MLK Day 2014

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. My dear friend, Matthew Lee Keith, enjoyed that he shared initials with a visionary. Typically, I’ve wondered why this is a holiday. I think it’s great to honor someone who had an unquestionable impact on America. But it’s strange to condense the achievement of one man (who was so quickly taken from the world) into a holiday.

Today, I see another reason to honor this day. To enhance what this day means, I’ll smile and think about how my MLK chuckled at the thought that his initials were splashed in so many places if only once or twice a year. I’ll think about the visionary celebrated and lauded for his dream. And I’ll think about the jovial young man who liked to preach, too, and had a huge grin on his face when you called him MLK. Another MLK tragically taken from this world—in our opinion, too many years too soon.

Happy MLK Day, everyone. Remember that some of the best souls, those who had an uncommon and clear vision may not be with us all that long. But they leave us ideas and hopes we can only hope we have the grace and devotion to carry out.

Matthew Lee Keith

Matthew Keith. I met you my Freshman year at DBU in 2005. As the saying goes, we were instant friends. As far as I can tell, anyone you met for longer than five minutes, you befriended them. This in no way diminished our friendship—it only goes to show that you were, like your friends seem to universally accept, just that kind of guy. That kind of guy is the one who always had a genuine and kind word to share. That kind of guy who, because of your undeniable charisma, people instantly and instinctively count as a friend.

Glancing at the calendar tells me that we didn’t quite make it to 8 years of friendship. No matter. I reached several milestones that I got to share and celebrate with you. I watched you grow immeasurably and get to experience, by your own admission and description (as well as in my own observation), your best year ever, 2012. That’s a real gift, for you and for me, and for anyone who shared life and laughter with you, for the former always precipitated the latter with you.

To always be able to remember you at your happiest—without your earthly presence—as I celebrate new victories and weather the valleys, is a joy and comfort. I mourn now, because it is that time. But it’s a strange mourning, one that’s not lonely at all. It is exceedingly sad. But I know that I share the need to celebrate your life here with our fellow friends, and with your family. You are not here. But why mourn? You are risen with Christ. You and your lovely bride. It is not right for us to dwell on the loss because the gain, that is difficult for us to see in this in-between, is so much greater.

I know I am called to glorify God in my life and work here, so long as God grants me life on this earth. But, today, because of what we call your “untimely death” (in our own estimation of time), I know more and more that I have the joy of a new heaven and a new earth to look forward to. I am so glad you prepared the way for us and are taken up with Christ, while we here on earth are awaiting Christ’s return, until all of us are finally united together with Christ forever.

Transit-ory Auditory Distractions

In my job that I sometimes refer to (tongue-in-cheek) as the “country lawyer”, I have the opportunity to travel regularly from one section of southeastern New Mexico to the far West Texas portion of New Mexico.

I say far West Texas because I have never spent much time in Midland. I have, however, met people from there, and I would imagine the people I encounter in far West Texas-New Mexico are of the same general type. “General” cautions you that I am, in fact, generalizing on purpose.

West Texan generalizations taken care of, I can get to the reason for describing my country lawyer drives. I have developed the habit whilst driving solo for the hours-long trips of listening primarily to sermon audio augmented with some This American Life.

Both audio habits are educational and edifying guaranteed. The landscape never promises any mental stimulation (see exemplar photo—I’m not saying I don’t like the landscape in some way because I do), so my audio choices were creatures of necessity.

I have discovered in the process that I rather like traveling in this fashion. It is in the same vein somewhat, I think, of rather liking to listen to audiobooks while traveling on especially long car trips. In other words, some active mental stimulation helps break up the drive/distract you from the drive long enough to get your body there without having to think about traveling the entire time you are in transit.

Uncomfortable Faith

You know what I don’t do? I don’t regularly talk faith with my friends. I do not know if this is normal or not. I know the concept of normal depends entirely upon which social group into which I am pigeon-holing myself.

Faith is pretty important to me. I feel lousy when I neglect it. I am satisfied when I am making it a priority to grow in my faith, learn more about it and my role in it. 

