Archive for the ‘Hank and Randy’ Category

Final Preparations for a Watercolor Class

August 23, 2020
Finishing Touches for Tomorrow’s Class

Tomorrow (Monday August 24) I’ll be teaching a watercolor class from 2-5:00. We’ll paint a Route 66 motel that was torn down years ago. A few seats are still available if any of you in the area would like to participate. For $55 I’ll supply all materials to paint an 8 x 10″ watercolor on stretched paper. The reference photo we’ll use is a painting I’ve done recently:

Ozark Court Motel, Stanton, Missouri

For anyone interested in attending, you will need to phone Gracie Lane boutique at (817) 468-5263 to reserve your seat. The class will be taught in the boutique building which also houses our Show Me the Monet art gallery, at 4720 S Cooper St, Arlington, TX 76017.

I have rewritten my story from the Turvey’s Corner manuscript that I hope will one day be a book. I’ll post the re-write below:

Sunday morning rays of sunshine lanced through the slits in the closed blinds of Room 18 at the Ozark Court Motel. Randy lay with his eyes closed. It took a few moments before he realized where he was and what day it was. Hitchhiking had not fared well the day before. Driving rains soaked him to the skin and no one was pulling over on Route 66 to offer him a ride. Why would they? No doubt he carried all the charm of a drowned city sewer rat as he trudged along the muddy shoulder, his knapsack beginning to let in water as well. But this morning he was OK. A soothing shower the night before and a Jack Daniels nightcap ushered in a quality night’s sleep. But now it was Sunday. What to do?

His Greek New Testament lay on the bedside table; he had removed it the night before, intending for it to be the first thing his eyes would see the morning after. Now he sat up in bed, stretched his limbs, and reached for the small volume he once thought he was going to discard when he dropped out of seminary. He couldn’t. Though he no longer congregated, he still woke on Sunday mornings feeling the need to reach for a text that had been his companion for two-and-a-half years, only now he no longer felt shackled by deadlines of term papers and Sunday morning sermon manuscripts. He could read what he chose.

But what to read? The Gospels crossed his mind. Always a good choice. But what did he want this morning from the Gospels? Did he want to see or hear? Seeing would include mental images of Jesus walking along a shore or down a dusty Palestinian street. Would he be solitary, seated in the wilderness, or thronged by a clinging crowd? Or did Randy just wish to hear as he translated the texts this morning? What would he hear? The voice of Jesus resonating in a synagogue, or speaking softly inside living quarters? Would he be strolling country lanes with disciples listening, or seated on a boulder discoursing? Or would he be sitting in a boat, his calm voice going out over the water while disciples pulled at the oars?

Why was Randy reaching for the New Testament, anyway? Because it was Sunday? He wasn’t congregating. He wasn’t called upon to address any hearers. So what exactly did he want this morning?

Outside the motel, traffic was heard murmuring along Route 66 below the bluff. Randy was aware that he was seated in bed, alone, in the heartland of America. Today is Sunday, the Fourth of July, 1976. The country had been surging with anticipation for weeks as she edged closer and closer to this day—the nation’s bicentennial. No doubt Randy’s former seminary friends—preacher friends—had been wrenching themselves into a frenzy over what to preach on this Special Sunday. Randy breathed serenely, no longer trapped in that vise of psychological pressure. Still he wondered. What exactly would he have said today, standing before a congregation?

Opening his small volume, he read at leisure, allowing his mind to drift down pleasant corridors of memory as naturally as a canoe in a gentle stream. To this day he was thankful to have learned Koinē Greek. He recalled that first semester of structured recitation, vocabulary, and functional grammar. It was forbidden to purchase and attempt to read a Greek New Testament; the objective for the first semester was functional literacy. As children learn to speak their language before learning to read and understand the technical architecture of grammar, so the Professor endeavored to train his students to recognize Greek early and dissect the grammar later. And so, Randy studied his lessons and performed the daily recitations for a semester.

On the first day of the second semester, the Professor entered the lecture hall without a word, set his books on his desk, turned to the blackboard, picked up the chalk, and scrawled the following:

Sitting at his desk in the third row, Randy leaned forward earnestly and stared at the words. As if scales had fallen from his eyes, he recognized and read the words instantly: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” The Professor turned to the class fixing his eyes on their faces, and solemnly declared: “You are now reading the New Testament. In Greek.” Sitting up in bed, Randy felt waves of warmth surging through his being as he recalled that historic morning. He was certain that he was re-living the spirit of the eighteenth-century Age of Enlightenment, Die Aufklärung. Life for him had been marked by so few quality moments. Opening his New Testament to Mark 1:15, he read the words afresh.

