Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Saints' Day

Today is Halloween, or "All Hallows' Eve".  Most places I have been, Halloween is little more than an excuse to dress up in custom and, depending on one's age, either 'trick or treat' or party.  While Halloween may well have some pagan origins, and without a doubt includes many non-Christian elements today, I find it interesting that it is calendared to be on the evening of All Hallows', or All Saints' Day, a date of some significance to many Christian traditions.

All Saints' Day is celebrated by many Christian traditions, both in the East and the West, to remember the saints who have gone on before us, and the legacy they have left us.  For some, like the Roman Catholics, the saints are just a subset of believers, while for others all true believers are saints.  And, for the later, All Saints' Day would be a day to remember all of those who have gone before us, whether they are renowned hero's of the faith, or the faithful servant who followed Christ in obscurity.

I do not know why we Baptists seem generally to ignore All Saints' Day, but I believe it could be a wonderful time of celebration.  Let's remember the great cloud of witnesses that surround us (Hebrews 12:1) from throughout history.  What a wonderful time to learn about our forebears in the faith and be challenged to follow in their footsteps.  And what a good time to remember our loved ones who have been faithful and have joined that cloud of witnesses.

While it is likely too late for your church to remember, and celebrate, those who have gone before us; it is not too late for you to do it individually.  It is also not to late to encourage your local church body to consider adding this day to their calendar, taking the time to remember the saints, and what they have given to us.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pac Beach

The Pacific Beach Resort (Pac Beach) is located in the town of Pacific Beach, about 15 miles north of Ocean Shores.  This facility is operated by the US Navy's MWR for the benefit of all active duty and retired military and DoD employees.  The resort has 30 cottages (3, 4 and 5 bedroom houses), hotel, RV park, restaurant, gift shop, bowling alley and other recreational activities and sits on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

I have been there with family and friends a number of times over the years and we have always enjoyed the stay.  The wife and I, along with 2 other couples, went back to Pac Beach this past weekend, renting a 3 bedroom house along the bluff and enjoyed a relaxing retreat away from the usual daily activities.

All of the houses have been newly remodeled and were reconditioned inside and out.  They had always been a nice place to stay, but now had a spiffier feel to them.  The house this weekend had 3 bedrooms (2 with queen beds and one with a pair of twins), 2 baths, and a spacious and open living area with an adjoining kitchen and a garage.  The house had linens and bedding, basic cooking and eating stuff and a TV with cable and DVD.  All you need to bring is your own clothes, personal stuff and food.

The weekend was rainy and a bit windy, although not to bad.  Sue and I enjoyed a trio of walks along the mostly deserted beach.  Once you are dressed warmly and the rain gear is on, the weather becomes mostly a non-issue.  Fortunately most people don't believe that, leading to a beach that you don't have to share, except for the gulls and sand pipers. I really like the winter time beach walks

The rest of the time we stayed tucked into the house with friends; talking, eating, playing games, watching football and having Bible study.  The opportunity to get away with the wife and close friends was a great one, and one I am very thankful for.

If you are eligible to spend time at Pac Beach, I would encourage you to take advantage of it and enjoy the quiet and solitude, or take friends and family and enjoy the extended time together.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Aging Gracefully - Not Gonna Do It!

Not too sure just when it happened, but I think I have finally started to get old.  And I don't like it very much.  Granted, the age related discounts at eateries is a bonus.  And being retired is definitely a good thing.  But what my body is doing to me is not much fun.

My hair has been slowly turning gray over the past 30 years.  And over the past few years I have started to notice wrinkles on my hands that are not supposed to be there.  But none of that really bothers me all that much.  Having gray hair and wrinkles does not slow me down, or get in the way of doing anything.

I used to like the floor.  I would just as soon sit on the floor as I would a chair, sprawled out reading, watching the boob tube or just talking.  But over time the floor has become something that I generally avoid. It's not that I dislike being on the floor.  It's just that getting there and back has become more difficult; especially the getting back up part.  The floor seems to be getting harder as well.  It may be that the laws of physics are changing on us.