Where I work there are examples of people committed to their faith in almost every way. I find this extraordinary, and it encourages me.

June and I have been on a faith path projectile that I can only characterize in one word as uncomfortable. We left the church where we spent two years putting down roots, which is the same amount of time we had been in this new community at the time of our leaving. 

I do not care to get into the reason(s) why we left. I can say with all honesty now that I was unhappy (June shared and shares this with me) with the lack of emphasis on growth of the individual through faith. And I’m not certain this is a problem peculiar to our beloved former church.

I know that in places where June and I used to live there were churches that encouraged us in the manner in which we understood and appreciated. I do not know if such a church exists in our little pocket of southeastern New Mexico. We are looking, and we are hopeful. God provided us a path here, and we have grown remarkably in our two years here. We did not come here to stagnate.

I guess I hope more than anything that I can learn some things about my faith by taking more ownership in whether I am learning and thus growing. I have always been so dependent on strong teaching. That’s not bad, but it is a handicap when the place where you hope to find strong teaching does not exist where you are.

Ultimately, I want to be in a place where faith is not uncomfortable. I would like to be grounded enough in it to where friends and family identify my family as one of faith. Not a kitschy, cross-wall variety, but a reliable, empathetic and humble work-in-progress kind of faith. Real and approachable, with all pretenses removed, just as Jesus exemplified.

Unsuspending Animation

I think the way to save this blog from the suspended animation that it has been in is to define what this is, albeit loosely. This is definitely narrowing from writing about anything, which turned to having to write about everything, meaning I wrote about nothing. Instead, I will write about what interests me.

Things that interest me are the following: craft beer (plus other types of hand-crafted and/or small batch alcohols), music (heavy on singer-songwriter, jazz, certain periods of classical), high fidelity audio (for listening to the aforementioned music while enjoying aforementioned craft alcohol), Airedales (especially my Airedale, Huxtable), riding my single-speed bike, my Christian faithwell-written television (or at least television I prefer to watch), the Mountain West (or any place with mountains I’ve gotten to visit), poetrysharing any of these interests with my lovely June.

Obviously, these are in no particular order just like there will be no deliberate order in which I will take them up as topics. I think, though, that any time I indulge in one of these interests—and I think it is noteworthy—I will endeavor to record it here. I will start that now.

Take note, dear reader, I will separate/segregate any content that chiefly arises out of what I do for a profession. I may, from time to time, feel it necessary to write about such professional interests (estate planning, water law, copyright). I will not, though, commingle private interests with professional interests unnecessarily.

A Life Within a Life, Pt. 1

I have not given up blogging, but I will admit to having forsaken it for more than half a year. As it seems that I have much too much to say, I am going to revive this blog with a multi-part post, titled A Life Within a Life. It is my intent to expound on the title as the post bears out. This post will be at least three parts, the first beginning below (But first, a note that Sara and I just recently celebrated our first anniversary. We celebrated it in the way you would picture cool people like us celebrating. Hooray us!):

Photo: Sara Mitchell

I suppose this stage of my life is the earliest stage of adulthood. I am beginning to understand how much effort it takes to not just be a drone in this. Sara and I have adjusted well overall, I think. But, there is this constant urge (though sometimes it is very slight) to acquire and aspire. Neither one of these ideals is a vice, but if they were to rule one’s life, they would very much be so.

As the blessing of life would have it, I have been cautioned by both outside counsel and an inner calm. Two nourishing morsels of advice, one dealing specifically with the material and one dealing somewhat esoterically and ecumenically with the spiritual, come to mind.

The first small crumb of bread, the one directed at the material, was deposited around the time of us closing on our house. It was stated something like thus: “There will be an urge to go and fill your home with things. That’s okay, but take it easy.”

I was tempted to add (and inaccurately attribute a quotation) to what was said as though more in the way of explicit advice was stated. I may not even be recalling this simple quotation correctly, as I have relayed it in this post. But, I do remember the substance of it sounding most elementary. There was certainly nothing more in substance to this than what I just quoted. What I intuited from it, however, was more. It seems that what was cautioned against could be a most natural and debilitating syndrome.

