The meaning of Palm Sunday

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
March 28, 2021
Mark 11:1-11

Sermon recorded on Friday, March 26 at Mayberry Presbyterian Church

Thoughts at the Beginning of Worship

Palm Sunday! A triumphant day when we recall Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jesus arrives at the royal city, greeted by a cheering crowd. From a strictly earthly viewpoint, this is the highwater point of Jesus’ ministry. Crowds storm after Jesus. However, as we know, things change quickly. Later in the week Jesus stands alone before the authorities. 

Where do we see ourselves in the story today? Are we in the crowds cheering him on? If so, where will we be later in the week? Or perhaps we’re one the disciples, sent on the mundane task of arranging transportation. Although not a glamorous task, it’s one that receives a lot of attention in our story. If we see ourselves as a disciple, do we do our jobs with joy? Ponder these thoughts today. 

Read Mark 11:1-11

Palm tree at daybreak on Little Tybee Island, Georgia

After the reading of Scripture

Everyone loves a parade. That’s a cliché. I’m not even sure it’s true. As one who enjoys driving the backroads, coming into a small town when a parade is ongoing throws your timetable out the window. Yet, we have to admit, there’s something intoxicating about crowds. It’s addictive to be a part of something larger than ourselves. For good or bad, most of us are lured by the masses.

Jerusalem in the First Century

It’s an exciting spring day in the imperial city of Jerusalem.  Pilgrims pour in. They want to celebrate. This creates a wonderful setting for a parade.

Jesus and his gang have left Galilee and traveled to Jerusalem for Passover. I image the disciples are both excited and nervous. They hope this will be when Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah. When Jesus takes his seat on David’s throne, they want one of the cushy seats. Along the way to Jerusalem, they’ve argued over who gets the best seats.[1]

Other Parades in Jerusalem

But the disciples are also afraid of the dangers. Pilgrims have gathered from all around. Because things are so tense, Pilate, the Roman governor, leaves his home in Caesarea and sets up office in Jerusalem during the holidays.[2] He wants to be there, just in case there’s trouble. And he brings along extra Roman soldiers, again just in case. The Roman conquerors want to keep control. 

Procuring the Colt

When only a few miles from town, Jesus sends two of his disciples into the next village in order to procure a colt for his entry. We’re not told which two disciples were sent, but this probably wasn’t the best assignment. The disciples, who have these grand ideas of what they’ll be doing, find themselves working the transportation pool.[3]

Interestingly, Jesus provides precise instruction as to where to find the colt. They’re even told what to say if challenged. Jesus doesn’t want to take any chances.  He’s covering all the bases. 

The disciples find the animal. Everything goes as Jesus had predicted. Some bystanders question their taking the colt but seem satisfied with the answer that the Lord needs it. We can picture them returning to Jesus, leading the animal by its reins.  

Riding an Unbroken Colt

Brave Jesus, he’s one tough hombre, jumping up on an unbroken beast. Some scholars think this piece of information is a subtle hint to Jesus’ royalty, as no one was allowed to ride the king’s horse.[4] However, I think it shows Jesus’ bravery.

Palm Branches

The disciples, without being asked, place their cloaks on the animal as a saddle. Other followers start placing their cloaks on the ground as the procession begins. The crowd grows.  Someone runs off to cut branches—Mark doesn’t say Palm Branches, just branches cut from the field.[5]They begin to wave them along the road. The road fills as people crowd in waving branches. 

Psalm 118

And they begin to chant Hosanna, which means “Save us.” And someone starts singing the 118th Psalm as they join in:  

       Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

As I’ve said, the crowd is filled with pilgrims. They’ve come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. It’s the highlight of their life. It’d be like us getting a chance to celebrate New Years on Times’ Square or Mardi Gras in New Orleans. 

The Hope of Recalling God’s Acts of the Past

As they come to Jerusalem, they recall God’s great acts of salvation in the past, of how God freed the Hebrew people from Egyptian slavery and saved them from Pharaoh’s army. It’s always hopeful to reminisce about God’s past activity, for it suggests the possibility that God will act again. Who knows? 

The 118th Psalm proclaims victory. Perhaps God will act again. Perhaps God will grant victory and Israel will be restored to her former glory. So, they gather with hope. Will this be the year?

Many hope this Jesus they’re heard about is the one God will use to shake off the Romans shackles. Jesus, however, doesn’t fulfill their expectations. 

Mark’s Differences in Telling the Story

Mark has the sequence of events a little different than the other gospels. Mark says that after Jesus arrived, he heads to the temple, looks around and leaves. There are no big scenes or even a public pronouncement.[6]

Since it’s already late in the day, Jesus travels out into the suburbs, to Bethany, where perhaps the room rates are cheaper. There he spends the night with his disciples and followers. And most who had cheered him on have probably already forgotten their excitement. Since this party petered out, they search for another.

