Pizza Reflection

There’s a new pizza place in Spring Mills. They named it Pizza Heaven. I’m sure they were trying to conjure images of the best pizza that could possibly be. My mind, being the associative menace that it is, reflected on that name. I mean, where do we go when we die (if you follow traditional religious belief)? Heaven, of course! Naturally it follows that pizza heaven is where dead pizzas go. Remember all those dead pizzas from your single days? They laid around your house or apartment or car until they could have earned you an “A” in microbiology. Now perhaps when they get to heaven, those pizza bones are “made new,” but I didn’t get there. My understanding of a pizza heaven was more like a pizza graveyard.

Much to my surprise, that evening  I found myself sandwiched between my granddaughters, 6&9 years old, headed for… Pizza Heaven. I explained this all to them, there in the back seat. The six year old is kind of fussy. Not maybe a neat freak, but she did warn Judy that “Um Grammy? You might not want to eat that. It’s moldy.” When Judy was fixing to have some blue cheese & crackers. It was plain that the idea of having dinner at this repository for dead pizzas made her uncomfortable. I provided her with an alternative. After a pensive moment, I confided “well. You really wouldn’t like the live ones. They scream when you bite them.”

Reblog: Regeneration in a clearcut

My friend Chuck Ray walked through the same clearcut 4 years later. Clearcutting has become an emotionally loaded word, concept.

It’s a tool. I tell people that if you want to change a spark plug, you need a certain tool to do it. And a screwdriver isn’t it. While forestry is less absolute than mechanics, the analogy is valid. When a clearcut is what’s needed, little else will do the job of forest regeneration as well.

Here’s a link to his post:



Refrigerator Theology

I’m standing in front of the fridge looking for the catsup. It will not show itself to me; I cannot see it. I call to Judy, my wife, “where’s the catsup?” “Third shelf, right side, in the back.” And sure enough there’s the catsup.

The lesson is about presence. God meets us where we are, whether that’s in the fridge (no, this is not a light box), in the garden, or (in my case) up a tree somewhere.

The lesson is about attitude: if you think the catsup is in there, it is more likely to show itself. It is about faith. If you believe the catsup is there, it is much easier to see. It is about the ubiquity and grace of God: God can speak to us through any medium She believes will reach us. If we understand the catsup as a metaphor for Truth, we are assured it’s “in there” even when we have given up hope. We pray “God, help me see the catsup.” The answers are often not what we expect. Grace  overflows: we are not berated for not knowing or seeing. We are gently guided.

There’s a lot of stuff in the fridge besides the catsup, some of it bad, like that bit of 3-week old casserole that has become sentient, has “culcha” (culture pronounced with a Joisey (Jersey) accent) and will have linguistic ability if we leave it another week. Now it is the nature of prayer that we may start by asking God to show us the catsup, only to find that we really wanted the French dressing. It helps to be open to redirection. What we practice is discernment, whether we call it that or not.

In the “Am I a Preacher” essay, I discuss embedded (or intuitive) and deliberative theologies. Embedded “stuff” is largely absorbed passively. Deliberative stuff (for the idea applies to many things in our lives besides theology) requires us to be intentional in our pursuit of whatever. So, we stand in front of the fridge and passively practice discernment.

To actively (deliberatively) practice discernment requires us to take worship (understood as being in communication with whatever you call that which is beyond us) from the meetingroom (church) into the rest of our lives. We are easily confused. We think of our work as doing the chores or how we earn a living to keep body & soul together when in fact the actual work is to take worship from the nursery we call church into the gardens of our lives. We start by asking questions. The Bible is full of people questioning God, sometimes not so gently. Catsup, God? Really? Are you sure there’s not something else that would taste better? Or at least not give me bad breath? And so we ask questions. Clearness (the product of discernment) tells us that yes, indeed, catsup is the answer. Or not.

But how do we know? Some of the questions have to be about ethics, about rightness. Will our proposed course of action lead us towards (closer to) God or away from the Presence as the center of our lives? Does it help our neighbors (whether plants, animals or other humans)? Is it ethical? What do Scripture & other sources of wisdom & Truth have to say about it? By asking questions, we can hope to test the rightness of our actions. One of the places to ask questions is in community. The caveat is that we have to be willing to accept the answer when we reach clearness that the casserole is spoiled (evil) or that catsup is not the way forward.

