Writing

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My travels and adventures lately haven’t been as exciting as Dinner with the Carters or Winter in New England, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been sitting still.

Most recently, I traveled to the Gray Episcopal Camp and Conference Center in Canton, Mississippi (Did you learn to spell Mississippi the same way I did?) for a weeklong retreat for writers, sponsored by the Collegeville Institute, Millsaps College, and The Center for Ministry. Ultimately, I think it was Lilly Foundation money.

Participation was competitive. We had to submit something we’d written, and twelve of us were selected. Like the disciples? That was pretty cool. The event was free, though we had to pay for our own transportation to get there and back. That’s a ten-hour car trip in each direction, so I decided to drive. I spent some time, going and coming, with my Uncle Butch and Aunt Kari in Atlanta.

When I travel, I literally get out an old-fashioned paper map (remember them?) and draw a circle around my destination(s) to discover what interesting sites I can fit into my itinerary. The most obvious was the Vicksburg National Military Park, location of a deadly Civil War siege and battle. I visited there with my parents, grandparents, my brother, and Uncle Butch when I was a young teenager, maybe age fourteen, so I remember it well.

Then, nudged by one of those occasional moments of moral reflection, I wondered why I would willfully choose to re-visit a Civil War site. After all, we have been in a heated national conversation about how much we should venerate these painful Civil War memorials. I have all of that I need in South Carolina without traveling to the Mississippi River.

A point of particular aggravation to me is that our tourism board ignores the fact that the Revolutionary War happened in South Carolina! My name is Marion, after all, in honor of Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, the Patriot! You can be at his burial site on the Belle Isle Plantation in Pineville, SC, less than a two-hour trip from my front door. Yet, we largely snub those sites while still glorifying the few Civil War events that happened within our state.

So, I made the decision to go to Oxford, home of the University of Mississippi and William Faulkner. Good decision. My cousin Lola was kind enough to drive down from Memphis so we could have a meal and spend the evening together. Lola is a much younger cousin. When I was fifteen, she was five, so she was a little kid, easy to ignore back then. But we discovered one another as adults and bonded over family, faith, and politics. Great evening of catching up with her.

Faulkner’s home was, frankly, a disappointment, but I’m glad I was able to spend time in Oxford.

At the writers’ retreat, we visited Eudora Welty’s home in Jackson, and that was a much more interesting tour than the time at the Faulkner residence.

The Gray Conference Center is a lot like similar venues in South Carolina: ponds, woods, and hiking trails. Very fine writers had been selected to participate. There’s an advantage to having a competitive means of extending invitations. These were not wannabe authors. These were competent men and women of faith and literary skill. The facilitator was Robert Benson, a successful, insightful, and entertaining writer and retreat leader. His main message, at least what I came away with, was, “Write.” The conference provided plenty of time to do that. We listened to one another as each of us read what we had written.

It was a good week, and, now, here I am, writing.

Marion Aldridge

PS: If you would like to apply for next year’s retreat, Rebecca Youngblood is the brain behind the event:

The Center for Ministry

Box 150041, Millsaps College

1701 N State St

Jackson, MS 39210

601-974-1488

www.centerforministry.com

 

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, South Carolina, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Lukewarm” must mean predictable.

The Road to Character by David Brooks

A Book Review by Marion D. Aldridge

This was a good book for me to read, though I alternated between being energized by it and frustrated.

Brooks is a conservative columnist for the New York Times. Yet, a liberal friend recommended this volume to me. I liked the possibilities of that combination. As a reader, a writer, a political observer, and a theologian/ethicist, I tire of the predictable. Tire. Tire. Tire. I think “lukewarm” must mean predictable. There’s nothing there. Some emperors have no clothes. Blah blah blah…

Brooks is better than that. But “The Road to Character” is uneven. I accept some of what he writes, but it’s pretty random.

I like his premise in the first sentence, that, as we age, we ought to pay more attention to our “eulogy virtues” than to our “resume virtues.” His method, for a few chapters, is to tell the stories of men and women who are successful, who he believes demonstrate character—Dwight Eisenhower, Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day and others. Brooks lifts up certain words as important: perseverance, humility, dignity, and moderation. There also seems to be a lot of dumb luck involved in the attainments of his examples, not to mention some extraordinary intelligence.

Brooks attempts to make a case for character and morality. But it was impossible to figure out which traits I should be emulating. His examples are often people with giant character flaws. I understand that even the best of us have deficiencies, but Brooks’ analysis seems scattershot. What is the takeaway?

