Monthly Archives: February 2011

Winter’s Grave

We are lying in winter’s grave on this end of the Mississip’

Haven’t seen my grass in months

My long johns are in shreds

We’ve gone through sixteen bottles of  dry red wine

Seventy-two cans of dark beer (stouts and porters: I like to drink with the seasons)

Five butternut squash

Two shovels (Seventy-four point nine inches of snow, thank you very much)

A jug of sidewalk salt

One car battery ($109.36), alternator belts ($244.43), and thanks to the potholes

a ball joint ($379.52).


Cabin fever?

More like cabin cancer



I don’t own a snow-blower

Wish I could say it was a matter of principle

In reality my hand-me-down

’78 Sunbeam Electric Snowthrower

bit the powder a year ago and was never replaced.

But I’ll never go back

I’ve found my antidote to winter


Anyone can fill a gas tank, pull a chord and walk behind a machine-

Not outside more than twenty minutes

Go back inside and watch yourself some more reality TV.


I like to shovel in the quiet of the late evening, while the snow is still falling

Breathe the cold for over an hour, maybe two

The Alberta Clipper passes and the clear polar air follows

Stars will scream at your eyes and

the moon will be all the light you need, blue as Lake Superior

Numb frozen chin, frosted whiskers and sweaty armpits: now this is the Midwest

and this is what its like to feel alive.

I stop to catch my breath and in the silence

Find all the stillness I need to make it through to

Green grass, songbirds, and ice cold malty lagers (I like to drink with the seasons).


Either way, wouldn’t trade anything for the winters out here,

Just gotta know what you’re looking for.


Liberal Environmentalism or Creation Stewardship, Part One

Shouldn’t Evangelicals be on the front lines defending the Earth and its resources? One of the first instructions in Genesis is to diligently care for the created world (chapter 1, verse 28).

I think part of the problem here is the result of our dysfunctional political discourse. Politicians have successfully polarized the debate and alienated Evangelical Christians on an issue that should transcend partisan divides. Furthermore, they have pitted the conservative Bible believing Christian against the environmental activist. Now there’s a paradox—these groups should be one in the same.

It’s time to take this entire conversation to a higher level and it is time for Evangelicals to take responsibility for Creation by conserving, caring, simplifying and advocating. Caring for Creation is not Al Gore’s issue. It’s not the Democratic Party’s issue. It is humanity’s issue, and therefore requires the attention of all who claim to follow Christ.

If Evangelicals fail to protect their rivers and lakes from destructive dams and toxic pollutants, they are failing a Biblical mandate.  If they fail to protect their forests from clear-cuts and their clean air from smog produced by burning fossil fuels, they are denying the story of the Garden of Eden.

Be A Gardener

Be a gardener.

Dig a ditch,

toil and sweat,

and turn the earth upside down

and seek the deepness

and water the plants in time.

Continue this labor

and make sweet floods to run

and noble and abundant fruits

to spring.

Take this food and drink

and carry it to God

as your true worship.


Julian of Norwich, Earth Prayers (HarperSanFrancisco) 373.

How to Cut Down a Tree

Tree trunks break out of the snow banks on the Mississippi

Like old soldiers at their post

These men are time travelers, tall

The few left who tell creation’s story

A glimpse of what the river looked like before progress landed on her shores.

Keep watch old men, keep watch

You’re the icon of Eden

A reminder of how things used to be, should be

The power planters

The farm fertilizers

The industrializers are going to cut you down

Can’t see Garden for the trees.

Finding God in Technology?

But ask now the beasts,

And they shall tell thee;

And the fowls of the air,

And they shall tell thee:

Or speak to the earth,

And it shall teach thee:

And the fishes of the sea

Shall declare unto thee.

Job 12:7-8, KJV


I don’t recall one time where I had a spiritual experience with my computer, or my iphone.

Could you imagine Jesus saying, “Go to the Apple Store and you will find rest for your souls”?

But I actually live my life as if this were the case.

