Clinch River Blues

Recently, I’ve begun writing poetry. I don’t know if it’s any good or not, but that’s not the point. I used to hate poetry, because I didn’t understand it. All that changed when I had a breakthrough realization this year: Poetry is Music’s Cousin!

I have always loved music. I sang in the choir growing up, I was in a cover band (of sorts) in college that did open mic nights, and I wrote a song once with my very talented classic guitar playing friend, Tony. Music for me is a way to express emotions, life, experiences, and hope. Poetry is very similar.

In January, I went on a sermon planning retreat with two of my closest friends, Matt and Matt. We stayed at a house on the Clinch River in Andersonville, TN. I decided to take a stab at writing my first poem, as I reflected on the reality that both Blues music and being near a river put you in a mood. I wanted to capture those feelings.

Poem Background: The Powell River and Clinch River meet, eventually running into the Tennessee River. The last stanza of the poem points this out. Check out the top right of the picture below to see. Not only does Blues and the nature of rivers “swing,” but the shape (geographically) of the Tennessee River swings baby!

Also, I wrote this last stanza with the classic Blues AAB pattern in mind. Quick Lesson: a lyrical phrase is repeated, then followed up by a response phrase that contrasts or sums up the entire idea. “St. Luis Blues” Example:

I hate to see the eve-nin’ sun go down

I hate to see the eve-nin’ sun go down

It makes me think I’m on my last go-round

I essentially did the same thing for my poem. Even though the 3rd line is a repeat to the 1st and 2nd, it is a response in idea: Clinch is meeting Powell, Powell is seeing Clinch, then the entire Tennessee River (including Clinch and Powell as drain off rivers of the Tennessee River) swings. I hope this makes sense. Please let me know what you think of my 1st poem.

Clinch River Blues

River like the Blues

Puts me in a mood

Feeling that good ole’ ancient groove

Slow goes the small swirls

Faint twists, surface twirls

All roll down mighty fine like pearls

Roll left, now swing right

Thump bass, drums in flight

Steady guitar all through the night

Keep on rolling River Clinch; get to your meetin’

Keep on rolling River Powell; what’s that you seein’

Keep on rolling Tennessee; you’ve got me swingin’

Za bop a do zay way de bop, yeah…


Who Knew?

I’m currently visiting a big city other than Little Rock.  And, once again I’m fascinated by the people I have encountered in one day.  There really is no way of telling what is going on in someone else’s life… until you get to talking with them.

After I got 5 hours worth of work done, since I AM on a sermon planning retreat, I decided to vacate the trendy new coffee shop to search for some grub (4 hours after the normal lunch hour; can you tell I lost track of time!?).  First off, parking was a waking nightmare: 1-ways, traffic, & only paid parking.  Nevertheless, I had arrived.  As soon as I paid the meter, a gentleman walked up to me and asked if he could ask me a question.

Enter Person #1  Leonce informed me that he had a form of autism and needed help getting something to eat.  I said sure, and after deciding where we could go that’s close, we were off walking downtown.  I started asking him questions just to get to know him.  He seemed to constantly think of a bad situation that happened in his life and especially his wife’s life: she was raped and Leonce got a restraining order on the person that committed this horrible hurt and crime.

I started to pray for him and his wife.  I don’t know if Leonce spends most of his days asking people for help.  To me, it doesn’t matter.  What I know is that life for him is MUCH different than it is for me.  I was intrigued by a comment he made in the course of our conversation: “I’m not on drugs or anything.”  I find it interesting that he felt compelled to prove the legitimacy of his needing my help, however I think that’s probably more of a reflection on other people not seeing this person as someone not worth stopping to notice or helping out.

After I bought him a soda, some chips, and a pack of smokes, I wished him well, praying inside of me that God would heal him and his wife and continue to provide them with people who can care for them as they need and where they’re at in life.  My heart was filled with awe at how God had blessed me in order to bless Leonce’s life if only for a few minutes of his day.  Much later as I was walking to my car to leave downtown, I saw Leonce walking again.  I prayed for him again and thought, what DOES a day in his life look like?

