Friday, June 09, 2006

The Gospel

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The phone rings, I pick it up, and an unfamiliar voice says, “May I speak to Mr. Joel Gillespie, please.” “This is he,” I respond. “Mr. Gillespie,” the voice continues, “I have great news for you. You have been pre-selected to receive the new no annual fee Bank of Missoula credit card!” Wow. I’m thrilled. When the voice pauses for three microseconds to catch its breath, I interrupt. “Thank you for calling, but I already have enough credit cards.” I hang up.

There is so much hype. Everything is awesome. Everything is incredible. Everything changes your life.

Now if the voice on the phone had said, “Mr. Gillespie, you have won eighteen million dollars!” then, yea, that would have made for a good day. But I haven’t had many calls like that lately.

Most people I know are working hard to survive and make a living, to keep themselves and their loved ones alive and healthy, and to know a measure of success and happiness. It’s not a foregone conclusion that one will succeed at all this. Life is unpredictable. Even if we can control what we say and do, we can’t control what everyone else will say and do. We can’t control the weather. We can’t control disease and sickness. We can’t keep our company from being bought out. We can’t control what other nations may do. Not only that, we realize that we are not so able to control even ourselves. Inside, all mixed in with goodness and kindness, is anger, resentment, lust, greed, sadness, confusion, pride, and arrogance. It seems that underneath and surrounding all of our hard work and best efforts are the twin pillars of chaos and emptiness. They are ready to devour us. Evil surrounds, decay presses, and death awaits. It seems, frankly, that we’re all alone in a great big empty universe and, “ah ha!” the joke’s on us.

So is there any good news really? So I win the lottery. Big deal! It doesn't change the world, and it doesn't change me inside.

But the message of the Bible is in fact a message that there is good news. This is what the word “gospel” means – “good news” or “glad tidings” or “positive reports.”

The good news of the Bible is the news that in fact we are not alone in the universe. We and the entire universe have been created by an infinite and personal and good being whom the Bible calls God. This God has made us as human beings “in his image.” He has made us to find our happiness in knowing and loving Him. He has shown us how to live in a way that brings honor to him and happiness to us. He has shown us how to live toward one another and toward our neighbor.

The bad news of the Bible is that we have messed up. We have decided that we don’t like the way that this God runs His universe. We have decided to look elsewhere for our fullness and happiness. Because of our rebellion, our world is fallen. We are alienated from God, from one another, and from the earth. And God has honored us, as creatures made in His image, by allowing us ultimately to experience the full weight of our choice to reject his authority and presence in our lives. He has prepared a place and environment called hell where we get to live forever without Him and His presence and blessing. Hell is God’s ratification of our anti-God choice.

The good news of the Bible is that evil, decay, and death have been defeated. The good news of the Bible is that though we have rejected our creator, he has not rejected us. He has provided a way for us to be restored to Him and to begin to regain what we had lost.

How has this come about? This good and powerful God has embraced the world that has rejected him. He has indeed become a person – Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. In word and deed this Jesus has revealed to us what our creator God is like. He has taught us what our creator God seeks to do in and with His world. In word and deed Jesus has also shown us what we were created to be like. He has shown us how to live toward God and others. He has shown us how to love God and love our neighbor.

This Jesus has also done the most remarkable thing. Something really incredible. Something definitely life changing.

Jesus has taken upon Himself the full weight of human sin and rebellion. He has “borne our iniquity and carried our sorrows.” He has experienced in our place God’s justifiable displeasure with our rebellion against Him. In other word, Jesus has “died for our sins.” He has suffered hell in our place.

But Jesus has done more. He has defeated death itself. He has been raised – bodily -- from the dead. He has ascended into the presence of God, where he now rules over the world and intercedes for His people. Jesus is alive, and is coming back again.

Jesus has opened up a way back to God. He has put the world back on track. He has dealt with the chaos and uncertainty, with death and decay and evil. Jesus rules over the universe.

The good news of the Bible is that as we believe in and embrace and cling to this risen Jesus as our Lord and master, we will be forgiven of our sins, we will be declared acquitted of the charge of rebellion against God, we will be adopted into God’s family, we will begin again to be remade into the image of God, and we will be raised from the dead to an eternity of fellowship with God in a renewed heaven and earth. Now this is good news indeed!

