2003 Writings

New Year’s Eve morning, Wednesday 12/31/03

Happy New Year, friends.

It’s a perfectly beautiful morning, and a grand one by which to say farewell to a memorable year. I was less disciplined in my journaling this year than I have been in previous ones. Still, it will take a while today to read back through entries that I’ve scrawled through 2003. It’s an annual tradition for me, and one which always rewards me with memories that have slipped my mind. (“the dullest pen lasts longer than the sharpest memory.”) Many of you will, no doubt, be called to mind as I read about where I traveled this past year, who I spoke with, what we spoke about, ways that I was inspired, encouraged, challenged, made grateful by small encounters with “no ordinary people.”

The holidays have been a bit too busy, but enjoyable nonetheless – – peppered with good conversation, hearty laughter, thoughtful letters, hours (though not enough) outdoors, and interesting reading. Today my plans are to work outside for most or all of the day. The hours spent in wide open spaces, away from technology and enclosed walls, always seem to lead to prayer, to reflection, to peacefulness. I’ll take this year’s journal with me and read it throughout the day (which means, of course, that many of you will be with me in thought). … Maybe a song will get born today.

New Year’s Day evening, Thursday 1/1/04

It’s early evening of the year’s first day and, like yesterday, I’ve been outside since this morning (only taking time to eat a lunch of collards and black-eyed peas with friends in Hamilton). I’ve worked in the hardwood bottom just west of the house where I live, the same bottom in which “undo the fall” was inspired. I’ve been burning piles of limbs and dead wood that were gathered from the forest floor. The cool, clear days, and slightly damp ground have been perfectly suited to the task. As I write just now, it’s almost sunset. I’m surrounded by big beech trees (including one into which I’ve been carving initials since 1972 – – let’s see, there’s CR, RC, SVC, KR, JLR, GC. I could tell you about everyone of them, though I’ve not seen some in over a decade.) A small stream is in full but gentle voice just a few feet behind me and today’s fire is still smoldering just a few yards in front of me. The place, and the moment, are enchanted.

Today’s reflections seem much like those from previous years, a somewhat uneasy mixture of gratitude and regret. Gratitude for so much forgiveness. Regret that I’ve needed so much. I hope (but can’t be sure) that I’m living out the paradox which promises that the closer I walk with Christ, the more i ‘ll sense my distance from Him. Thoughts of opportunities lost, of kindnesses unexpressed, of good intentions unrealized, of work unfinished, of conversations hurried or distracted, of joys unexperienced – all make me thankful that, among other things, Jesus is still called “Savior.” Perhaps the coming year will be one of greater love for Him and, if for Him, for everyone that He puts into my path. I pray so.

In one of the journal entries that I looked at yesterday, I was reminded of a sermon I heard in which Bill Goans described two types of people, the “here I ams” and the “there you ares.” The first insist on being centerstage, on having things their way, on subordinating everyone else’s needs or desires to their own. The “there you ares” look outward and, as Jesus did, “consider others more important than (themselves).” If, by God’s grace, I can nurture the “there you are” in me, perhaps next year I’ll have less to regret, less dead wood to burn from my past.

Rest assured too that, with the weightier things that have crossed my mind as I’ve worked here alone, there were many light-hearted recollections and shakes of the head at how richly I’ve been blessed.

Oh well. …

It’s about dark here among the beeches, so I’ll sign off and walk up the hill. I say it a lot, but I can’t say it enough to you – thank you, thank you, thank you, a thousand times, thank you for allowing me to do what I do year in and year out. Because of you, “the boundary lines (continue to fall) for me in pleasant places.”

Blessings for the new year, and always,

In Jesus’ love, allen
PS – a few years ago, I began using a small book entitled A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baillie, as a place to record prayer concerns. It includes the most eloquent written prayers, two for each day, that I’ve ever read. Here is one that might well be titled “a prayer for the new year.”
O everlasting God, let the light of Time eternity now fall upon my passing days. O holy God, let the light of Thy perfect righteousness fall upon my sinful ways. O most merciful God, let the light of Thy love pierce to the most secret corners of my heart and overcome the darkness of sin within me.

Am I living as my conscience approves?
Am I demanding of others a higher standard of conduct than I demand of myself?
Am I taking a less chartable view of the failings of my neighbors than I am of my own?
Am I standing in public for principles which I do not practice in private?
Let my answer before Thee be truthful, O God.