I have never been on to just pop up out of bed and be ready to go.  But recently it has become more than just being sleepy and fuzzy minded.  My body is trying to get in on the fun now.  Trying to get all the joints moving freely is taking a few minutes in the morning now, before they decide to cooperate and work together.

On a related note, long car rides are becoming a bit more of a challenge.  I used to be able to drive all day long on cross country trips with little problem.  Now, an hour in the car is about all I can handle without getting out to stretch and answer the call of nature.

Over the past few years I have developed a relationship that I would just as soon be able to terminate, but the other party is pretty obstinate.  Arthritis has been hanging around making a nuisance of himself, refusing to go away and leave me alone.  I don't care for him at all; but he seems not to care a whole lot about my opinions.

I also find myself drawn more and more to medical websites, trying to figure out what new trick my body is trying to play on me, and how I might be able to thwart it.  So far my body is winning, but occasionally I manage to win a round.  One of the disconcerting things I have discovered is just how many things can go wrong, and what little I can do about much of it.  But it has also given me a greater appreciation for the complexities of our bodies: we are indeed wonderfully made.

I think it is getting darker at night also.  And if it keeps up much longer I am going to have to abandon night time driving.  It is fortunate that I no longer have to commute to work.  The combination of dark wet roads, on-coming headlights, darkly dressed children playing chicken on their way to school in the morning, and increasingly darker skies in the early morning, is an accident just waiting to happen.

While there are some aspects of being nearly 60 that I enjoy, I think I'm ready for the process to slow down some.  So far, being older has not kept me at home in a wheelchair.  But when it forces me to leave the mountains and forests behind, I am going to be really peeved and will complain loud and long.  Consider yourselves forewarned!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Be Holy

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” - 1 Peter 1:13-16 NIV
I love this passage while at the same time finding it to be one of the most challenging to follow.  Peter tells me where my hope should be as well as how to live while waiting for it.  I really like the hope part.  But that part about being holy is kind of scary.

With Alert and Sober Minds

How much of the time do we wander around in a daze, especially concerning spiritual matters.  All too often I find myself preoccupied with meaningless things.  And as a result I often find myself lost.  A few years ago I was out on the trail and was listening to my music player as I hiked.  Eventually I came to and realized that I was not where I thought I was.  I had been so engrossed in the music playing in my ears that I lost sight of the trail and got myself turned around.  I find I do that in my spiritual life as well.  I end up focused on some trivial thing to such an extent that I end up losing my way.  I waste way too much time backtracking and starting over again.

Peter tells me here that I should have a mind that is alert and sober.  Don't let the music playing in your ear distract you from life.  Be focused on the goal and don't let anything distract you from that.  If you find yourself wondering 'What am I doing" or "Where am I going", then you need to get refocused on the goal; tune out the distractions; and march down the path that will get you where you need to go.

Set Your Hope on the Grace

What is the goal I need to focus on?  Peter tells me that it is the grace that will be brought to me at Christ's return.  Grace is God's favor that is given to me.  Sometimes it refers to my salvation.  Other times it refers to the way he equips me for service in his kingdom.  In this passage it is referring to the life, and work, that I will be given at Christ's return; when I move from the earthly realm and into the heavenly one.

I have a goal of hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail over the course of the next few years.  But that won't happen by accident.  Nor will it happen if I do not consciously work toward it.  It requires advance planning and preparation; mentally, physically and materially.  This is not an all consuming goal, but it is one that requires me to be focused and working toward it.

I have another goal in my life that is much more significant than walking through the woods for a few months.  I want to stand before my creator and hear him say "Well done, good and faithful servant!"  And that also will not happen by accident.  It is something I need to consciously work toward, with my mind alert and sober; keeping focused on the goal.

