Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Rachel - We Miss You

Today, September 16, 2009, would have been my niece Rachel Elizabeth Johnson's 25th birthday. It's hard not to imagine what she would have looked like, laughed like, acted like as a 25 year old yound lady. We miss you Rachel. This is a picture of Rachel and her mom, my sister Mary Johnson, in the surf on Hilton Head Island.

On February 9, 1987, two and a half year old Rachel died suddenly and unexpectedly from an overwhelming bacterial infection that mimicked the flu. Rachel's life touched many people, and deeply impacted everyone in my family. She was my parent's first grandchild. She was my sister and brother in law Mary and Sandy Johnson's first child. She preceded my own daughter Shannon into this world be a mere four weeks. Rachel was a fun and delightful and curious child. She was the apple of my parent's eye. I have dedicated this set of pictures to her precious memory. The world was a brighter place with Rachel in it. Even as a little child she had the love of God in her heart. I cannot sing Holy Holy Holy without thought of her little voice. We all miss you, Rachel.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Born in the Fifties, Now in Our Fifties

My baby sis turns fifty this coming week, which means that all the Gillespie siblings will be in their 50's! Born in the 1950's, now in our 50's. Time flies.

Mike (8), Bobby (6), Joe (3), and Mary (1), 1960, on the front porch of their brand new house, 6438 Bridgewood Road, Columbia, SC. More old family pictures here.

My 25 Favorite Albums

A while back I posted a list of my top ten favorite albums. I decided to revisit the list this week, and make it bigger.

I've been thinking for quite some time about what are my favorite records. I don't know why, maybe it’s a bit of a nostalgia thing, maybe a desire to consolidate thoughts in my head, maybe a way to identify with and know my own generation and culture.

I am thinking here only of studio albums too, otherwise Allman Brothers at Fillmore East, Alison Kraus and Union Station Live, Jackson Brown's Solo Live Acoustic, and Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison would be on the list. Also, no compilations, no “best of” records (bye bye Dionne Warwick – you would have made it otherwise), and no soundtracks (in the latter case Jeremiah Johnson would be on the list).

To get on the list 1) I had to own the record, 2) I had to be currently listening to the record, and 3) it had to be personal – no attempt at balance or coolness or anything.

Of the hundreds of records I love, how do I narrow a list down to 25? How do I choose between five different great Bob Dylan albums and five Beatles albums and so forth? I think in the end it has to with affection. I tend to have more affection for some records than others; who knows why. And as far as this list goes I prefer records that seem to hold together and have a sense of unity. It doesn't mean they have to be concept albums, but I tend to think of a record as a whole.That should exclude The White Album and LZ IV, so it's only one important factor.

There are albums I have and play a lot that have 5-6 really good songs, and the rest I tend to skip. There are better known records that would be on many people’s list, but for some reason there isn't the connection for me with the whole.

There are many great records I have just never had the chance to own or enjoy on a regular basis. Such is life. The list does not reflect any idea of what albums I think are the greatest, the most important, the most significant, or the most artistic, but the records that seem to speak to me (or which I simply enjoy) the most on an ongoing basis. Oh, and I have not included sacred music here. That will be a different list someday.

My 25 Favorite Albums

1. Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
2. Astral Weeks - Van Morrison
3. Abbey Road - The Beatles
4. Led Zeppelin (I) - Led Zeppelin
5. Late For the Sky - Jackson Browne
6. The Times They Are a Changin' - Bob Dylan
7. Joshua Tree - U2
8. The Beatles (White Album) - The Beatles
9. Hotel California - The Eagles
10. The Rising - Bruce Springsteen
11. Moondance - Van Morrison
12. Let It Be - The Beatles
13. Audible Sigh - The Vigilantes of Love
14. Led Zeppelin (IV) - Led Zeppelin
15. A Rush of Blood to the Head - Coldplay
16. My Life - Iris Dement
17. Tracy Chapman - Tracy Chapman
18. Pictures at An Exhibition - Emerson, Lake, and Palmer
19. Jackson Browne - Jackson Browne
20. Argus - Wishbone Ash
21. Modern Times - Bob Dylan
22. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb - U2
23. Hard Candy - Counting Crows
24. Blue - Joni Mitchell
25. Continuum - John Mayer

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Downtown Greensboro from My Office Window

Lincoln National is in the shade of a cloud! I am thankful I get to look out at this every day.