Down the Street; Bar & Grill — Bite to Eat; Beer to Share — See People; More Aware

Enter Person #2 Tim was at the bar way before I was.  I think he may have been looking for someone to just talk with.  It could be though that I have a welcome sign with people saying, “I’ll listen!”  Another person I here encountered who lives life differently than me.  Tim had been divorced years back, moved from Wisconsin, and now owns his own window cleaning business.  Aside from work typically going from April to November, Tim became displaced from his home.

His ranch style home, cut in 2 for the other tenant of the 7 home street complex, had had pipes burst.  Thankfully none of his possessions were damaged, but he has to stay at a hotel all week for the work to be complete.  New pipes, water heater even, and carpet, all scheduled to be done by Friday.  Instead of sitting at the hotel, staring at the walls, Tim decided to enjoy the bar.  He told me some great stories about washing windows and customers he’s worked for.

Tim suspects that one recurring customer likes him, but he’s not wanting to ruin his business with this woman as well as the people she’s referring him to.  I think deep down Tim is looking for FRIENDS and perhaps even someone to LOVE him just for who he is.  After I tried the stout brew that he suggested, I paid my tab and skedaddled.  I told him I hope his place gets finished by Friday and that he gets the job he received a phone call for as we were talking.  I prayed for him to have friends and possibly more.  I was again heart-filled with God’s love for a stranger and grateful, truly, to be Tim’s friend for a few rounds at the bar.  What DOES life look like when you’re displaced and divorced?  I think I’m learning some.  He said he was going to go to the bar across the street afterwards since they have a lot of beers on tap.  I wonder if he was really inviting me to join him or if he has replaced friendship for good tasting beer.  I don’t know.

Enter Person #3 Clyde caught my eye from a bench as I strolled through the downtown of shops and eateries.  He had no problem saying he was homeless and that every little bit counts.  After I gave him a few bucks, I talked with him some, asking him how he came to be homeless.  He said he used to work at Dollywood till 1989, then did roofing work.  He feel and messed up his L-4 in his lower back.  He showed me how it twists from time to time, using his knuckles as a visual aid, and mentioned how his left leg will give out when that happens.  He told me the trick to straightening out his leg instead of just falling down.

As I talked more with him, I couldn’t help but to have compassion for him.  What DOES life after a serious back injury look like?  It was through my new acquaintance that I realized a life that is worth living, a life that is honest, a life that welcomes another stranger to experience their own life, the others’ life, and for a brief moment, to live our lives together.

There’s so much meaning that could be drawn from these encounters, for sure.  There’s also a lot of questioning that these encounters could lead to as well.  “You gave him money?”  “You bought him smokes?!”  “You drank with an alcoholic!?”

Here’s what I do know:

  • God has blessed me to bless others.
  • I was given the opportunity to met 3 amazing strangers today!
  • If I didn’t experience the Kingdom of God today, I don’t know that I’d believe you saying otherwise.

Leonce has an amazing smile; Tim’s fun to laugh with; Clyde feels like family.

Life Come to Life

It’s often said that in order for us to have empathy for our fellow human, we need to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes.  Well, I did this and more recently, and found someone else’s life come to life for me.


I took this picture recently as I traveled throughout Israel.  The place is called the Shepherd’s Field in Bethlehem.  It is understood that this is where King David used to feed his father’s flock when he was growing up.

There’s a fascinating limestone cave further back from where I took the picture where it is believed the shepherds that the angel visited in Luke 2 hung out as they kept “watch over their flock by night.”  The ceiling of the cave was black from fires they would build inside to keep warm.  I faintly had a thought of Bigfoot presence in Israel, since limestone caves litter the land.  Nevertheless, there’s not adequate tree cover or food sources to accommodate Skookum, and I’m getting sidetracked here.

