In fact, my time on campus made me even more excited to think about getting together with friends from H2O Kent again next Sunday. Watch our video for more information — and more entertainment (especially towards the end of the video).
I try to maintain a regular rhythm in my life, when it comes to writing my reflections on life and ministry. Lately, however, I haven’t had much space or energy for it.
Through this quiet period, I’m not sure that I had (or really ever have) anything profound to say. But these past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of listening to music and podcasts. And I’ve been doing a lot of sweating. And I’ve been painting the exterior trim on our house.
It’s crazy the level of labor involved with something a project like this. It feels like it should be small: just little strips of wood around the windows and doors. But our house has a lot more windows and doors than I remembered! And for each strip of wood, there are multiple steps to follow:
Scrape off the old paint that’s cracking and peeling.
Use a wire brush to clean off the remnants of old paint that didn’t come off in scraping.
Sand the area (either by hand or with a power tool) to create a smooth surface for applying a new layer of paint.
Wipe off the area after it’s been sanded and mask off any especially tricky areas where you don’t want new paint to get on other surfaces (like our blue siding).
Paint any exposed wood with a coat of primer.
Carefully apply a new layer of paint.
Carefully apply a second layer of paint.
We’re getting it done. A few areas — including most of the high stuff that required an extension ladder to reach — are completely finished. And we’re onto steps 5-7 for most of the other areas. But it’s been a challenge. The high stuff has been especially challenging, both logistically and emotionally. It’s not often that I actually tremble with fear, but it’s happened a few times with painting some of our third-level windows. And since trembling is not generally desirable for painting smooth, straight lines, I’ve had to regularly pause, take deep breaths, calm myself, and continue in a mindful way.
I’m not going to be sad when the project is finished. I’m especially ready to be done as nature’s thermostat keeps getting turned up and up. Still, there’s something good about physical labor, a process of renewal, and practicing patience along the way. I’m glad that the house gets a bit of a fresh look and that we can maintain the wood through deliberately caring for it. But I’m even more glad for my character development — especially when I get to sit in our air-conditioned office and type about it.
I just finished reading Neil Gaiman’s book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It was suggested to me over a month ago by my friend Mark. But I had to wait a month until one of our library’s copies was available. It happened to come available during this two-week period that I’ve been taking off from work, so the timing worked out well.
I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything by Neil Gaiman before, but I enjoyed his work. His writing in this book reminds me of a cross between Madeleine L’Engel, C.S. Lewis, and Stephen King (as strange as that combination may sound). The book probably belongs in the category of “Fantasy,” but the story straddles the line between contemporary settings and fantastical settings. And it actually ends up coming across almost like a memoir. It’s a very unusual sort of story — but it definitely kept my interest.
I honestly don’t know how to set up or summarize the story — except to say that it’s about a friendship that crosses many planes of existence. It cuts across time and space and gender and worlds, but it ends up being a story of sacrifice and coming of age.
I don’t know if I found any deep sense of personal identification or profound meaning from the story (though it seems like those things were there, under the surface, just out of my reach). I just wanted to record my quick impressions and acknowledge that it was an intriguing book.
The word “Ding” was written in black Sharpie on a silver piece of duct tape. The tape stuck immediately above a doorbell. And the doorbell was installed immediately above the walk-up window to Marsha’s Diner. My kids and I were hoping for some ice cream to celebrate this visit to Amsterdam, Ohio.
So we dinged.
It took a minute for a woman inside the diner to walk from the kitchen to the window. And then it took another minute for her to open the sliding window. But she was very friendly after wrestling the window into position. “G’dafternoon,” she said. “Can I help you?”
I told her we were looking for something sweet to eat. The soft serve ice cream machine was out of service, unfortunately, but she was glad to provide us with a menu and suggest that the pie was pretty good. While we considered our options, she seemed glad to chat us up.
She says their chili is pretty good. She says the Peach Crumble pie is fresh. I assume she’s Marsha and/or Grammy, since the signage in front of the diner alternates between “Marsha’s Diner” and “Grammy’s Kitchen” and since she looks like a “Marsha” and/or a “Grammy.” She’s slender, even athletic, but deep laugh-lines crease her face. A disposable face mask hangs from her ears, tucked underneath her chin. “Where’re you folks from?”