Do I ever allow bodily appetites to take precedence over spiritual interests? To which do I give the benefit of the doubt, when my course is not clear?
Do I ever allow the thought of my own gain to take precedence over the interests of the community? To which do I give the benefit of the doubt, when my course is not clear?
Let my answer before Thee be truthful, O God.

Am I, in my daily life, facing the stress of circumstance with manliness and courage?
Am I grateful for my many blessings?
Am I allowing my happiness to be too much dependent on money?
On business success? Or on the good opinion of others?
Is the sympathy I show to others who are in trouble commensurate with the pity I would expend on myself, if the same things happened to me?
Let my answer before Thee be truthful, O God.

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right sprit with in me. Through Jesus Christ. Amen.

November 19, 2003

Greetings friends,

… from my front porch, on a warm, clear, breezy Sunday afternoon.

And thanks for visiting what we hope is our new and improved website. We would certainly appreciate feedback, positive or not, and welcome your suggestions. i’m grateful to Bill Brazeal and James Harvey for their help. If your in need of website assistance, contact Bill at bbrazeal@bellsouth.net.

Autumn has been filled with good days, both traveling and at home. A number of projects were finally completed in October (including a new CD called “Tap the Kaleidoscope” and a children’s book version of Oliviatown) which means that I’ve had lots more free time than would when i’m aiming at deadlines.

Just read that Mike Yaconelli, author and former president of a ministry called Youth Specialties, died in an automobile accident a couple of days ago. He was 61.

Did not know Mike well but once had the opportunity to spend a weekend with him in Minnesota a couple of years ago. He was speaker and did music at a conference in Owatonna, Minnesota. On the ride to and from the airport, and over the course of the weekend, i had some interesting conversations with Mike. He was a gritty, brass tacks kind of guy who, at least to me, seemed a mixture of wit and sadness, disappointment and frustration with the lethargy and compromise of contemporary American church life. (Clear-sightedness seems often to produce that sort of composite. Jesus, the very essence of joy, was called a man of sorrows, and spoke with what seems to me to have been passionate urgency, pity, and anger about religious life in His day.) Mike’s words had the effect, intended or not, of “making the comfortable uncomfortable and the comfortless comforted.” There was a touch of the prophet in much that he wrote and spoke.

One thing that Mike shared with me is tattooed on my mind.

Do you ever have conversations that last long after the last word is spoken? A line or phrase or question or observation stays with you for days, weeks, months, years after the speaker is long gone. There is one such statement from one of my weekend conversations with Mike. It has been a frequent reminder to me of what my work and my pilgrimage as a follower of Christ is supposed to be about.

It was Sunday morning, just before our last session at the weekend conference. Mike and i were in Pastor John Lestock’s office. i was tuning up and trying to figure out what songs would go best with Mike’s lesson. There had been unplanned symmetry all weekend between his messages and the songs in my bag. Mike and began to talk about creativity and the use of ‘art’ – music, writing, drama, and such – in the church. As a sought-after speaker and author, Mike had, of course, worked with lots of musicians over his career and had obviously reflected on the meaning of music.

My recollection of the conversation is that he asked me a question, something like, “allen, do you know what gift God has given to creative people? Do you know what artists have that others don’t?”

Maybe Mike knew that i was about to answer incorrectly. In any event, he gave me the answer – and, i might add, it DOES seem to be the right one:

“The gift of noticing.”

He explained that some among us, those who use expression in some creative, thought-provoking way to speak of things beneath life’s surface, seem to see things that others don’t. They notice things. And once having noticed them, they turn the thing noticed into language or melody or movement or visual image. The moment of recognition, the act of noticing, the attentiveness to Something more, the awareness of realities that only result from reflection, the connection between things seen and unseen – these, Mike suggested, were the province of poets and songwriters and painters and screenwriters and novelists.

His thoughts have stayed with me, so much so that, if i get to a dry spell in writing, or if i find myself either repeating the same old stories or, worse, stealing others’ stories and telling them as if they were my own, i pray for a keener sense of ‘noticing.’ The task of noticing means going through life with eyes open and mind engaged. It means to live, in the case of the Christian ‘artist,’ with an assumption that God’s Truth is manifest at every moment, in every encounter, with every opportunity of everyday.