Ok.  David.  King David.  King of Israel.  His shoes are whose I placed myself in and was amazed.  Although, I think he may have worn sandals…  You get the point.  As I stood there looking down at the valley lush with grass for sheep to feed on and gazed upward toward the hills, I was amazed by the overall scene and couldn’t help but to attempt to see the world as David may have seen it when he stood there too.

Then I got to thinking about his life.  From shepherd boy, to wandering warrior, to King of Israel perched upon Mt. Zion in the King’s City, Jerusalem, David saw the vast landscape of the country as I got to see as well.  I trounced through valleys, hills, cliffs, and mountains, viewing sites that held history of battles, encounters with the living God, and day-to-day actual life of peoples who lived thousands of years before little ole’ me.

Next, my mind journeyed back to a Psalm I read as I waited in the airport in Dallas, Texas to come to Israel.  Baylor University puts out publication every month or so that  I’m subscribed to called Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics.  I read their most recent one in the airport entitled “Traveling Well.”  In it, I learned that there are Psalms called Pilgrim Songs, of which Psalm 121 stood out to me then and again as I stood in David’s sandals on the Shepherd’s Field.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills-

from where will my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121:1-2

Although David may not have written this Psalm, and it is called a soldier’s psalm by some and a traveller’s psalm by others, I was transformed by the thought that this Psalm speaks of a reality, an experience, that may have consumed the consciousness of the Israelite people who lived in this land for centuries upon centuries.  Psalm 121:1 became a customary song to sing as pilgrims viewed the mountains of the holy city, Jerusalem, during the last night watch as they approached God’s temple to worship and make an offering.

But David.  David’s mind is where my mind was at that time and space I found myself in.  David must have looked to the hills as “a lion or a bear” (1 Samuel 17) came to devour a lamb from his flock when he was a boy, yet God saved him from their paws.  David saw hills upon hills as he spent his life fighting and driving out other peoples to possess the land that God was giving to Israel as an inheritance, yet God was his prized possession.  Lastly, David peered from Jerusalem the vast landscape of hills and mountains, which God allowed him to see and to serve as a burned image upon his heart, mind, and psyche that grew into an ever deepening trust in God’s work in and through David’s life, and not in David’s own accomplishments.

Being back in the “States,” I now wonder what can serve as a marker for God’s presence in my life.  Sadly, I thought perhaps “I lift my eyes up from my computer screen or electronic device…”  Notwithstanding, I have been transformed by allowing David’s life come to life for me.  I am encouraged to open my eyes to what God has done, is doing, and will do in my life as I live on the earth that God made as well as the heaven that is breaking into the earth as God’s reign is recognized and submitted to by me.

What about you?  What marker would you name as the thing that represents God’s presence and power to save or help you?  Are your eyes open to what God desires to show you of what He has created and is making new for your life and the life of others?  May our help come from the Lord as we acknowledge together we need help that is beyond our immediate local context and beyond ourselves.

Until next time, LIVE ON!

New Direction

I have been through much transition lately; this is why I have not posted as often as I’d like.  I’ve moved cities, changed “jobs,” and my daughters have started school.  Nevertheless, I am wanting to shift gears some with this blog to include other parts of my life.  I will continue to post about the American Civil War on here, but I’m wanting to also include more of what I’m chewing on in my life.  I hope you enjoy Hardtack Rat: Gnawing on Life One Bite at a Time.

Life Gnaw

I am a pastor at Lakewood United Methodist Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas.  I preach every week on different passages of Scripture, studying each passage thoroughly.  I struggle not to include all that I am learning about a passage, myself, or Jesus Christ revealed through Scripture and my life.  I’d like to share some extra thoughts I had from this Sunday’s sermon that didn’t make it into my sermon.  The passage of Scripture studied was Romans 8:1-6, 11-17.  This sermon was first in the series “Awkward Family Photos: Becoming God’s Children.”

