My second Christmas Break book this year was Raymond Carver’s collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. I love short-form fiction, even though I don’t actually take the time to read it more than once or twice a year. I got to know the genius of Raymond Carver while studying Creative Writing in college — and I’ve read a couple of his books through the years. But after enjoying Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (probably my favorite book of the year), back in March, I thought it would be fun to read Carver’s book which apparently helped to inspire the title.
One thing that struck me with What We Talk About When We Talk About Love was its swanky seventies feel. The characters are always smoking cigarettes and sipping on cocktails. Men’s and women’s roles in society seem to be off. The way people talk, sleep around, and deal with domestic violence… It just feels like a very different era. The tension between time periods is more than I’ve ever previously noticed in Carver’s writing. I’m not sure why this stood out this time. It might be this particular collection of short stories, or it might be the passage of time and cultural perspectives.
This is also a particularly sad collection of stories. The title would suggest romance. But there’s far more violence than gentleness. More infidelity than commitment. More abuse than intimacy. It’s hard to read at times: not because it’s bad writing, but because it’s bad behavior.
Carver manages to pack a lot of power into a very small amount of space. His opening hooks are masterful. His cliffhanger endings are genius. He gets so much mileage out of such sparse description. I feel like I have so much to learn from him as a writer. So I’d definitely recommend the book on a technical level. On an aesthetic level, though, it’s hard to really celebrate the stories from this book. What they talk about when they talk about love is pain. So if you choose to read this book for yourself, be ready for heartache.
Many cultures believe that ethnicity in conferred through their women (I just learned that the word for this is matrilineality). For instance, Jewish tradition (and Israeli law) stipulates that a Jew is someone with a Jewish mother, or someone who has personally, intentionally, converted to Judaism. Of course there are allowances for unusual cases, but the “default setting” is matrilineal ethnicity, see? My people — the Midwestern American descendants of Northern European immigrants — don’t have any formal rule to dictate such dynamics; still, I observe that our women play a similar role in our family — particularly when it comes to celebrating our family’s ethnic connections through holidays, music, decorations, and food.
A recent example of this was my Mom’s push to make lefse together over the weekend, while my brother Alex was in town.
Lefse is one of the few obviously-ethnic foods that my family-of-origin still makes and consumes on a fairly regular basis. Always around the holidays. It’s a potato-based flatbread, kind of like a Scandinavian tortilla. Someone in our family typically slathers a piece of lefse with butter and then tops it with cinnamon and sugar before rolling it into a cylinder and eating it with a meal. Christmas Eve dinner, especially.
In my opinion, lefse is… fine. It’s pretty bland, so it mostly assumes the flavor of whatever is topping it. It’s usually served cold (though I don’t know why), and the texture is a bit chewy. It fills the same general function that other kinds of bread serve in their cultural contexts. Truthfully, though, I mostly eat lefse because it’s a tradition and a touchstone for our family’s Scandinavian roots.
When my Mom started hinting at the idea of making lefse, this year, I didn’t get too excited about it. Partly because of the cost / benefit analysis inferred in my previous description of the way lefse tastes… partly because of the fact that several family members’ dietary restrictions now require our lefse to be made gluten-free, which often makes dough harder to hold together… and partly because it makes a mess, with flour always ending up all over the counter, floor, griddle, hands, and clothing.
But thanks to my Mom’s perseverance, Marci’s general baking expertise, and Olivia’s eagerness to learn, we made it happen.
The men in our family made contributions to the process, as well. We all worked together to make lefse. And it was really, really fun.
My brother, parents, and I talked and caught up on life as we peeled the potatoes and made the dough. Marci and the kids joined us as we listened to Christmas music and rolled out the dough. We turned the blobs of rolled-out dough into a sort of Rorschach Test, imagining the raggedy-edged circles as elements of geography. We got a lot of fun pictures throughout the process. And it just ended up being a lovely way to connect as a family and as a part of the broader family of Upper-Midwestern Scandinavians. I’m really glad we went ahead and made lefse together as a family…
I just finished reading Jonathan Raban’s book, Bad Land: An American Romance. I plucked it from the shelf at my local library, without any pretext, purely on a whim, and I ended up reading all 320 pages in less than a week (which is quite fast for me). It was a well-written book. It shed new light on a geographic area that’s interested me for a long time. And it gave me a deeper understanding of American history — and my own history.
