Monday, December 28, 2009

An excellent article about how NT Wright has ruined Jesus movies AND Christmas -

Remembering Rennie

I am not sure when I first met Rennie Perrone. My first clear memory of him is fixed however. After his dear wife passed away he moved up to Greensboro from Florida. One day he came to church with Charlie and Terry. As with many people and Rennie, it was friendship at first site.

Rennie was always the best dressed guy in the room. He had suits of every color of the rainbow, with matching kerchiefs. He liked to look good.

I started hanging out with Rennie as did many others, mainly going with him to lunch. We usually ate Italian food – and Vito’s Italian was our favorite hangout. Dennis Frohlich more often than not joined us. Rennie liked the food at Vito's, and he liked talking Italian with the owners. He always insisted on paying. He was a very generous man.

Rennie always had a glass of wine for lunch and usually no water. He would situate his cloth napkin just so, with half of it under the plate and the other half hanging down in his lap. Usually we both ordered Eggplant Parmesan. Well, I always did, and he often did.

It was fun to shoot the breeze with Rennie. I liked it that he would occasionally cuss. Nobody likes to cuss around a pastor and I’m glad Rennie felt free to do so. He always made me laugh.

Usually our conversation at some point would bring to his mind his wife or the business he owned or his time in the army. Rennie was Italian and was very free with his emotions. Thoughts of his wife always brought Rennie to tears. He missed her terribly. He liked to tell stories about his children too – Paul and Terry. I heard the story of Rennie meeting Terry’s future husband Charlie many times.

Rennie looked at me to some degree as one does a priest, and our conversations were often much like a confessional. Rennie was Catholic by culture and upbringing. He was faithful in attending Catholic mass on Saturday evenings. He was of that generation that did not speak easily about matters of faith, and he was also of a generation of nominal Catholicism. He didn’t buy a lot of it, yet he could never walk away from it either.

I think that Rennie had a real and legitimate faith in Christ. Despite his natural generational reticence we talk many many times about faith and belief and about life and death.

I loved sitting by or near Rennie in church. He had a really nice voice and very good song memory, singing not only the hymns but the more syncopated modern choruses very well. He liked my preaching too. “Good speech,” He would say to me. Rennie liked to grab your hands when he talked to you. There was no talking in passing with Rennie. It was hold each other’s hands and talk closely or not at all. As his eyesight failed him, touch became ever more important.

Rennie was a gentleman, and he was at his very best in the presence of ladies, whether five or ninety years old. He was so very kind to my daughters. He always sent birthday cards, and always asked me how each individual child was doing. They had the privilege of knowing and visiting him often along with Susan.

It is not the norm anymore to bring an elderly parent in one’s house to live out his or her days in familiar surroundings, and that is what Charlie and Terry did, thus giving Rennie the stability and the dignity of a home. They lived out in a very real and personal way the commandment to honor your mother and your father.

Rennie’s real name was Arazio, or something close to that. I think the “z” had a “dz” sound. I liked calling him Arazio. I think he liked it too.

Rennie was an army veteran. He served in the European theater in WWII, not as an infantryman but as a cook. He often told the story of how one day his camp, close to the front lines, came under mortar attack. He had been standing in front of the big metal coffee pot making coffee for the guys, and for some reason unknown to him had just moved a few feet to one side and then Bam!, a mortar shell exploded outside of the tent and a big fragment sliced right through the coffee pot. Rennie liked to say how God had given him a chance at more life that day, and he was always very grateful.

Rennie had taught himself to play a Liberace type piano over the years, and Charlie and Terry had set up a very nice digital piano for him in the den. I loved to listen to Rennie play. Sometimes when no one else was around I would play a little with him or sing along. We were a good team.

I had not seen Rennie much in the last six months but so many many times spent with him are etched into my mind and heart. I count it one my greatest honors in life to have been Rennie Perone’s friend. I will cherish his memory all my life, and await with joy holding his hands and talking in the New Heaven and New Earth.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Am reading The Omnivore's Dilemma. I have a feeling that this book will be a life changer, like "Diet for a Small Planet" was 30+ years ago.
Laurel and her friend Stephanie are painting Madeline's bedroom. Madeline is serving as DJ. Pink walls, white trim.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Southern Gothic

Trees in Winter

There was a time in my life during the season between the end of daylight savings time and the winter solstice, when I think I was prone to a mild case of seasonal affective disorder, or maybe just the early sundown blues. Thankfully that time is long past. I’m too busy now for one thing. And the other thing is that I have fallen in love with the woods in winter. I look forward to winter woods like some people look forward to spring flowers. More than anything, it is the trees. I love trees in winter.