A Mini Message within the Story

There’s something important being said here. Jesus looks around then retires for the day. The next day Jesus will return and clean house. This is when Mark tells us Jesus throws out the money changers and such. But Jesus doesn’t do that right away. He first looks around and then sleeps on it. This is a lesson for us, here.

I’ve heard many people try to justify their anger with Jesus’ example of cleansing the temple. In Mark, Jesus doesn’t fly right into a triad. He first sleeps on it. Don’t be too rash; think about what you’re going to do. Again, good advice.

Of course, the next day, Jesus comes back. He’s kind of grumpy because he curses a barren fig tree and then boots the money changers out of the temple. And his public popularity begins to slide. By the end of the week, his royal welcome is forgotten. A royal execution takes place. 

What Would Our Response Be?

We’re left to wonder what our response would have been if we were there? Would we have been in the crowds shouting “Hosanna?” And if so, would we’ve also been in the crowds shouting “Crucify?”

What is it about our nature which allows us to get excited when things appear to go our way and then to back away when things seem to move in a direction with which we disagree? We forget. God’s ways are not ours. 

The crowds on Palm Sunday cheer Jesus, hoping he’ll throw Herod off the throne and become king. On Friday, after it was clear Jesus was not leading a zealous political overthrow, the same crowds cheer on the authorities, encouraging the Romans to crucify Jesus…  

Faith Verses Religion

And aren’t we the same way?  Don’t we still seek a religion which supports our beliefs and ideologies?  By the way, I call this “religion” because I do not believe it has anything to do with a faith…  Faith implies that we believe, but that we don’t have empirical proof. Faith involves trust, a willingness to admit that we, as individuals and as societies, have a sinful nature and our opinions may be wrong. 

As I heard this week, “If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.”[7]

Being Open to What God is Doing

Only when we are willing to be so open, can we truly be “born again.” We have to be open to God to be transformed. For you see, real transformation takes place at the cross, not in the hype of the parade. A religion which only stresses “feel good emotions,” is a Palm Sunday religion. It does not take seriously our human condition. A religion based on “feeling good,” will always mislead us.

Palm Sunday and Politics

Palm Sunday is about politics. It’s about Jesus making a mockery of those other political entrances into Jerusalem. As Jesus was coming into Jerusalem, there were two other significant political figures either already in the city or soon to be there: Pilate, the Roman governor, and Herod, a Roman puppet king. You can bet there was a parade for them, too. Tyrants like to make a show of force. We can image fancy horses and soldiers with shiny brass and spears that sparkle in the sunlight. For such parades, all the symbols of the empire’s powers on display. 

Jesus, however, displays the power of mysterious kingdom, not of this world. Yes, Palm Sunday is about politics as it reminds us of where we’re to place our allegiance. We’re not to be lured by the fancy horses and war chariots of the kings and politicians. Nor are we to be lured by mass of the crowds. Instead, we follow the humble man on a colt.    

Our Challenge

We’re called to reflect the values of this man who rode into Jerusalem on a colt some 2000 years ago. And his values constantly challenge us as to who we are and to whom we belong. Do we conform to how others want us to be, or do we strive to conform ourselves to the example of our Savior Jesus Christ? Are we intoxicated by the crowds, or by a desire to stand by the one who is the way and the truth and the life?

We hear the crowds… We’re drawn toward Jesus… Will we just hang around for the fun of the parade? Or will we to continue to follow him as his journey moves toward the cross upon which we’ll be called to sacrifice our wills and desires for his? Amen

[1] Mark 10: 35-41.

[2] Caesarea was the home for the governor. See Acts 23:23, 33 and 24:1.

[3] This idea about the “donkey detail” came from a sermon on this text by William Willimon. See  

[4] Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Mark: Black’s New Testament Commentaries (Hendrickson’s Publishing, 1991), 258.

[5] We learn of the Palm Branches from John 12:13.

[6] In Matthew 21 and Luke 19, Jesus immediately begins to cleanse the temple following his entry into Jerusalem. John places the temple cleansings at an earlier visit to Jerusalem. See John 2:13ff. 

[7] Tim Keller (@timkellernyc) posted on Twitter on March 27, 2021.

Resurrection: A Poem

For some reason, this post didn’t make it over from the transfer from my old blog. So I decided to “resurrect” it and add a few photos of the river from which this journey begins.


There is a section in the Hastings Cemetery in Michigan where children who died during or before birth are buried. It’s at the back corner of the cemetery, on a ledge overlooking the Thornapple River. Years ago, during a spring flood, some of the graves were lost to the river which flows into the Grand and then on into Lake Michigan as the waters make their way to the sea. While tragic, I try to make the best of the situation.

Bury me with the children who died prematurely
and planted in simple graves, at the back of the cemetery,
far from the gaze of the mourner, ‘cept broken-hearted parents.