Brooks is of the “Life is complicated” school, as am I. Life is full of paradox. But it is the task of a non-fiction author to help the reader work through the contradictions. On one page, he writes, “The more you love, the more you can love.” Okay. Two pages later, he writes, “All love is narrowing. It is the renunciation of other possibilities for the sake of one choice.” How are both true? I have my own opinions, but I’d like for Brooks to help me understand how his ethical framework includes both concepts simultaneously.

Finally, in the last chapter, Brooks produces a “Humility Code” which, like the rest of the book, was fairly ambiguous—seven pages of a bit of this and a little bit of that.

Lots of epigrammatic hints from David on how to live a life of character, but if this was a road, I got lost somewhere along the way.

Categories: Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Quotations, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Take My Breath Away

“The most completely lost of all days is that in which one has not laughed.” Nicolas Chamfort

Birthdays with a Zero in them are fine times for reflection. February 11, 2017, I turned 70.

I’ve enjoyed hundreds, thousands of moments that have taken my breath away. I’ve fallen in love and married. We’ve celebrated 44 anniversaries. I’ve watched the birth of two daughters. I baptized both of them.

I’ve been blessed to participate in the spiritual growth of many folks. I’ve helped alcoholics get sober. I’ve seen people whose lives were pure chaos find order, salvation and peace. I’ve watched rigid, self-righteous people discover grace. More importantly, I discovered grace for myself and for others.

In Mauritania, I got stuck in the Sahara Desert in a four-wheel drive vehicle. That might have taken my breath away but I found a small tent village and took a nap. You must have priorities!

I’ve watched Clemson win two National Championships in football. Exhilarating!

It’s a rush to hold a book you wrote that’s been published. I’ve had that privilege four times.

I survived two serious car wrecks, one with a fully loaded logging truck.

Sally and I were on a transatlantic flight when one of the plane’s engines blew. We heard it. No doubt about what had happened. Potentially breathtaking experience. Literally. When we landed, two dozen emergency vehicles followed our plane down the runway.

My two best friends died. Soul-crushing experiences. Even at their memorial services, we found ways to laugh.

I’ve listened to Ella Fitzgerald in concert. Magnificent.

I’ve seen Greg Maddux pitch. Incredible.

In Kenya, I’ve seen elephants, lions, giraffes, zebras, and ostriches in their natural habitat. Wow!

On Folly Beach, South Carolina, I watched loggerhead turtles bursting from their brittle eggshells and clawing their way across the sandy beach into the Atlantic Ocean. Awe-inspiring.

With my grandson, Lake, we peered over the edge of the Grand Canyon, then rafted on the Colorado River.

With my daughter, Julie, we watched whales and caught lobsters off the coast of Massachusetts. Incredible.

With my daughter, Jenna, my grandson Lake, and my wife Sally, we climbed to the top of Machu Picchu. Then, we hiked in the Amazon Rain Forest. Mindboggling experiences.

Two pieces of advice I got from Jerry and Jane Howington when I was a teenager: “Keep on keeping on” and “Hang in there.”

“I’m so excited. I’m about to lose control and I think I like it.” The Pointer Sisters

Categories: Baseball, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Football, Humor, South Carolina, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Frequently Misused Religious Words

Frequently Misused Religious Words

Marion D. Aldridge

  • Altar alter (Both are good words, but they don’t mean the same thing. An altar is a place of religious ritual. To alter something is to make a change.)
  • Baptist Babtist (Babtist is not a word. Ever.)
  • Baptists Baptist (Baptists is plural, meaning more than one Baptist. A Baptist church is not full of Baptist. It is full of Baptists. Our Baptist history professor had to teach this on the first day of class.)
  • Calvary cavalry (Jesus died on Calvary. Cavalry describes soldiers who fight on horseback.)
  • Counsel council (Pastors often counsel, similar to advise, people in their congregations. A council is a group of people.)
  • Cemetery seminary (Some people make this mistake and think it’s funny. Probably not funny to men and women scholars who have invested a lifetime in fighting ignorance.)
  • Episcopal Episcopalian (Episcopal is an adjective. You can attend an Episcopal church. Episcopalian is a noun. The bishop is an Episcopalian.)
  • Hospice versus hospick. (Pure linguistic laziness, possibly complicated by low IQ. Some people say Walmark instead of Wal-Mart. There are South Carolinians who still believe their Senator was Strong Thurmond.)
  • Pastoral pastorial (not a word)
  • Prodigal prodical (not a word) Bonus: Prodigal means wasteful.
  • Prostate prostrate (How many pastors have been asked to go visit a Dad who, the pastor is told, has prostrate cancer?)
  • Psalm Psalms (Both are good words. They don’t mean the same thing. There is a book of Psalms that contains Psalm 23.)
  • Revelation Revelations (There is no book in the Bible called Revelations. The final book of the Bible is The Revelation to John.)
Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Beware of Controversial Churnalism: News as Entertainment