Not Conforming to Evil Desires

Peter gives two broad directives in how to stay focused on the goal, one negative and the other positive.  The first is do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  This passage may well be offensive to many, especially those who consider themselves to be wise and well educated.  But anyone who lives without God is living in ignorance.  Is it not ignorance to live without knowing your creator, his purpose for you, and his provision for your life?  What is more important in this world than knowing him, and why you were created?

Before I came to know God I lived in a certain way.  While there were definitely some rough edges, by and large I lived in a way that many would have considered to be good.  But I was generally living and following my own desires: I did what I wanted to, at least as much as I could.  But those desires were not God's desires, nor did they bring me closer to him, or glorify him: they focused on making me happy.  And so they are evil, self-centered, causing me to fall short of God's expectations for me.

Are those desires gone now that I have been a follower of Christ for 40 years?  I can't say that they have.  Many of those self-serving desires I had as a young man are still with me as I transition into senior adulthood.  And I have come to accept that it is likely they will hang on to the end.  But that does not mean that I need to fulfill those desires.  Peter tells me not to conform to them.  I may have the desire to get back at the person who cut me off in traffic; but that does not mean I have to act on that. I do not have to respond to the desire that is aroused by ads I might see on-line.  I do not really have to have the latest and greatest phone, car, house or clothes.

Being Holy

Instead, just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.  God is holy, and we in turn are challenged to be holy.  But really, who wants to be holy?  Don't you have to live in a cold damp monastery, wear a burlap robe, take a vow of silence, and have no fun to be holy?  Not really!

Think of the word holy as meaning 'set apart' or 'special'.  In my house there are two cabinets where we keep dishes.  One of these cabinets is in the kitchen and it contains the plates, bowls, cups and glasses that we use every day; the Corelle and plastic stuff.  The other cabinet is in the dining room and it has all of the fancy stuff, at least as fancy as it gets in my house.  This stuff is reserved for company or special occasions: it is, in a sense, holy, while the stuff in the kitchen is common.

Now personally, I prefer to drink out of a cheap plastic glass rather than a crystal glass.  But I am called on to be like the crystal glass; set apart for God's use rather than being plastic, or common, like the rest of the world.  Being holy does not mean I am perfect.  It does not mean I cannot have any fun.  It does not mean that I have to quit my job and be a missionary someplace far from the world I know.  It does mean that I have committed myself to do what the master wants of me.  It does mean that I am going to be different than the world around me.  It does mean that I should value the things of God above the things of this world.

Being holy in the midst of a world that has little interest in the things of God can be challenging.  Being holy instead of following my own desires can be challenging as well.  But if my hope is set on the grace to be brought to me when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming then I will be choosing to keep an alert and sober mind, will not conform to the desires I had in the past, and will set myself apart to serve my master as he sees fit.

How will you answer the master's call to be holy, because I am holy?  Will you dare to be fine crystal, or are you satisfied with being plastic?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

An Annual Get Together

I spent most of the day today attending the annual meeting of the churches of the Olympic Baptist Association (OBA) at Clear Creek Baptist in Silverdale.  We had 52 members from 14 churches and 4 representatives from outside the Association in attendance and had a good time, at least I think we did.

There are several reasons I enjoyed attending this meeting.  Maybe the biggest, at least for me, is the opportunity to visit with so many believers from our associating churches.  As the Ambassador I have the privilege to travel to all of our churches, and visit with them, at least once a year.  But it is still nice to get them all together in one place and catch up on what is happening around the Olympic peninsula.  We have a great group of pastors and leaders serving in each of the churches.

I also enjoy the reports that are made during the meeting.  We have some pretty cool opportunities for service within the OBA, and this is a chance for us to hear about what has gone on over the last year, as well as to get a glimpse of the upcoming opportunities for the next year.

I enjoy the worship.  The old hymns were especially powerful today, and I think I saw a few lights shaking.  The special music, and the accompanying testimony were meaningful.  And the challenge to stand firm from the 6th chapter of Ephesians was timely.