And while, in some sense, that practice of noticing is a ‘gift’ that some select few get to exercise in a noteworthy way, i’m convinced that it can also be an acquired skill. The “dangerous wonder,” about which Mike wrote in one of his books, is the birthright, maybe even the obligation, of every follower of Jesus. The heart that Christ awakens cannot help but see His fingerprints, His handiwork, His purposes all around us. The writers and musicians and other creative types that most effect me inspire me to be open-eyed and sensitive to the world at my feet. While i enjoy their works and their observations, their greatest value, or so it seems to me, is in making me want to see deeper, longer, more clearly.

i’m thankful for that one conversation that i had with Mike Yaconelli. It brought life into better focus.
i don’t consider myself one of those possessed with the gift that Mike described. i want it though, and am convinced that it is the certain result of living for Christ – loving as He loved and caring as He cared, for every little thing.

Hope y’all are doing well. …

Everything matters,

PS – Because he was an author, Mike left his thoughts behind in permanent form. I’ve included a couple of articles that I’ve enjoyed in recent years. You can also learn more about him at www.youthspecialties.com…. Click on “Yaconelli”.

When Our Souls Stand on Tiptoe
by Mike Yaconelli

What happens when people like you and me no longer believe in God? When the reality of God is not reality in our everyday lives? When the decisions I make are not affected by the presence of God? Does my practical atheism cause me to become an alcoholic, drug-soaked, pornographic, adulterous leacher? Or does the absence of God cause something far more sinister, far more frightening? Does God’s absence make me sin, or does it make me…dull, lifeless, passionless? Does it rob me of the joy and wonder of meaningful work

I would like to suggest that what a culture does first is steal the wonder and mystery from life. A culture methodically takes away risk, danger, spontaneity, intuition, passion, chance, threat, and peril. We become the slaves of predictability, rules, policies, uniformity, and sameness. We learn how to teach, but we are not really teachers. We learn how to be ministers, but we are not really ministers. We train ourselves to be manicurists, doctors, engineers, athletes, but we are not any of those things. We have the training. We have the title. We have the credentials. But what is gone is the passion, the sense of belonging, the pleasure, the joy that comes from knowing you are called.

Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sin, sure. But I would suggest that more than Jesus saving us from our sins, He saved us from meaningless, boring, predictable, shallow, empty, dehumanizing work. I am convinced that what characterizes people who know Jesus is not their lack of sin, but the presence of a radical, wild, mysterious calling from God.

I am embarrassed to say that until a couple of years ago, I had never seen a book by Arthur Gordon, A Touch Of Wonder. From the moment it was given to me, it has been a rare friend, a lingual mentor—a treasure I keep returning to. (I hope we all have books like that—cover faded and worn, the pages brown and cluttered with markings and hilighter, sprinkled with folded corners to mark those passages that have marked our souls.)

Where was I? Oh, yes. In A Touch of Wonder, there is a wonderful dialogue between Arthur Gordon and an old man he meets on the tawny marshes of the Georgia coast. The man is somewhat mysterious, shaman-like. There is magnetism about him, a gentle authority, an attractive strangeness, a holy knowledge about life. The old man is a teacher, and Gordon asks him what he teaches. “In the school catalog they call it English,” the old man says. “But I like to think of it as a course in magic—in the mystery and magic of words…Words—just little black marks on paper. Just sounds in the empty air. But think of the power they have! They can make you laugh or cry, love or hate, fight or run away. They can heal or hurt.”

Oh, for an English teacher for whom words are magic, filled with mystery and power—an English teacher whose love of words overflows into his or her heart and soul, and whose students are not taught, they are caught, captured by words, intrigued by syntax, entranced by grammar, seduced into the mysterious land of sounds and meanings.

Arthur Gordon’s teacher/friend had found his calling. Teaching, for this teacher, was not a job. He was doing what he was made to do, what he was born to do—the only thing he could do.

The mission of the church in America is not only saving souls, it is saving people from a life without calling. The Church, through Jesus, must save its people from a life of meaningless, unfulfilling empty work.

A member of my church does women’s nails. I doubt if there are many manicurists better than Elaine. Elaine recently told me, “Mike, I don’t do nails. Doing nails is nothing more than putting stuff on the ends of women’s fingers and painting it. What I do is listen to women talk. I cry. I laugh. I share in their pain. And I talk, too. After all, the women can’t go anywhere. Their hands are stuck in front of me for two hours. In fact, if I have a customer who doesn’t like to talk, I suggest that she go somewhere else, because I don’t just do nails.” Elaine is a minister—ministering with acrylic and polish—becoming a friend, confidant, listener, affirmer, counselor, advice-giver, evangelist. Elaine is the Minister of Manicures. What a calling!