Most newspapers and television stations aren’t really in the News and/or Information business. They’re in the advertising industry, making money by selling toothpaste and automobiles. Still, it drives me slightly nuts when so-called news programs and news channels use emotionally charged language to attract and hang onto viewers. Their hope is to keep you tuned in, so the really important thing you need to know is coming up in a few minutes or a few days. I’ve heard such enticements called “churnalism” because their goal is to stimulate readership and viewership, not to inform.

These words during a news broadcast or as headlines in a newspaper are a clue:

  • Alarming
  • Amazing
  • Angers
  • Blames
  • Bombshell
  • Chilling incident
  • Conspiracy
  • Controversial
  • Crackdown
  • Devastating
  • Disturbing
  • Emergency
  • Feared
  • Lashed out
  • Leaked documents
  • Monstrous
  • Power play
  • Scary
  • Shamed
  • Shocking
  • Sparking outrage
  • Stuns
  • Urgent
  • Victims

A key component of democracy is an educated electorate. We need information. I have no objection to legitimate descriptive words:

  • Deadly
  • Hoax
  • Indicted
  • Missile
  • Missing
  • Nuclear power
  • Rape
  • Sniper
  • Suicide bomber
  • Survivor
  • Suspect
  • Turmoil

There’s enough news that’s important and interesting to inform us without adding the lurid enticements of charged language. I’d prefer to keep our news sources and our entertainment sources separate. (I hope you’ll find some humor in and be entertained by this blog title, even though I have no toothpaste to sell: Beware of Controversial Churnalism.)

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Gifts of the Jews

A few years ago, I discovered a book titled, The Gifts of the Jews, written by Thomas Cahill. Cahill argues that routines and predictability are pagan ideas, not Christian. I mean “pagan” in the classic sense of ancient religions that worship the creation instead of the Creator. Whether you are an anthropologist studying Stonehenge or an archeologist studying the Mayan ruins in Central America, the common theme is that life is circular, what goes around comes around, spring, summer, fall, winter, then again, spring, summer, fall, winter, this year just like last year, and next year just like this year. The earth’s orbit is predictable. The moon’s orbit is predictable. Round and round, no change, no change. Does that sound like the people in your Sunday school class? That’s pagan, not Christian. Next year is not supposed to look like 1950 or 1980.

God can intervene into history and God does intervene into history.

The gift of the Jews was to help humans understand for the first time, beginning with Abraham, the first hero of Hebrew story, that the events of this world did not have to be circular and predictable. We can break out and go in a new direction. That is what Abraham did, and the world has never been the same.

Of course people resisted that notion then and now.

Numbers 14: 4, while Moses was leading the people of Israel on an Exodus from 400 years of slavery to a new promised land, tells us that some said, “Let us choose a captain and go back to Egypt.” Return to the familiar.  That’s pre-Christian. That’s pre-Jewish. It sounds like a lot of churches.

Categories: Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Comfort Zone

A little more than halfway through my New Hampshire adventure, and during a two-week visit home, now seems like a good time to reflect on what I’ve been doing for the past three and a half months.

Thanks to all who have been following and encouraging me in this venture, an undertaking unlike anything I’ve ever done before. Your comments on my blog and Facebook page have been a hoot. My life has not been in danger in the great frozen Northland. Some people actually live in New England and survive. However, Monday, April 25, when I flew home for two weddings and a two-week break was a study in contrasts. It was 27 degrees and snowing in Hanover, New Hampshire. It was a beautiful 63 degrees in Columbia, South Carolina. Color has not yet arrived in New Hampshire, but our South Carolina garden was an explosion of flamboyant fertility—greens, reds, yellows and purples. On the front porch was a Clemson flag which rounded out the color spectrum with a bright orange. I haven’t seen that in New Hampshire.

Trinity Baptist Church of Hanover called me to serve as an Interim Pastor and Baptist Campus Minister to Dartmouth after the retirement of Ken (Pastor) and Sandy (Campus Minister) Hale. Our goal is to have a new Pastor/Campus Minister in place when I leave in late June, after six months. We have made strides, receiving excellent resumes, and having a few fine interviews, in spite of being able to offer only a part-time salary of $25,000 per year.