When browsing the nonfiction section of my public library, I expect to learn something about a topic that interests me. But I don’t often expect much in the way of style points. That’s why it was so lovely to discover that the writing for this book was far better than I had expected. Jonathan Raban writes with a sense of immediacy, but he also paints a compelling picture. His British-American perspective provides a healthy distance from his subject material. Clearly, Raban loves the High Plains of the western Dakotas and eastern Montana, as much as I do, but he can also see its flaws. Consequently, he’s able to write about the past and present of this region in a way that’s nuanced. And beautiful.
I had no idea how much the railroads dictated the settlement of the High Plains. They basically plopped down a town every six to twelve miles to help service the steam engines of the railway and to create a market for their continued role in ferrying passengers and goods to and from the rest of the Continent. They didn’t give much consideration to the geography; in fact, they actively campaigned for homesteaders to come out and cultivate land that is not well-suited for cultivation. Consequently, the railroad executives and government officials created unimaginably-difficult circumstances for already-disadvantaged people. It was a sobering story of hope and disappointment. The time frame of settling the western Dakotas and eastern Montana was also surprising to me: far more recent than I realized. Much of the book’s narrative centers around the time period from 1909 to 1939, which puts it squarely within the range of actual experience for actual human beings whom I have known personally.
My own parents grew up on the prairie: my Dad in Kerkhoven, Minnesota; my Mom in Jamestown, North Dakota. And I especially saw the story of my maternal grandfather, Ezra Liechty, in the pages of this book. It’s not hard to believe that his parents were among the throngs of immigrants, initially settled in the eastern United States (Indiana, in the case of the Liechtys), who moved out west to claim their own 320-acre homestead in the Dakotas (Brimfield, North Dakota, in the case of the Liechtys). My great-grandparents would have struggled in the droughts of the 1910s, just as my grandfather and his brothers struggled in the droughts of the 1930s. They eked out an existence by ingenuity, luck, and hard work — but it was not a glamorous life. It makes me appreciate the Liechtys eventual prosperity even more, to know how hard that road across the Great Plains really was for them.
The book also provided some fascinating context for what we might now call “The Rise of the Red States” (though the book was written in the mid-1990s, before such terminology was popular). The stories from the earliest settlement of the region — especially the deceit and manipulation of the railroad companies and the government agents — supplies a valuable back-story for the extreme distrust of the U.S. federal government that seems so widespread in the Great Plains today. The book provides a few glimpses that help to explain the development of the Montana militia… Ted “The Unabomber” Kascinski… Timothy McVeigh… and David Koresh. Again, it creates a more nuanced, sympathetic-but-not-sycophantic portrait of “Middle America” that could be really helpful for other Americans to read and understand.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in American history, the Great Plains, or just good nonfiction.
I’m not a scholar. Not in Greek. Not in anything, really. But I’ve been learning a lot throughout the last year, as I’ve painstakingly worked through a personal translation, or paraphrase, of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Finally, as 2019 draws to a close, I’m ready to release my translation of Philippians for others to read and consider.
I’m calling it Asp’s Suggested Paraphrase — or “The ASP” or short. It’s a bit vain and silly, I know, but I figured it would be helpful to have a handle for this project. I’m hoping the project will grow in the years to come, as I follow a similar process of discovery for other books of the Bible. I went with the “P” instead of the “V” — a “Paraphrase” instead of a “Version” — because, well, it created a better acronym and because it seems like a more humble and realistic assessment of what I’m really doing.
Here’s how I created my translation / paraphrase. I’d start by copying down the Greek text into my journal, leaving every other line blank. Next, I’d translate as much of the material as I could from memory — drawing blanks on the page where I drew blanks in my mind. And then, I’d use my study resources to go back, check my work, and fill in the blanks. This created a literal translation. Finally, I would create my own idiomatic translation (or paraphrase) of the text, often while referencing other translations. I leaned especially on the English Standard Version, the New Living Translation, and the New International Version.