More Downtown Greensboro pictures.

Finding My Way Through the Fog

It's been three months since I laid up my Pastor cleats, and though I have been blessed with some useful work in this period, well, things haven't been quite coming together. I have never been "unemployed" and it is a new experience for sure, one I don't particularly like. But all of a sudden I have a new kind of empathy for many others I never could have had before. I count that as no small blessing.

When I add up all the various things I am competent to do it would seem that there is a big job out there that would be a good fit, but it's hard to know how to present myself in a way that would make me seem like a good candidate over people with more specific experience.

I have been more discouraged of late generally, with this vague sense of being aimless, pointless, washed up, over the hill, etc. But the cloud seems to be lifting a little lately. I think this has a lot to do with regaining my spiritual legs. I've been jaded, though not because of soem terrible experience. As I have said to pretty much everyone, I had the best pastoral situation that I really could have ever asked for. Whether being a solo pastor was the best thing for me and my family I am not sure (I think not), but I could not have asked for a better solo pastor situation. I will always be grateful for the 16 years I had with Covenant Fellowship.

Still, no matter how good the situation I left burned out and jaded. I think I was just worn out. It's taken a while to regain my focus as a Christian. For a long time I didn't even want to pray or read my Bible or hear a sermon. I prefered the woods or a quiet walk. I sense recently that the ice is melting. I cannot say enough how much Pope Benedict's writings have helped me. He has put Jesus again at front and center of my thought and imagination, and I will always have a spirit of gratitude toward him and his church, dyed in the wool Protestant as I may be.

Every day and every week I've been trying to figure out what to do with myself, sort of imagining a "Career III" that I am supposed to discover or stumble into. There has been a growing anxiety associated with this effort. It seems like a mountain that I can't climb. But a peace has come over me very recently. I think at the core is spiritual renewal, though I am not sure.

I know that I can do four things - garden, teach, pastor, and write. So why not do them? Why not build upon what I've done and can do?

I don't wish to have a frenetic traditional "landscaping" business, but I do love dirt, roots, leaves, color, aroma, compost, garden wildlife, and just maybe there is work out there doing that. I don't see myself pastoring a church again, but there are a lot of other things pastors can do, all manner of spiritual care and service needed, particularly with people churches have a harder time reaching. And even though my life isn't totally together I still am thinking and growing and discovering new things about God and his word, and why should I put a lid on the years of trainign and experience He provided for me. Besides, He made me a teacher - it's what I do and who I am, and I can't help but want to share with others whatever I am graced to understand or know. I find great joy helping people "see" what they didn't before, whether it is fractions, inertia, the Trinity, the workings of a cell, the structure of a sentence, whatever. And I can't help but write. It is who I am. And of course there is taking pictures, which I consider just a way of sharing with love what I see, no more no less.

I have no idea if "Career III" even exists. I am 52 years old, and maybe, just maybe I am meant just to do the things I am experienced and good at (and of course get better at them), and let my life play out as it will. I am who I am. I do what I do.

I have made strategic mistakes in my life, and if I could do it all over again I would make some different decisions - you know, with 20/20 hindsight. At the same time I trust in the goodness of God, and in His providential mercies toward me. I believe and think that things I have done (and not done) - whether or not some of them were the wisest thing that could have been decided at the time - I believe that they "add up" to something God has been preparing for me, or me for. I have always sought in counseling others to try to help them see the ways the experience and circumstances add up and flow into other things - so often people just bounce around all over the place. I think I need to heed my own counsel.