The furnace at the church is on its last leg, and I’m trying to raise $18,000 to replace an over thirty-year old antique before I leave. Otherwise, the church facility is in good shape. If you want to participate in this fund-raising effort, send your check to

Trinity Baptist Church of Hanover

Box 5079

Hanover, New Hampshire 03755

 

Any help will be appreciated. And tax-deductible.

The church, being small (an average of ten people in worship every Sunday), has not required my full-time attention. As those who’ve read my Facebook and blog posts know, I’ve had fun.

  • I’ve been able to see my Boston-based daughter Julie and her husband Tom about ever other week. That has been a great gift for me.
  • I’ve taken two writing classes Dartmouth provides for senior adults in the area. As surprising as it may be, I qualify as old enough.
  • I’ve taken walks throughout Vermont and New Hampshire in some beautiful villages. My favorites are Walpole and Orford, NH, and Woodstock and Norwich, VT.
  • I drove up to Montreal, Canada, for two days and two nights, a lot of walking (ten miles each day) and some world-class meals. I might as well admit that I’ve eaten a lot of amazing food on this adventure (including local cheeses) and gained some weight.
  • My cousin Yvonne, who lives in Vermont, along with her husband Hal and daughter Stormie, picked me up and drove us to Portland, Maine, for a two-day and two-night mini-vacation there. I ate lobster.
  • Gerald and Kari Aldridge and Frank and Susan Broome came to visit on occasions when it was important to see familiar faces. Speaking of friends and family, I am grateful for the phone calls of folks who checked up on me. Sally and I talked almost every day.
  • I haven’t watched much TV, but I’ve read a lot. I’ve written less than I’ve read.
  • I’m enjoying preaching every Sunday and doing the tasks necessary to help this congregation move to its next chapter. That is why I went to New England. It has been fulfilling to watch the church transition after the Hale’s leadership there for 32 years.

After two weeks in my South Carolina comfort zone, which I’m loving (though it is also filled with doctor, dentist, and other appointments), I’ll head back to Trinity and New Hampshire for my final two months there.

In June, Sally will fly up to visit Julie and Tom in Boston, then come over and see where I’ve been living, preaching, walking, and eating. She will meet the good folks at Trinity. Then, we’ll drive back to South Carolina.

That’s the plan. Keep the church and me in your prayers. Thanks again for your interest. If you’ve read this through to this last paragraph, you are a friend indeed.

 

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, South Carolina, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Reading in New Hampshire

With cold weather and free time, I may have been reading even more than usual. Of course, I have recommendations.

Fiction I’ve enjoyed:

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, a World War II story about a blind girl as she experiences the war. Very fine New York Times bestseller and deserving winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, another World War II story, usually ranked in the top 100 novels of all time. I’d never read it. I try to catch up every year by reading some of the classics I’ve missed.

Three Spenser novels, all of which take place in the Boston area and all of which I’m re-reading for the second time. Since I’m visiting my daughter Julie and her husband Tom in the Boston area nearly every other week, more or less, it’s fun to read these for local color. Robert Parker does not write Great Literature but he is fun and easy to read. Spenser’s sidekick Hawk is one of the three best in all of literature, along with Sherlock Holmes’ Dr. Watson and Travis McGee’s Meyer.

Non-Fiction I’ve enjoyed:

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, is the autobiography of a neurosurgeon who dies from cancer as he is writing his story. A Number 1 New York Times bestseller.

The Class of ’65, by Jim Aychmutey, is the story of a boy my age who grew up at Koinonia Farms in Americus, Georgia (where Habitat for Humanity was founded), in a radical, pacifist, integrated commune founded by Clarence Jordan. For anyone raised in the segregated schools of the Deep South, this is a fascinating and painful read. Stories of apologies that came to the author before his fiftieth class reunion are particularly poignant.

The Pine Barrens, by John McPhee. I’m taking a course on nature writing here at Dartmouth and have been introduced to the clear prose of McPhee. I’ve also read Encounters with the Archdruid by McPhee. I like his writing. I also enjoyed Henry Beston writing about Cape Cod in The Outermost House. I’m less impressed with E. O. Wilson, In Search of Nature.

Bill Bryson has written books I didn’t enjoy, but I liked most, including his latest, The Road to Little Dribbling, his latest walk across England, Scotland, and Wales, with amusing anecdotes of his travels.