I tell her we’re from Kent. And she tells me she thought so when she saw my blue ball cap with the gold “K” emblazoned on the front. Her husband went to Kent State University. So did her two boys. She grew up in Akron. But they’ve all been back in Amsterdam for years now. Her husband grew up in town, and now it’s come to feel like home for her, too.
Eventually, Marsha asks what was probably an inevitable question: “Why’d you come here, to Amsterdam?” There were no obvious draws to this small town of about 500 people in Jefferson County, near the place where Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia come together.
So I mention that Olivia and Cor were actually born in Amsterdam. In the Netherlands. It’s a surprisingly significant part of their identity, even though we moved back to Ohio when whey were 7 and 4, respectively. Cor chimes in with the refrain that one of his great regrets in life is that he was only documented as an American Citizen Born Abroad, not as a Dutch citizen. “I could have played for the Dutch National Soccer Team.” He smiles, wistfully, and kicks at a pebble on the pavement.
Today, we figured it would be fun to see Amsterdam, Ohio — with stops along the way in Glasgow and Highlandtown (formerly known as Inverness). It’s silly, we know. But all of these places in Ohio shared the names of places in Europe which we planned to visit this summer. The real Amsterdam and Glasgow may be unavailable to us. But we can still get a Snapshot, listen to a Song, and eat a Snack in each of these “European” locations in our Backyard.
Glasgow, Ohio, was smaller than Amsterdam, Ohio. Really just a church, a cemetery, a self-storage facility, and a convenience store. Even so, we took a stroll around the grave-yard. We bought some snacks at the Glasgow Carry-Out and Deli (“traditional Scottish” Snickers Ice Cream Bars, a bottle of Snapple, and a plastic-wrapped brownie). And then we jumped back in our minivan to drive down to the “Highlands.”
Highlandtown, Ohio, turned out to be even smaller than Glasgow, Ohio. It consisted of a church, a cemetery, and a fire station. There were no options for snacking. So we really just rolled through the Ohio “Highlands” and didn’t get out of the car again until we got to Amsterdam.
I decide not to get into all of this with Marsha, as she waits to take our order at the window in Amsterdam. We mostly just talk about Amsterdam and about the man who had moved to their town from the Netherlands to live among the Amsterdamians (not Amsterdammers) for several years. Marsha couldn’t remember his actual name, but she says that it was hard to pronounce and that everyone in town had just taken to calling him “V.” She says that I kind of reminded her of V, tall and thin. He used to do a lot of cycling through the hills and hollows in those parts. “Because that’s what everyone does there in the Netherlands, right?”
I agree that there are a lot of bicycles in the Dutch Amsterdam. But suddenly, I’m ready to be finished with small-town small-talk. I look for the next best opening in the conversation that I can find, and I tell her that I think we’re ready to place our order. Olivia and I would split a slice of Peach Crumble Pie, and Cor would satisfy himself with a Sprite.
Marsha disappears for a few minutes and then returns with styrofoam containers for our order. “That’ll be four dollars and seventy-five cents,” she says. I pay with five one-dollar bills from my wallet, and we sit down at the picnic table to enjoy our food and to wait out the rain shower that had started passing through.
Rural Ohio can be beautiful. The wild green forests, the winding roads, the little churches and cemeteries and diners. But the Ohio places possess a very different sort of beauty than their European namesakes. I try to imagine that the Peach Crumble Pie is a slice of appeltaart met slagroom from the Cafe Winkel on the Noordermarkt.
It’s sweet. But it’s not the same. I ask Olivia what she thinks about it, and she says that it’s all right, but not amazing. I glance over my shoulder to make sure that Marsha is not listening in on our conversation. “Yeah, it’s fine,” I say. “It’s fine. Better than nothing.”
I just finished reading John Steinbeck’s book, The Moon Is Down. I wanted to find something to read over vacation. So I was browsing through my library’s electronic resources and saw a different Steinbeck book featured (which I’d already read). It reminded me, though, that he is one of my favorite authors. And it turned out that this was one of the few books of his that was available for download. So I checked it out, and I found it enjoyable enough that I finished it in about three days.
