Posts Tagged ‘Paul Tillich’

Morning Coffee following a Quixotic Odyssey

October 5, 2018

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In a Small Town Diner this Morning

Driving out through the windmills

And some of them were still.

Sometimes it’s hard to catch the wind

And bend it to your will.

James Raymond

The road unrolled like an unending manuscript yesterday, which was a gift to me, seeing I needed plenty of time to think over some important matters. Tuning in to music, I was smitten by these opening words of a song composed by James Raymond, son of David Crosby, my musical hero since high school days. The lines remind me of Don Quixote, and all the silliness surrounding his adventures stemming from his unusual perception of his role in life. “Quixotic” is a label tossed around to describe those with exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical ideas about life (artists?). I know why well-meaning friends occasionally pin this word on me, it’s deserved.

So, while driving, I gave this plenty of thought, and probably resolved little. I am old enough to know the world doesn’t bend to my will or always conform to my hopeful anticipations. But I am also old enough to know that ideas are my most precious resource. And, when times turn gray, my ideas give my world the color needed to remain attractive. I write all this in good will, I am not complaining or in a resentful mode as I write this.

While drinking coffee and pondering breakfast options in a small town diner this morning, I turn again to Paul Tillich’s The Interpretation of History and enjoy his autobiographical observations in this text. As he portrays his life lived “on the boundary”, I am prompted to recall all the boundaries I have threaded in my own Quixotic Odyssey.

Among the many boundaries Tillich explored in his personal journey, one that particularly resonated with me was that difficult path between theory and practice. Like Tillich, I know I have always felt more connected to theory and therefore not always practical. But I took solace in these words:

In these years of practical activity theoretical work was not interrupted, although of course, much restricted. This period of immersion in practical work, however, in no way shook my basic devotion to the life of theory.

Like Tillich, I held down a number of practical professions throughout my life, and a number of them were soaked in practical details. And I gladly testify that, despite the numbing effect of carrying out mindless details in these jobs, they never took me completely out of the world of ideas. Tillich wrote that “the highest form of play and the truly productive abode of imagination is Art.” Those words I wholeheartedly endorse.

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.

 

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Morning Coffee with David & Paul Tillich

October 4, 2018

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The border line is the truly propitious place for acquiring knowledge.

Paul Tillich, Religiöse Verwirklichung

A rare occasion this morning, having two hours of leisure before heading off to class. As I looked over my Logic notes for this morning’s presentation, I thought of how unusual it is to be teaching a discipline so unlike my right-brain natural instincts. Friends who have known me for years are aware of my creative, non-linear ways of approaching things. And yet, the university tagged me years ago to teach Logic more than any other course.

Throughout my public school upbringing, I struggled in math and science, while flourishing in the fine arts. During college years, I continued to feed the art beast, but woke up to the values of the left-brain disciplines. Graduate school took me further down that road, and then throughout my teaching career, I tried to strike a balance between the two.

In my reading of Paul Tillich, I’m intrigued by his volume titled The Interpretation of History, a 1936 publication during his tenure at Union Theological Seminary in New York. I was fortunate to obtain a first edition of this volume at a rare books store in the year 2000 (anyone who hasn’t visited Larry McMurtry’s “Booked Up Inc.” in Archer City, Texas should consider a life-changing visit to that location). In Part One of this book, titled “On the Boundary”, Tillich writes in confessional fashion of his life as one lived between two conflicting worlds. He explores this theme geographically, philosophically, theologically, psychologically and so on. Page after page, in excellent prose, he explores the conflicts he faced throughout his years, always seeking a way to live out his existence “on the boundary” between the two.

Very early in my study of philosophy, I discovered in Plato this notion of dualism which I used as a tool to study virtually everything. Now I’m looking at Tillich’s “boundary” motif and plan to re-explore some important matters from my personal past and present.

Tillich ink portrait

Well, it’s time to go to class . . .

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.

Morning Coffee with Dave & Friends

September 11, 2018

friends

Early Morning Solitude

. . . I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. 