My ASP is not perfect. In fact, I reserve the right to edit, update, and amend my version of Philippians as my knowledge of Greek, my relationship with God, and my general life of faith might dictate in the years to come. But for whatever it’s worth, you are welcome to download this version of Philippians for your own study and enjoyment:
For those who might be interested in more of the minutiae of what I learned in the process of translation, here are some things I noticed about Philippians along the way:
The Apostle Paul loved to write really long sentences! In translating these long sentences, there’s a challenge: Either (1) Deal with extra-long, unwieldy, sections of prose that can be confusing for the modern English reader — all for the sake of more faithfully and literally representing the original Greek version; or (2) Use punctuation (and some extra filler words), and break up the sentences to enhance clarity — while also, admittedly, introducing more subjectivity to the translation. I probably tended more towards breaking up the long sentences, but that was easier to do in some cases than in others.
One of the things that a careful study of the Greek can really help to highlight is the way a book falls into patterns, rhythms, and repetition. Like the repetition of variations of the the word “All” (πάσῃ / πάντοτε / πάντων / πάντας) in the first eight verses of the book. I tried to highlight some of these patterns in my translation. Here’s an example of how I did that, in Chapter 1, Verse 4: “All of the time, in all of my prayers for all of you guys, I pray with joy.” Cool, huh?
I made a decision to consistently translate the Greek second person plural as “You guys” instead of the simpler “You.” I liked the fact that this translation is true to the colloquial speech patterns of the United States Midwest. But the real reason why I made that choice is to emphasize the communal nature of the Christian experience, instead of feeding into an individualized reading of Scripture. 21st Century American society is one of the most individualistic societies in history. Clearly more so than ancient Philippi. So I like the way that “you guys” communicates the fact that the letter was addressed to a group, not an individual. It may make things sound a bit less formal. But it’s not taking any liberties in terms of the way the original Greek words were intended to define their audience.
Translators have been struggling for the last fifty years to deal with the Greek preference to default to masculine pronouns for groups of people which may or may not have been mixed with men and women. It’s hard to make a translation decision on this one without feeling political. I decided to go with “My sweet family of faith” instead of “Brothers” (ἀδελφοί), just because I feel like that captures some of the tone of the original Greek, without making a gender-specific choice. It gets clunky, I know. And it is not a literal translation. But I think it’s a useful equivalent.
What is the role of a translator in dealing with proper names like Euodia and Syntyche? These are not familiar names. And they’re not regular, recurring figures in the New Testament narrative. So: Why not translate Euodia and Syntyche to Jasmine and Sunny? These contemporary names have some of the same sounds and mean similar things? I decided to go ahead and simplify, or update, proper names in these cases. But I didn’t do that universally. I felt it was less clear about what to do with a name like Epaphroditus — who makes four appearances in Philippians and has a higher name recognition in contemporary Christianity. But I’m still thinking about what to do with this sort of translation situation.
I’ve read Philippians dozens, if not hundreds, of times throughout my life. I’ve helped to teach at least two sermon series on this book of the Bible. But one thing I never really noticed about Philippians until this translation project was the theme of team and running that weaves in and out of the whole letter. Again, I’m not a true scholar — but it definitely seems like there’s a conscious choice to build this theme. And it connects to some of my other passions and pursuits so beautifully! So I made some translation choices to help highlight this theme, though this is — admittedly — a subjective decision.
Anyway, I’d love to hear any reflections you might have, if you give the ASP a read. Whether you’re a Greek expert or not, I really believe it will be helpful to get other perspectives. But for those who might prefer some selected highlights from my Asp’s Suggested Paraphrase, I’ll share a couple of my favorite verses in my personal translation:
Philippians 1:8 (ASP) – “I yearn for all of you guys with all my guts”
Philippians 3:2-3 (ASP) – “Look out for the dogs! Look out for the bad guys! Look out for the mutilation! Because we are the circumcision. It’s about worshiping by the Spirit of God, glorying and finding our confidence in Christ Jesus — not finding our confidence in that rotting pile of foreskins.”
