See You in 100 Years

More than just a good story, which it surely is, Logan Ward’s See You in 100 Years (Author Planet Press, 2013) calls readers into a deep meditation of what we gain and what we lose through “progress.”

       Here’s the story: In the spring of 2001, Logan and Heather Ward quit their jobs, sold (or stored) everything they owned, and, with their 2-year-old son, Luther, moved from New York City to a farm, with a 116-year-old house, in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

       More than that, they also “moved” back to 1900. That meant no cars, cell phones, or electric appliances, and no electricity, gas, or water service in the house. If it didn’t exist in 1900, they wouldn’t use it. They didn’t even accept rides in cars. If they could not get there by walking, bicycling, or by horse and buggy, they didn’t go. And they would live like that for one year.

       Part of the absorbing joy of this book is the way the reader must think through every detail of suddenly leaping backwards a full century; the long hours of hard work required just to remain alive, learning to work with some animals and kill others, living without weather forecasts or news, discovering the new patterns of farm life, and the knowledge that you cannot call anyone in case of emergencies.

       No wonder 1900’s life expectancy was 47 years for men and 49 for women.  

The Stamp of Time and Place

See You in 100 Years also reveals the way times and places mold people. So, we see good, liberal, non-religious, and artistic people quickly conform to traditional husband and wife roles. Ward admits that Heather fell into “the stereotypical chore load of the female… cooking, cleaning, laundry,” while he took care of “wood-splitting, water-pumping, livestock care.” He explains, “We do the jobs we’re inclined to do and that will be more efficient…with chores filling our days from dawn to dark, efficiency counts for a lot.”

       Well, maybe it always has! 

       And, then there is rain. As one who grew up in farm country, I understand why farming communities are inevitably religious. It all comes down to this: We must have rain and we can’t make it happen. Who you gonna call?

       During their sweltering, parched summer, the Logan family runs right into an ancient pattern; a black cloud covers the farm, the wind increases, the air cools, and a few big raindrops hit the dust, and then…nothing but the blazing sun. Over and over for weeks. He says it well, “For the first time ever, I understand the desperation that could drive people to dance for rain.”

       But, then…the rain arrives! “Heather breaks into sobs. I hug her and cry, too. Letting go is easy in the deluge.”

A Time of Testing 

Moving backward 100 years would inevitably become a crucible of testing. Sometimes excruciating, the tests measure every aspect of life: physical, mental, marital, financial, and communal.

       I’m sure it was unintentional, but the pace and intensity of bad language seems to serve as a thermometer for the heat of the testing. Ward and Heather’s profanities increase until they break. From that point, their language becomes clean and gentle.

       Perhaps the biggest test was 9/11/01, as these transplanted New Yorkers had no knowledge of the terrorist attacks of that day until neighbors began coming to their door. Logan admits the enormity of the attack made their experiment seem small and maybe silly. Neighbors invited them to their homes to use their phones and TVs.

       The way they work through their relationship to 911 (and the modern news business) throws a big yard light on modern life. Their choice is not a stunt, but a plumbline of sanity.

       Finally, as life on the land knocks them face down in the dirt, they come up grateful for every tomato, egg, cucumber, pint of goat’s milk, or drop of rain. Near the end of the book, Logan tells us, “I can’t contain my feelings of gratitude. For the first time since my boyhood, I offer silent prayers of thanks…”

       Obviously, I loved and do highly recommend this penetrating, moving, and funny book. It immersed me in another world and time, frequently pulled me out of bed or office, and threw me into sadness when it ended.

       As with many good books, I wanted to remain with those people and in that place a few pages and years longer.

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When You Cannot See and Do Not Know

Imagine that you’re riding a high-speed train. From your seat you gaze out the window at the screaming blur of images.

But then you get up and walk to the rear of the train, where you stand on the platform. From there you can see a flowing river of steel tracks, a vast landscape of corn on both sides of the tracks, and a distant mountain range.

The view from the window presents raw information; the platform gives perspective.

That metaphor is not original with me. A journalist (who I cannot remember or find) wrote something similar many years ago to describe the difference between journalism and history. Journalists try to make sense of the blur; historians observe the wide panorama from the rear of the train.

High-tech is necessarily high speed, and speed favors raw information. As a result people, institutions, and nations are losing a sense of perspective.

Our turbulent times pull many toward the side windows. Watching the blur of colors and shapes, they try to report on What It All Means. But it’s futile. Speed makes the view unintelligible and meaningless.

Peter Marshall, the famous Washington, DC pastor and US Senate chaplain in the 1940s, told a story from the early days of ministry in his native Scotland.

Deeply troubled about his own calling and future, he went for a walk late one night. As he walked across unfamiliar ground, the fog closed in around him. But he kept walking. Then out of the dark he suddenly felt a gentle hand stopping him. He froze.

Falling to the ground, he saw that he was crouched at the edge of a deep rock quarry. One more step would have hurled him to his death. That moment became a reference point for his whole life.