For the sake of modesty and warmth people need to put on clothes. But clothes hide what people “really” look like (though I’ll just take the clothed look, thank you). As for trees, all those leaves, as beautiful and green as they are, hide the unique and often magnificent personality of the tree beneath. The uniqueness of each and every tree is more evident in its nakedness.

There is a White Oak out my side window. It is almost completely leafless now, with only a few red hanger-on leaves dangling here and there. I see its twisted and gnarly branches more clearly than ever. They reveal its story. This White Oak grew up in its early years with some good competition, but then, that competition diminished. About thirty feet up some very stout limbs grow straight out from the trunk. I am guessing, by the size and age of the tree, that the “competition” was cleared for the building of the houses around, and the builders decided to spare that White Oak. It’s a grand old tree, though it’s a little sick, and I worry for it.

It’s easy to notice tree bark in winter. I am one of those odd fellows who thinks that tree bark is very beautiful and quite cool. The sun likes to highlight the bark of a leafless tree, especially the higher-up bark. Winter is time for the bark to shine. Some bark literally does shine. Sycamore trees peel off huge plates revealing a bright chalky white underbark. Take a walk through Latham Park and you will see plenty of that.

Lots of stuff hangs from trees in winter letting you know about the tree. Tulip Poplar balls like to hang around for a while bouncing in the wind. Plus the last Spring flower cups are very visible reaching to the sky at the end of the high stems. Locust Tree bean pods like to flutter in the breeze throughout the winter rattling like old bones. There’s always the stubborn Sweet Gum balls that won’t let go, just waiting to drop in early Spring when your are just first walking out in your bare feet! Gotcha!

Many trees keep their berries throughout the winter. You’d think for example that the birds would eat up all the dogwood berries right away, but the berries often dry out a little and provide food for the birds all winter long. Same for Red Cedar berries, those lovely little gray-blue balls that often cover a Cedar tree. Same for Black Gum. Same for American Holly. I know our Holly bush is not a Holly tree, but it brings joy all winter watching the Mockingbirds eat berries from our Holly bush. It’s like they know how to ration the supply. Interesting.

You may need to be a bit of a tree geek for this one, but tree buds and tree stems are fascinating in the winter. By looking at a bare tree stem you can tell how much it grew the last growing season. It’s really easy. You can also tell a lot about the leaves, even when there aren’t any. You can tell if they come off the stem opposite to each other or whether they come of the stem in whorls. You can also tell how many main tree “veins” feed each leaf. From this, more or less, you can often guess if the leaves are compound or not. You can know a lot about what kind of tree it is by how the buds are arranged. Is there one big bud at the end of the stem? Is there a cluster of buds at the end of the stem? Is the bud really at the end or sort of off to the side toward the end? In fact, you can key a tree, that is determine what it is, in winter, without the leaves at all.

The future fate of life on earth is nestled in those little buds. That is just barely an exaggeration. What is it that protects the life inside that bud (and hence next year's growth, and next year's ability to feed flower and seed) from the cold of winter? It is those scales around the bud. Different trees have different kinds of scales. Some bud scales are like two plates meeting in the middle. Some are like fish scales. You can tell a lot about a tree from those scales.

Winter is the time for Pine trees to make their presence known. They kind of pop out and say "We're here" in winter. Hey, I am a South Carolina boy. I was raised on climbing Pine trees to the top, looking up to the deep blue sky through the black branches and green needles of Pine trees, spending half an afternoon trying to get Pine sap off my favorite jeans, engaged for hours in Pine cone wars with the enemy across the wall next door, and nursing skinned up legs from shimmying up and down Pine trunks. In Greensboro there are a few places where I like to go just to breathe in the Pine tree air, peel off some plates of Pine tree bark, fiddle with Pine tree cones, and just generally feel at home.

