Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Arbour Season

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 27, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The windshield wipers beat furiously as they tried in vain to keep the windshield clear. Flashing sheets of water crossed the road as the rain came down in waves. My hands gripped the steering wheel, maybe too tightly, and I thought, “Why am I driving to Fort Smith through this terrible storm?” 

A few days earlier, I learned that a favorite group, Arbour Season, would be playing in the area. I messaged them to get more information, and they replied, “We are playing at something called the Bakery District in Fort Smith. Is that too far for you?”

“What time is the concert,” I asked.

“6 p.m. Thank you so much again for reaching out! Hope to see you!” was the reply.

So, I was driving through a massive storm to see Arbour Season in concert. I had been listening to their music and watching their YouTube channel for months and was excited to see them. They describe themselves as “an indie/folk husband and wife duo who draw inspiration from the incredible adventures we experience all across North America in our converted school bus/home. Our unique journey inspires the ambient folk sound that captures the serenity of the Western vistas, the rhythms of the Eastern coastlines, and the brilliance of the national forests. We express our passion for life through music and invite you to travel with us by listening to the intricate instrumentation, layered harmonies, and lyrics that tell our stories.”

As the rain continued to beat down and the black highway seemed to disappear beneath the onslaught, a message from Shane of Arbour Season pinged on my phone. My wife read the message to me. “Hey! I’m going to keep you posted, but we just arrived at the venue, and there was a mix-up with dates or something, and they didn’t know we were going to be here today. This was a House Concert that was being put on by another girl, and she wanted to host it here at the district, but I think they had their information mixed up. There is still a possibility we could be playing tonight, but it’s unsure at this moment.”

“What should we do,” I thought. “I don’t want to continue driving through this storm if there isn’t a concert.” We pulled off the road to decide what we should do. My phone pinged with another message from Shane. “This has not been promoted at all, so I’m thinking no one is going to show up. But we are thinking about hanging out here for a little bit and having some dinner. Maybe we can all catch dinner together. We definitely want to meet you guys while we are still here in Arkansas.”

We decided to continue to Fort Smith to go out for dinner. After several more messages back and forth, deciding on a time and location, Shane texted, “Ok… sooo. We still may be able to make dinner, but we just found out we have a flat tire, haha. So we are now taking it to get looked at. That shouldn’t take too long, though, I would think!”

After several more messages back and forth, Shane told us that while the tire was being repaired, he had dropped Emily and the kids off at the mall. There is a food court with a kid’s play area right in the middle. He wanted to know if we could meet there so the kids could play while we eat, hang out, and talk.

We met at the mall and enjoyed visiting and eating some of the worst Chinese food I had ever eaten. When it was time to go, I asked them where they were headed next, and they said they were driving back to Mena. We had a good laugh about the irony of driving in a horrible storm to go to a canceled concert and then eating at a mall food court when we were both returning to Mena.

That rainy day mall food court meet-up with Arbour Season was a year ago. I have continued to follow their adventures on YouTube. I was excited when I was recently invited to an Arbour Season house concert.

After spending time with them on the crazy no concert, flat tire, lousy mall food court food day last year, it was wonderful to finally hear Arbour Season in concert. The concert was everything that I hoped it would be. The music was excellent, and the banter made everyone in the audience feel like they were lifelong friends. 

When the lilting guitar picking of the song “Arcadian” began, I silently mouthed the words. “I saw you today when I wasn’t looking. There was a sway in the trees above that told, told me you were near. And I heard your voice when I wasn’t listening. There was a sweet noise I’d never heard before, singing in the breeze. Oh, the pain, oh, the needless pain we bear. Oh, this world so full with all its cares. You made me innocent again. And I thought I found you, but you found me. Oh, I thought I found you, but you found me.”


Arcadian is one of my favorite songs, and I love the line, “I thought I found you, but you found me.” Sometimes, we think we have found God, but the Bible tells us that Jesus “came to find lost people and save them.” Luke 19:10 (NCV)

This idea is best shown in the story Jesus told in Luke 15:4-6 (ICB): “Suppose one of you has 100 sheep, but he loses 1 of them. Then he will leave the other 99 sheep alone and go out and look for the lost sheep. The man will keep on searching for the lost sheep until he finds it. And when he finds it, the man is very happy. He puts it on his shoulders and goes home. He calls to his friends and neighbors and says, ‘Be happy with me because I found my lost sheep!’” Luke 15:4-6 (ICB)

Gentle Reader, you are so important to God that He will follow you to the ends of the earth. He stays by your side, whether you acknowledge Him or not. There’s nothing you can do that will stop Him from loving you. “God clearly shows and proves His own love for us, by the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (AMP)

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Stratton, Colorado

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 20, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The wind buffeted the little Maverick pickup as we drove through Western Kansas on Interstate 70. My wife and I were on our way to Loveland, Colorado, to attend our 50-year high school reunion. The road seemed to stretch on forever as the wind continued to blow. As we crossed the state line between Kansas and Colorado, a dilapidated sign read, “Welcome to Colorful Colorado.” 