The book was originally written as a propaganda piece for the Allied Forces in the Second World War. Steinbeck had made something of a name for himself in the decade before the war, so when this book appeared in the Nazi-occupied territories of Europe they caught the eye of his fans. People translated the book into Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, French, and other languages. And then they mimeographed copies to be distributed. It became very widely read and perhaps a spark of inspiration for many in the Resistance.
I was fascinated to see that the book didn’t provide any specific geographical information about the conquerors or the conquered. It was not explicitly about, say, Germans and Norwegians. Even so, the book had a strong sense of setting. The language of the book was also very sparse — almost minimalist — but that actually fit the story very well. And it kept the book short. Both of these factors — the vague setting and the short, simple, easily-translated wording — would have been helpful for propaganda purposes. But they actually worked on the story-telling level, too!
In a short space, Steinbeck develops some interesting characters — or at least sketches of characters. Both the conquerors and the conquered are portrayed in sympathetic ways. It’s not heavy-handed “Good Guys” versus “Bad Guys” kind of stuff. Both sides are believable. And I felt particularly sympathetic towards Mayor Orden and Colonel Lanser, the leaders of the two (opposing) sides. The story does a good job of describing the hopelessness of war and the forces at work that are far beyond any given individual on any given side.
I don’t know if The Moon Is Down was especially profound in its message, certainly not multi-layered like a lot of my favorite novels. But it was still interesting to read, and I’m glad that I gave it a try.
We finished with a pilgrimage to Niagara Falls before hopping on Interstate Route 90 to zoom back home to northeast Ohio.
But as spectacular as these bookend waterfalls were, I think my favorite experience of Western New York’s waterfalls happened this morning. All by myself, in a hidden valley near the Town of Wales, New York. A map had tipped me off to a few points of interest near the cabin where we were staying. But I couldn’t pique the interest of anyone else in my family to join me. So I got up early, while everyone else was still enjoying the chance to sleep in. And I set out to see two hollows and two waterfalls that were marked on my map.
The hollows had interesting names in line with our “European” vacation: Wales Hollow and Dutch Hollow. But they weren’t actually all that interesting to experience. Just a couple of old churches and old cemeteries that even happened to mark the deaths of those old churches.
The first of the two waterfalls that I visited had the more interesting name: Angel Falls. But the site itself was not all that heavenly. Just a ten-foot drop, spread out over perhaps fifty feet of river running behind an old insurance office in the tiny town of Java Center, New York.
The last of the sites from the map that I visited, however, was spectacular. It was called Johnson Falls. I found a spot to park near the river. Getting out of the car, I walked downstream just a bit towards the sound of falling water. Perhaps a hundred meters from my parking spot, the riverbed suddenly dropped away to reveal a beautiful waterfall tumbling down the mossy slate.
It was peaceful, more than awe-inspiring. So I sat down to read the Bible where I could just watch and listen to the river falling. After a few minutes, though, two other men approached the falls. They had a toddler with them (presumably a son of one of the men). But they walked up to the edge of the waterfall, grabbed a rope, and started rappelling down through the waterfall to the bottom of the falls.
While the first man started dropping down through the waterfall, I struck up a conversation with the other man. It turned out that his family owned land in the area, and he grew up visiting this waterfall. He had installed the rope himself, a couple of years previously. And he said that I was welcome to use the rope myself, if I wanted to. He said, “A lot of people don’t even realize that the bigger waterfall is downstream.”
I had noticed the rope when I first got to the falls. Still, I never would have used it if it hadn’t been for that interaction: (1) Notifying me that the real site to see was just a bit further downriver, and (2) Assuring me that it was safe and legal to use the rope for further exploration.
I got to the bottom of the first set of falls and let go of the rope. Then I splashed downstream for just another 50 meters or so. And indeed, there was an even deeper gorge with an even taller waterfall.
It was magnificent. And what was best about it was its “secrecy.” Really just a serendipitous reading of the map, a coincidental encounter with strangers, and a quiet Saturday morning in which to explore.