It’s nice to walk the woods in winter. You can see farther for one thing. You can tell more easily what has been the history of the land you're walking for another. I like trying to figure that out by the ages of the trees, the kinds of trees, the ways that the terrain has been changed by man, how or where a fire may have swept through fifty or so years ago. It’s a kind of sleuthing that I enjoy.

Maybe my favorite thing to do, especially on a cold winter day, is to find a nice stout tree that I can sit against, one with the sun shining full force right on the bottom of the trunk, and just take a seat. Oh how I love the sun on my face in winter. And there I sit. No bugs. Quiet. As quiet as I can be. If the winds are right, and if I'm still enough, the animals will soon not notice me. Many times right here in Greensboro deer have walked near, hawks have flown and perched close by, even squirrels have nervously scampered quite close to my feet. I cannot measure the joy of such times.

Such joy gives me strength to go back and re-enter the world of people. Trees are not fickle and moody and complicated and proud like people, like me. They just "are." How I love them so.

(edited from a post first written November 17, 2006)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

"Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came."

From As Kingfishers Catch Fire, lines 5-8, by GM Hopkins

I ask myself, what is the essence of this mortal thing here, this being, this self, dwelling in this frame, at this stage and age, and what to do, how to live to be what this self was made to be?

I guess we each in our own way ask the same...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What Would the World Be

"What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet."

G.M. Hopkins, from Inversnaid (lines 13-16)

Friday, December 04, 2009

If Every Picture Tells a Story

...then what story does this simple picture tell?

Downtown Greensboro.


I had a comment on my blog today that encouraged me and which really gets at the core of why I take pictures of downtown Greensboro, or anything else for that matter. And though this comment came from "Anonymous" the person gave a valid Twitter username, so it's not totally anonymous really.

I don't repeat this comment in any spirit of self congratulation but simply because it feels good when the purpose for what I do is realized. Here is the comment:

"Anonymous said...Love the Photography!!! Makes me really proud of our downtown. I just started tweeting as GborRealPolitik. I tweeted your blog post this am, I hope you don't mind because I thought it was fabulous. I look forward to reading and viewing your work in the future."

It was the one phrase that stuck me - "makes me really proud of our downtown."

I am the first person to admit that I am at best just a decent amatuer photgrapher. I hope to get better - much better - but Ansel Adams I am not. I may have a mildly artistic bent, and yes, I do often "see" things that other people don't (no, I don't see dead people), but mainly because I'm looking and they're not. There is a way of looking that opens up the mind and heart for impressions and nuance of light, color, perspective, and composition. I hope that as I get better at photography I will be better able to capture these things.

But in the end my purpose in taking pictures is to celebrate the uniqueness and diversity of place and of life.

Buildings may not in themselves be "life" but they are given a kind of personality as it were by their designers and builders. The jumbled interplay of forms and styles in a cityscape creates fascinating impressions. And though buildings do not walk around they do change their appearance or "impression" throughout the day and throughout the seaons as light plays upon them in a multitude of ways, the "impressions" changing with the varying backdrop of cloud and sky and sun. And as one walks around in different seasons and at different times of day, always looking, there seem to be infinite combinations of viewpoints and angles. For example, from March 21 to September 21 you will never see sunlight striking the north side of a building. And only at this time of year will be noon day sun be at such a low angle.

For me, the goal of capturing as much of this as possible is that another person may smile, or as in the above comment, feel proud of his or her "place." There is no higher compliment that could be paid to me than this.

What is true of inanimate buildings is of course even more true of forests and trails and the tiny bits of "nature" inhabiting our city. Not only are there countless things to discover along a trail such as odd formations of life and ever interesting points of view, but a trail itself is in many ways a different trail depending on season and time of day. We think of different kinds of light - the slanting light of morning, the overhead light of midday, and the slanting light of afternoon. Each provides a unique impression and opens up different interactions of light and subject. Each season provides its own glory, so that, when you do the math, a trail has twelve personalities, three each day for four different seasons. Not only that but small intangibles like fog and mist and cloud give further variation within the twelve personalities. I could walk the same trail a hundred times and never run out of things to photograph.