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Yesterday afternoon, I found a break amidst all my grading and college prep work, and returned to the studio, finishing a commission that I’ve already posted several times, and then began re-working this plein air sketch I began in west Texas a couple of weeks ago. Sitting on the back bumper of my Jeep, I looked across the barren landscape and painted this amazing horizon, then quickly sketched in the railroad embankment below, but never painted the line itself or the gravel banks. Today, I tried to enrich some of the colors and shadows of the trees and horizon, began work on the railroad embankment, and then determined where the 8 x 10″ boundary should lie. Tomorrow I plan to return to the studio after my morning class, and will take a fresh look at this to see if it requires any more attention. It felt lovely to pick up the brush again.

plein air

Return to the Studio

My early morning reading today began in The Gospel of Mark where I had in a previous blog remarked on the Parable of the Sower. In the same chapter is a brief discourse on growth that I was thinking about yesterday while painting that small watercolor. As I painted, I thought about my past, and the number of silent years required to grow in artistic ability, sensitivity, and intellectual matters. When I was college-age, I envied professors of fifty years and older, because they seemed so well “seasoned” in their thinking and in their art work. When talking with them in earnest, they would usually smile and say something like, “Be patient, stay with it, results will come in time.” It took decades for that to sink in. In fact, it wasn’t until my last few years of teaching that I heard myself mouthing those same words of advice to impatient high school and college students. Yes! Deeper, more mature matters require extensive time to compost, to develop, to flower, to bring to harvest. There is no royal road, no short cut to Quality.

The amusing part of this morning’s reading is that it began with one book, the Bible. Within thirty minutes, all these other volumes were sought, opened, read, notated, and now I am attempting to describe this refreshing morning on the blog. The cumulative moments that go from one book to half a dozen books remind me of earlier days, either composing sermons for the pulpit or writing papers during my Ph.D. seminar years. And I love it! I love the pursuit, the process, following the thread, seeing where the idea is going to lead. The reading and thinking themselves are an Odyssey. Recently I was reading about sowing seed, and now the idea comes up again, from The Gospel of Mark, 4:26-29:

. . . as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of itself: first the blade, then the ear, after that the full grain in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

The above I have posted from the King James Version. This morning I read the same passage from my Geneva Bible which preceded King James by about fifty years. I enjoy struggling with the English of this era:

Alfo he faid, So is the kingdome of God, as if a man fhulde caft fede in the grounde,

And fhulde flepe, and rife vp night and day, and the fede fhulde fpring and grow vp, he not knowing how,

For the eaerth bringeth forthe frute of her felf, firft the blade, then the eares, after that ful corne in the eares.

And affone as the frute fheweth it felf, anone he putteth in the fickel, becaufe the harueft is come.

After years and years of effort in education and the making of art, I am delighted to bring some of this to harvest. The classes at the college make me feel warm inside, because finally I am pouring out matters of the heart that have taken me most of my life to grow and water and now disperse. And as for the arts, I am so blessed that three galleries have welcomed my work and finally I have enough art festivals and shows annually where I can send out my creations.

Years ago, a gentleman was in my home, and seeing the size of my personal library, he made the observation: “It doesn’t seem fair that you have hoarded all these books and put them inside a private residence. They should be ‘out there’ for others to enjoy.” I thought that was an odd assessment, and still do. I thought my response made sense, that those books were what grew me intellectually, and being a teacher, I was daily going into the classroom and attempting to pour their wealth into the minds of students. I still think of his words, and my response, which seemed to be met with indifference. But, there it is. Throughout the decades I have loved studying, thinking, writing and attempting to put the best of my ideas out there for others to read. And so also with my art–I have created a large inventory of work, but it is in the galleries and festivals, not hoarded inside my home like a private collection. And then, this blog–I write daily because I have to; it is in me. And my hope remains that whatever ideas I share will play a part in making this world better than it was the way I found it. I hope that the footprint I leave is one that can point the way for others.

And so, I close with these words from my beloved muse, Paul Tillich:

The most intimate motions within the depths of our souls are not completely our own. for they belong also to our friends, to mankind, to the universe, and to the Ground of all being, the aim of our life. Nothing can be hidden ultimately. It is always reflected in the mirror in which nothing can be concealed.

Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations

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.

Morning Coffee with Dave & Paul

September 8, 2018

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Courage is the affirmation of one’s essential nature, one’s inner aim or entelechy, but it is an affirmation which has in itself the character of “in spite of.”

Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be

Rainy and cool, this Saturday morning spent in The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine, Texas has offered a perfect enclave for coffee and books, surrounded by art. In this quiet and lovely space, I have felt my soul restored.