The Door’s accountant is also a Vice President of Youth Specialties. Steve is a CPA with a master’s degree in accounting from UCLA. Most accountants have allowed what they do to shape who they are. As a result, most accountants look like accountants: glasses, suit and tie, conservative, afraid to move outside the world of numbers, taxes, and financial policies.

Not Steve. He looks more like a camp counsellor. Steve may be a CPA, but he is not like any CPA you’ve ever met. Steve is a Tamer Of Numbers. He doesn’t allow numbers to control and frighten all the employees. Rather than net profits and account payables being allowed to run wild, Steve captures them and tames them, so that the employees feel comfortable around them. Steve has managed to make the numbers of our company an adventure—a story that he tells with wonder and excitement. He is the Storyteller Of Numbers.

A friend of mine spends his weekends and summers directing a junior high camp in the mountains. I asked him one day to describe his job. He replied, “I am a Memory Maker. I make memories for kids. In a world where good memories for children—memories that will live with them the rest of their lives.” A Memory Maker. You won’t find that on any list of approved classes for recreation majors. But that is because this friend doesn’t have a “job.” Rather, he is living in the calling of God.

I am always amazed when I read the story of Matthew, the wealthy tax collector—a man who had it made. Sure, Matthew was hated and feared by many, but he had it all—power, great wealth, and the support of the state. Jesus walked by and casually said to Matthew, “Follow me.” Ridiculous. Who in Matthew’s position would respond to some vagabond? But Matthew does exactly that! He immediately left his wealth and power and followed Jesus. What happened? I’ll tell you what happened. Matthew was called. Every bone in his body, every part of his being stood on tiptoe when the master spoke those words. “Follow Me!” Matthew’s ears tingled with excitement, his heart thundered with anticipation, his mind was filled with electricity. He had been called. He didn’t know it until that moment, but he had been waiting all his life to hear those words.

May God capture our unspoken dreams. May Jesus speak those words that cause our souls to stand on tiptoe. May each of us find our calling in Jesus.

Mike Yaconelli
Hi. My name is Mike and I am a speakaholic.

For most of my 42 years in ministry, I’ve found myself speaking a lot. I speak to young people, youth workers, churches, and numerous secular organizations. It all started very innocently. I had a gift of communication, I enjoyed using my gift, and others gave me the opportunity to use that gift.

Those opportunities increased every year, and eventually I was speaking in the morning, in the afternoon, and late at night. I even found myself sneaking in a speaking engagement right under my family’s nose; I’d answer the phone and say, “yes,” to speaking during a time when my family had asked me to be home. But I couldn’t stop.

Soon, I became obsessed with speaking, and before I knew it, I’d graduated to international speaking. Not only was I gone much of the time, but when I was home, I was exhausted and no good to anyone around me because of jet lag and weariness. Before I knew what was happening, I was hopelessly addicted to communicating with others and was willing to sacrifice family, children, friends, and almost anything to have the opportunity to speak. Speaking was no longer what I did; it was who I was.

I am a speakaholic.

And guess what? Nobody cares.

People love speakaholics. There’s a demand for speakers, an insatiable market for communicators; there are unlimited opportunities. It’s not easy to communicate to this generation of adolescents; so those who can are in great demand for conferences, camps, retreats, and festivals. Speakers can quickly find themselves booked two or three years in advance.

I’ve met those who express a desire to develop a speaking ministry. Speaking is not a ministry; it’s a narcotic, an addiction, a seduction stronger than sex. Speaking is tangled up in our egos, in control.

Speaking is dangerous.

Speaking creates an illusion of necessity, of power, of control. Speakers are treated as special—just a notch above others. They’re given an honorarium, private housing, and all expenses paid. Even within the niche world of the Christian Church, speakers develop a following, and they experience—in a small way—fame.

Fame is always dangerous. Fame is always destructive. Fame isolates speakers and convinces them that they’re important—pivotal, even. Fame seduces speakers into believing their own press releases.

Speaking contaminates every speaker. And there are no exceptions. No speaker leaves the world of speakers unscathed. Not one. In fact, the only way a speaker can escape the negative consequences of speaking is to stop speaking.

There’s no other way.

Speaking is a maximum security prison from which there’s no escape. Speaking is a drug much more dangerous than heroin, because no one tries to stop you from your addiction; in fact, they encourage it. “I know you’re busy, but is there any way you could squeeze us in?” “Hey, we don’t want to take you away from your family; we’ll pay for your family to come.”