I have always sucked at writing papers in school, college, and seminary.  I could never nail down my thesis; I wanted to start unpacking in the first paragraph instead of waiting to do so in the body of the paper.  The apostle Paul does better than I ever could.  In his letter to the Romans, he lays out his thesis in Romans 1:16-17 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” (NRSV)

We find in Romans 8 that Paul begins to reach the climax of his argument.  In fleshing out how someone lives by faith, he lands on pointing out that such a person will have the Holy Spirit at work in and through their lives.  This is a spiritual birthmark, if you will, representing that someone has believed in Jesus Christ for salvation and has become a child of God.  I found it telling that in chapters 1-7, Paul only uses the term “Spirit” five times and only eight times in chapters 9-11 (significant for other reasons), however in chapter 8 alone, “Spirit” shows up twenty times!

The Holy Spirit’s presence in my life has certainly been significant in how I better understand living by faith and being a child of God.  There’s more going on here though.  Paul uses the analogy of adoption to help the Romans better understand what this means for them if they choose to believe in Jesus Christ.  Adoption during the 1st Century was important to the Roman Empire and happened frequently.  It was a way for someone to live a better life and belong to a family, where they were guaranteed an inheritance (limited good & resources mentality back then was the thing).

Paul points out that the Spirit bears witness that we are children of God.  The Roman audience reading (more likely hearing) this, would have understood more fully what he meant by this, where we may not get it at a face value reading.  Basically, when a child was adopted back then, there were witnesses present at the ceremony (with the old father present) and the trial before the legal officials (with the new father present).  In the case of the new father’s death, these witnesses would step forward to vouch for the adopted child, making sure that she/he would receive the inheritance due her/him as a full heir.  Likewise, the Holy Spirit currently bears witness to whom are children of God and will one day vouch for us before Christ Jesus when he returns.

This is profound furthermore since the children of God will receive their inheritance, which is the new heaven and new earth, where God, our Father, will dwell with His people, wipe every tear away, cause death to be no more, along with mourning, crying, and pain. (Revelation 21:1-8)  But, Paul doesn’t stop here.  For him, this is on the one hand.  He doesn’t want the Romans or us today to just think of the hope of our inheritance as children of God; he wants us to live into that promise right now.

“On the other hand,” as some Bible translations put it, we are “joint heirs” or “co-heirs” with Jesus Christ, “if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17)  This is a hard word to swallow, even for me.  How often do we hear people say, “Believe in and follow Jesus Christ; you’ll suffer…”?  I think this would scare most people away, among other scare tactic sayings Christians have said through the years (which I don’t subscribe to btw).  However, what Paul is saying here, I think, is what children of God can reasonably expect to experience in their life with God.  Of course there are so many positives I can think of for following Christ, which I would encourage would-be followers to consider.

But, like Paul, I think I too would lay out the truth for folks.  However, inviting people to suffer means nothing without filling them in on the end of the story: there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more pain, tears, or death, but in order to fully appreciate that, would you expect not to have to suffer through it first?  Actually, I think that these three things are a part of every human’s life; children of God face it in a different light though: with God by our side.

I’m glad Paul does say that we can CRY out to God, our Father, as children of God.

Last Nugget: In Romans 8:15, Paul slams together two similar terms that mean all the world to children of God.  “Abba” is an Aramaic term that early Jewish Christians used, and “Father” is the Greek term early Gentile Christians used to understand their true family orientation.  Paul has come full circle on explaining that salvation is available to “everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)  He is also setting the stage for Romans 9-11, where he teases out the details of God’s salvation for these two parties, i.e. all the known world.

This passage of Scripture meant so much to me when I became a child of God, and still does, because I’ve never met my biological father.  The truth is that I’ve been redeemed by Jesus Christ’s actions for me and you and all the world to deal with sin and help us live by faith (Romans 8:1-4; Romans 1:16-17).  I also have a heavenly, spiritual Father who has adopted me as his own.  The Holy Spirit witnesses to me that I belong to my Father and that I will see Him face-to-face one day in heaven and for the rest of all eternity.

I hope you know that whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you believe or don’t believe about God revealed through Jesus Christ, you can have this relationship too.

Until next time, LIVE on…

We’ve Arrived!