The theologian Paul Tillich has been one of my intellectual and spiritual heroes since 1992. He embodied courage to me, standing up to the intimidation tactics of the Hitler regime on university campuses. In 1933, he was numbered among the first dozen faculty to be dismissed from teaching posts in Germany (him being the only non-Jew). American scholars meeting at Columbia University saved his professional career, bringing him to New York’s Union University for a fresh new beginning. He served at Union twenty-two years before moving on to Harvard for the next seven, then on to the University of Chicago, where he taught until his death.

Reading Rollo May’s Paulus: Remiscences of a Friendship back in 1992, I finally learned about the lifestyle of this scholar whom I had known only by reputation. Tillich’s passion for scholarship, teaching and the arts renewed my own faith in what I was doing and continue to do this day. When I find myself torn between desires to read a book, scribble in my journal, listen to a lecture on YouTube, play my guitar, or work on a watercolor, I think of Paul Tillich who wished he could engage in several pursuits at the same time. Today has been one of those days. The gallery environment always stirs my creative blood. Hence I packed in all my art supplies, a dozen books, my journal, my laptop and my guitar. Now I need to decide which to do first.

Though never facing crises remotely connected to what Paul Tillich endured, I still have endured a string of personal, gut-wrenching failures in life, going all the way back to the early 1980’s (I am confidant that I am not unique in that). What inspires me about this book, The Courage to Be, is the author’s stress on that fortitude in our souls that fights back when circumstances try to convince us that we are of little worth. That was the echoing refrain when I suffered a major setback in  life, or failed to accomplish a significant goal. Circumstances seemed to cry out that I was inadequate. But at the same time, I would rebelliously take inventory of what I had accomplished (especially those victories won without encouragement from others), and I would feel myself crying out: “I am worthy! And I am playing the best I can with the hand I’ve been dealt.” Paul Tillich was an existentialist theologian/philosopher. And one of his hallmarks was the belief that what mattered in life was how you play the hand you are dealt.

Many have their own ways of thinking about death and what comes after. I think of Paul Tillich’s ship arriving in New York harbor in 1933, and no one here in America to greet him (though most likely someone from the Columbia gathering was waiting for him). Nevertheless, it had to be dreadful, Tillich leaving his homeland to start over in New York, with a feeble grasp of English. Most certainly, he felt anguish, wondering what he would encounter on this shore. When I think of death, I think of myself arriving at a port, and Paul Tillich waiting at the landing to greet me. I have so cherished and taken to heart his writings throughout my adult life, wishing I had known him while he was living, that I now fantasize of him knowing that someone on this earth, in the next generation, sought out his courageous writings for strength while teaching and figuring out life. I see him making his way through the throng to reach me, and taking my hand, I hear him say: “Welcome home at last. I have been watching over you for decades. And my presence was real during your times of anguish, and I’ve been waiting for this moment finally to meet you. We have so much to discuss, and an eternity to catch up.”

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when feeling alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone. 

 

Morning Coffee with Dave & Paul

August 19, 2018

Sunday Tillich

Reading from Tillich after Attending Mass

I am not a Catholic, but attending mass is something I do on occasion. The Sacred Heart Catholic Church is directly across the street from The Gallery at Redlands. I have painted it twice, and for over a year have felt serene every time I hear the church bells tolling the hours. John Donne’s “Meditation XVII” keeps coming back to me.

Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Palestine, Texas

Among the books I packed for the weekend in Palestine was volume one of Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology. I read this in its entirety over ten years ago (T. S. Eliot read it twice while crossing the Atlantic, and sent Tillich a “thank you” letter for the contribution). I still return to it frequently to re-read portions I have underlined and notes jotted in the margins. Among my favorite passages is the following:

Theology moves back and forth between two poles, the eternal truth of its foundation and the temporal situation in which the eternal truth must be received. Not many theological systems have been able to balance these two demands perfectly. Most of them either sacrifice elements of the truth or are not able to speak to the situation.

I will have to agree with Tillich on this point. The theologian Karl Barth struggled to bring together the current newspaper on one side of his pulpit and the New Testament on the other. That was 1914. Today I feel is no different. I love to read the New Testament, and am grateful that I was provided an education enabling me to read its Greek text. During mass this morning I attempted to read from my Latin Vulgate. I regret that Latin was never available to me, and though I work in the grammars, I have not paid the price in learning to translate it effectively. But still, I enjoy reading the text and learning what I can from it.