We also need to be aware that some of the stuff in the fridge is not ours (or intended for us). Those messages are not for us. But sometimes, the burning truth is in some insignificant speck, as perhaps a fleck of jalapeno in the corner of our eye. Just as a weed is merely a plant out of place, evil can be misapplication of an otherwise good thing. Things just /are/, in the sense of absolute value they tried to teach us in math. The goodness or badness then goes back to those questions we asked earlier about ethics and direction in relation to us & God.

Remember all this next time you’re lost in the refrigerator.

A Father’s Advice

A Father’s Advice

It seemed the only opportunity. It seemed that career progression planned to take my son & his wife to England, not the sort of place one commutes to or that such plebes as myself visit for the weekend. It seemed the only opportunity to see them before they left. The birth of their son is immanent. So we bailed in the car Thursday at 9 PM and drove all night for a long weekend in Wisconsin. We arrived at 6 in the morning feeling sort of spent, like the fuzzy edges of a spent thundercloud.

After lunch on Friday, Christopher & I went for a hike in the greenspace near the apartment where he lives. We talked of a broad range of subjects from box elders and mulberries and milkweeds to engineering. Then he asked “Do you have any advice for a new father?” It’s something I’ve thought about a lot. Here’s some of what I said.

Mom & I agreed early on that we would present a united front when we you kids asked us something. Whichever one of us was asked first, the other one would agree. In the event of a disagreement, the policy stood and the matter could be discussed privately by us at a time when a decision wasn’t riding on it.

Grandma did a number of things I think were good parenting. Say we were making cookies. She would show us how to measure, then let us measure (for real, not pro forma), but say “can I check that?” The wisdom was in affirming what we did with the opportunity to suggest better ways or corrections.

The actual goal of parenting is to raise children who are capable of making unsupervised decisions that are ethically and morally acceptable. In the same vein as making cookies, allow kids to take risks and succeed while supervised, like spotting them the first few times they cross the monkeybars. Risk allows kids (and adults, too) to find boundaries, which are often well outside expectations. It allows them to learn to evaluate, to fail, to succeed.

My Quaker scoutmaster encouraged me to practice running rapids backwards when the choice was mine so that when the time came that the choice wasn’t mine, I could do it. One day I wound up running a rapid called Coliseum backwards in my C-1 (a decked canoe that looks like a kayak). Coliseum is a class 5 rapid on the Cheat river in West Virginia.

As parents, we always put the truth of the matter (whatever had happened) at the top. It wasn’t to say that there wouldn’t be consequences, but that they would be less if you told us than if we learned of them otherwise. Punishing kids for truth-telling trains them to evade responsibility. Another advantage of the approach was that it was forward-looking. There may have been an element of blame, but the focus was on what was wrong and how it could (or needed to) be changed. As they grew,the kids knew they could tell us what was going on in their lives. It kept communication open, even when they were teenagers. They later admitted that they (more or less) gave up pushing our buttons because they knew they weren’t going to get our goat.


Perspectives in Forestry: Roy.

Roy currently runs a one-man sawmill. Has been a logger. Is ordained and serves as a bishop in the Mennonite Church (Conservative). In conversation with a friend who is a forester, we came up with four loggers (or sawmillers) in a 2 county area who are in some position of ministry within their church. Even though my class is finished, I hope to continue to post podcasts of conversations with various folks in the wood business.

What is a conservative Mennonite? What is it about logging that nurtures faith? Should faith and work mix? Give this podcast a listen. Let me know what you think.

On Willow Trees

Note: I wrote this more than 10 years ago. I still like it.

I have spent more than 35 years doing residential tree trimming & removal.  Most of my work comes by word of mouth.  The typical scenario goes like this: a phone call to the effect of “I understand that you cut trees.  I have one I need cut down or trimmed.”  Usually I go look at the work and give an estimate.  Sometimes, people are willing to admit that they really don’t know much about their trees.  Frequently however, they have very distinct ideas about what they want done, whether or not it can be justified from an aboricultural perspective.  Often they start with a statement like “Isn’t that old tree ugly?  It simply must go.”


While I generally have employed a mercenary approach (I do what they pay me to do) I have not been afraid to differ with their opinions.  I come at life from a Quaker perspective, with the belief that there is something of the Divine in every person.  One of the qualities often attributed to the Divine is beauty.  So while a person may be outwardly unattractive, there is still some beauty there if one is willing to look, listen & understand.