The time is fulfilled. On that historic day, years ago, Randy felt he had fulfilled his apprenticeship to elementary Greek vocabulary and grammar. He read a Greek New Testament passage with no assistance from a teacher or book. It was a new day. A new world dawned and beckoned. He had no idea then that a ministerial life, just underway, would collapse and burn in less than two years.

Now it is Sunday, July 4, 1976. The nation celebrates its 200th birthday. Randy wondered what exactly he was celebrating, if anything. What was life offering now? Was he about to pass through another portal? Again, why was he reading the New Testament? Because it was Sunday? Because it was the Fourth of July? Because the country was now two hundred years old? What was in the air for Randy? He wanted to know.

Was he reading from the life of Jesus because he needed a mentor? Someone to guide him? Thinking back over his life, Randy realized he had always sought direction from a strong leader. His father, his pastor, his professors, and a few years ago that conference with Reverend Elton in Dallas. Did Randy need a mentor now? Or was it time to think for himself? Maybe his apprenticeship to life was ended and it was time to stand up, to strike forth and find new ground under his own direction. The time is fulfilled.

Rising from bed, Randy stretched and strolled across the small room to the writing table in the corner where he had placed his journal from the night before. Opening it to the pages he wrote the day he quit the seminary, he found a passage he had copied from James Smart’s The Divided Mind of Modern Theology:

There are remarkable parallels between the European mood of the twenties and the English and American mood of the sixties: God seemed to have gone into hiding; religious and theological language out of the past had become wooden and unconvincing; men felt themselves suspended between a world that had died and a new world that was waiting to be born; a church indifferent to the plight of the masses was recognized as unworthy of the name Christian; the identification of Christianity with Western civilization, and of divinity with the higher elements in man, had become highly suspect; in various forms the hunger for a new world now was felt, and some understood it as hunger for a living God. In that kind of world Barth and Bultmann became theologians whose one endeavor was to find the word that would unlock the future, the word that would bring wholeness of faith and creative power by being the very truth of the living God.

It is Sunday, Randy thought. Today, churches would perhaps fill to capacity to celebrate a 200th birthday. Yet, Randy sensed that the ministers would still crank out those same tired sermons, their singsong voices rasping like rusty squeeze boxes, sounding out the same two-note refrain of the deadly forces that continually threaten the vitality of our church and nation—abortion and communism.

Randy replayed from memory a line he had memorized from his reading of one of Nietzsche’s early essays:

He who has but two strings on his instrument . . . does not understand those who can play on more strings. It is of the essence of the higher, multi-stringed culture that it is always misinterpreted by the lower culture . . .

Randy’s recent sojourn had undoubtedly added more strings to his life’s instrument. No doubt this was the reason he was not attending church this auspicious morning or any morning for that matter. Virtually everything delivered from pulpits he had heard before. Indeed, he was beginning to write out such tired words in his own sermons before he quit.

Randy recalled with a smile a quote he had read from his readings in the religions of India, how the Upanishad movement was sprung partly because the general population had grown weary of listening to the traditional chants of the Vedic priests “who sounded like croaking frogs in the swamps.” America in 1976 was sounding restless. Perhaps a new world was beginning to dawn. The time is fulfilled. Randy wondered if his own odyssey was corresponding with the quest of this American nation in 1976, poised to enter a new Age of Enlightenment. Where was Hank? It had been months since that night they sat at the fire, camping in west Texas. It was time to get together and talk some more. No doubt Hank had just as much weighing on his mind as Randy.

Turvey’s Corner was only thirty-five miles away. Randy had hoped to reach home yesterday, but the nasty rains hindered his ability to hitchhike with any consistency. The sight of the Ozark Court Motel and thought of a hot shower convinced him to stay at least one night here. Feeling refreshed and rejuvenated this morning, he decided he would step into the sunshine on this Independence Day and head back to his hometown. Perhaps Hank was already there.

_________________________________________

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.

So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

July 27, 2020
Hank and Randy at Caprock

I have decided to go ahead and post a pair of stories I’ve been incubating for quite some time now. The draft is still rough, but the ideas are in place. This continues my Hank & Randy cycle for the Turvey’s Corner 63050 collection of short stories . . .

______________________________

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)

Looking up, Hank noticed that Randy had put down his coffee cup and had a small volume open and was reading by the fire light. “What are you reading?” he wanted to know.

“Translating, actually. I still carry my little Greek New Testament in my pack because I like working the language.”

“You quit the ministry. Do you still believe all that stuff?”

“Not all of it. But much of it still rings authentic. And then there are other parts, like what I’m reading tonight that really stimulate my imagination. This is from Hebrews 12. The image is a race in a stadium filled with spectators. The spectators are “heroes of faith” mentioned in the chapter before, people who suffered hardship but still believed in what they were doing. The author writes that the one running the race is being cheered on by all those heroes of faith who have gone before. It’s supposed to give one courage and confidence living out this life as an arduous race.”