And what about the side effects? Speakers live in abject terror of the day when no one invites them to speak anymore. Speakers complain and moan about their exhausting schedule, while finding a way to squeeze in just one more speaking engagement. Speakers have no will power, no discernment skills. They’ll accept any and all invitations, no matter the price to everyone around them.

So here’s my solution.

Stop using speakers. Let’s ban speakers from our youth groups, our camps, our retreats. Let’s boycott all speakers and decide we will, instead, let our love of young people do the speaking for us.

We’ll let our relationships do the talking.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find a way to train young people to listen to the voice of Jesus speaking.

And to the speakers…we’ll just say, “no.”

If we don’t, then we must bear some of the responsibility for the speakaholics we create. We must confess to our part in creating and encouraging speakaholics—in essence, becoming pimps of dependency.

We’re the ones creating the demand, providing the drug, encouraging the addiction. We’re the ones using speakers for our own ends without any consideration of the damage speaking does to the speaker.

Just say no.

We don’t need speakers. We need listeners. We need more youth workers and more young people who are trained to listen to Jesus, to pay attention to what he is doing in the world, to notice where God is at work in their lives, and to hear, “I love you,” spoken from Jesus himself.

July 22, 2003

Dear forgiving Friends,

Years ago, when my dad owned and operated a saw mill near here, we had an annual, usually Christmastime, BBQ. A neighbor and good friend of ours, Shortie, well-known for his down-home culinary skills, usually did the cooking. He would grill out all night long.

One year, as Dad tells the story, Shortie gave him an ingredient list. Dad would pick up everything for the BBQ, deliver it all to Shortie, and the cookin’ would go forward. Dad was able to find all of the ingredients but one – the lonins. That’s right, the lonins. L-O-N-i-N. Dad went to supermarkets, small markets but could not find lonins anywhere. He finally gave up looking. When he took the other ingredients to Shortie, he had to report that lonins must be out of season or something. When Shortie looked at the ingredient list with Dad, he pointed out that “lonin” was actually “1 onion.”

 Since then, Dad has made a wonderful sport of asking for “Lonin soup” when he goes out to eat. Responses of unsuspecting waiters and waitresses are always interesting and often hilarious. It is rare for a waiter to just say they’ve never heard of it, or that they don’t serve it at the restaurant. You would expect that they might just say, “we don’t have that on our menu here,” or “i’ve never heard of that item.” Instead, they often check with the kitchen. (Dad, in fact, usually requests, always politely, that the waiter ask the chef or kitchen manager if they could prepare some lonin soup. You can hardly imagine how fun it is to anticipate the answer and to keep a straight face when the waiter offers some explanation that cannot possibly be accurate. i can still remember one very earnest waiter at a very nice establishment leaning over to Dad and whispering that “the chef says we are out of lonins tonight, but we’ll try to have those the next time you come in.”)

 i’m not quite sure why i’m sharing this with y’all. i just know i’m behind on this newsletter and the lonin story is what crossed my mind as i was riding the tractor and pondering what i’d put on the site.

i’m two weeks away from a two night stint in Columbus at the RiverCenter’s Legacy Hall. i’ve spent a good deal of the summer (maybe too much and certainly more than i had planned on) getting ready for the concerts, which i’ll be doing with two other gifted, good-natured musicians, John Scott Evans (guitar) and Dewayne Creswell (piano and keys). If you happen to be in the neighborhood, won’t you join us? Just sitting in the room is worth the ticket price and we’re planning what should be a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Click here for more information.

There are two ways to dispose of trash here in Harris County . We can take it to the landfill just up the road from the farm or we can take it to a smaller collection site about 3 miles from here. (In a relentless pursuit of Thoreau’s advice to “simplify, simplify,” i’ve been getting rid of ‘stuff’ lately. On a recent Saturday, i had the delightful experience of cleaning my garage whic led taking an old refrigerator, a broken vacuum cleaner, some exercise equipment, a cracked shovel, and a host of empty boxes to the dump. It was a rush to push all those items off the back of the truck.)