But the current news, well, I won’t waste time addressing that. In this country, I feel that religious leaders with the biggest megaphone are the least effective, or relevant, in bridging the message of the New Testament to bear on these times. And our nation certainly lacks courageous prophets of the ancient Hebrew heritage who withstood rulers clearly on the wrong side of the truth. Still, I search for meaning and coherence in this life we live these days.

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Sunday Morning in the Gallery at Redlands

The weekend spent in the gallery was refreshing to me, to say the least. I left here fifty days ago to travel, and I so loved my odyssey. But it was a thrill, feeling that I had a home where I could return. And the people of Palestine certainly made me feel welcome. On Saturday, a high school friend came down from Paris, Texas to visit, and I had not seen her since she graduated college and packed her car for Houston to accept her first teaching position. That must have been around 1976. So, we had much catching up to do.

And then Sunday, a dear friend that I met through this hotel a year ago came by for an afternoon visit. We hadn’t seen each other in about three months, so we also had catching up to do. What a homecoming this has been.

Sunday cloudcroft

(Sorry about the Reflection!) My Plein Air Watercolor from Cloudcroft

Sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck, I began this 8 x 10″ watercolor on the edge of the town of Cloudcroft, New Mexico several months ago. I decided to frame it for the gallery and brought it down to add to the collection this weekend. We are offering it for $200 in its 11 x 14″ frame.

Sunday box

(Ugh! Reflections!) Box Canyon at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

One of my most thrilling mornings at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico was hiking back into Box Canyon, and pausing beside a stream to set up an easel in the shade and attempt this 8 x 10″ plein air watercolor of this magnificent bluff towering above me and the trees. I am still fascinated at the colors and textures and striations of massive cliffs, and am struggling to find the right color combinations for rendering them. I’ll continue to study this matter. This watercolor as well, in its 11 x 14″ frame, is offered at $200.

Today is the first day of the semester at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth. I have two online classes ready for viewing. Tomorrow will be my first time in the classroom. Time to hit the books!

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

The Oracle Comes in the Morning

May 28, 2018

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Coffee, Books and Democritus

coffee

My New Passion–the French Press

. . . there is generally some kind of message, some guidance that appears. It comes more readily if I do not stridently demand it; if I listen to my “deeper” self, sooner or later it will speak to me. The message which forms itself out of the darkness and the vapor–when one does come–often takes me by surprise. This is generally a sign of its authenticity. This third phase owes a good deal to my Protestant-Christian background. It would be surprising if I could cut off my cultural body, nor do I want to.

Rollo May, Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship

How sublime, these moments when I can stop after weeks of art-related engagements and festivities. Before and after my morning walk, I was afforded the pleasure of reading Rollo May from his books Paulus and My Quest for Beauty. With French press coffee to sip and soothing YouTube music filling my room, I read this portion posted above about Rollo May’s morning meditation practices in the office before his appointments began.

Reading about this morning watch resonated with me profoundly, and I haven’t been able to discuss this easily with friends and acquaintances. In my early college years, as I participated in the Baptist Student Union, I was introduced to his notion of Daily Quiet Time, and the practice soothed me in the midst of college studies and then later as I did the work of the pastoral ministry.  Those days are far behind me now, but my second life as a teacher for three decades found me practicing a daily morning watch of some sort. This practice continued to serve as a compass for my classroom navigations.

Long ago, I came to expect some kind of oracle, some kind of message, a Word, as I lingered over books and my own hand-scribbled journals first thing every morning. The Greek notion of word (logos) can be construed as a “gathering together.” An idea would emerge from the gloom most mornings, and I would take that idea seriously, using it as a pole star to lead me through the days ahead. And every time I read from another creative spirit of how s/he listened for this inner voice, I feel that I have gained yet another soul mate in life and feel less lonely, less isolated in this odyssey.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Finding a Home for my Intellectual Heroes

March 9, 2017

Tillich (2)

All arts create symbols for a level of reality which cannot be reached in any other way.

Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith

I am posting a photo of this collage I created in 1989, my second year of teaching.  Paul Tillich became one of my intellectual heroes and guiding forces as I developed a course in the Humanities at Lamar High School in Arlington, Texas.  In 1996, when I transferred to Martin High School across the city, I imported Tillich into my Philosophy classes.  He, along with Emerson, Thoreau and Nietzsche were my main pillars as I sought to challenge students to think independently, to find their own voice.

As I have wound my way through this final year of teaching, approaching retirement, I often looked up at Tillich’s portrait from my school desk, thankful for all that he brought to my interior life. Today I’ll say Good-Bye to this image, as a graduate from this school returns from the university to purchase him.  I’m always pleased when a student thinks enough of one of my heroes to buy my artwork created in tribute.  Earlier this school year, a current student in my art history class purchased my framed collage of Gerhard von Rad, another hero of mine that unfortunately I could not work into my curriculum with the depth that I did Tillich.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Art as a Healing Balm

March 4, 2017

home

“Art still has truth, take refuge there!

Matthew Arnold, “Memorial Verses April 1850”

Tomorrow, I’ll be speaking before an adult Sunday School group at a local church. Most of this day was given to preparing my remarks, taking Matthew Arnold’s statement as my point of departure. A number of things have happened around me that have saddened a large number of people whom I love, and the tragedies have been mine as well. We lack satisfying answers when grief invades our lives, and sometimes it is all I can do to pick up the brush and go through that portal into the sanctuary of art, and give healing a chance. Thanks to time spent watercoloring, and resuming my reading of Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be, I have managed to find some quality in this day.

The day has been cold and rainy, and I felt it necessary to keep a fire burning in the fireplace. In the comfort of that warmth, and ignoring the grayness outside as much as possible, I returned to this watercolor and have nearly finished it. The setting is the farmhouse where my grandparents lived in southeast Missouri. The old building is barely standing today, and no longer has the front porch where I have positioned myself with a guitar I purchased from my late uncle’s estate. Of course, being twelve hours away from this location, I had to settle for a selfie taken in my backyard. Only in my memories can I place myself on the porch of that ramshackle house where I used to spend the summers of my childhood.

I’m pleased that this painting has turned out good enough to frame and put into my March 24th show. Barring any unforeseen difficulties, I’ll complete it tomorrow and deliver it to the frame shop on Monday.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to cope.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Not the Rooftops of Paris, but Dark and Rainy Nevertheless, and Quite Good

February 20, 2017

 

grandma

Second Day on a 20 x 16″ Watercolor

But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the litle oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made.  I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.  All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know.”  So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Waking early this morning to a dark and rain-soaked world, I was glad not to go to work but to do as I please for the entire day.  Late last night I had begun work on a new watercolor of a Blues theme that I used to pursue fervently, but had stopped doing in recent years.  Soon I’ll release details on a new One-Man-Show that has been offered me, and I would love to complete some Blues art to hang in this venue.  I chose as a backdrop for the painting my grandmother’s abandoned house.  Then I took some selfies in my backyard, holding my late uncle’s pre-World War II Gibson archtop guitar.  I have high expectations for this composition and have already enjoyed a full morning of layering washes and drybrush details into the piece.  I’m taking my time with it.

As I worked, I dialed up on Netflix “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.”  When I’m painting, I love listening to movies, documentaries, and YouTube lectures.  They keep my mind engaged. And as this film rolled, my mind went back to some intense reading I enjoyed a few winters ago: Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Carlos Baker’s Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story.  And as I worked, I thought of all those times when I’ve struggled over whether to make art, read, or write when I had time to myself.  This weekend has produced another one of those environments for me that I love so much–what Paul Tillich referred to often as “creative eros”, an urge to create, period.  And when I find myself unable to resolve whether to paint, draw, read, write, or just sit in a comfortable chair with coffee to think and do nothing else–I realize that life could not possibly be better.

desk

Working on a New Lecture Series

Just before the weekend arrived, I discovered that among the post-retirement options offered to me this coming fall is a chance to teach Ethics at the university for the first time. Pulling from my shelf a volume from The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I was surprised to find myself absorbed in a very lengthy History of Ethics article.  This came as a surprise because I seldom find myself interested for very long in an encyclopedia entry, particularly one that goes on for page after page after page, four columns staring back at me every time I turn the page.  But this article has really taken me in new directions.  For decades I have been interested in the history of philosophy, but usually focused on metaphysics and theories of knowledge, never ethics.  Now, as I read the ethical portions of these philosophers and schools, I am amazed at the new ideas I’m grafting onto the structures already learned.  The new directions are quite exciting.