I surveyed the landscape around me and saw nothing but brown, tan, and beige. There was nothing colorful that I could see. The Eastern Colorado plains are among the most sparsely populated areas in the continental United States. The dry grasslands stretched before me as far as the eye could see. Occasionally, there would be a farmstead with a few trees around it to break up the monotonous tan of the dry grasslands. 

Before long, we came to the exit to Stratton, and I turned off the interstate and drove into town. I needed a break to stretch my legs, and the town of Stratton has always fascinated me. It is a small town with a population of less than 700 people. For many years, I have heard stories about Stratton, where my father-in-law grew up. 

As I look around the small town, it's hard to believe that Stratton, Colorado, once had a famous hotel, the Collins Hotel, where many famous people stayed. The great baseball player Babe Ruth was a guest at the hotel. Times have changed significantly over the last hundred years, and there is no longer a hotel. 

Stratton was incorporated on April 15th, 1917, and named after Winfield Scott Stratton, also known as "Mr. Gold". He struck it rich at Cripple Creek in the 1890s. He hit a major vein in his Independence mine and eventually sold the mine in 1899 for $11 million. Stratton remained loyal to his blue-collar roots, giving away most of his money. He willed his wealth to create the Myron Stratton Home for the poor without means of support or unable to earn a livelihood. The Myron Stratton Home opened in 1913. 

In those early days, my wife’s grandfather was a blacksmith in Stratton, Colorado. Her Daddy would tell her stories about the blacksmith shop and her grandpa. Because he died before she was born, my wife only knew her Grandpa through these stories. 

Everyone in the small town of Stratton knew Winfield, the blacksmith. They could hear his hammer ringing against the anvil whenever he was at work in his shop. While recounting stories of his childhood, my wife’s Daddy, known as Red when he was a kid because of his red hair, told her, “When the anvil quit ringing, you had better get home. It was time for supper.” 

All the local children were afraid of Red’s father, the blacksmith. He was always dirty and covered with soot from the fire in the forge at his shop. When kids came by the blacksmith shop, he would run them off. The blacksmith shop was dangerous for a kid, and he didn’t want them to get hurt. He could be harsh with them and had a reputation for being disagreeable. 

One day, Red’s buddies wanted to go to the general store and get some penny candy. “I don’t have a penny,” Red told them. “Why don’t you ask your dad for a penny,” they answered. “I don’t ask my dad for money,” Red replied. His buddies continued to pester him about the penny. Finally, Red asked his dad if he could work to earn a penny. When he went to the blacksmith shop, his buddies stayed on the other side of the street and wouldn’t go near Red’s Dad. 

When Red asked his dad if he could work and earn a penny, his dad asked, “What do you need a penny for?” Red replied, “I want to get some penny candy with my buddies.” “Here is a nickel,” said Dad, “go get candy for you and your friends.” When Red crossed the street and showed his buddies the nickel, they couldn’t believe their eyes. They were afraid of this disagreeable man, but he had given Red a nickel to treat them to candy.

The story of the penny candy and the blacksmith reminds me of my relationship with God. When we look at God’s law, we sometimes see a harsh God who wants to restrict us. Because the blacksmith didn’t want kids to get hurt, he wouldn’t let them near his blacksmith shop. The kids perceived this as being harsh, and they feared him. Many of us look at God that way. But God, in His love for us, has given us His law as a place of peace and safety. “Those who love Your law have an abundance of peace, and nothing along their paths can cause them to stumble.” Psalms 119:165 (VOICE) 

Often, we look at God’s law as a jail. We feel that it creates uncomfortable restrictions. We need to ask God to give us a love for his commandments and to instill in us a desire for the peace and safety of His law. “For this demonstrates our love for God: We keep his commandments, and his commandments are not difficult.” 1 John 5:3 (ISV)

Another lesson from the blacksmith shop is the importance of fire. When a blacksmith is working with metal, the only way that he can shape it is if he has heated it in the fire. In Isaiah 44:12 (NET), the Bible says, “A blacksmith works with his tool and forges metal over the coals. He forms it with hammers; he makes it with his strong arm.” And in Isaiah 48:10 (NIV), God says, “I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” Have you ever felt like God was testing you in the furnace of affliction? I know I have.