I am deeply grateful for my friends, new and old, for being patient with me in this time, and offering encouragement and counsel.

So, I press on. I am available. Call me.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Time to Start Over on Health Care Reform

The vast majority of the American people want to see some kind of health care reform. I THINK that we need a bipartisan middle of the road well articulated health care reform bill that is distasteful both to the more liberal and more conservative members of the House - Obama needs to have a lot of closed door meetings, find areas of give and take, and then present and champion and articulate a specific bill. As it says in Article II Section 3, of the President:

"He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient;"

If such a measure can't pass then let the voters deal with the most liberal and conservative members of the House. Obama needs to do what he said, and that is bring change to the way we do business in Washington. So what's goign to happen, are his poll numbers going to drop?

It's time to start over and do it right.

Black Gum

Same tree as below, main trunk. Nyssa sylvatica. Green Hill Cemetery, Greensboro, NC.

Twenty Five Most Influential Books

I was inspired to make this list after hearing something on NPR recently. Here is a list of twenty five books in alphabetical order that have most shaped my life and thinking. I am positive that as I ponder the list over time that I will make changes, but it's been good to rethink the various influences God has placed in my life. The list leans towards non fiction, but not exclusively. I'm reminded of the Bob Seger line "What to leave in, what to leave out." Surely there were books that had more impact that I have long forgotten, or never even realized had the impact. I have tried to make the list as honest as possible without regard to coolness factors or people's opinions. I'd like to see your list.

A Distant Grief by Kefa Sempangi

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Being Human - By Jerram Barrs and Ranald Macaulay

Brave New World by Alduous Huxley

Brothers Karamazov by Fydor Dostoevsky

Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

George MacDonald: An Anthology: 365 Readings by CS Lewis

In the Beginning by Henri Blocher

Jesus and the Victory of God by NT Wright

Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict

Keep in Step with the Spirit by J.I Packer

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Perelandra by CS Lewis

Poems and Prose by Gerard Manley Hopkins (W. H. Gardner)

Small Is Beautiful by EF Schumacher

The Americans: The Colonial Experience - by Daniel Boorstin

The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen

The Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Gravedigger Files by Oz Guinness

The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim

The Mark of the Christian by Francis Schaeffer

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Black Gum - Green Hill Cemetery Greensboro

In the yard where I grew up in Columbia, SC, out near the street, was an area we would call a “natural area” these days, containing several old Dogwoods, two “Scrub Oaks," and a tree which looked and “acted” very much like a Dogwood, but which wasn’t. I always loved that tree. It is still there, seemingly the same size it was thirty years ago.

When I say that it “looked” like a Dogwood what I mean is that it had leaves very Dogwood like, though much glossier and waxy, and a little bigger. Not only that but the bark was very dark, fissured both horizontally and vertically, giving it an alligator skin appearance, like Dogwood bark. When I say it “acted” like a Dogwood I mean that it’s leaves turned a deep red in the fall, actually a deeper red than Dogwood leaves, and sometimes with a dash of deep orange thrown in.

But it wasn’t a Dogwood. It was a Black Gum. It didn’t have red berries but small blue-ish berries which hung from little stems. And it was bigger, that is, taller and bigger around. And it’s limbs were different. They were kind of squatty and tended to grow straight out from the trunk. And though I didn’t notice such things until older, its leaves, rather than growing from the stem in pairs on opposite sides of the stem, grew “alternately,” that is, a leaf here, then a little ways up on the other side of the stem, a leaf there, and so on.

I found out one day another way that Black Gums “act” like Dogwoods. Our town would be hit hard every winter or two by a freezing rain storm. Oh how the loblolly, shortleaf, and long leaf pine tree limbs would go a popping! They would sound like guns firing. Some of us crazy kids would go out limb dodging during these freezing rain storms. We’d stand around under a pine tree and every time we’d here a “pop” we’d take off. Usually it was a near by pine limb popping, but sometimes we’d clear out a second before a loblolly limb would land just where we had been standing. Did I ever say we were nuts?