All in all it was a great day.  I look forward to the coming year for the OBA, working with each of you.  And I offer my thanks to our host church today.  The hospitality and meal were wonderful.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The US Constitution and the President

In case you have not noticed, it is time to elect a new President for the US.  It is hard to imagine that this is news to anyone since the campaigning has been going on almost since the last election.  But I wonder how many of us really know what the job of the President of the US is?  From listening to campaign promises and the debates, it would be easy to get the impression that they are some kind of demigod, able single-handedly to accomplish great feats such as: reducing taxes while also reducing the national debt; putting everyone back to work; bring peace to the world; solving world hunger; putting an end to disease; keeping America #1 in the world.

So I decided to take a look at the US constitution, a document that I am ashamed to admit I have not read in many a year.  Article II of the constitution concerns the President.  Most of it is relatively uninteresting, but there are a couple of clauses in Section 3 that are worth noting and commenting on concerning the job of President.

Article. II.
Section. 3.
He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

Make Recommendations to Congress

He shall ... recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

Congress has the responsibility to enact laws.  But the President has the responsibility to make recommendations to Congress concerning new laws.  What this tells me is that our presidential candidates, rather than telling us what policies they are going to implement, should really be telling us what agenda they will be attempting to get Congress to enact.  It is the role of the Congress to pass laws, impose taxes, approve expenditures of money.  The President may recommend, but it is Congress that determines what course we will take as a nation.

So it seems proper to me that our candidates have an agenda.  Let me know what you will be recommending to Congress, and pushing for enactment, should you get elected.  Don't make promises to me about the number of jobs you will create, or what you will do with taxes or the economy: that is not the job of the President, at least how I read the Constitution: it is the job of Congress.  If they are unable to convince Congress to support the agenda they were elected to "recommend to Congress", we should not blame them for failing to keep their "promises"; although we might fault them for their inability to persuade   We should probably hold Congress responsible for not doing what we wanted; as reflected in our chouice of President.

Faithful Execution of the Law

He shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.

The second interesting clause, at least for me, is that the President is responsible for the faithful execution of laws that have been enacted by Congress.  Even if he disagrees with them.  Even if they are contrary to his campaign promises.

If I do not like the policies enacted by the Congress and executed by the President, then my outrage should be directed toward the Congress rather than the President.  If he is faithfully executing the laws duly enacted by the Congress then he is simply doing his job.  We might not like it, but what choice does he have?

If the President acts in ways that are contrary to the Constitution or duly enacted laws then he should be removed.  If he fails to promote the agenda he was elected under, then we have reason to complain about him; he was elected under false premises.  But how can we fault him if he does his best to guide Congress to enact his agenda (that we approved when we elected him) and they fail to act on that.

And yes, I am aware that the President himself does not directly execute all those laws.  But he is the head of the Executive Branch of the government that does have that responsibility.  He is responsible to see that the branch of government he is leading is properly doing its job.

The President of the US is indeed in a powerful position with a lot of responsibility.  But he is not a demigod; only a man (or woman someday).  Realize that he cannot enact his policies into law: that is the role of the Congress.  And do not fault him if he carries out the laws enacted by Congress: that is his job.

Evaluate the vision that the candidates have for the US (I only wish it was easier to discover), and vote for the one whose vision most closely mirrors yours.  And then also vote for congressional representatives who will also support that vision, regardless their party affiliation.

And regardless who is elected, remember to pray for them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Are You Ready?

In the 24th chapter of Matthew, Jesus shares with his disciples some information about his return and what to expect as his return draws near.  He concluded that teaching with a warning (24:36-44) about being ready because the time of his return will not be known until it occurs.  When he comes back, it will be suddenly and without warning, and some will be taken and others will be left.  And what will determine who is taken and who is left?  He answers that question in a pair of parables that follow.