Well, for smaller items and ordinary household trash, i go to the smaller collection point where a kindly soul named Mr. Lloyd works. You drive over a cable that rings a bell to notify him of your arrival. He walks out of the little 6’ by 6’shed, always has a welcoming word, and helps you unload your trash. He’s always pleasant, always glad to see you, and always wishes you well when you leave. It’s struck me more than once how those regular deliveries shadow parts of a real Story – the Gospel of the One Who willingly, even joyfully, takes our unwelcome delivery, our dirt, our throwaway. (Mr. Lloyd, incidentally, is a follower of Jesus.)

We’ll be giving the site a makeover soon. i’m sorry for letting it get stale. Stay tuned.

i hope ya’ll have had a good summer.

Got lonin?

Love, allen

May 4, 2003

Good morning friends,

 IT’s a glorious Sunday morning. We’ve had heat lightening the last few nights — that interesting light show when it seems that there’s a loose bulb in heaven — followed by some fierce rains, and the farm is that rich assortment of greens that inspired the song “why flowers?” a few years ago. In keeping with what i hope will be a schedule while i’m home for most of the summer, i’ve been getting up before sunrise, spending an hour or two on the porch, and enjoying some quiet before other of the day’s tasks. There is, in the simplicity of such hours as these, a joyful fullness and, for one like myself, who seems wired for time alone, a pleasure hard to describe. This little porch will be my sanctuary this summer.

 After a fairly active January through April (thanks to the scheduling skills of Beth, guardian angel), i’m home for a welcome spell. i’ll not get on an airplane again until September though i have a number of drive-to events between now and then. If things go as i envision, summer should be very full with writing, recording (three projects of original music which i’ve been wanting to complete and another for keyboardist friend Dewayne Creswell), having meals on the front porch with friends (i’ve already made up a guest list for the whole summer), reading books, watering plants, making phone calls to folks i’ve wanted to talk with for awhile, visiting with brother Gary, and sharing life with friends in this small town. “Happily full” should well describe the next few weeks.

i’m planning, too, to write something for this page of the website every couple of weeks or so and hope you’ll stop by from time to time. i’ll do better at keeping the site “fresh,” to use my webmaster’s term. Forgive me, again, for being absent so long. (Incidentally, we are hoping to change the look and some features of the site in the near future. If there are things you would like for us to include, we’d welcome your input.)

My good friends and neighbors – Hayden, Heath, and Tyler – rode their bikes to the farm on Good Friday afternoon. We talked a bit about the significance of the day. Some while later, Tyler , who is 7, asked the profound question: “Mr. Allen, if that’s the day Jesus died, why do we call it ‘happy Friday’?” What would you have said?

Back in February, on another beautiful morning, i visited with newborn namesake Levi Thomas, son of friends Andy and Amy, to hand deliver a letter i’d written him in anticipation of birth. Ironically, i got word of Levi’s birth on the same morning that the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart on its return to earth. There seemed a fitting symmetry to the two events.

Here’s the letter i delivered.

January 26, 2003

Dear Levi,

Someday very soon, if my calculations are correct, you will make your entry into this world. Many of us are looking forward to your arrival, certain of the blessings that will be yours as the son of Andy and Amy Thomas. … They are wonderful souls and i am thankful that they are my friends.

 More than i can possibly tell you, i am honored that you’ll go through life with the same name that i grew up with – Levi. Even though it’s my last name, it’s one that i’ve always been called by. It has a good ring to it. i hope you’ll enjoy as much as i have.

There’s a verse in the Bible that says “a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.” A good name – one which belongs to the boy or the man who is kind, generous, interested, wise, gentle, brave, honest, patient, in a phrase, like Jesus – is what i pray your “Levi” will be. And i promise that, to help make it so, i will do the best i can to safeguard the name for you, in hopes that, at the very least, my “levi” might be a signpost to point you Christward. It is a great gift to me to know that we share a name. It is my great hope that, in time, we will share a faith.

 In my life, there are people whose names, whenever spoken in my hearing, always seem to inspire good thoughts, sincere thanksgiving, and a belief that, among this broken race of humankind, there are noble souls who make the whole lot of us look good. i have every confidence, young Levi, that yours will be such a name.

i do look forward to seeing you soon. Sleep well till then.

Love, acl

If you have any strong reading recommendations, would you post them on the message board for me/us? i’ve got several things i want to read and re-read but could still squeeze in some other things, especially since i’m going to unplug the television and use evening for writing letters and reading books, when i don’t have visitors over.

Of late, i’ve read some thought-provoking and some purely enjoyable things by Walker Percy (Signposts), Thomas Dubay (Happy are You Poor), Margaret Beck (Expecting Adam), Malcolm Muggeridge (Something Beautiful for God, about Mother Teresa), and Ferrol Sams (Run with the Horsemen).