Reading this article has also led me back to a famous book that I have never successfully stayed with over the decades: Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be.  Now, having read twenty-seven pages and scribbling out a pile of notes, I feel that I am finally into this book as well. The reading of just these two sources has already produced pages and pages of journal entries, paragraphs, diagrams and illustrations of new ideas waiting for further development.

creel-redone

“Thinking About the Next Catch”

Last night I received my email notification that the piece pictured above has been accepted to show in the 32nd Annual Texas & Neighbors Regional Art Exhibition to be held at the Irving Arts Center April 29-June 3. There were 585 pieces juried, and 75 selected.  Over the years, I have visited this show and always wished to participate, but continually missed the application deadline.  Thanks to an artist friend, I met the deadline this year, and now am very happy for this opportunity of hanging one of my pieces with works selected from Texas and several neighboring states.

The weekend has been full and rewarding.  Thank you for reading.

I make art in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Finding the Seam

March 6, 2016

Finding the Seam

My Watercolor from Several Years Back

I admit that this is highly unorthodox, but I’m going to post the talk I’m planning on giving before the Samaritan Sunday School class at the First Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas later this morning (hoping that none of the class members will find and read this in advance). This is a class of adults that I came to love deeply about twenty years ago when I was asked on a number of occasions to speak before them.  They even invited me to attend a weekend retreat at Lake Murray Lodge in Oklahoma, serving as a conference speaker.  The memories of them have always been rich, even though we drifted in different directions over the past decades. Recently they found me again and invited me back last Sunday.  Today I will close out my series with them.  Thanks for reading:

Finding the Seam[1]

          Good morning. The title of this morning’s meditation is “Finding the Seam.”  I shared with you last Sunday that my mind has already surged ahead to summer, that I have already booked a cabin in Colorado so I can pursue my passion of fly fishing for wary trout.  I only regret that I still have twelve weeks of classes to endure.  Once that final bell sounds, I will experience escape velocity.  I’ll begin by visiting Mom and Dad in St. Louis, but only for a short time.  I believe it was either Benjamin Franklin or Mark Twain who once remarked that fish and house guests begin to smell after three days.  So I’ll only trouble my parents for three days.  Then I’ll point my Jeep west for a nice, extended over-the-road trip, Jack Kerouac-style, to pick up, as though it were a hitchhiker, a life that I dropped off a few years back.

I recall the words of the author Robert Travers, snickering at the reputation of the frustrated artist, and identifying himself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman.  I don’t think I have ever been a frustrated artist, but I do know that I regard myself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman. It was not always so.  In my redneck days of rod-and-reel river fishing, I heard people say that if you spend the beautiful day outside and never catch a fish, it’s still been a good experience, imbibing the beauty of the outdoors.  Well, I knew that for me that certainly was not true.  If I fished all day and got skunked, it sucked.  But once I converted to fly fishing all that changed profoundly.  There is a ritual that comes with rigging up.  I used to want to jump out of the vehicle, and get my line into the water as quickly as possible. I always wished that I could have the rod-and-reel ready and baited up, and that I didn’t have to drag a tackle box and folding chair and minnow bucket and stringer and lunch pail and all that stuff down to the river’s edge.  I just wanted to catch fish and catch ‘em fast.

Fly fishing, for me, was a revelation, an entrance into a new world.  Indeed I’ve heard some speak of fly-fishing as reverently as religion.  In fact, Norman Maclean opens his famous book with this hook: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”[2]  I have to testify in all seriousness that Colorado fly-fishing always restores my weary soul.  I take my time, rigging up the fly rod, tying on tippet and flies, pulling on waders and boots, all the while sensing the river rolling by as it has for millions of years. And then, to approach the river, survey its dynamics, and step into the stream—at that point, I feel my breathing change and sense that my heartbeat has settled down. And yes, if I fly fish the entire day without a hit, it’s still been a most magnificent day to be alive, outside, and away from the daily routine.