“When I was a kid, I always thought my aunts and uncles who already died were looking down from heaven, approving or disapproving of what I did. I like the picture you just gave—ancestors cheering us on and encouraging us.”

“That’s what I’m feeling right now. Since I quit the seminary, Paul Tillich and Karl Barth have stayed with me. I still read them a great deal, especially Tillich. I can identify with a lot of what he went through, though my own troubles seem microscopic compared to his. Still, I draw strength from his example. Then of course, there are other writers who are not theologians that give me plenty of encouragement and reason to believe—Emerson, Thoreau, Hemingway, Kerouac—I love them all and wish I could have known them in real life. But I really do feel their presence when I read what they’ve left behind.”

“I can identify with that. I wonder if we’ll still feel this way when we get old.”

“I wonder that too. I just hope I don’t get too mentally lazy and stop reading and imagining as I get older.”

__________________________________

Randy drifted slowly in and out of consciousness throughout the morning. It was his fourth day in hospice, and though he was unaware of how long he lay there, he knew he would drift away before too much longer. Judy, his only love, sat to the left at his bed and Hank, his lifelong friend, was seated on his right.

Eighty-three years. A satisfying sojourn. Few regrets. A myriad of memories worth embracing. In fact, Randy did nothing else but re-visit memories for four days now. The pain in his chest was minimal and breathing not very difficult. The drugs numbed his body, but his mind felt keen. The refrain of memories that occupied him the most included the west Texas caprock campouts, complete with campfire, coffee and soul-searching conversations.

Randy wondered why he had held fast to theology throughout his years. He never would pastor a congregation. He dropped out of seminary without completing a degree. Yet the life and writings of Paul Tillich had held the center of his broad reading and musing throughout his years. From the day he dropped out of seminary, he had fed on a steady diet of Emerson, Thoreau, Hemingway, and Kerouac, among other essayists, poets, and novelists. But he always came back to Paul Tillich, the German theologian expelled by Hitler from German universities. The Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary faculty in New York City came to his rescue, arranging for his passage to America. At age forty-three, the frightened scholar would arrive on New York shores to begin a new chapter in his life that would last the remaining three-plus decades of his life.

Randy had always felt he found a kindred spirit in Tillich, though the man had died a decade before Randy even learned of his life and work. As the energy slowly ebbed from Randy’s body, he felt the warm kiss of Judy on his forehead. “I love you, Randy. I always have.” Hank squeezed Randy’s right hand. “Love you Pal.” Randy tried to whisper: “Hell of a ride,” but was not sure if the sound passed from his lips.

Though his eyes were closed, Randy could see clearly where he was now—on an enormous crowded ship pulling into a harbor. The statue of liberty loomed overhead as they glided by. How unusual to be surrounded by a throng speaking a cacophony of European languages. On the shores, thousands of people were thronged, waving in a frenzy, welcoming the refugees on board. Sadly, Randy had not arranged for anyone to meet him. As he flowed with the travelers off the boat and onto the land, he watched with an aching heart as men and women embraced, children leaped into the arms of parents, and joyous clamoring rung out across the frenzied city.

But suddenly, he saw a thin man in a gray suit pushing impatiently through the crowd, gesturing at him. Paul Tillich? Randy was incredulous. He had seen dozens of photos of the Prussian scholar in books he had read and collected throughout the years. And now, Paul Tillich was eagerly fighting his way through a crowd to greet Randy?

“Randy, my dear Friend!”

“Professor Tillich?”

“Paulus, please.”

“You know me?”

“Of course!”

“How? You died ten years before I even heard of you.”

“Such a naïve lad! So. You didn’t really believe what you told Hank by the fire that night when you shared the words from Hebrews 12?”

“You know about that?!”

“Of course. Out here, we don’t have limits! I wasn’t the only one watching and listening that night. Let’s go. Emerson, Thoreau, Hemingway, and Kerouac are waiting. I left them in the café to come get you. We have plenty of things to talk about . . .”

Judy and Hank wiped tears from their eyes. “At least he went peacefully,” was all Hank was able to say.

“Yes,” replied Judy. “I wonder what he was dreaming there at the end. He seemed happy.”

____________________________________

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.

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-https://ramblingsofafarrier.com/)

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.

Randy,

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

More later,

Hank

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?”

“Yes.”

“Randy?”

“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.”

“What?!”

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

“No!”

“Yeah. Lot’s changed since you left.”

“Sorry.”

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

“Hang in there, buddy.”

“Hey, Hank.”

“Yeah?”

“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 (https://ramblingsofafarrier.com/) 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.