Part of the disconnection is by design. I handed over my ministry responsibilities to others for a couple of weeks. I turned on an Auto-Reply for my email. I muted a bunch of my GroupMe channels. These were all deliberate steps to make myself less available.
The rest of our disconnection has been circumstantial. We just haven’t had much connection with the outside world on this vacation. Western New York is largely rural and mountainous. The cabin where we’re staying doesn’t have WiFi, and there’s no signal for my smartphone, either. No telephone, no internet.
And it’s been wonderful because the disconnection with the outside world compels us to more meaningfully connect with each other. We’ve been playing a lot of Frisbee. The five of us have been eating together, three meals a day, talking as we enjoy our food. We’ve been sleeping longer and reading more books.
But the disconnection has also been weird. It’s caused me to realize how much I check the internet to see what the weather outside of my window is (or will be). I feel itchy to upload and adjust the record of my physical activities on Strava (my favorite social medium these days). Elliot has a similar compulsion about perpetuating his TikTok streak. I’ve gotten lost more frequently, without turn-by-turn directions supplied by my smartphone.
Anyway, I was excited about our family’s drive to Lake Ontario this afternoon. Excited for the family time and relaxed beach vibes, of course. But also, honestly, kind of excited to think that we’d have cleaner cellular signals from Rochester and Buffalo. I felt like I needed to post something about Juneteenth, after some deeper conversations about Race that we’ve been having in our church. I’m not sure how much my post accomplished. It was a short video of a roaring waterfall at Letchworth State Park plus a repetition of similar imagery from Amos 5:24, applied to God’s justice. Not much of a statement, in the grander scheme of things. Still, this year’s observance of the end of slavery in the United States felt like a cultural moment that needed to be acknowledged.
My disconnection from News and Social Media has actually helped to crystallize much of what I’ve been reading about and praying about and thinking about, recently. Two books that I brought along with me on vacation also helped to fortify my thinking. God has been stirring my heart about Racism, even as our whole country has been getting stirred up about Racism. And it’s only through resting in Him that I’ve been noticing what’s going on in the world around me.
I’ve been disconnected — from what really matters — for too long.
Part of my big-picture disconnection has been carefully cultivated over centuries of systematic injustice. And that disconnection has actually kind of worked “wonders” for my people throughout history. Another part of my big-picture disconnection has been more circumstantial. I just didn’t have the opportunity to forge meaningful relationships with people of color early in life. So, I was ignorant. Not in a willful sense. Still, innocent ignorance is ignorance — a lack of knowledge — and it needs to be corrected. Remembering God’s heart for freedom and justice on this day are an important element of that correction for me.
I’m resting up these days, gaining the perspective and perseverance I need to keep going in my life and ministry. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” And the world. I’m praying that God’s Kingdom done and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
I’d heard that New York’s Letchworth State Park is spectacular. “The Grand Canyon of the East,” according to numerous sources online.
It also just so happened that our family’s “European” vacation to Holland, New York and Wales, New York established a base of operations about a half-hour’s drive away from Letchworth. So even though the destination didn’t have a European connection, we decided to include it in our trip.
It was totally worth it.
We hiked from Inspiration Point to the Genesee River’s Middle Falls and Upper Falls, and the experience was perfect. The weather was beautiful. The trails were not crowded. And the hike demanded just the right amount of exertion, leaving us with a sense of triumphant exhaustion. We finished with a picnic lunch back at Inspiration Point, and then we drove to a different trail-head for a very short hike to see the Lower Falls.
I figured that the morning represented the climax of our little family vacation in Western New York. How could things get better than the five of us experiencing three world-class waterfalls together?!? As we started driving further downstream, though, I think the experience got better.
The winding roads through the middle section of Letchworth State Park forced us to maintain a slower speed of about 40 miles per hour. So we rolled down the windows of our minivan and cranked up the music on our trip playlist titled The Summer of Synthesizer. Elliot made the whole vehicle sway with his enthusiastic bopping along to the music. Olivia and Cor stuck their heads out the windows, letting the air wash over their faces. Even Marci let her hand sail out the passenger window while singing along to the songs she knew.