Covenant Fellowship is committed to proclaiming and bearing witness to the good news that Jesus Christ is alive, that he is King over the world, that he has borne our sins, that he has defeated death and Satan, and that he is coming back as judge of the earth. This is good news indeed!!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Dixie Chicks Taking the Long Way

Bad news today about the upcoming Dixie Chicks tour. Ticket sales are sluggish, and some of the dates and venues may have to be pulled. They are scheduled to play here October 22nd. I’d like to go, so I hope this is not one of the venues pulled.

I bought their new CD, Taking the Long Way, a couple of weeks ago. The CD consists of fourteen songs all written by the Dixie Chicks with some helpers here and there.

Based on their original songs from their last CD, I am all for a CD of their own songs. I think they are terrific song writers. In fact, musically, Taking the Long Way is a superb piece of work. I have no idea what genre to call it. It’s not country, not really rock or pop, not blue grass. Maybe some sort of folk/country/pop/rock fusion. But I’ve never cared about genre types really anyway.

There are enough melodic hooks, unexpected but cool chord changes, surprises as to where you think a song is going, to cause me to expect to enjoy the CD for a long time to come.

Their single, which I heard them do on Leno or Letterman, is Not Ready to Make Nice. It is basically a middle finger to the country music powers that be, and the fans who got on their case after Natalie Maime’s comments about President Bush while they were on tour in England.

I admire their spunk. Not being a fan of the Country Music Establishment I don’t mind their rebellion against its rules and standards. Good for them.

Not Ready to Make Nice is not even in my top five favorite songs on the CD. As of today I’d go with Baby Hold On as my favorite, Easy Silence second, Everybody Knows third, Bitter End fourth, and The Long Way Around fifth. But I expect that to change as I listen to the CD more and more.

I think the Dixie Chicks are simply great musicians and songwriters.

I also think they have been really stupid, and have dug their own grave to a great extent.

The crack about President Bush made in England before an adoring British anti-war crowd was just a cheap shot, and that it was taken out of country at the beginning of the war justifiably rubbed people the wrong way. Their upcoming concert was mentioned at the Chris Daughtry show at Grimsley Stadium and there were resounding boos. I don’t think those folks were all Republicans.

I really don’t think most people care what Natalie Maime’s personal view is of the war in Iraq or President Bush. She is hardly uniquely qualified to offer intelligent commentary. She is free to run her mouth as she sees fit. People are free to buy their CD’s and go to their concerts as they see fit.

The Dixie Chicks should incorporate their thoughts about life and the world – and the war – in their art, in their music. They do this to some extent in I Hope which I find to have a hopelessly naïve “why can’t we all just get along” message, but I still like the song. I just don’t think political commentary, even in music, is their strong suit. And I am a fan of good protest music, even when I don't agree with it. OK, so I miss the sixties already...

Much of the CD is about how they have dealt with their fall from grace. There is too much of it for my taste. I think the over focus becomes self indulgence. It focuses attention too much on their own struggle with their fans and with country stations when there are simply too many other things to write about. Yet, existentially, they have been living in that struggle, so it is no surprise that they would write something about. Just too much I think.

What I worry about is that the buying of their CD’s or the attending of their concerts will be less about their music and more about whether people agree with or disagree with their political stance. I think that would be a real shame.

Having said all that, I will keep enjoying the CD for its musical excellence, and if I have the money I will go see them when they come here, if they do. And, again, I admire their grit.

Mostly I admire their music making. I admire their genre busting. I admire their musicianship, and that of their supporting cast. I just wish they would change the subject a little bit.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum at the Historic Palmer Memorial Institute

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Drive east out of Greensboro toward Burlington and about half way there you will enter the recently incorporated town of Sedalia, North Carolina. Within the town limits of Sedalia is the site one of the most truly remarkable institutions in the history of Guilford County, and a story of one amazing woman, Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown.

The site is that of the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum at Historic Palmer Memorial Institute.