I have a hard time sitting still. I like to check things: blogs, status updates, news. Something is always happening and I want to be the first to know. Quite often I will loose track of time and realize that I had spent the last HOUR spying on facebook pages or watching stupid youtube videos. By this time my eyes are dry and I feel totally unsettled, like I had just stepped off a long train ride. I had a good reminder to get off my iphone a couple weeks ago when my three year old said flat-out, “Dad! Put down your phone!”


What I really need is a long walk in the woods. To “speak to the earth” as Job puts it. Or as Sigurd Olson writes, to listen to the “singing wilderness.”

In the woods I feel free. It must be some sort of time warp extension of the Garden of Eden. I went to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for the first time last fall, and my first thought was that this is the way things are supposed to be. If a man walks carefully, quietly, and respectfully, there can be a real sense of freedom and contentment. No need of excess things. No pursuit of success. No jockeying for power and position. I heard the words of Wendell Berry, what we need is here.

And so short walks along the river, and extended trips into the wilderness have become a sort of spiritual discipline for me- where I watch the beasts and speak to the earth. Where I practice in this life what I think might be little glimpses of the next: beauty, presence, and connection.

The Singing Wilderness, (Knopf). The Selected Poems of, (New York: Counterpoint) 90.

I Like Me a Good Thermos, or Three

I have a serious problem. Whenever I enter a thrift store, I can hardly leave without buying a thermos. It’s not that I need it. I’ve already got three or four at home. Rather, this 30 year-old canister of warmth and love is an icon. It tells me that I’ll be able to tough out the subzero snowshoeing and still have a hot serving of chili, just off the trail. That ice fishing this weekend will be accompanied by a blazing cup of coffee. That my afternoon ski will be rewarded with a glowing portion of chai tea latte. That even though none of those things will actually happen any time soon, I’ve at least got this damn thermos, and just a little speck of hope.

Now that’s two dollar and fifty-five cents well spent.

I QUIT Non-Fiction

For me, reading was serious business. Novels were for people who had extra time on their hands. For people who were “literature types”. You know, the ones who graduated with an English degree and could start and finish a book in the same day.

I stuck with the books that I thought were going to make me smart and successful. I read about theology, leadership, character growth, and culture. Usually I would buy the book at Barnes and Noble or order it from Amazon. I liked the way the book looked sitting on my bookshelf, just waiting to increase my intellectual aptitude.

But that’s where the majority of those books stayed—on the shelf. The books that actually did land in my lap usually didn’t stay for long. Off the top of my head, I can think of just a couple that I actually read from cover to cover. Other than that, my “reading” was doing more to drain my bank account than further my personal development regimen. The books on the shelf simply enabled an image that I liked very much: I’m one of those “well-read” types. That’s right, I know a lot.

Finally, through the recommendation of a friend, I picked up and read Garrison Keillor’s Wobegon Boy. It was one of those reads where you just get lost and can’t put the book down. It was relatable and humorous with a unique storyline. A year later (this was a slow metamorphosis) I read Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry. His intimate descriptions of family and a person’s relationship to the land were strikingly beautiful. Things continued to progress and two years ago I finally joined a book club (it was possibly more like a book date, since it was just a buddy and me).

Throughout this time, I started to realize that I had a lot of books on the shelf, left unread. I decided to put a moratorium on new purchases until I had made my way through some of the books I already owned. But I never went back to them. I got hooked on Story. And what’s more, the stories are having a profound impact on me as a person.

Late last year I read Brother to a Dragonfly by Will D. Campbell (which I posted about here). It’s a story about a man being reconciled to his past and finding the freedom and grace to understand people without judgment. This book turned out to be the catalyst for one of the more significant lessons of my adult life. And it all happened in the context of a story.

I’ve spent the past couple years almost exclusively reading fiction and memoirs. I let go of the smart-guy bookshelf and have embraced something that actually was a good fit for me: a powerful narrative. I really believe that if a story is true—not factually true, but true as in virtuous—it has the potential to broaden our perspective and help us see things in a different light, thus letting wisdom grow.

Nowadays I actually read books cover to cover and I get all my books from the library. Reading is no longer about consuming or creating an idealistic image of myself. It’s about being open to another way of seeing, getting lost in another world, and loving a story.