting to describe God was like painting a bird in flight; you can only follow it with your eye.

My semi-retirement rhythms have found a nice pattern, despite the flitting of ideas from branch to branch. I’m teaching a course at the university that I’ve never taught before, yet as I research the themes necessary, I continually uncover thinkers I have studied over the years, and synthesizing my old knowledge with the new discussions keeps me fresh (I hope) and certainly enthusiastic. My pattern has emerged thus: I teach on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9:00 and 10:00 (same course, twice). Preparing one fifty-minute lecture every forty-eight hours has not been as difficult as I had imagined. I’m only sorry I couldn’t do this over the past twenty-eight years. My routine has been to write out the lecture and power-point it the night before. Then, rising at 5 a.m. the morning of, I go over it one more time, always refining, consolidating, rewriting, cutting, adding . . . with coffee steaming in my mug. By the time class arrives, I am ready and enthusiastic. I cannot express the contrast of this newly-found university freshness and joy against the high school treadmill of a four-or-five subject load, Monday-through-Friday delivery, with grading and paperwork and deadlines stacked atop all that. I had no idea how difficult my past was. I know I am older, but feel much, much younger now. The feeling of hope and enthusiasm often borders on euphoria.

I have always enjoyed working at my desk, when I knew that I could put quality time into the work. My routine now often entails extensive reading and note-taking through the daytime hours. As night descends, I draft the lecture on the laptop, then reshape it in a powerpoint presentation. Later, as I sleep through the night, I believe that my mind has its way of composting all the raw materials I have poured into the class lecture. Rising at 5 a.m., knowing that I have another four hours before class time, I re-open the lecture, and as I re-read it, I find all kinds of ways to tighten it up with revisions, and the structure of it firms up. All the while, I find myself smiling inwardly, enjoying the work as it grows in me.

Today we focus on Machiavelli and Hobbes, and I’m using the philosophical framework of the later Hegel to package the discussion. I’m loving this because the final form of my lecture is not copied and pasted from someone else’s textbook, yet the subject I’m covering is congruent with the chapter of assigned reading from the class text.


Cartoon of Hegel lecturing his students

Before my re-writing session this morning, I found this image on the Internet that I have enjoyed over the years, printed it and placed it in front of me as I worked.

The light is finally coming up at my window, reminding me that it is time to finish up my classwork and get to the university. I have a job to do, and I am loving it.

Thanks for reading.



Finding Sanctuary Inside a Coffee House

September 4, 2016

coffee tree

Tree Sketch from inside the Coffee House

That’s what depth comes to, really, taking all the stuff your mind has gathered in its travels back inside, to sort through it and see what it all means.  To make it your own. The only way to cultivate a happy inner life is to spend time there, and that’s impossible when you’re constantly attending to the latest distraction.

William Powers, Hamlet’s Blackberry

Late into Saturday night, Shelley Allison and I rode the new Dallas Streetcar to the Bishop Arts District in South Oak Cliff. Finding a relaxing space inside Espumoso Cafe, I opened Hamlet’s Blackberry and re-read the Marshall McLuhan chapter. I took heart in reading that McLuhan was not a linear thinker, preferring a more “mosaic” approach to presenting his ideas. Thinking back over three decades of classroom activity, I confess that I was never known for systematic and linear thinking myself. It’s probably too late to change that now.

During this holiday weekend, I have enjoyed the slower pace and the broader space to think through some matters worth thinking through. One idea that assesses my past is encapsulated in the quote posted above. While I don’t regard myself as a deep thinker, I nevertheless know that I have taken the contemplative life seriously at least as early as my college years, perhaps even sooner. Throughout my student as well as teacher life, I have found no satisfaction in bell schedules, deadlines and large group discussion formats that hindered rather than enhanced thinking. I have always known myself as an introvert, suited better to quiet spaces and sufficient time to work on ideas that matter. My years as a graduate student provided those spaces and times, and I have missed those kinds of work schedules since I graduated in 1987.

High school schedules separate subject matter by bell schedules, with less than ten minutes to transition from one class to the next, and transition the students must. For thirty years I have deplored that format, though forced to work within it. As a graduate student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Rollo May frequently strolled the neighborhood park after lecture classes under the theologian Paul Tillich, so he could think deeply, sorting out the content of those life-changing truths delivered in the lectures. On occasion, I myself have skipped particular convention sessions, because a joint-session orator would rock me with his/her public address, and I knew I had to find a quiet space in a lobby or coffee shop in order think through, sort out, and apply the notes I had scribbled hastily as the address was delivered. That activity was far more sacred to me than going into the next session to pursue a new topic, thus shelving the precious words just delivered.