We all have moments when we are blind; we cannot see the path ahead and do not know where we are. I think many of us stand at such a point now. So what should we do?

I don’t know.

But I know that some attitudes and actions are appropriate in any and every season:

  1. Stop
    When everything around you seems to demand sound and movement, resist it. Like Peter Marshall, just stop. That may be counterintuitive, but it’s always wise.
  2. Humble Yourself
    Pride is a thief. It steals leadership, integrity, and wisdom every day. “Humble yourself” is always appropriate. But it is crucial in navigating crises. Real confidence is never proud.
  3. Meditate
    This is the “walk to the back of the train” component. Turn away from the blur; withdraw into the sanctuary in your heart. Be alone with God. Step into the timeless dimension. See everything from that higher place. Stay there a long time before returning to your window seat.
  4. See
    We all want to know more stuff. But knowledge is overrated. The real issue is: what do you see? After you spend time meditating in the secret place, look with “new eyes” at your surroundings. Ignore your emotions; they are lying to you. View everything as objectively as possible.
  5. Live
    I wish I had more education. But, as a friend recently reminded me, life contains its own training. Get up every morning and walk fearlessly into your day. Report for duty. Do the mundane and the marvelous with the same attitude. Allow real life to convert your experiences into wisdom.
  6. Be Here…Now
    Most of life happens within a few feet of where you stand. Yes, planning is important. But, more often, we should just focus on right here, right now. This age tends to pull us all away from our life. It teaches us to focus on “out there” and “tomorrow.” That is often just a mirage. Ignore it.
  7. Build RelationshipsAnd most of life happens at face to face. What you think of lesbians, African-Americans, Republicans, alcoholics, or Muslims is abstract. The actual person sitting across the table is real and important. Build relationships with those in your path. Disregard the categories.


Here’s a secret: in times of convulsion and crisis, most of life stays the same. We still shower, get dressed, pay bills, eat some food, and clean the cat box. We do not need to move around or make noise in order to validate our worth.

That’s why, even in bad times, you can and should “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

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Radical Insignificance

Did you know that April 11, 1954 was the most boring day in history?

It was according to a Cambridge University project. They fed 300 million historical details about people, places, and events into a computer. And the computer calculated that the only things that happened that day were an election in Belgium, the death of an old football player, and the birth of a future scientist..

So, I wonder if the evening news broadcasts were cancelled or shortened that day? Did John Daly or Douglas Edwards (the only nationally broadcast news anchors at the time) say something like, “Nothing happened anywhere in the world today. So, we’re going to knock off and go home…have a good evening?”

In fact, come to think of it, I wonder why broadcast news programs occupy a specific time window. If the purpose is simply to tell us what happened, wouldn’t it naturally need different lengths of time each day to do that? Could the fact that news programs fill a certain time length each day tell us anything about our subscription to unreality?

And, speaking of unreality, have you ever noticed the oddity of anchor-to-reporter conversations? The anchor will ask the onsite reporter a question. And, the answer always follows the same pattern, “That’s a good question, Dan. My sources tell me…” I’ve never heard a reporter say something like…”What?” “I don’t understand the question.” “Can we talk about that later?” “I don’t know, Dan; never thought about it.”

My point is that we’re gazing into a wax museum. People look real, but aren’t. Yes, I do know this is not a new insight. Many have have written about it in great depth and lucidity. But, I’m just musing on all this as I drink really good coffee so early this morning. I’m in one of my “wish I could sit with you on hay bales in an old barn and talk” moods.

I recently read a Jacques Ellul comment (which he made almost a half century ago!):

Man is living in an illusionary world, illusionary because it is made up of images transmitted by communications media. His world is no longer that of his daily experience, of his lived mediocrity of his personality or of his repeated relationships. It has become an enormous decor, put there by the thousands of news items which are almost completely useless for his life, but which are striking, arousing, threatening, glorifying and edifying in their radical insignificance. They give him the feeling of living an experience, which is worth the trouble, in contrast to the rest of his experience, which is colorless and too plainly unimportant. It is an odd perversion which leads the person of this age to bestow importance and sense on that which does not concern him at all … while rejecting the importance and sense of that which is in fact his own experience 24 hours of every day.

Think about that line: “…thousands of news items which are almost completely useless for his life, but which are striking, arousing, threatening, glorifying and edifying in their radical insignificance.” It seems that we’ve exchanged our real life for the artificial one because we’re jerked (by others) into being aroused, threatened, prodded, glorified, etc.

For example, I have absolutely no opinion about — or interest in — Sarah Palin, the cost or frequency of President Obamas foreign trips, if cell phones explode or cause cancer, or anyone’s sexuality. Zero. I am not going to be “electroded” into “bestowing importance and sense on that which does not concern me at all.” Besides, I have a life: a real experience of interacting with Joanne, friends, family, God, books, music, writing, and cleaning my garage.