When one thinks of the most important and influential people and institutions in the history of Guilford County, this official State of North Carolina Historic Site celebrates a person and place that should be in anyone’s “final four.”

The subtitle of the definitive work on Dr. Brown and the Palmer Institute (for sale at the gift shop) really encapsulates the inspirational nature of visiting this historic site: “what one young African American woman could do.”

The story of Charlotte Hawkins Brown and the Palmer Institute is the story of how one person, committed to the well being of a community and a people, can make a profound difference in the lives of others. It is a story to inspire the best in all of us.

She was born a Lottie Hawkins in 1883 in Henderson North Carolina, later to change her name to Charlotte Hawkins. To escape the pressures and injustices of the Jim Crow era, and for the sake of opportunity, her family moved to Cambridge Massachusetts in 1888. There Lottie was able to receive a solid education at Allston Grammar School, Cambridge English High School, and Salem State Normal School. Her drive, personality, and intelligence caught the eye of many, including Alice Freeman Palmer, who would help Lottie in her education, and to whom Charlotte Hawkins would later dedicate her new school in North Carolina.

Young eighteen year old Charlotte Hawkins arrived in what is present day Sedalia in 1901 with an assignment from the American Missionary Society to teach at the Bethany Institute, a struggling school in the small predominantly African American community. Soon after her arrival the Association decided to close the school after one term, yet Charlotte Hawkins, encouraged by members of the community to stay, saw opportunity across the street (now Highway 70) in an old blacksmith’s shop, and soon had raised the money from friends and associates back in New England to open the Palmer Memorial Institute, a day school and boarding school, named after her mentor back in Cambridge Mass.

Charlotte Hawkins, soon to become Charlotte Hawkins Brown, would go on to lead and guide the Palmer Institute for over fifty years.

It is worth the better part of a morning or afternoon to walk the large campus, read the various signs about the many buildings, and take a tour of “Canary House,” Mrs. Brown’s home, restored much as the way it was (including furniture) when Dr. Brown lived and entertained there. There is a short video which excellently captures the spirit of Dr. Brown and the school. What is so impressive is the ongoing ripple effect of the school in communities far and wide, as graduates of the Palmer Institute have themselves gone on to make a difference in places far and near.

Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown ran the Palmer Institute for 50 years touching the lives of countless young men and women. Her story should be told, made into a movie, and proclaimed abroad, for it is a truly inspirational story of what one person can do.

I am very happy to have learned that the State of North Carolina has budgeted money for the upgrading of the site, including the renovation of some of the central buildings. That should provide even greater access to this great place, and great story.

You can read all about the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum, and get directions to the Historic Site, by going to their outstanding web site -

Wikipedia has an interesting article on Charlotte Hawkins Brown here.

Top Ten Local Hikes

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We are blessed in Guilford County with a wealth of areas preserved for hiking, and by hiking I mean hiking on trails. I have a separate section for Top Ten Walks (on pavement).

Many of these trials are overseen by the City of Greensboro Park System, Guilford County parks and Recreation, Greensboro Beautiful, and the City of High Point.

I am going to list my own personal top ten, then a few “honorable mentions.” I have tried to link these to local web sites which describe them further, and there are articles or articles pending for each trail.

I have with one exception NOT included trails that are shared by mountain bikers.

Please feel free to e-mail me with a trail that belongs on the list, or, if you are so inspired, a description of such a trail for our readers.

Here is my “Top Ten.”

The Greensboro Bog Garden Trail (Hobbs Road)

The Laurel Bluff Trail (Watershed Trail Between Lake Brandt and Lake Townsend)

The Nat Green Trail (Lake Brandt)

The Piedmont Trail (Lake Brandt)

Big Loop - Little Loop Trails at Bur-Mil Park

The Palmetto Trail (Lake Brandt)

The Beech Bluff Trail (Brush Creek, Lake Higgins)

The Evergreen Trail at Price Park

The Osprey Trail (Lake Townsend)

The Bill Faver Lakeshore Trail at the Piedmont Environmental Center

Here is my “Honorable Mention.”