In the second part of this post, I will address how this syndrome might be debilitating.

Album Critique: Dark Enough for Stars*

Au Revoir Borealis
Dark Enough for Stars
Utter East (2008)

* This album is not new. It was released in 2008.

I had not previously heard of Au Revoir Borealis, who are a collective of musicians out of Motor City (Detroit, MI). The group formed in 1998 and debuted with an album called Tienken. Some of the member have had other side projects. Most recently in November 2010, Steve Swartz released Nighttide, a solo effort consisting of rich soundscapes.

First listen: There is an opulent instrumental palette that probably could stand on its own, but I am glad that it does not.

Reminders: Sigur Ros, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky

While some tracks are entirely instrumental, the continuities of sound that resonate throughout the album’s duration are the vocals of Stephenie Halpert McWalters. She is the siren chorus that ties the listener to the album; otherwise, the musicality dithers in the aether. 

“The Winter Room” is an excellent opener. This musical anteroom whets the appetite, which is surprised by “Dark Western” when it is twisted down into a minor space. But then there is this graduation toward “Bella Ballerina” where it sounds like a musicbox is twinkling in an open field.

Throughout this effort, the picking semi-bright tinge of guitars cleverly couple with the downbeat of drums. There truly is skilled programming and composition at work. But it is McWalters’ breathy voice that kicks a song like “Art of Film” into gear else the song be in danger of collapsing into a quasi-melodic noisefest.  

“The Key” ventures toward adherence to a more traditional song form. McWalters lilts her instrument as though she were bird-songing a traditional melody from an Irish folk song.

The de facto finale is “Maps of the Sky” with an unmistakeable lullaby characteristic and “After the Snowstorm” is a sort of outtro that provides a orchestra-winding-down countermelody that sweeps away in strings.

Recommendation: Start with “The Key” or “Art of Film” to get a sufficient sample. If your musical library lacks in the ambient/instrumental/shoegaze genre, give Dark Enough for Stars a spin.

Impressionism

Ever since we moved to Roswell, Sara and I have been looking for ways to acclimate, to take ownership in this community. There are a couple of ways that we have done this. Most of them involve some form of commitment outside of the business hours of the day.

As an aside: No one really tells you this thing about being a working adult. Just doing your job with integrity and competency exhausts you. Why? I am not sure just yet. It appears to be a different reason for each different day. Furthermore, it takes what seems like an immense amount of effort to be a person outside of career obligations.

One thing that is great: being a member of a church. It really ties you to the community-at-large and embeds you in a smaller, close-knit community. Sure, it takes a little bit of effort to be more than a shadow in even the smallest of churches. But the reward is immense.

We joined the choir, reluctantly. It is the smallest one I have ever encountered. The people are wonderful. They have great stories, and they come from all kinds of places. This was surprising to me since I had always kind of pictured small-town people as more small-town than people. But the personalities here are just as big as in any city I have inhabited.

On the plus side, meeting these new people and coming to know them is becoming a regular reminder of how easy it can be to leave an impression in a place. And that is really quite nice.

Sweater Weather

One of the good things about living in New Mexico, as opposed to Texas, is that it actually gets cold in the winter. Because there is a winter.

And the benefit of there being a winter is that you get to wear these interesting garments that make up the clothing category of winter clothing. Such garments include sweaters, sweater vests, big coats, and boots.

In anticipation of a new, foreign clothing season, my wife and I have accumulated new garments and accessories. She has this wonderful new creme wool coat, and I have some new sweaters. I also have a ski jacket (but that is not for everyday wear, I assure you). She already has some nice boots that need some TLC.

It is great to think of the possibilities of scarves, of sweaters, and the ability to multiply clothing combinations because of this new thing called layering.

When I wake up in the mornings, and I can glance at the thermometer for outside, I am thrilled to see the teens and twenties. Ah, brisk, winter air. Oh, what wonder this new climate brings!