Well, sometimes the deciduous trees did not fare well in these storms either. They tended not to lose a limb here or there as much as just topple over all together. A I got older I worked for a lot of elderly neighbors who would want a felled tree chain sawed into eighteen inch lengths and then split for firewood. Many of these would be Southern Red Oaks which split like the water of the Red Sea. It was downright fun to split that stuff.

But then other trees would fall, like Dogwoods. Ever tried to split a Dogwood? Well, don’t try. Just burn the thing whole in a hot fire. The same goes for Black Gum, but worse. You could chain saw through it but try to split one and the maul or axe would just as likely bounce up, or dig in just enough where you couldn’t pull axe and tree apart.

Because of this quality, Black Gum was revered like Dogwood for uses where high shock resistance was useful – such as in the growing industrial textile industry, or for toys, pulley rollers or gunstocks, or even as handles for mauls or heavy axes. It was the hardest wood around that I knew of, other than maybe hickory.

My neighborhood was full of ‘Possums. And ‘Possums loved the little berries or drupes of the Black Gum. Ever heard the jig “'Possum Up De Gum Tree”? Well, it’s the Black Gum’s little blue berries that that ole ‘Possum was after.

Black Gums are not that common, and for some reason they don’t live that long generally. They tend to grow as an under story tree in the mature piedmont forest.

I’ve grown fond of three Black Gums in Guilford County and two of the three have died. They tend to rot out, with the tops dying first, and one I know of got hit by lightning.

The biggest Black Gum I have ever seen was is in Green Hill Cemetery - the one in the picture above. It must be well over a hundred years old - Black Gums grow slowly and the Green Hill Gum is almost three feet in diameter.

According to the booklet “Treasure Trees of Guilford County 2005” the largest Black Gum in Guilford County is in McLeansville, and is 87 feet high, 39.5 inches in diameter, with a crown spread of 55 feet. That my friends is a big Black Gum.

By the way, the scientific name for Black Gum is Nyssa sylvatica. Nyssa is a Greek word meaning end or post or trunk. Nissa is a Scandinavian word for elf or fairy. I am not sure which is the true origin of this tree name – whether “post of the forest” or “elf of the forest.”

Black Gum may also be called Black Tupelo.

You can get more information the Black Gum, and see pictures, here, here, or here.

Copyright @2009 Joel Gillespie

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Football in the Air

This beautiful and cool first day of September 2009 has me thinking college football. It is well nigh impossible for me to think college football without thinking Clemson Orange and the many great games I got to see while I was at Clemson. This slide is of Clemson attempting a field goal during the game against Notre Dame in November 1977. Many future NFL stars played in thatgame, including Notre Dame's Joe Montana, and Clemson's Dwight Clark, Jeff and Joe Bostic, Jerry Butler, Archie Reese, and Steve Fuller. Notre Dame came from behind, thanks to two late Clemson fumbles, to defeat Clemson 21-17, and go on to win the national chapionship against Texas in the Cotton Bowl. As seemed oddly to have been the case when playing Clemson in those days, the opposing coach (Dan Devine) went batty in a memorable antic running onto the field to grab a penalty flag.

I went to the pep rally the night before at the Clemson ampitheater (which I also had a role in sparing from the wrecking ball, you're welcome all you Clemon folks that have enjoyed it since 1977 :-) The pep rally was awesome.

Though Clemson lost to Notre Dame, this game went a long way toward putting them on the map nationally, and set the stage for the run to the eventual national championship in 1981.

The original picture has amazing detail. Click here to go to the uncropped version, and then click on "all sizes" and then "large" or "original." It is pretty cool.

Obsessively Green Gardening

Something in the air on this gorgeous September morning has me thinking gardening. I love fall gardening. So much neat stuff to do...