The River Walk at the Summit

The Deep River Trail at the Piedmont Environmental Center

The Townsend Trail (Lake Townsend)

The Chatfield Trail at Hagen Stone Park

Regional Festivals

Hi all you out there in blogland. I am putting together a list of regional festivals, and was wondering if you could tell me what I'm missing.

Here is what I have:

The Eastern Music Festival (Guilford College, Greensboro, June 23-July 30, 2006)

The North Carolina Shakespeare Festival (High Point, Winston Salem, Raleigh, various venues, October to December, 2006)

The Piedmont Jazz and Blues Festival (Greensboro, April 29-May 6, 2006)

Fun Fourth Festival Greensboro (Downtown Greensboro, July 4)

The Galax Leaf and String Festival (Galax, VA, June 9-11)

The National Black Theatre Festival (Winston Salem, bi-annual July 30-August 4, 2007)

Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (Grandfather Mountain, July 6-9 2006)

The Occaneechi Saponi Spring Cultural Festival (Hillsborough, June 9-10, 2006)

Celebrate Our State: A North Carolina Festival (High Point, June 9-11, 2006)

The Original North Carolina Wine Festival (Clemmons, Saturday, June 10, 2006)

Celtic Festival & Highland Games (Historic Bethebara Park, Winston Salem, May 12, 2006)

Top Ten Hikes Within an Hour’s Drive (or so) of Greensboro

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For a county sitting right slab in the middle of the piedmont, far from mountain and sea, we are fortunate to have some truly good hiking opportunities so close to us.

I know, the great stuff lies further a field, across the parkway, in the misty mountains to our west, and along the seacoast to our east. When I was at Clemson I spent about every opportunity backpacking and exploring the western North Carolina mountains, west of Asheville. Great stuff out there.

But we have what we have, and it ain’t bad.

I am not including local Guilford County hikes in this list, though some of the watershed trails would qualify. You can find them under Top Ten Local Hikes and Walks.

The best trails are in three “clumps,” one to our northwest, one to our east, and one to our south. There are trail maps and descriptions on most of the web sites hyperlinked below.

To our Northwest lies Hanging Rock State Park, (also check out North Carolina Outdoors Hanging Rock Site), Pilot Mountain State Park, and the Sauratown Trail that joins them (and is a part of the Mountain to the Sea Trail).

To our east lies the Occoneechee State Natural Area, The Eno River State Park, (also check out North Carolina Outdoors Eno River Site), the Duke Forest, and the William Umstead State Park.

To our south lies Uwharrie National Forrest including the Birkhead Wilderness Area (also check out North Carolina Outdoors Birkhead Mountains site), as well as Morrow Mountain State Park.

From all of these options, my top ten may not be the same as your top ten, but there are quite more than ten trails to hike, so, who cares, hike them all!

There are several good books available at local book stores that five guidance on NC hiking trails. Allen de Hart has written several editions of books on North Carolina trails. His Third Edition gets good reviews. There is Hiking North Carolina by Randy Johnson, a Falcon Guide Book. And then there is Don Childrey’s Uwharrie Lakes Region Trail Guide: Hiking and Biking in North Carolina's Uwharrie Region. Allen de Hart also has two trail guides, for the Triad and Triangle respectively, which covers most of the short trip hiking opportunities near us. They are Trails of the Triad and Trails of the Triangle.

Anyway, here are my “Top Ten Hikes Within an Hour’s Drive (or so) of Greensboro”

The Moore’s Knob Trail, Hanging Rock State Park
The Robbins Branch-Birkhead Mountain Trail loop, Birkhead Wilderness Area
The Sauratown Trail
The Occoneechee Mountain Loop/Occoneechee Mountain Trail, Occoneechee State Natural Area
Bobbit’s Hole Trail, Eno River State Park
The Mountain Trail, Pilot Mountain State Park
The Wolfe Rock/Hanging Rock Trail Loop, Hanging Rock State Park
The Little Pinnacle, Jomeokee Trail, Pilot Mountain State Park
The Lower Cascade Falls Trail, Hanging Rock State Park
The Uwharrie National Recreation Trail, Uwharrie National Forrest

Maybe you would like to write a trail description for, or just pass along ideas to me. I’d appreciate it.