The Back Page – When to Walk; When to Go Home

The Back Page

When to Walk; When to Go Home

God enjoys his creation. So did the psalmist. So should we.
2017 was an unspectacular New England autumn, with leaves either remaining green, or simply
browning and dropping. Too warm and too dry. But today the remnants of Hurricane Nate breeze
through, the ground is soggy, and bright yellow leaves flit down amidst intermittent showers and gusts.
Good day for a walk.
Sporting shorts, shirt, socks, and shoes, I saunter forth into the gray and gales and showers. My
quarter-century-old Vasque Sundowners sport scuffed leather uppers and soles re-glued several times
(marine epoxy > Shoe Goo), but their intact Goretex linings should insure that my feet at least will stay
To the trailhead, into the woods, and up the hill. I stand atop ancient fractured granite boulders five
yards high and eight across. A gray blustery day. Trunks darkened with damp to almost black, slouching
in assorted sizes and slants below the mostly-green canopy, graced with occasional yellows at the tops.
Rain is steady but not heavy. Quiet except for the rushing, swishing breeze in the branches. No one else
around. Wind strengthens and shifts erratically. A more intense shower blows in, so I stand tight to a
tilting trunk to ward off the worst. Once it eases, on up the trail to a large granite bald spot and overview.
The ragged cloud ceiling hangs low, alternately obscuring and unveiling the larger range a mile across the
When the showers strengthen I duck back into the trees. Even if my soles weren’t shorn smooth, the
leaves and wet would render treacherous some of the stones and slopes. The post-hurricane gusts stiffen;
branches above rack and roar. Suddenly a twelve- footer falls just behind and to the left. Five minutes
later, crack! Yikes! Thud! Its twin, three inches in diameter, crashes directly on the trail four yards ahead.
“Missed me by that much!” Time to head home.
How many are your works, Yahweh! In wisdom you made them all (Ps 104:24).

The Back Page – Sing It Write

The Back Page

Sing It Write

(I mean rite, I mean right, I mean correctly)

Christmas is coming; time to dust off the carols. Do we listen to what we are singing?
How often has your neighbor intoned, “Star of wonder, star of night…”? Every star is a star of night.
Why should we sing about this one, as if a star shining in the night sky were something extraordinary?
What we should sing, of course, is “Star of Might.” The preceding phrase is “star of wonder,” and the
following, “star with royal beauty bright.” The idea of Might parallels these descriptives, and makes this
particular star one worth singing about. A star of night, by contrast, is nothing out of the ordinary.
Speaking of royalty, have you ever caught yourself singing, “Heaven’s arches rang when the angels
sang, proclaiming thy royal decree”? What decree or edict did the swaddling-swathed infant intone on this
his natal night? None. What the heavenly army proclaimed (not sang) to the shepherds was Jesus’ royal
degree—that is, his pedigree, his rank, his station in society. “For unto you is born this day in the City of
David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.” These phrases describe our savior’s degree. In contrast to his
high degree, Jesus came humbly, as the verse continues: “But of lowly birth did’st thou come to earth,
and in great humility.” Let us, with the angels, proclaim our savior’s royal degree.
To whom shall we proclaim? To a group of merry gentlemen (perhaps with goofy grins on their
faces), bypassing the sad ones? Does the song say “God rest ye, merry gentlemen,” or “God rest ye merry,
gentlemen”? The carol is half a millennium old. The word “rest” here means “make” or “keep.” “Merry”
means “mighty,” as in Robin Hood’s Merry (read Mighty) Men. So the song is urging, “God make you
mighty, [comma] gentlemen.” Mighty in your faith, as the next line intimates: “Let nothing you dismay.”
Christians say that words are important. God has communicated verbally. Christians started many
schools in this nation’s early centuries so that all could study the scriptures for themselves. Let us enjoy
our Christmas carols, but let us also sing them with our minds, and sing them correctly (not even “right,”
which probably serves better as an adjective than as an adverb).

The Back Page – Sorrow or Change

The Back Page

Sorrow or Change

The Bible says “repent” where many would expect “believe”:
Ÿ Unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish
Ÿ “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said, “Repent”
Ÿ In repentance and rest you shall be saved
Ÿ Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand
Ÿ I have no pleasure in death. Therefore, repent and live
Ÿ The cities in which his miracles were done did not repent
Ÿ Repentance for forgiveness of sins in Messiah’s name
Ÿ God commands all people everywhere to repent
Ÿ The kindness of God leads you to repentance
Ÿ God is patient, wishing all to come to repentance.
Are we missing something?
What is repentance? It is not primarily sorrow. Esau was sorry that he lost his birthright, but did not
repent. Judas regretted that he betrayed the Lord, but did not repent. Sorrow can be part of, or lead to,
repentance, but does not constitute it: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves
no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Cor 7:10). So telling people to be sorry for their sins is
inadequate, perhaps even unbiblical.
Repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of life. I was walking north, but turn and head
south. I had believed and practiced A, but decisively reject A and embrace B. I had dismissed the gospel
as hokey and lived for myself, but now agree that the gospel is true and so seek to know the Lord and
make him known. Repentance is a U-turn: visceral and practical.
How does faith fit in? Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. It is hearing of God’s
impending judgment of sin and gracious intervention in Christ, believing that message, and therefore
turning from disbelief and sin. Repentance, in a sense, is the works part of the “faith without works is
dead” maxim. We dare not neglect that part: “If you have really turned from your sins to God, produce
fruit that will prove it!” (Matt 3:8). Repentance is believing in my heart so deeply that I turn. Refusing to
turn suggests that I have not biblically believed.
Don’t [just] be sorry for your sins. Cut them out. You will find grace. “Neither do I condemn you;
go and sin no more.”

The Back Page – Seeing, Not Saving, the Moment

The Back Page

Seeing, Not Saving, the Moment

October 1 and it is still warm enough for ocean kayaking. I get by with a little help from my shortie
6:15 a.m., the surf is down, the sky ablaze. Out past the breakers, east so beautiful that I paddle in
that direction instead of south. Rusty mist hugs the horizon, purple clouds hover above. Yellows, peaches,
pinks, and blues. Paddling stops 200 meters out so I can simply sit and stare. A Zen moment? Maybe. But
Zen is not alone in encouraging enjoying the now.
Few sounds other than waves rumbling south near the inlet, and an occasional whitecap sloshing
nearby. Wavelets slap my skiff. Sandpipers skim the surface.
A thought: sharing this requires a picture. But I no longer try to photograph sunrises. Like life,
sunrises can’t be kept, only observed and enjoyed as they unfold. My Buddhist friends might object that
trying to capture a sunrise, in an attempt to relive it later, is taṇhā, the “clinging” that contributes to life’s
dukkha. Why not savor the real thing? Each real thing as it arrives? How many times have you seen
people so busy “capturing” a moment on their phones that they missed the moment itself?
A turn south into wind and waves, which now slap in earnest against the hull. After a few moments,
a backward glance reveals a bright orange spot on the horizon. The sun is coming! I stop to watch. Up he
leaps, and more quickly than imagined clears the horizon. A new day is born … and a new month.
Colors fade to pastels. A huge overhead X of contrails cradles a three-quarters moon. One of those
jets might be soaring to Asia, from which I have been away for two years. Another temptation to taṇhā.
But I am here and not there, so that thought fades.
Being out at sea is so pleasant, I never know when to paddle back to shore. But this morning’s
experience is now clearly complete. No sense trying to prolong it; manna kept is worms.