We got to the other end of the park and discovered that the public swimming pool was not open. That wasn’t too surprising, given the fact that New York is still in a pretty early phase of its reopening from the COVID-19 shut-down. Still, we experienced a brief moment of disappointment before taking stock of the situation and noticing that we basically had that end of the park to ourselves.
We parked in the shade, with the windows still rolled down. Marci reclined her seat all the way back and put her feet up on the dash. Olivia strung up a hammock in a shady grove of trees and lay down to read a book. The boys and I played with a Frisbee in the big, open field nearby.
It felt like vacation.
Sometimes it takes us more than a week for our family to settle into such a level of relaxing and resting. But here, we managed to find that space on just the second day of our abbreviated vacation. I was very thankful.
Marci and I announced it to our kids on Christmas morning. The three and a half weeks immediately following Elliot’s graduation were to be a time of travel and celebration. We were going back to the Continent where our family was formed, where Olivia and Cor were born, and where many of our friends still live.
We planned to visit Holland because it used to be home. Scotland made the itinerary because it’s become one of my favorite places on earth after just a couple of visits and because we have friends who live there — but it would have been new to most of the family. Wales would have been a new adventure for all of us. We were pretty excited about the trip.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the world. We recognize that losing a vacation is not nearly as sad as losing one’s health or losing a beloved family member. Still, we’ve been grieving the loss of our family adventure (or at least its postponement).
To observe what might have been, however, we decided to take a few days to travel to several of the places within driving distance of northeast Ohio which have Scottish, Welsh, and Dutch names. And to make it more fun, in each place, we challenged ourselves to enjoy a Snapshot, a Snack, and a Song connected to the place name.
Setting out from Kent in the morning, we only had to drive 25 minutes before we arrived in Edinburg, Ohio (population 2,586). The capital of Scotland includes an “h” at the end of its name, and it seems that most of its Scottish character must come from that “h.” Because there’s not much that’s Scottish about Edinburg, Ohio. We snapped a photo at the gazebo beside the town’s central intersection.
We ate some Walker’s Scottish Shortbread that we had picked up at our local grocery store before our trip started.
We went into the local hardware store, just to see what there was to see. And then we listened to “On the Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond” as we merged back onto Interstate 76 East.
From Edinburg, Ohio, we traveled due east, about forty-five minutes, to Edinburg Township in Pennsylvania (population 2,814). Again, no “h” at the end of the town name; again, not much Scottish flavor to the town. We snapped a photo at the post office. We finished off the last of the Walker’s Scottish Shortbread and tasted some Glenmorangie Scotch Whiskey. After walking up and down the town’s Main Street, we played “500 Miles” on the car’s audio system as we set out on our way again.
From Edinburg, Pennsylvania, we traveled due north, about an hour, to Edinboro, Pennsylvania (population 6,438). This town actually more closely approximates the Scottish pronunciation of its capital city, with a derivative spelling. But it still wasn’t very Scottish. The university in town, however, leaned more heavily into its Scottish spirit — so we decided that our third “Edinburgh” of the day was our favorite.
We had some lunch at the Dairy Supreme (I ordered a foot-long hot dog and a vanilla malt, which I’m sure are very traditional food items in Scotland). As we drove through the streets of this pretty lakeside town, we played a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” as our musical tribute. And then we were on our way again.
After lunch, we drove mostly east (and a little bit north) into Western New York for almost two hours. Holland, New York (population 3,401) happens to be located immediately adjacent to Wales, New York (population 3,005), so it seemed like the perfect location. We chose to set up our base of operations at an AirBnB in the countryside just southeast of Wales.
In the evening, we drove west to Holland, New York. It seemed to be the most enthusiastic about its European namesake, out of all the places that we visited. So we snapped several photos around town.
We had a very nice dinner at the Holland Hotel. We didn’t plan it this way, but the timing of our visit coincided with the the first stages of re-opening New York State’s restaurants. So crowds were very minimal. Workers and customers were all very mindful of wearing masks and maintaining six feet of separation at all times. And it felt like a festive occasion, coming out from (hopefully) the worst of the pandemic.