It seems that many have decided, as Ellul says, that personal life is just too “colorless and too plainly unimportant.” So, we’re letting (even demanding that) mass culture arouse and threaten us into “radical insignificance.” And, in the process, I think it is extracting our brain and heart and replacing them with a defibrillators. Some seem to sit in a catatonic state until the electrode throws them into animation.

What if we all decided to do something really radical? What if we stepped away from the illusory world and back into the real one? So…this coming weekend, walk in the woods, rake leaves, read a book, make cookies, make love, pray, sing, ride a hot air balloon, build a fire, fire a .45, and encourage someone.

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A Quiet Life

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands… 1 Thessalonians 4:11

A former prison inmate once told me that the worst part of prison, for him, was the inability to control his environment; he lived in continuous clamor and light.

Mother Teresa reportedly said, “God is the Friend of silence . . . He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grow in silence. See the stars, the moon and sun move in silence.”

Part of the majesty of God is revealed in how His great works take place in hushed tranquility. He moves large balls of enormous weight through the universe or drops tons of snow on the earth, all in muted splendor. Prairie sod, crops, and forests grow, and eagles soar and great rivers flow . . . without a sound.

Maybe prisons are prophetic; today we all seem to live in harsh lighting and jarring noise that is pervasive and perpetual.

How did we get here? Like any prisoner, we embraced a “promising” idea or temptation. Then, as we slipped deeper into the relationship, the object of our affection suddenly slammed its steel jaws around us.

We wanted wealth and we wanted security, fame and privacy, intimacy and anonymity, leadership and selfishness. Together. We wanted to sow and not reap. And various tools — technology, politics, media, and religion — promised that we could have things that had always been mutually exclusive. They said we could suspend the Golden Rule; we could do unto others what we would never want for ourselves.

For example, Facebook (not the only, and perhaps not the worst, offender) flirted with us, using the idea that we could find meaningful (even intimate) and no-risk connection with other humans. It would build a safe road through our raging insecurities and the badlands of relationships. We could really express and market ourselves, preach and proselytize, and possibly recover our youth. Hands went up, “Yes, I’ll buy that.”


We did not get the safety and recovered youth, but we did get streaming noise, drama, the invasion of our privacy, and (some say) new addictions. A government agent told a recent law enforcement academy, “I’m telling everyone I know to get off Facebook. NOW.” Why? Sophisticated software has given criminals the same tools used by law enforcement. They find vulnerabilities and move into them.

A recent article about the capacity of “smart” TVs to spy on their owners warned that we “might be careful about what they say or do in the device’s presence.” Why would anyone tolerate (much less, buy) a box that violates your privacy and then sells what it learned about you to others so they can transgress you further?

I like and use high-tech tools; I don’t have seizures about technology. But the gadget is not the problem; humans are. And I’m not convulsed about that. I’m just trying to build a buffer between me and those who use the Internet, GPS systems, cell phones, phishing, computer malware and spyware, photo sharing, and other tools to take stuff from me.

Bottom line: Our trust has been violated. After all, we paid for those things; they weren’t a gift and we didn’t negotiate a better price. They slapped a price on the screen and we said, “Sold!”

Clearly, a promise has become a prison.

A couple thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul told Thessalonian Christians (and us) to “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, mind your own business, and work with your hands.”

Joanne and I live in a peaceful habitation. But, in 2013, we’re going to step further into the quiet (which means further away from sources of noise, anxiety, and restlessness). We don’t know the details, but if you look around familiar places and realize you can’t find us, just remember that we still want to meet with our friends whenever possible.

But instead of virtual meeting places, let’s sit on the porch, in a bar or on bales of hay.

A Quiet Life Read More »

Come Outside

A recent Forbes article, How I Improved My Memory Over Lunch (by Kristi Hedges) clearly identifies a serious impairment of modern life. Consider these observations from the article:

“…we’re turning into a society that’s addicted to distraction.

“…we’re losing our ability to think critically, which also chips away at the human need to be contemplative and strategic about our work and our lives.

“…the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain responsible for decision making and control of emotions, goes on hiatus when it gets overloaded. ‘With too much information…people’s decisions make less and less sense.’

“…information retrieval has replaced memory as what passes for knowledge.

“The combination of powerful search facilities with the web’s facilitation of associative linking is…eroding [our] powers of concentration. It implicitly assigns an ever-decreasing priority to the ability to remember things in favor of the ability to search efficiently.”

When God revealed His magnificent plans for Abraham (and the whole earth), the Bible says that He first took Abraham “outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’” (Genesis 15:5)

For some reason, we humans seem convinced we can improve on God’s creation. We gravitate toward our own fabricated environments. We build it, burrow into it, become addicted to it, get lost within it, and finally, incarcerated by it.

So, when the Larger Intentions of God come to us, the first thing He says is, “Come outside…” away from what we have manufactured. To even catch a glimpse of eternal purposes, we must stand in the magnificence of the natural order.

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