The first, in Matthew 24:45-51, is about a servant who has been left in charge of the master's household while he is away for an unspecified period of time.  Eventually the master returns and checks up on the servant to see how he has done.  If he is doing what the master left him to do, then all is well and he is rewarded.  If he is not following his masters direction, but is doing his own thing instead, he can expect nothing but punishment.  In this case, being ready equates to being faithful to the master until his return.

In Matthew 25:1-13 we find the second, and better known, of these two parables.  In this parable we find a group of ten virgins who have gone out to meet a bridegroom.  The bridegroom takes longer than expected to arrive and they all fall asleep.  When he does come they awaken, and five are able to light their lamps while the other five are not, but have to go into town and buy oil for the lamps.  While they are gone the five virgins with oil in the lamps are allowed into the wedding banquet while the others are denied entry when they finally return.

This parable is a bit strange to most of us because it does not really picture the way we do weddings today; at least in the US.  Donald Carson, in the NIV Bible Commentary, says this about the setting of this parable.
The setting is fairly clear from what we know of the marriage customs of the day.  Normally the bridegroom with some close friends left his home to go the the bride's home, where there were various ceremonies, followed by a procession through the streets - after nightfall - to his home.  The ten virgins may be bridesmaids who have been assisting the bride; and they expect to meet the groom as he come's from the brides house.  Everyone in the procession was expected to carry his or her own torch.  Those without torches would be assumed to be party crashers or even brigands.  The festivities, which could last several days, would formally get under way at the bridegroom's house.
Given the context of this parable (the 24th chapter of Matthew), the bridegroom's coming would seem to represent Christ's return for his people, with the ten virgins being similar to the two working in the field (24:40) or the two grinding at the mill (24:41).  One of the workers in each pair was taken and the other left, just like five of the virgins join the procession and five are left out in the cold.

So what is it about these ten that determines who is taken and who is left behind?  All ten are described as virgins.  All ten had lamps.  All ten  went out to meet the bridegroom.  All ten  fell asleep while waiting for him.  So far there is nothing that would allow us to tell one from the other.  What is different is that five of them take along oil for their lamps, while five do not.  While they are waiting for the bridegroom, this oil, or lack of oil, seems not to make any difference.  They stay together and all do the same things, including taking a nap.

But what happens at midnight when the bridegroom comes?  The announcement is made, the virgins wake up and attempt to light their lamps so they can join into the festivities.  For five of them this is no problem.  They have planned ahead and are ready.  But the lack of preparation on the part of the other five now comes back to haunt them.  Too late, they get oil and return, only to find themselves locked out and excluded from the party: they were not ready when the bridegroom came, and were left out.

The moral of this parable appears to be clear: be ready for Jesus return.  What does it take to be ready?  Look back at the virgins in this parable.  I find it interesting that all ten of them apparently wanted, at some level, to be included in the festivities.  And all of them probably looked alike and spent their time waiting together.  So it would seem like hanging out at church, accumulating merit badges, and learning all the Bible stories does not get one ready for the bridegrooms coming.

Five of them were foolish, apparently believing that just showing up was enough.  So how can I be ready for his return?  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31)!  But belief is not a one time experience, nor is it solely an intellectual activity: it is a commitment of ones life to the lordship of Jesus.  The first of the two parables illustrates this.  If he is your Lord, which is known if you obey him, then you are ready.  If not, it's not yet too late.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Eagle Creek and Tunnel Falls

There are a number of alternate trails on the PCT in Oregon and I took three of these because of the promised scenery.  As a south bound hiker I actually started off on one of the alternates, the Eagle Creek Trail.  This moderately difficult trail starts a couple of miles west of Cascade Locks on the Columbia and travels along the Eagle Creek for the first few miles before climbing up to join the PCT at Indian Springs, a distance of about 15 miles.  Eagle Creek flows through a fairly narrow, but deep, canyon that cuts through the basalt cliffs on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.  In the first 6.5 miles, heading south, this trail passes along shear cliffs, deep gorges and a lot of waterfalls.