Bob Gibson’s Pitch by Pitch gave me a baseball fix in the dead of a New Hampshire winter. This is his account of the first game of the 1968 World Series.

I was already reading The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh when I arrived in New Hampshire, but I finished it and I’m glad I did. It’s a religious classic that can help a Baptist from the South understand a faith system practiced by millions.

A Sense of Style by Steven Pinker was recommended as a good book about writing. It’s not as good as I thought it might be. It goes back on the shelf.

That’s some of what I’ve read. I’ve just purchased Kill ‘em and Leave ‘em, a biography of James Brown by James McBride. Since Brown and I grew up near each other, I’m anxious to read that. And I’ve purchased The Legends Club by John Feinstein, about the Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano world of college basketball in North Carolina. Looking forward to that.

And I’m always open to good suggestions.

Categories: Baseball, Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Humor, Race, South Carolina, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Humans interacting with nature in a pleasing way: That’s a good thing.

As a wannabe naturalist, I am cursed, instead, by being a dilettante, a jack-of-all-trades, a master of none. Drilling down deeply into any one tiny segment of flora or fauna is probably not in my future. Example: Mushrooms fascinate me. I’d be willing to spend a half-day with an expert in the woods being shown which fungi are edible and which are fatal. That would be fun. But I won’t be devoting all my Saturdays this spring and summer to searching for mushrooms. The world is too big and too wonderful for that self-imposed limitation. I understand the value of acquiring expertise in one field of focus, but my own inclination is to gape in wonder at every aspect of the observable universe. Ultimately, I find myself interested in the whole: the fishing industry of Cape Cod, the nomads of the Sahara Desert, the rice fields in Bali, and the saints who once lived on the Inner Hebrides island of Iona. For me, never either/or. Always both/and.

A few years ago, my cousin’s daughter introduced me to an Internet website, Stumbleupon. The user creates a list of interests—from American history to architecture to gardening to jazz to photography to travel. No limits. Then, through the miracle of algorithms, Stumbleupon places random websites on your computer screen—photographs, essays, videos, tutorials, portraits, cartoons. If you like what they show you, you give a thumb up. If not, a thumb down. Then, based on what you have valued thus far, the site magically begins to display what it believes you might like.

The process is addictive.

This silly time-wasting website—you can enjoy it while watching your favorite sporting event or a reality cooking show on television—taught me something about myself. Apparently, I like it best when the natural world and human activity come together in a way that values both. Pictures of eco-sensitive architecture and landscapes kept appearing in front of me—Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Thumb up.

Stumbleupon also introduced me to the craft of building backyard bluebird boxes. Thumb up. I viewed oil paintings of old mill waterwheels and photographs of Japanese gardens. Two thumbs up.

Stumbleupon understood me! I appreciate the simplicity and practicality of Shaker furniture.   What’s not to like about a British hedge maze that draws us in? Every visitor who travels to Charleston, South Carolina, wants to take home a woven sweetgrass basket. Australian cowboy hats, whether wide-brimmed and made of kangaroo hide, or Irish tweed flat caps, make perfect sense for the culture in which they are worn.

Humans interacting with nature in a pleasing way: That’s a good thing.

Categories: addiction, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Holiday, Lists/Top Ten, South Carolina, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Lifeyness of Life—Holy Week Reflections

If I had my druthers, I suppose I would spend most hours of most days doing what I love—quality time with family, reading, eating fine food, enjoying scintillating conversation with friends, walking in the woods, traveling to exotic places, napping in the afternoon, going to baseball games, writing.

But life intervenes, and I must do a bit of or a lot of what I don’t exactly enjoy—getting an oil change, buying underwear, vacuuming, filing income taxes, installing software, putting gas in the car, getting a haircut, enduring political shenanigans, driving from one place to the next. But those ordinary everyday activities are also what make life. I was still a teenager when someone told me you don’t have to take out the garbage. You get to take out the garbage.

These days leading up to Easter are called Holy Week on Christian calendars. I’m glad we set aside time to pay attention to matters of ultimate value—love, grace, sacrifice, humility, transformation, resurrection, celebration. But those can happen on a Tuesday in February or a Monday in October. I have a minimalist theology of sacred days and sacred space, because I also believe God can speak out of a burning bush when we’re taking a walk, or through an animal that is aggravating us, or through a misadventure on a journey. The Bible is full of such stories.

This nitty-gritty stuff is the texture of human existence—ordinary life made holy.

Categories: Baseball, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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