But then, again, the point is not that someone would say, "that's a great picture" or whatever (I take enough pictures where some of them are bound to be pretty good even if by accident). The real reward is when, like the person who commented above, someone feels blessed, proud of being a part of such a world as this and community as this, thankful for the people who helped make such views possibile, and thankful to the author of such beauty.

And for me it's not just beauty but even decay in a strange way that I celebrate. Early this week I drove back from Columbia the "back way," taking secondary (and tertiary) roads, going through small towns and seeing many many abandoned and decrepit old buildings and homes. What interests me about these old structures are the stories behind them, the histories of the communities, the reasons why people came there in the first place and why they left. Every abandoned old building was once a person's business, a person's dream, a place where they invested their fortune and their sweat. More often than not there was a time of properity for that business, and I imagine all the people who came and went and worked and shared stories with each other. It's the story of people and their lives that fills me with a sense of wonder and respect walking around an old abandoned filling station with a faded out Esso sign still dangling from a pole.

I think the same way about our own Lee Street. Yes, I'd like to see Lee Street cleaned up, but I also am fascinated by all the stories locked up in those old buildings hugging the sidewalk between Elm and the Coliseum.

Anyway, it's a nice feeling when the purpose of what you're doing seems realized even in a small degree. It inspires me to get better so as to bring more blessing and to make more poeple proud of the community and the world that they live in.

One final note: as I write this it dawns on my how much I have been impacted by my literary hero, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Thanks Gerard.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Center Pointe from Guilford Building

I came across this shot looking for something else and thought, "I like that!" More downtown Greensboro pictures.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Shannon Joy, Vancouver, BC, 1988. See more pictures of Vancouver Days.

The Fear of Christ (an Advent Reading)

“We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an excerpt from "The Coming of Jesus into Our Midst." Read the rest of the message here.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Is Multi-Culturalism New?

I had just finished reading a rant sent from someone who was certain that multiculturalism meant the sure and certain demise of our nation, when I saw a link to a speech made by Howard Dean praising America as a multi cultural nation, and I wondered to myself, "Self, have we not always been multicultural?" And Self answered, "Yes, we have. There was the culture and language of African slaves, the culture of Southern plantations, the culture of upcountry Southern farmers, the culture and language of German and Irish and Swedish immigrants who didn't start speaking English when they stepped off the boats, the culture of Puritan New England, the culture of Spanish Florida and French Louisiana, the culture and language of many and various Indian tribes, the culture of Roman Catholic settlers in Maryland, the culture of young and old in the 1960's, etc. " I tend in this case to agree with Self. I don't always.

Granted we have never known such a massive influx of non English speaking people as we do today, but are we sure that second and third generation Mexican immigrants, say, won't speak English?

Seems we've always tended to blame our problems on the newest to arrive, or on the politically weakest around.

I went on a four mile walk today. I saw a lot of people working hard. They were all Hispanic. Just saying.

The Beauty of Christ (an Advent reading)

"And this man, whose picture I have tried to draw for you, brethren, is your God. He was your maker in time past; hereafter he will be your judge. Make him your hero now. Take some time to think of him; praise him in your hearts. You can over your work or on your road praise him, saying over and over again/ 'Glory be to Christ’s body; Glory be to the body of the Word made flesh; Glory to the body suckled at the Blessed Virgin’s breast; Glory to Christ’s body in its beauty; Glory to Christ’s body in its weariness; Glory to Christ’s body in its Passion, death and burial; Glory to Christ’s body risen; Glory to Christ’s body in the Blessed Sacrament; Glory to Christ’s soul; Glory to His genius and wisdom; Glory to his unsearchable thoughts; Glory to his saving words; Glory to His sacred heart; Glory to its courage and manliness; Glory to its meekness and mercy; Glory to its every heartbeat; to its joys and sorrows, wishes, fears; Glory in all things to Jesus Christ God and Man.' If you try this when you can you will find your heart kindle and while you praise him he will praise you – a blessing. "

from Gerard Manley Hopkins, Sermon, for Sunday November 23, 1879, at Bedford Leigh.

One Left Foot

Thanksgiving, 2009, Columbia, SC - seven first cousins, one left foot.