Last week, I went to Mount Eagle for a retreat and forgot to let my wife know that I arrived safely. Whoops…

My wife simply texted me to see if I arrived, and within seconds, I was able to let her know that I had done so. This is nothing compared to the “timely” importance of correspondence between spouses during the American Civil War. Colonel Lyon’s wife, Adelia, must have been very relieved to receive this via snail mail:

New Orleans, Fri., July 14, 1865.—We arrived here at eight o’clock this morning, sound and well. I found that our corps have moved and are moving for Indianola, Texas. Our division went several days ago. Lieutenant Fowle and I leave tomorrow on steamer Zenobia. [Source: DOTCW]

I imagine spouses, parents, sibling, friends, etc. must have worried a lot about their loved ones fighting in the war as well as traveling so much. What’s worse, they had to wait so long to receive word that they actually arrived. What other thoughts they must have had among their prayers for their beloved soldiers.

Perhaps Adelia worried further about her dear William Lyon having to ride a “steamer” that could have been fired upon or even captured and burned. How relieved she must have been by each incoming letter. Thank God, he’s still alive!

Until next time, let ’em know you made it safe!

The Whole Shebang

So, I’m having a conversation one day with my firstborn daughter (4 years old) when she realizes that a “navel” can be your belly button or a type of orange. Likewise, in reading American Civil War diary entries, I recognized that “shebang” can mean “a matter, operation, or set of circumstances” or “a rough hut or shelter.”

The Whole Shebang (Photo:

Although not an enlisted man, Samuel Andrew Agnew wrote from the perspective of a resident in Corinth, MS of the war’s goings on there, noting that current operations needed to change:

Seals were in the crowd. Norton tells me that Jettie Richey got home last night from Ham’s Camp. He reports that on Saturday next they will reorganize the whole “shebang” in pursuance of Gov. Clark’s orders. In reorganizing they enlist for 2 years. (Source: The Civil War Day by Day)

Shebang can also be the most humble dwelling quarters of a weary soldier during the war. I’m always amazed at the details at length that soldiers recorded in order to paint a clear picture of their temporary residence. I think this reflects the significance of their need for a home away from home. Our bodies need familiarity, I think, when it comes to the specific place where we lay our heads every night. More so, I believe soldiers needed this comfort, considering the fact that the nature of their circumstances could change at a minute’s notice. If you will, a change in one’s shebang could alter their other shebang. This is what “Jenk” writes about his setup:

Busy most of the time completing “shebang”. Very small, but quite cozy for two soldiers. It is 6 ft. by 8 ft., 4½ ft. high on the side. Door is in front, 18 in. by 30 in., by side of which is chimney—18 in. stack. Bunk in back, 4 ft. wide. At the foot of it is the writing desk, opposite is hardtack box for cupboard, etc. (Source: Daily Observations from the Civil War)

Until next time, SHEBANG!

Civil War Thanksgiving Reflections

We always think of eating turkey on Thanksgiving day, but sometimes people choose to eat other meats instead.

Complete Holiday Dinners

For instance, my stepdad does not like eating turkey at all. He doesn’t like the taste. So, we’ll graciously provide a cooked ham for him to eat for “turkey” day.

As I was scrolling through soldiers’ diaries reflecting on Thanksgiving, I found that some had to choose not to eat turkey, because it simply was not available to them at the time. Take poor Luman Harris Tenney for example:

Thanksgiving chickens for dinner… Considerable dissatisfaction among the boys. Band played some time. (Source: Daily Observations From the Civil War)

Something tells me Tenney wasn’t the only one hoping for turkey that year. But, at least the boys had chicken and some entertainment.

I hope wherever you were, whomever you were with, and whatever meat you ate that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving day, praising God for all He has given us. I thought yesterday’s weather in Shreveport, LA was gorgeous and all around, I had as good a time as Rutherford B. Hayes had back in the day:

We had a jovial Thanksgiving. A fair supply of turkeys and other good things from the cities, together with good weather, made the day cheerful. (Source: Daily Observations From the Civil War)

Until next year, Give Thanks!