If you are traveling the PCT, and willing to take alternates, this one is highly recommended.  If you are just looking for a day hike and are in the Portland area, it would be hard to beat the 13 mile round trip up to Twister Falls.  This trail was constructed in 1910, and is probably not reproducible today: using dynamite in wilderness areas is frowned upon.

Punchbowl Falls has about a 35 foot drop into a big bowl.  This area is very popular and can be crowded with people coming to enjoy the view, play in the water and jump off the cliffs into the deep pools.  It is a fairly step side trip down the the creek from the main trail, but is worth the extra few minutes, 

Loowit Falls drops about 90 feet into a pool just above Eagle Creek.  This fall  is on the far side of the creek  but is near the High Bridge that crosses the creek and there is a way trail to the base of the falls.

This is a sample of what portions of the trail are like.  The trail is blasted out of the cliff and is visible to the top left of the picture.  The creek is flowing over 100 feet below the trail, and nearly straight down.  

Tunnel Falls is easily the highlight of this trail and is almost 6 miles south of the trail head.  The fall has a 175 foot drop with the trail blasted out of the cliff wall behind the falls.  You can see the tunnel entrance and exit on either side of the fall about halfway up the cliff.  The trail, especially to the right, is also blasted out of the cliff and has a cable attached to the cliff to use as a hand rail for those who are acrophobic.

Twister Falls, or Eagle Creek Falls, is about a half mile south of Tunnel Falls.  This fall cascades and drops about 200 foot altogether although is is not possible to get a picture of the entire falls from any one place: this picture is just the upper portion.  You can see the trail running past at the top left of the falls and this is a good place to stop for a snack, or even lunch.  It also makes a good turnaround point for a 13 mile day hike.

A portion of the Vertigo Mile between Tunnel and Twister Falls.  The cliff falls up to 200 feet down to the creek and is pretty shear.  You can see the cliff wall above overhangs the trail.  You can also see the attached cable to the right of the trail.  This is a pretty cool section of the trail, but is not for those afraid of heights.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Why Do Politicians Lie?

Is there anyone who really believes everything their favorite candidate for national office says during their election campaign?  Granted, there are some politicians who are honest and tell it like it is.  But they seem to be the exception rather than the rule, unfortunately.  But why do they do it?  And why do we let them get away with it?

Could it be that we want them to lie?  After a great amount of thought (nearly an hour), extensive research (read another blog), and consultation (talked with my wife), I have come to the conclusion that most of us want to believe that our nations problems are solvable and at little or no cost to ourselves.  But is that a realistic outlook?  I don't think so!  While we may eventually be able to solve some of our nations more pressing problems, the solutions will come at a cost to us personally.  It may be in the form of higher taxes, reduced entitlements, eliminated sacred cows, higher retirement age, more expensive gas, etc.  But we have to realize that the solutions will not be easy.

But what candidate running for national office has a chance at election by taking a stand for higher taxes, an increase in the Social Security retirement age and elimination of your favorite pork barrel?  That's right, they would lose in a landslide.  And why?  Because we don't want to hear the truth.  We want to hear that our candidate will be able to single handedly solve all of the nations problems while at the same time lowering my taxes, reducing my retirement age, raising my salary and expanding my favorite pork barrel.  In other words, I am going to vote for the most convincing liar who reflects my ideal view of the US, while at the same time decrying the other candidates for lying to the American public.

And until we face up to the challenges that face us as a nation, resolve to do whatever it takes to solve them, and quit rewarding those who promise easy solutions, I believe we are going to continue to encourage and reward those who are best able to sugarcoat the problems and most effective transfer the blame to their opponent.  I honestly do not know how to resolve this issue, but I am convinced that encouraging our politicians to lie to us is not the way forward.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Hanging Out in the Woods

It's 2:30 in the morning.  Will this night ever end.  I feel like the princess sleeping on a pea.  The difference being that she had a mountain of bedding between her and the pea, and I had only a thin pad between me and the ground.  My hips and back are hurting so bad that I can't bear laying in one position for more than about 15 minutes and am thrashing about so much that I feel like a noodle in a stir fry.