Driving out of town, we listened to some of our favorite music collected from our years in Amsterdam. And then we headed north to find our last “country” of the day.
We made it to Wales right as the sun was starting to set. There’s not much to the “Town of Wales” except for some border signs. So we snapped our photo at the border sign.
We ate some homemade Welsh Cakes and sipped some Welsh Brew tea (ordered from the internet). And we reflected on what really did end up being a fun day. It was nowhere near as grand an adventure as the European destinations would have been — but it was still a thoroughly enjoyable (and affordable) day as a family.
As we drove further through the countryside around Wales, we played some music by my favorite new Welsh artist Cynefin (he’s seriously great!). We picked up some groceries for the rest of our little vacation and then went back to our cabin for the night.
Three “Edinburgh”s before lunch, plus an evening in Holland and Wales can tire a family out.
We gave Elliot (our oldest child) the option to start using social media on his 16th Birthday. To our surprise, however, he stayed away from platforms like Instagram and Snapchat for more than two years. We actually encouraged him to test the waters, knowing that it’s an important part of college life. We didn’t want him to jump from completely-uninitiated to completely-inundated overnight. He said he just didn’t want to deal with the “drama.” And honestly, I couldn’t blame him.
A few weeks after his 18th Birthday, finally, Elliot decided to take his first tentative step into the world of social media. He set up a TikTok account. It was an unfamiliar medium for me. Still, I eventually decided to join him in setting up an account of my own. Partly so I could play the role of “Soccer Dad,” providing instant views and likes with every new post by my kid. But also partly so I could better understand and enter Elliot’s world — and the world of other college students with whom I so regularly interact.
I like the idea of trying to gain at least some fluency in as many different cultural spheres as possible.
This was important to me even before social media became such a big part of our lives. I learned to speak at least a couple of phrases in English, Dutch, French, Greek, German, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Swedish, Japanese, Italian, Polish, and Russian. Just because it was a fun way to make human connections. I’ve also learned a little about online gaming, fixed-gear bicycles, squatting rights, English Premier League soccer, and musical theater for a lot of the same reasons. They may never become my go-to sources of personal entertainment or conversation. But they’re nice ways to develop relationships with people. Over the past few years, I’ve picked up a social media presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and Strava — to name just a few. Aside from a couple of those platforms, they’ve always felt slightly foreign. But not to the point of alienation.
TikTok took a longer period of adjustment than I expected. Still, I started to get a feel for things after I set up my account. It was fun to have Elliot teach me some of the basics. I’ve observed that it’s a very performance-oriented platform. Almost all dances, memes, or jokes (Elliot sticks steadfastly to the joking side of TikTok). I still don’t understand a lot of what happens on TikTok, but I recognize performance when I see it. I know that people who are performing want to be seen and appreciated. So I didn’t feel bad about being a pure observer for over a month.
This week, however, I started posting content on my account. Consequently, you’ll now find a link to the right, in case you want to establish contact on that platform. I’m playing with using TikTok in a counter-cultural way. Elliot insists that it will be a very dull, quiet corner of the TikTok universe — and he’s probably right — but I think it’s a worthwhile experiment, in any event.
Instead of recording my own performances or directly reacting to the performances of others, I’m focusing on the opposite of performance. I’m focusing on rest and reassurance in the work that God has already done.
I only want to post to TikTok after I’ve spent time out in Creation. It feels important for me to start from a place of worship, practicing the presence of God in the beauty of nature. I try to frame my video recordings in such a way that nothing man-made is visible. I record only natural sound. And then I either let the environment inspire me to remember a certain section of the Bible, or I simply study the Bible and share from what’s fresh in the Word that day. I copy the biblical text and paste it into the caption. I hash-tag the chapter of the Bible in which the text was found and the natural location in which I recorded the video and audio. And that’s it.
I hope that it will lead me to seek God more meaningfully (and I’m happy to report that so far, this has totally been the case). I’d be excited if my TikTok account also sparked others to do the same. But even if it doesn’t, I’m having fun learning this language and making connections between people and God, however I can.