Philippians 3:12-14 (ASP) – It’s not like I’ve won anything yet. But I’m running in the right direction, so as to own up to that for which Christ Jesus has made me his own. My sweet family of faith, I don’t reckon that I’ve come into possession of all this yet. But one thing is clear: forgetting the ground I’ve already covered, leaning into that which is in front of me, I’m running hard to win the prize of a heavenly calling from God in Christ Jesus.
All right. Enough commentary. Enough hemming and hawing. My translation is not perfect. And remember: I reserve the right to edit, update, and amend my version of Philippians, as my knowledge of Greek, my relationship with God, and my general life of faith might dictate in the years to come. But now it’s out there. And may God bless the reading of His Word!
I love my boots. They’re heavy, but solid. They’re perfectly waterproof, except for the large holes at the top where my feet slide in. I wear them around town in wet or slushy conditions, and on the trails in all conditions. They’ve served me well for seven years.
But they’re getting older. The tread on the bottom of the soles is not as sharply-defined as it was in the beginning. The toes and sides are nicked, gouged, and scratched in multiple places. The surface of the leather has lost much of its original color and sheen. And after I’ve been walking in the woods on a cool gray day in late fall or early winter, they’re soaked with water and caked with mud.
So when there’s time, I like to show some love to the boots I love.
I start by banging off whatever mud can be loosened with a few slams on the sidewalk outside. Then, I bring the boots back inside. I soak an old rag and rub off the rest of the mud and dirt that didn’t come off outside. I pull out the laces and set them aside.
After these steps to clean the boots, it’s time to condition the boots. I’ve got a whole box of shoe maintenance supplies to aid in this task. First, I apply a generous layer of dark brown shoe polish to all exposed leather. Second, I add extra shoe polish to the parts that are especially scuffed and worn. And then, I leave them to soak up the polish for awhile.
Later, I buff the leather to bring out the shine. Generating the requisite friction makes my arms tired, but the energy cost is so worth the benefit. When I’m finished, the boots glow. They look almost new again. Still, they’re not perfect, so I use a special adhesive called Shoe Goo to try and heal some of the larger scratches and gouges. And after the Shoe Goo is applied, I need to let the boots rest, again, for a solid twenty-four hours.
After the Shoe Goo has had time to set, I apply a final layer of shoe polish, just touching up the spots where it’s needed. I give it one last buff — and then I coat the boots with a waterproofing spray. After the boots have been freshly waterproofed, they need another 24-48 hours of rest. And then they’re ready for regular usage again.
I just like being on the Buckeye Trail. It’s come to feel like Home to me.
For those who may be less familiar with the Buckeye Trail, I thought I would share a list of my Top Ten Hikes. This list offers a representative sampling of some of the best that the Buckeye Trail has to offer, ranked Letterman-style: from #10 to #1. Each listing includes a picture and a link to the trail maps.
I hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on August 16, 2019. It features classic Ohio forests, hills, falling rivers, and some particularly pretty meadows. But the most unusual feature of this hike might be the strange river-side sculpture known as the Henry Church Rock.
I’ve hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on multiple occasions, but my most memorable experience on these trails might be from November 10, 2017. On that date, this cave became the site of one of the most profound personal encounters with God, as I feel He spoke to me during a season of darkness and depression. In addition to the sentimental reasons for appreciating this hike, however, it’s also a really interesting area to explore — with undulating hills and caves. One of my favorite sections of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and one of my favorite sections of the Buckeye Trail.
I hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on January 4, 2019. It’s unique because it’s so urban: mostly concrete… twenty-story buildings… steaming manhole covers and sewer grates… traffic… But this section of the Buckeye Trail is also significant because it connects to the Ohio & Erie Canal Trail system which runs all the way north to and through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and south to the Canton area.
I hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on March 15, 2019. I included the northern part of Stark County’s Quail Hollow Park along with several of the roads ambling through prototypical Ohio farmlands just north of Hartville (and they featured some great road names, too!).
I hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on December 6, 2019. This segment of trail is extra-special because it ended up being the capstone of the whole project to hike the Northeast Ohio Loop of the Buckeye Trail. But it was a fitting “Finish Line,” with a broad, clear path through the woods, beautiful views of the lake and all the little tributaries that stream into the basin to form the headwaters of the Cuyahoga River.