Gentle Reader, I can’t say I enjoy the heat, but I’m thankful God is refining and shaping my life. Steel in the hand of a skilled blacksmith is malleable and not resilient. If the steel were resilient, it would always bounce back to its original shape and be useless to anybody. I want to be useful, and the only way for a steel bar to be transformed into something useful is to be put in the fire and shaped on the anvil. Remember that if you are being tried and shaped in the fires of life, “God is working in you to help you want to do and be able to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:13 (NCV)

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Nitty Gritty

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 13, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

It has been fifty years since I graduated from high school, but I can still remember the first day of my senior year. I sometimes have trouble remembering past events, but this day is still in sharp focus. As I found a seat in Mr. Brost’s history class, the most beautiful girl I had ever seen walked into the classroom. 

Her blonde curls took my breath away as she walked into class that morning. But I was too shy to talk to girls, so I knew she would never be a part of my life other than being admired from across the room. As I tried to bring my focus back to Mr. Brost standing at the front of the room, I heard him say something about a learning packet. “What is a learning packet?” I wondered. Mr. Brost went on to explain. He would choose five students to produce a weekly learning packet for the other students.

Mr. Brost picked five students who would meet in the library instead of coming to class. They would review the following week’s history lessons and produce additional materials to help the students learn. When Mr. Brost picked the five students, I was chosen along with the beautiful girl with the golden curls. There would be no way that I could avoid talking to her.

Meeting with the history learning packet group in a room just off the library was my favorite part of school. We didn’t work very hard and spent most of our time hanging out and visiting. The library stored audio-visual equipment, including a record player, in the room where we met. Occasionally, I would bring a record, and we would listen to it.

One day, I brought an album I had recently purchased. It was unlike anything I had heard before, and I wanted to share it with the group. The album was Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The interview with Uncle Charlie, as an album cut where he tells his life story, was unprecedented on any pop or rock album I had ever listened to. Uncle Charlie even gets his dog, Teddy, to sing. The traditional bluegrass sprinkled among the country rock songs was refreshing and the first bluegrass music I had ever heard. There was even a piece of classical music played on the banjo. I wanted my friends to listen to this music.  

Not everyone was as excited about this eclectic album as I was, but the consensus was that our favorite song was House at Pooh Corner. While blending genres is commonplace today, it was revolutionary in 1970. The album Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy was equal parts country, bluegrass, folk, and rock.

Over the years, I have always listened to The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. From the Will the Circle be Unbroken album, with its focus on the legends of traditional bluegrass, to their more pop-oriented music of the late 70s and conquering country music radio during the mid-80s, I have always enjoyed their music.

It seems that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is hard to pigeonhole into any one genre of music. The lyrics to their song, Partners, Brothers and Friends, explain it this way. “Well, I saw a story in the paper. Suddenly, the band's big news. The critics all like our records just fine, but they seem a bit confused. Is it folk or rock or country? Seems like everybody cares but us. So just leave us an early wake-up call so we don't miss the bus.”

When I learned that Nitty Gritty Dirt Band would be in concert at Oaklawn Casino in Hot Springs, I purchased tickets for myself and the beautiful girl from history class. I couldn’t believe that I would be able to hear them in concert. When the day finally came, I wasn’t disappointed. It was one of the best concerts I have ever been to. 

As I sat in the audience, waiting for the concert to begin, there was a large Nitty Gritty Dirt Band logo projected onto the screen at the back of the stage, and I wondered where the name came from. I took my phone out of my pocket and did a bit of research. 

The dictionary meaning of nitty-gritty is “the most important aspects or practical details of a subject or situation.” The dirt in the band’s name means "soil of the earth.” Many critics feel that The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was instrumental in forming Americana and Roots music.

As I thought about the meaning of nitty-gritty, I wondered what the nitty-gritty of the Bible is. What is the most important aspect? Great theologians could spend lifetimes discussing the idea, but there is a passage in the Bible that I think boils the message down to the nitty gritty. It is found in Philippians 2:6-10 (ICB)

“Christ himself was like God in everything. He was equal with God. But he did not think that being equal with God was something to be held on to. He gave up his place with God and made himself nothing. He was born as a man and became like a servant. And when he was living as a man, he humbled himself and was fully obedient to God.

He obeyed even when that caused his death—death on a cross. So God raised Christ to the highest place. God made the name of Christ greater than every other name. God wants every knee to bow to Jesus— everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.”

In poetic form, this passage summarizes the gospel story. Although Jesus was equal with God the Father in his divine nature, he chose to empty himself of his divine rights and become a human. Jesus, though he was a king, became a humble servant and died the humiliating death of crucifixion for the forgiveness of our sins.