Which has me thinking again about the concept of "obsessively green gardening." I see "green" in the titles of lots of lawn care and landscaping businesses, but what does it look like to take a no-BS approach to green and really obsess over green gardening...

I am thinking more of existing properties than new construction.

Here are some characteristics as I think of it. Maybe you could add to my list.

- Low to No Emissions, as in equipment, which means manual mowers, raking, edging, etc. I am not sure electric powered or battery powered equipment would qualify since the production of the electricity is far from green...I am not sold on no-til gardening but the thought of working this red clay soil without a tiller is daunting.

- Native Plants as much as possible. Native plants are more able better to bear up to the vagaries of our weather, and thus require less water and less overall maintenance...

- NO herbicides or pesticides or chemical fertilizer. None. Zero. Hmm. Would Roundup qualify since it is broken down so quickly in the soil? Tempting, but I think not.

- Water Conservation - major focus, both from a usage and a waste standpoint. Rain barrels a must, rain gardens where possible. Cisterns are very expensive. Native plants would help reduce water use. No chemicals would make for less polluted run off.

- Lawns - developing a new outlook! They need to be smaller, and where possible use more native grasses, and tolerate more weeds. What is with our obsession with lawns?

- Biodiversity - promoting more of it, as in more species of plants, insects, and animals. Choosing plants that invite more bees and birds and butterflies - especially plants that provide food in the winter in terms or berries and nuts. Reducing chemical use will allow for increased microbiological diversity in soil which will mean healthier soil and healthier insects and thus healthier birds

- Recycling - yes, this means compost bins or compost heaps - why waste all the leaves and clippings and biodegradable waste products? New compost technology reduces odors. And using recyclables, as in using recycled or recyclable gardening products as much as possible - plant containers, landscaping boards, lawn furniture, mulching materials, etc.

- Food - growing more of it! Whether in a dedicated garden or mixed in here and there organic fruits and vegetables can help with grocery bills and spice up many a recipe, or given to the local food bank!

- Vehicles - what about the vehicles used to get to a site?

So what would you add to the list?

Would you want to hire an excessively green gardener to work in your garden?

Hurray for September

September starts today. Hurray! I’ve always loved September.

I even like the name of it, how it rolls off the tongue.

I think I love those first hints of fall even more than fall itself, you know, that breeze that carries a different smell, air that seems a bit drier, and a touch a coolness unexpectedly on a Saturday morning.

I love the pennant races in baseball, and the hoopla surrounding the new football season.

I like the woods in September. There is always so much going on in the world of nature in September as plants and bugs and other creatures start to get ready for the coming winter.

I probably like September more now that I don’t have to “go back to school” as in my early years. That always kind of stunk!

I dig equinoxes, and September has one, the autumnal equinox, when the sun rises true east and sets true west, the first official day of fall.

I like gardens in September, the blooming of the late season flowers, so many plants going to seed, brave butterflies passing through or laying eggs, the beginning of the return to the earth of that season’s growth.

I like the poem “thirty days hath September…”

I like the stubble of fields harvested.

There are some September poems I have collected over the years. Here is the first stanza of Wordsworth’s "September, 1819":

Departing summer hath assumed
aspect tenderly illumed,
The gentlest look of spring;
That calls from yonder leafy shade
Unfaded, yet prepared to fade,
A timely carolling.

John Updike published a calendar for children, each month with a short poem. Here is the poem for September:

The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.

September seems to be a quiet month overall, one that sort of passes with little notice. It is sort of an in between month, tucked between its bigger sisters of August and October.

For Iris Dement, September in its quiet unassuming passing reminds her of the quiet passing of her life:

My life, it don't count for nothing.
When I look at this world, I feel so small.
My life, it's only a season:
A passing September that no one will recall.

OK, that’s a bit of a downer.

The change of the season from summer to fall, and from fall to winder, used to make me sad. It doesn’t anymore.

I like September. You won’t need to wake me up when September comes, I’ll be awake already.