It's night 4 of a 6 night trip and the ground isn't getting any softer; if anything it had gotten harder over the years.  I was using a Big Agnes Insulated Air Core that year, and even its 2.5 inches could no longer cut it.  The combination of hard ground and bruised hips from a too heavy pack conspired to make my nights endless.

But the next day was life altering, at least as far as my backpacking was concerned.  One other guy was staying at the lake with us and he was in a hammock from a company called Hennessy.  He claimed to love it and that it was very comfortable to sleep in.  I had tried several cheap hammocks over the years, and had looked at ads for more expensive ones.  But the cheap ones were uncomfortable after a while, and I was not willing to spend the money on a more expensive one without some assurance it would work.

One of the first things I did after getting home was to do a bit of research.  I found the Hennessy web site and looked at their offerings.  I also found the Hammock Forums and spent a lot of time there, reading about hammocks and accessories, watching how-to videos, and trying to digest all the material I had found.  I would have never dreamed that there was so much to know; definitely had my head spinning for a while: hammocks, ridge lines, suspension systems, tarps & other weather protection, under quilts, top quilts, pads, etc.

Ultimately I pulled the trigger and bought a Blackbird, a hammock from a small company called Warbonnet. This seemed to be the most popular hammock on the forums and, more importantly, promised that I would be able to sleep on my side.  I am not much of a back sleeper and was apprehensive about being able to lay flat of my back all night.

My Blackbird finally showed up in the mail (at the time they were individually made when ordered) and I set it up out on the back deck to give it a try.  The Blackbird is indeed a very nice hammock.  It has a double bottom (at least mine does) for inserting an insulating pad, along with a fully enclosed bug net.  The sides can be staked out to expand the living space and create a storage shelf on one side.  It was indeed a fairly comfortable hammock and I could lay on my side without much issue.  One thing I did note right away is that turning over is a bit more complicated than when laying on the ground.  A hammock moves along with you when you move, so you have to grab hold of it so that you can kind of hold it still while you flip.

It took a lot of reading and experimentation over that winter, and to some extent over the following couple of years.  But I now have what I consider to be a good setup that will keep me warm down to freezing (I am seldom out colder than that), dry in inclement weather, and is fairly simple to setup and tear down.  In addition to my hammock, reconfigured to use whoopie slings, I have a Phoenix under quilt and a foot pad to keep me warm on the bottom, a now discontinued No-Sniveller top quilt from Jacks R Better to keep me warm on top, and a MacCat Deluxe tarp to keep the weather off of me.

This setup is about comparable weight wise to my solo tent/20 degree bag/Big Agnes pad setup, but it offers a much more enjoyable camp experience, assuming you are below tree level: hammocks are not of much use if there are no trees to hang from.  I find that I no longer dread the nights and anxiously await first light.  Instead, snuggled down into a warm hammock can make it difficult to face a cold morning.

A hammock also makes a nice camp chair.  If I have much camp time I find that I spend a lot of it sitting it my hammock, sometimes snuggled up in the quilts and sometimes not.  I can even pull the bug screen over me to have a bug free environment.  It definitely beats any other camp chair I have tried for comfort, although it is not really movable.

The covering tarp gives me a nice work area as well if the weather is wet, which is not uncommon here in western Washington.  The tarp is generally strung about 4-5 feet high at the ridge line in order to be higher than the hammock.  While that is not high enough to walk under, it does offer plenty of room.  I generally have the back side staked down fairly close to the hammock, but will frequently stake the front further out and then prop up the two tie-out points in front with my trekking poles.  This gives me a nice porch to work under.  At bedtime, if it is windy, I can drop the poles, re-tighten the guy lines and cut the amount of wind blowing across me.