Philippians chapter 2 is a microcosm of the story and teachings of Jesus - the nitty gritty. The story of Jesus leads those who follow him to live humbly, showing love toward one another in a way that helps them live in harmony with one another. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3,4 (ESV)

Gentle Reader, I can’t think of a more relevant paragraph to our fractured world than this. As Christians, how are we doing at living this out? Are we counting others more significant than ourselves and considering the needs of others more than our own? It’s the nitty-gritty of Jesus’ teachings.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Out of Oil

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 6, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I'm so thankful for my customers and the business I've been blessed with. Mena is a beautiful place to run a business. So many of my customers feel more like friends. I enjoy visiting with my customers and learning their stories.

I have been particularly blessed the past few weeks as customers have brought produce from their gardens. It is encouraging when customers tell me that they enjoy reading my articles. Several have made special trips to my shop to say they enjoyed and appreciated a specific article.

One customer who made a special trip to see me is Tom Cody. When I worked for him some time ago, I got to know him and learned about his fascinating life on the railroad. I was so interested in his stories, that I wrote about him in one of my articles. When he stopped by my shop to visit, he gave me a stack of hand-typed stories that he had written. 

As I read through Tom’s stories that evening, I was struck by how personal they were. They made me feel like I was riding the rails. When Tom gave me his stories, he permitted me to share them with my readers. One story resonated with me, as I have often experienced mechanical trouble. 

“It’s hot, real hot, and the bell starts ringing. There is a dead engine back there somewhere because we are losing speed. The train is heavy and without just that one engine we cannot pull the hill. Our amps are climbing in the lead engine, and we know we are in trouble. 

It isn’t his job as a brakeman to know how, but if he is worth his salt, he has learned how to start downed units. So out the door, walk the catwalk and cross engines sometimes in excess of twenty-five miles per hour, and search for the culprit.

Third engine back lights on, ‘hot engine,’ but it is still working. On back to the fourth, the engine is dead. The low turbo pressure light is on, the governor button is out, and the sight glass is half empty. I isolate, reset, and then try a restart.

Bingo, at least the batteries are okay, and the engine whines at idle. The blast of heat is nearly unbearable. I step back and watch the governor safety button. Damn, it popped out again, and the mechanical monster goes silent.

I monkey along and walk all five units, looking inside engine compartments for just one pint container of governor oil because that is all the engine needs. Engine straining at maximum rpm, turbos whine, heat and noise, which is worse, both exceed the bearable… I can not find oil.”

The Bible has several stories about running out of oil. We find one of those stories in Matthew 25. “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil.

When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’

Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’” Matthew 25:1-8 (CEB)

Running out of oil can be a disaster. But running low on oil can also be a problem. In 2 Kings chapter 4, we find the story of a widow running out of oil. The widow came to the prophet Elisha and said, “’My husband, is dead. You know he honored the Lord. But now the man he owes money to is coming to take my two boys as his slaves!’ Elisha answered, ‘How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?’ The woman said, ‘I don’t have anything there except a pot of oil.’ Then Elisha said, ‘Go and get empty jars from all your neighbors. Don’t ask for just a few.’” 2 Kings 4:1-3 (NCV)

Interestingly, Elisha didn’t tell the widow to ask her neighbors for food or money. Instead, she was to ask for containers. Imagine with me what her neighbors were thinking. “What is she going to do with all these containers?” I imagine that the widow was wondering the same thing herself. But she believed in God, and she trusted God’s prophet, Elisha. 

Once they gathered the containers, Elisha told the widow, “’Go into your house and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and set the full ones aside.’ So she left Elisha and shut the door behind her and her sons. As they brought the jars to her, she poured out the oil. When the jars were all full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another jar.’ But he said, ‘There are no more jars.’ Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told Elisha. And the prophet said to her, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay what you owe. You and your sons can live on what is left.’” 2 Kings 4:3-7 (NCV)

If we put what little we have in God’s hands, it’s not limited by our capabilities anymore; it is only limited by how much we think God can do. It is determined by how many containers we have rounded up. In the widow’s story, the oil stopped flowing when there were no more jars.

In Luke 18:27 (NKJV), Jesus says, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” The widow and her sons were in an impossible situation. Their cupboards were empty. But God had a way to take care of their impossible situation. The only thing that limited them was the number of jars that they had borrowed.

God gives us what we have and then tells us that if we use what He has given us, we will have what we need. He has given each one of us talents and gifts and strengths and abilities. The widow's story teaches us that we must make them available to God; even though they seem small and insignificant, He can do great things for us.

Gentle Reader, all things are possible when you place them in God’s hands. If you run out of oil, ask Him to handle your situation. God doesn’t need what we have to produce more for us, but He is looking for us to trust Him with what we do have. “The wise have a generous supply of fine food and oil in their homes, but fools are wasteful, consuming every last drop.” Proverbs 21:20 (VOICE)