Dad came by the studio recently to tell me that he’d just bought 7 new pairs of socks. There was an obvious sense of satisfaction about the accomplishment. His old socks were all worn out (‘crappy’ was the word he used) and he’s been meaning to do something about it for awhile. (Had his bride known about it, she’d gladly have filled his drawer, as she does his closet, with all the socks he’d ever need.) i was struck by the little it took to make Dad happy – exactly 7 pairs of socks from Target. Reminds me of two thoughts i’ve read in the past. “He is most joyful in life who is thankful for least.” And, i think from GK Chesterton, “There are two ways to have enough in life: get more or want less.”

All for now. i hope y’all are doing well, growing in grace, being good.

Thanks again for your kindnesses to me. i could not possibly do this work without you.

Every blessing, allen

January 10, 2003

Hello friends and happy new year,

After an enjoyable three or so weeks at home, i head out later this morning to play at a gathering of the Tennessee Young Life volunteers. i could hardly think of a better way to start the year than to be reunited with friends like the Chesneys, the Scruggs, Adella Thompson, Gretchen Everson (you better be there), and Jessica Goodman, and to sit at the feet of one of another close friend and remarkable teacher, Bill Goans (to whom i once paid the highest compliment i can give – “you remind me of my brother.”)

Before getting on the road, i just wanted to send a quick new year’s greeting and express renewed thanks to you for making work possible. i look forward to whatever days i’m given in 2003.

I’m not big on resolutions but i did make something akin to one for the coming year. i want to quit using the word “my” except in very limited circumstances. i told some high school students of my (oops) resolution last night at YL club and all during the talk, which i was assigned to do, the “my” police made buzzer noises, pointed at me, and generally let me know every time that i broke the resolution. Try it. You’ll be surprised how often you claim ownership of all manner of things in the average day.

After months of deliberating, i made the decision to pull the plug on email. i sent a mass message to friends with whom i’ve corresponded by email to explain the decision. Here ‘tis:

 Sent: Monday, January 06, 2003 5:12 PM

Subject: a minor rebellion

Dear friends

i’ve been considering for sometime now “life without email”. … i imagined that it would be a useful tool and a helpful servant when i first signed on but, for sometime now, it has been a taskmaster and has taken more time than i’m able to give it. Seems that, no matter how hard i try, especially since i don’t take a laptop with me when i travel, i am perpetually and seriously behind in answering email. Present count = 156.

SO … i’m jumping off. Just wanted to let you know so that you’d not be surprised that my box doesn’t work anymore. i’ll keep it active for about another week or so and will try to answer messages that are still waiting responses.

BUT … i still have a mail box and a phone number, and i try to answer all letters or messages left there. Anyone who knows me is aware of my strong preference for handwritten letters. Please feel free to write at PO Box 642 , Hamilton GA 31811 .

i hope my decision doesn’t seem impersonal or unkind. My motivation is to maintain a more genuine, higher quality, personal contact with folks than email, at least for my taste, allows.

The message board at allenlevi.com will remain active and i’ll try to answer notes left there as time permits.

thanks for understanding. …

 love, allen

I’ve not counted, but a conservative guess would be that i’ve received thirty or forty responses of congratulations and “wish i could do it too.” i’ve been a bit surprised. (Let me be quick to make clear that there was no great wisdom, but a great deal of frustration, that was behind the decision. i still believe that email can be a great tool, used rightly.)

The email decision surfaced as i thought about the talk i was to give at YL last night. i had been told to share some thoughts on the broad topic of “need.” The passage i landed on was from Luke 10:38, where Jesus visits Martha and Mary. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, intent to listen to Him. To the very distracted, hospitable (no doubt) but harried Martha, Jesus says (you know the story) that “only one thing is needful.” Mary, who’d chosen the seemingly selfish, arguably wasteful, use of time, was granted safe haven by the Lord. She gave up something good for something better, and would not be denied the benefit of her choice.

As a new calendar presents itself to us, i pray that it will be filled, between now and year’s end, with steps to live reflectively, purposefully, bravely as we pursue life. Maybe there’s something that is unnecessarily crowding our time, maybe something good that is keeping us from the one needful thing.

Thanks for provoking me “to love and good deeds.” i’m really glad that you’re in my (oops) world.

Blessings till next time.

Love, allen