Trees, like people are products of their environment.  They may be gnarled, bent & broken but like muted colors on a rainy fall day, their beauty is still a part of their form; it may even be their form (for example a bristlecone pine).  I started looking for ugly trees.  While I found some that lacked aesthetic appeal, there was always something there that spoke to me of how they got that way.  I found that their stories earned my respect and awe.  The result was that I set out to find & document the “ugliest” trees I could find, barring those abused by people.


We have, here in central Pennsylvania, willow trees which grow near streams & springs.  While they can grow in a yard if planted, they out-compete other trees in the wetter areas.  They are inefficient in their use of water, and their roots can survive (thrive?) in the low-oxygen soil conditions found where high water tables are present.  Still, root systems are shallow and may be undermined by a flowing creek. Even at the best, conditions are less than ideal for roots to perform their anchoring function.  The result is that wind storms topple them easily.  The wood is soft and rather weak, subject to rot & decay.  Large branches are frequently broken off.  Rot can become extensive in the trunks.  Even if the tree is not uprooted, the trunk can be broken & twisted.  Yet they never say die.  They are well adapted to this way of life.  They grow & fall over.  They grow & fall over again.  The branches have dormant buds under the bark.  So when the tree falls, it reroots and grows some more. (I know where the power company cut down a willow & piled the wood.  One of the logs sprouted and has become a tree.)  Frequently you can see where the original trunk was; its branches have grown into new trees: many stems from the same tree.  By using this method of vegetative propagation, a single tree can come to cover a quarter to a half an acre.  It’s all about increasing market share, right?


I guess what appeals to me about these willow trees is their tenacity, persistence & character.  They are among the first to turn green in the spring.  They might not be what you’d consider the ideal yard tree, but like some wildflowers, they’re sort of cool.  Maybe even pretty.  At least in the right place.

Wild Plums

The wild plums are in bloom on the banks of Plum Creek, the Plum Creek of the “Laura & Mary” stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Stories that were special to mom; she knew those places, the prairie in all its moods. Plum creek flows only a few miles from the farms she knew as a child. The plums grow in impenetrable, spiny thickets of popcorn flowers. Wildlife biologists refer to the fruit as Soft mast. Summer food for the turkeys and prairie chickens and humans. The essence of hope: to know what will be with the security of remembering what has been. Plum jam in jars, to spread on homemade bread toast. Summer, sun-warmed fruit for those December days when we are certain that summer will never come again. Summer has been; Summer will be. The wind blows as it [always] does on the prairie. The grass floats like nap on velvet, the illusion of a green sea coming to life after the killing frosts of winter. The full moon casts its silvery light. The Des Moines flows, languid and murky playing hide and seek with the moon among the arching maples. With a glint and a wink, the river reflects the captured moonlight.


Dawn begins its dress rehearsal far offstage, offering first a hint of salmon pink to the cirrus near the horizon. The sky is big here, perhaps only because I’ve lived with the hill and forest constricted horizons of the east for too long. Dawn comes early. Like the river, not in a hurry to arrive. The eastern brightening is inexorable. Salmon is heated to orange, then with a blast of orange light, the sun comes onstage coating everything in glory. The robins and jays have been telling us for an hour, prophets of the new day, that it was coming. We cursed their racket. Let us sleep in ignorance, we said and pulled the pillow over our heads.


A hawk rests mundanely on a post. A fish hawk, at that. HiAs white head fastened to a swivel just above his shoulders. Such was my first sighting of a bald eagle not in a zoo. Our national bird. Hardly majestic. Come on, damn you. Soar! Play the part legend has assigned you. He refused to acknowledge my imprecations. His work order said sit on a post. Wait for a vole. Or a pocket gopher. Such is lunch. I had no authority where he came from. Life goes on above and below.


Just as a curve is straight if you break it into small enough segments, life, this novel we live, is composed of the minutia, the mundane, the insignificant. Breathe and savor the morning air with the scent of dew and freshly tilled soil on it. Nod to the bullheads with their catfish whiskers. Smile to the plums in their wedding attire. Accept the hawk. We are surrounded by miracles. We need only pay attention to those prophets who try with such vehemence to awaken us.