I’ve hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail a few times, but I especially enjoyed a trip to this section of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Buckeye Trail with my kids on November 27, 2017. This area provides beautiful views across the Cuyahoga Valley (especially if viewed at sunset, as we did) and one of the prettiest waterfalls on the Buckeye Trail.
I hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on May 24, 2019. Two nature reservations connect, via the Buckeye Trail, and they’re both fantastic. I especially enjoyed the gigantic trees around Gildersleeve Mountain in Chapin Forest. It felt like a primeval forest. And an actual mountain. The names in this area were great, and the places they described were even greater.
I hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on January 11, 2019. It features a beautiful, rugged, lakeside trail — which was especially gorgeous after a heavy snowfall. This also happens to be one of the sections of the Buckeye Trail that’s closest to Kent.
I hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on September 13, 2019. It’s one of my absolute favorites! It includes a beautiful bike path (built on top of a former railroad) tunneling through trees, a beautiful little waterfall, Aspen groves, and lovely rolling hills with farm fields.
I hiked these sections of the Buckeye Trail on October 10th and 11th, 2019. They were so beautiful I had to go back — two days in a row — even though it took longer than an hour to drive, each way! The Headlands section (the Eastern part of the lake-front trail) had the best forests and marshlands. The Lakeside section (the Western part of the lake-front trail) had better lake views. When I get the chance to do it again, I’ll park by the Mentor Harbor Marina and then hike all the way to Headlands Beach State Park and back.
Follow the Blue Blazes
So: let me know if you have any other experiences with the Buckeye Trail, from which I (or others) might be able to learn. I hope that my relationship with the Buckeye Trail will continue past 2019 — but in any event, I’m glad for the way it’s enriched my life this year.
I just finished reading Emily Foreman’s book, We Died Before We Came Here. It was recommended to me by some friends who are missionaries in North Africa. I’ve been making slow progress on the book for the last several months. At the end of November and beginning of December, though, I surged through the last third of the book.
The story is powerful. It’s about an American family who moves to North Africa. They’re motivated to share God’s love with the people of an unnamed country dealing with significant poverty, prison overpopulation, and cultural obstacles to the Gospel. They do the long, hard work of building relationships and meeting practical needs, and gaining the trust of political- and civic leaders. And then, just as their ministry was starting to flourish, tragedy strikes. The husband and father of the family, Stephen, is assassinated by al-Queda operatives in the country. His wife, Emily, and their children flee the country. But amazingly, the work of God in that part of the world continues.
Tertullian wrote: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Nearly two-thousand years of Church history support this thesis. Still, new stories like the Foremans’ bring new appreciation for the way that physical death can lead to spiritual life.
The way that Emily Foreman writes their story is simple and straightforward. It’s not compelling on the literary level. At times, the book borders on hagiography, idealizing Stephen in a way that actually (unintentionally) casts doubt on the story’s credibility. But if I was in the author’s shoes — with young children who would one day rely on this account as a significant reference point for what happened to their father — I might do the same thing. I’m just saying I, personally, might have appreciated a more nuanced portrayal.
Through Gates of Splendor, by Elisabeth Elliot, is the gold standard for these sorts of missionary biographies. This book doesn’t supplant it. But I do appreciate the way that it makes similar issues contemporary.
I value humility. So I generally try to stay away from pride (haughty chest-pounding). But I admit that I’m feeling a healthy element of pride (satisfaction with personal accomplishment) this week.
I’ve just managed to complete two significant, year-long quests.
Mission: The ASP
First, I finally finished my own personal translation of the New Testament Book of Philippians. I started it back in January, thinking that I might try to keep up with H2O Kent’s Spring Semester teaching series. It was a six-week series — but I think it would have been a challenge for me to complete my translation in six months! Twelve months has provided a more realistic time frame.
It’s been a beautifully-slow process, really causing me to soak in the Scripture and consider various shades of meaning for each word. Generally, I would take two to five verses at a time. I’d start by copying down the Greek text into my journal, leaving every other line blank. Next, I’d translate as much of the material as I could from memory — drawing blanks on the page where I drew blanks in my mind. And then, I’d use my study resources to go back, check my work, and fill in the blanks. This created a literal translation. Finally, I would create my own idiomatic translation (or paraphrase) of the text, often while referencing other translations. I leaned especially on the English Standard Version, the New Living Translation, and the New International Version.