Ever since I read the book by former New York Times editor Howell Raines titled Fly Fishing Through the Mid-Life Crisis, and then saw that marvelously engaging film based on Maclean’s novella titled A River Runs Through It, I knew I was missing out on something spectacular in this life.  Even in high school, when I read Ernest Hemingway’s two-part short story “Big Two-Hearted River,” I knew I wanted to hold a fly rod in my hand one day, and step into a mountain stream.  It would be different from what I had known as a child growing up with a cane pole and later a rod and reel.       
Over the past decade, every time I stood in a stream, beneath the shadows of a Colorado canyon, Emerson’s words from his very first book would come whispering back out of the atmosphere to soothe  me, as he wrote: “the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”[3]  Drawing from another Emerson metaphor, I can testify that when I enter that place, I cast off my years like a snake does his skin, and remain forever a child.  In the river I find perpetual youth.  In the river, I return to reason and faith.

As I listen to the sounds of water rushing over and around the rocks, past my boots as it cuts through the banks, I hear Maclean’s words coming back to me: “Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”[4]

Now, when one steps into that swift stream, the casual eye will see only a large volume of water surging past.  But there is so much more going on, as anyone observing long enough will come to realize.  The water is running past in channels, or separate lanes, if you please.  Some of those lanes are flowing faster than others.  And oftentimes you will notice that there are pockets of water that are hardly moving at all.

What the fly fisherman is looking for are the seams dividing those channels.  More specifically, the fly fisherman is looking for the seam that separates moving water from still water, or at least the swifter water from the lazy current.  The trout, you see, are lined up in the slower lanes, where they can just hang out with as little effort as possible, and they have their noses in the seam, watching the swift current carry the insects by.  The fly fisherman drops his fly in the seam and lets the current carry it down the lane, past those lines of fish, in hopes that the fly looks real enough that one of them will dart out and take it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are institutions of American literature, but few people really know what these nature writers are doing. Their school of thought is called New England Transcendentalism, and it urges that for every physical element we perceive, there is a higher, corresponding truth.   And that is where I am going with this morning’s remarks about fly-fishing in mountain streams.  This morning’s topic is about that seam that divides the forces, the fault line separating the dual channels.  There are several modern thinkers I wish to share with you this morning who had intriguing ideas about these seams we find in life.

Paul Tillich, early in his life, published a book titled On the Boundary.  His “boundary” is the same as the “seam” I’ve just been discussing.  The boundary is what separates opposing forces—it’s the seam that separates opposing ideas.  It is the seam that not only divides the camps, but appears to hold them together in tension.  Tillich found that boundary cutting through his religious traditions, his university responsibilities and his daily tasks.

In Friedrich Nietzsche’s masterpiece Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he described the human condition as a rope stretched over an abyss, between the beast and the person of excellence.  The actual life is the journey across that rope, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous across, a process and not a destiny.  Life is that narrow seam, cutting through the abyss. On one side are the traditions and on the other are the discoveries. We keep threading the path, one step at a time, between the standards and the experiments.

Karl Barth, a contemporary of Tillich, and likewise indebted to Nietzsche, used the same imagery when he described his life as a dialectical theologian.  He said he had to walk a narrow precipice and keep moving so he would not be in danger of falling to one side or the other.  He was describing the extreme party positions of his day, between the Protestant Liberalism of the late nineteenth century, and the Neo-Orthodoxy of the early twentieth.  Barth testified that the challenge lay in threading the seam between them, always moving forward.

What is that fault line?  What is that junction in the midst of the dualism?  Where are the seams in your life?  Well, I’d like to take the time to point out a few possibilities for thought this morning.  In his first book The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche argued that there was indeed a seam in the human spirit, but not a division between soul and body as Plato and all his descendents assumed.  Taking his lead from ancient Greek theater, Nietzsche said the two patron gods Apollo and Dionysus personified this dualism, with Apollo representing our reasonable side and Dionysus portraying our passionate side.  Apollo was the tradition and Dionysus was the exploration. These sides are not to be equated with good and evil, by any means.  Nietzsche urged that either extreme was unhealthy.  In the centuries following Greek theater, Aristotle himself urged that all forms of extremism are wrong; the healthy human soul should seek the Golden Mean, another nice synonym for the seam, the fault line that passes between the extremes.  It is easy to see the two sides of reason and passion in our individual makeup.  One side of our makeup is given to order, to rules, to convention, to propriety.  The other side explores the drama, the new, the adventure, the creative impulse.  Neither side can yield a fullness of life.  Regimentation is no way to live life in its fullness, but neither is recklessness.