Site selection can be the biggest problem when using a hammock.  I need to find of pair of trees with diameters between 5 inches and 3 feet, spaced 13 to 20 feet apart and with a minimal amount of low branches and brush between them.  Most established camp sites are configured for tents or tarps and many of them do not have the needed trees.  Sometimes trying to put a hammock into the established site can take a bit of creativity; other times it is just not possible.

But, if you are willing to venture away from the established site, I have found it easier to find spots to hang than to sleep on the ground.  With the hammock I don't care about rock, roots, level ground, where water might pool:  find two trees with a clearing between them and hang in comfort.

I have traveled throughout the Olympic National Park and on the PCT through all of Oregon and 1/3 of Washington with a hammock.  I have yet to find a place I could not hang.  I realize that there will be some place I will eventually go that will require sleeping on the ground, but for every other place I will continue to enjoy the luxury of swinging between two trees in my bear burrito.

This picture shows the hammock set up but with the front side of the tarp thrown back out of the way.    The  bug screen staked out in front can also be thrown back to allow for easy access to the hammock or for use as a chair.  At night everything, other than the food bag, either goes into the hammock with me or under the hammock to keep it out of the weather and close at hand.

Same location as before but now the tarp is fully deployed.  The ground here is not too bad, but would be pretty challenging for a ground sleeper.  It is not flat and has quite a few roots at the surface.  But it works well for me.  The river side is the front.  Throw back the tarp and bug net and the hammock becomes an easy chair with a view.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Living in Accordance With the Flesh or the Spirit

I have been reading through Paul's letter to the Romans recently and have gotten stuck on one passage that I keep coming back to over and over.  I am stuck on it, not because it is particularly difficult to understand, but because it has just grabbed hold of me and won't let go.
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. - Romans 8:5-8 NIV
This passage provides a test.  Am I living according to the flesh, or according to the Spirit?  In this passage the flesh refers to my own nature, who I just naturally am.  In our natural state we all live according to the flesh, and in that state our minds are set on what the flesh desires.  Is this a bad thing?  Not in and of itself.  It is just what we are.  For some, the flesh desires things that are hurtful to self and others and we condemn the expression of those desires.  For others, the flesh desires things that are helpful to self and others, things of beauty, knowledge and understanding, peace and love.  We hold these in honor and set them as examples.

But what both of these extremes, and any middle ground, hold in common, according to Paul in this passage, is that they are hostile to God, unable to please him, and lead to death.  It is not to challenging to apply this to a serial killer.  But it is altogether different to apply it to a great humanitarian who dedicates his life to helping the helpless.  But Paul is clear that if I am following the desires of my own nature I am in deep trouble, regardless where those desires might lead.

Paul contrasts this state with the one whose mind is set, not on what they want, but on what God's Spirit wants.  That one will experience life and peace in relationship with their creator.  It is ironic that only in dying to self will I find true life.  Only in giving up will I discover what I was created to be.

It is so easy to read and study this passage without actually taking the test:  I have done it for several decades.  But it is demanding an answer now.  As I walk through my day, do I do what I want, or what the Spirit wants of me?  Do I take the time to inquire of the Spirit what he wants?  Or do I just act on my own desires?

Am I trying to please God?  Or am I doing what I want and hoping that it is pleasing to him?  According to this passage, if my response is the latter, then I am not pleasing him, and am actually hostile to him.  No matter how good my actions might be, if it is in response to my own desire rather than at the Spirit's leading, I have fallen short.

I am afraid too much of my life is lived without regard for the Spirit's leading.  But this passage is stuck on a continuous replay cycle, calling on me to change the channel and listen to the Spirit rather than my own nature and desires.  Will I dare to let go of the reins I have held on to so tightly for so long?