In my personal life I have always read, indeed devoured books by the stack. This is more easily done during summer recess than during academic semesters. Now that I am entrenched in a new semester, I refuse to stop reading outside of class, and refuse to let my job push out this sacred activity of thinking in quiet spaces. Fortunately, I have one ninety-minute planning period per school day where I can pursue this ativity. And I’m even more thankful for this current gift of a three-day weekend to pursue my passion. During times like this, the smart phone is turned off and put away, and the laptop stays home. Thank you, William Powers, for getting my attention last year, convincing me of the value of unplugging from time to time. Social media can wait.

Thanks for reading.


Time to Reflect, to Compost, to Nurture and Grow

February 22, 2015

The drilling machine for the Aargau lecture (“Biblical Questions, Insights, and Vistas”) is going at full strength and an unbroken pillar of smoke is rising from my pipe to the ceiling as in the best times of my life. Until now the progress has been “at the face” but not yet of any magnitude, and it has yet to be seen whether or not the direction of the tunnel is right.

Karl Barth, letter to Eduard Thurneysen March 17, 1920

I am buried in my study with stacks of grading to do, and now face a possible shut-in situation as winter weather threatens my part of the country. There exists the possibility of my city icing over tonight and school being canceled tomorrow (darn). Taking advantage of the quiet, the dark and the cold, I have found ways to enjoy this Sunday, despite the grading. I opened a volume of my Karl Barth correspondences to his comrade in the early part of the past century, because I always remembered his satisfaction of working all day in his study with a continuous plume of smoke rising from his pipe. I don’t smoke, but I am pleased with the nonstop aroma of coffee that has charmed my study during this frigid, dark day. An added bonus is the conviction that this coffee is managing to keep me alert as I pore over pages and pages of scrawled words from my students.

The Philosophy journals are filling me with satisfaction today, as I note a number of students seizing on something I mentioned in a recent roundtable seminar. I told them that high school schedules are set up with seven-minute passing periods between the classes, with the expectation for students to push aside what they have just learned in one subject in order to focus on a new one. Knowledge and grades are compartmentalized by subject, with no connective tissue between them, despite educational buzz-words like “writing across the curriculum” or “integrated learning.” The schools do not provide for any of this, as far as I can determine. The bell rings and it is time to put away the stuff from one class and pass on to the next. Just exactly when are they expected to integrate all this material, while they’re working their evening jobs or doing their homework?

Last year, I atteded a national AVID conference in Orlando, Florida. It featured two days of packed schedules of sessions, with only a few minutes separating each, much like a typical high school bell schedule. In one of the ballroom sessions, I had the immense privilege of listening to Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of the  University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His words reached to my core, often bringing me to the point of tears. The moment he finished, the facilitator took the microphone and informed us we had five minutes to get to our next session. I knew I would not go. I found the hotel coffee bar, sat at a table, opened my journal, and wrote for ninety minutes, pondering and savoring every thought, every impulse I had experienced during this President’s address, a sacred moment in my life. It was then that I came across this idea I am now publishing–schools do not allow time to compost, to process, to water the seeds of inspiration planted from some subject, some encounter. We are expected to close our notebooks and file into the next session. Rollo May published in his tribute to Paul Tillich his own personal habit of walking in the park after a meaningful lecture:

I had had brilliant professors or colorful ones or ones who cared about communicating knowledge or were profound in their reflection on the human predicament.  But I had never had one who brought all these things together. Three words summarize [Paul Tillich’s] lectures for me: universality, depth, and caring. . . . In my solitary walks in Riverside Park after his class to let the ideas sink in, I was filled with a profound seriousness and joy, not only about the truths I had heard but also about my own life and the decisions I had to make.

Rollo May, Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship

I am now reading Philosophy journal responses with great delight, as high school students share with me their thanks for my providing them that occasional space to “soak” what they are learning, and to integrate it with other subjects, and most importantly their personal life goals and aspirations. I guess sometimes they do hear and feel what we have to say to them.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.