Another seam that could be found in personal life, if I may draw from the world of basic mechanics, is that line separating Intake and Exhaust.  As human beings, we require nourishment as well as exercise, intake as well as output.  And in our everyday social lives, we take steps to take care of ourselves, and we also find opportunities to reach out to others in our circle.  Throughout my life, in the workplace, and among my circles of friends, I’ve seen many suffer from a dreadful imbalance, and I certainly have suffered it myself.  Exhaustion occurs when you spend all you have in personal resources to prop up others, and neglect your own basic needs.  I still remember the first time I heard the word “burn-out.”  It was used by NFL head coach Dick Vermeil, when he abruptly retired from coaching the Philadelphia Eagles after a Super Bowl loss.  He had been driven like a locomotive, sleeping little, skipping meals, and even keeping a cot in his coaching office instead of going home at night to his family.  Finally, he collapsed in exhaustion and retired.  In his press conference, he described his personal life as “burned out.”

Then there is that other extreme—the individual who lives only for the self and develops a kind of spiritual autism.  When people are elderly we sometimes use the word shut-ins to describe a lifestyle that no longer leaves home, and experiences no one coming in to check on welfare.  They turn in on themselves and eventually their world is just an internal world.  Likewise there are those who in younger years find ways to close themselves off from meaningful contact.  Many times they are diagnosed with clinical depression.  Some are brutally honest and say they just don’t like people and prefer to be left alone.  At times they can degenerate into suspicion and paranoia.

I have often in the past held up Jesus of Nazareth as a prime example of one who poured himself out in the service of multitudes, but balanced it with retreats into solitude where virtually no one knew where he was staying.  He avoided the exhaustion by taking quality time to pay himself and revive.  You could count on it.  If the New Testament record testifies to his spending an entire day teaching, arguing, healing and resolving disputes between parties, you could then find him in absentia the following day.  He is in a mode of prayer and meditation.  In solitude he regains his focus and determines what to do next in his ministry.

Another seam that I would like to address this morning was brought up last Sunday, and that concerns what lies between the individual and the social dimensions of our being.  I once heard a psychology teacher defining introvert and extrovert in the following way: the introvert knows the self and stands confidently in that identity, whereas the extrovert depends on others to define his or her identity.  Some people are more private, so they may be referred to as introvert, whereas others are more gregarious and are therefore deemed as extrovert.  But the human being functions in solitude as well as corporate activity.  And as a teacher I’m just as concerned with one extreme as the other.  Parents are understandably upset at a son or daughter that comes home and broods, choosing to withdraw from family and friends.  Other parents are equally perturbed at the child who comes home with the cell phone perpetually in the line of vision, knowing it’s going to stay there for the duration of the night.  Because, you see, some teens are terrified at the thought of being alone.  If no one out there is talking to them, then they have become meaningless.  And Tillich testified that the fear of becoming meaningless is one of the gut-level anxieties that plague the modern consciousness.

And finally, the seam dividing Time from Eternity. While living for two years, two months and two days in a cabin beside Walden pond, Henry David Thoreau penned these words:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[5]

That makes my heart flutter.  In the sixth century before Christ, two pre-Socratic philosophers argued over whether the essence of life was time or eternity. Heraclitus said “You cannot set foot in the same river twice.  All things flow; nothing abides,” while Parmenides argued that time is only illusion; there is only Eternity, there is only Being.

Henry David Thoreau, bending over to drink from a flowing stream said:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[6]

Norman Maclean wrote: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

So, life as a river surges forward, cutting a path between the extremes: Reason and Passion, Intake and Output, Individual and Social, Time and Eternity.  At any rate, it moves forward, in a perpetual flowing stream, never stopping. Emerson mused that few people could look at a flowing river and not make the transcendental leap to contemplating life as a moving stream meandering along its path, enriched by the seams embedded in that contextual flow.

That is my testimony this morning.  Life’s river is comprised of many seams dividing the channels.  And in those seams are clues that offer a greater understanding of life’s choices and rich possibilities.

 

[1] Sermon delivered at Arlington First United Methodist Church, 6 March 2016.

[2]Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976), p.1.

[3] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature in Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), p. 24.

[4] A River Runs Through It, p. 113.

[5] Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience (New York: Penguin Books, 1983), p. 142.

[6] Ibid.