I’m hoping to share more of this project I’m calling Asp’s Suggested Paraphrase — or, “The ASP” — in the days to come. But even if it’s not ready to share with the wider world just yet, I’m awfully proud that I finished the task before the end of 2019.
Mission: The BT
Then on a much wider scale, just this morning, I completed the Northeast Ohio Loop of the Buckeye Trail! It’s involved 565.8 miles of hiking over a total of 173 hours. I broke it up into 85 different pieces and methodically made progress over the course of the whole year. And finally, today, I made that pivotal last step to complete the loop at the headwaters of the Cuyahoga River in Geauga County.
I love the way that this hiking project has drawn me closer to God, much like the translation project. I’ve done the majority of my miles on Friday mornings, when I set aside a segment of the day each week for extended time with God. I find that I most consistently, most meaningfully, and most profoundly encounter God in the wilderness. And while the Buckeye Trail isn’t all wilderness (the variety of landscapes is actually quite amazing), it’s provided a lot of time to walk and talk with God.
I’m hoping to share more of this project, as well, in the coming days. In particular, I want to re-live the memories and come up with my Top Ten hikes from the Northeast Ohio Loop of the Buckeye Trail.
I honestly don’t know how much these quests mean to others — but they mean a lot to me. And I’m really proud to have completed them this week.
Spotify is sneaky-smart in the way it’s established itself. The product itself is grounded in slick engineering. But they’re also super-savvy with the way they handle the social media dynamics of their user interface. They’ve got sharp visuals to accompany their broad library of sounds.
I’m seriously impressed by the way they’ve planted themselves in popular culture. And on my Instagram Stories feed today.
A lot of the people I follow on Instagram have been posting summaries like the ones featured here. They’re colorful, quick little nuggets of data that feel surprisingly-insightful. Music touches on something deep within us. Consequently, personalities pop through these little infographics. I notice trends that highlight both differences and similarities between my friends. I smile to notice the things that listening patterns reveal about others — and about myself.
Of all the information contained in my “2019 Wrapped,” I felt most pleased with the one above, shared as though Spotify was talking directly to me with the text: “You were genre-fluid. You refused to let one sound define you.” They might say that to everyone, I suppose. But I still like the idea that I listen to different sorts of artists from different eras. It feels like the most insightful thing about me revealed by today’s summaries.
What do your Spotify summaries say about you? Why do you choose to share (or not share) those insights? I think these summaries could make for some interesting conversations over the coming days and weeks.
I took my kids to see Frozen II this afternoon. It wasn’t high on our “Must See” list, but the dreary gray day seemed ideally suited for the $5 ticket-plus-popcorn special at our local theater. I saw the first Frozen movie under similar circumstances, and I was pleasantly surprised by its concept and execution. So I hoped for a similar experience with this film.
I wasn’t disappointed by the movie. I’d even say it was a genuinely enjoyable cinematic experience. But personally, I don’t think it lived up to the first movie (as sequels rarely do).
My main complaint with the movie is its convoluted plot. Even as I try to think how to write things down, I get confused. Were Elsa and Anna trying to bring harmony to the four elements of earth, wind, fire, and water? Were they trying to find out what happened to their parents when they went missing at sea so many years previous? Were they trying to bring peace to factions that had been warring for decades? I never fully understood what their mission was, and I was even more confused by how they managed to complete their mission. I know that the love between the sisters was important, and it actually moved me to tears in a couple of scenes. Still, I didn’t really understand the story this movie was trying to tell.
Even so, there were definitely things to like about this movie. The animation was breath-taking (I especially admired the horse that represented the element of water). The landscapes of the movie reminded me of Iceland, the Scottish Highlands, and the high plains of Wyoming and Montana (some of my favorite places on earth). The 1984-style power ballad sung by Christoff was delightful, and all the music was great, really. I wasn’t bored at any moment throughout the film.
All that being said, I probably won’t take the time to see it again. My kids are already aged out of the target demographic, and we’re not a die-hard Disney family, anyway. Still, it was better than trying to get the kids to hike through the freezing mist on a Monday afternoon.