Bury me under a huge sycamore, 
whose broad leaves shade the ground in summer
and white bark appears ghostly on a foggy morn.

Bury me where the river makes its sharp bend 
its swift waters carving into the bank.
There, I can hear the river call as it rushes past.  

Bury me close to the ledge where in a few years or maybe a century,
a spring flood will free me and those kids
and I’ll lead them on a grand adventure. 

In our box boats we’ll shoot through the gates of the Middleville and Irving dams,
forgetting the dangers for it no longer matters to the dead.
We’ll laugh as we catch an eddy below and float in circles.

At Alaska, the village-not the state, we’ll shoot the rapids
and when we meet the Grand, we’ll chat with those fishing for salmon
and wave to the pedestrians on the bridges at Grand Rapids.

I hope it is night, with waves breaking over the piercing lighthouse,
when we leave the river at Holland, for the lake. We’ll then float more slowly
watching the lights on shore fade from sight as we navigate by the North Star.

Time will slow as we slip from one lake to another
and over those falls at Niagara that terrify all but the dead,
before making our way into Canada and down that great waterway.

And years later, if our wooden boats hold, we’ll slip out the St. Lawrence
and into the cold waters of the North Atlantic along with ice bergs,
riding the Gulf Stream as it heads north and then east and back south. 

We’ll bed down with wintering puffins
and watch whales play as they ply the sea, while we pass
Iceland and the Faroes, Scotland and Ireland, and on beyond the Azores.

Bury me with the children, in the back of the cemetery,
and in time the river will call, and we’ll float
to where peaceful waters gather.  

-jg  September 2017

Hebrews 10:19-31: Worship

Jeff Garrison  
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches  
Hebrews 10:19-31 
March 21, 2021  

Recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, March 19, 2021

Information at the beginning of worship

We’ve spent the last three months making our way through the first three quarters of Hebrews. Last week, I mentioned we were at an end of a section of the book that involved some serious theology and Christology. Now the author turns to practical applications, first of which is a renewed call for his listeners and readers to remain steadfast in their faith and worship. 

As I’ve spoken of many times in this series, there are many hints in the book that the intended audience may be pondering the idea of leaving their faith in Jesus behind. After developing a strong theology around what Christ has done for us, the author again pleas for the people to remain faithful. 

A summary of today’s text

 The late F. F. Bruce, a British Biblical Scholar, sums up the passage this way:  

In view of all that has been accomplished for us by Christ, [the author of Hebrews] says, let us confidently approach God in worship, let us maintain our Christian confession and hope, let us help one another by meeting together regularly for mutual encouragement, because the day which we await will soon be here.[1]

Read Hebrews 10:19-31

After the reading of Scripture

There was a time when a good part of the population looked down on bikers. But over time, once you started having lawyers and bank executives trading their pinstripe suits for leather on the weekends, that changed. 

Think of other weekend activities for adults. You have guys playing Mountain Men, or Civil War soldiers, or the men and women who get all excited about life in Renaissance. The latter hold fairs and dress as if they lived in the 15th Century, only with the benefits of the 21st Century, such as modern medicine. 

Professional Hoboes

However, until I read William Vollmann’s book, Riding Toward Everywhere, I hadn’t realized there was another group of professionals who enjoy taking on a different weekend identity. These guys become hoboes. 

Of course, jumping on a train is illegal. Vollmann defines hoboing this way: “the unauthorized borrowing property of others.”[2] I’m not sure what to make of his adventures. There is something not quite right about using cell phones to communicate between friends as you try to dodge railroad police while looking for an open car and a good place to jump onboard.

Furthermore, unlike true hobos, it doesn’t seem fair that Vollmann and his companions have additional advantages. When things get unpleasant, such as riding in an open gondola car in the rain or snow, they jump off near an Amtrak station and take the train back home. Or, if they have more time on their hands, they check into a hotel, clean up and go out to dinner. Why cook a can of beans over an open fire when you have a credit card. It also helps having medical insurance. 

For these dudes, riding the rails is a game. In one adventure, Vollmann flew on a commercial airline halfway across the country just to hop a train back to California.

Importance of friendship

But it’s more than a game. Friendship also plays a role. You have friends with shared interests that you trust. That makes all the difference. Friendship binds us in our mutual interest. This sentence from his book struck me. “It is a fine luxury to trust oneself to a friend’s strength and help him in his weaknesses, all without negotiations or resentments.”[3]

It’s nice to have friends! And with Jesus, we have a friend in high places. But we also need friends here on earth. As we see in our text today, that’s part of the purpose of gathering for worship. 


Our passage begins with an exhortation. Remember how I told you earlier in this series, Hebrews sifts back and forth from exposition to exhortation.[4] We just gone through an extensive exposition, an advance class in Christology. Some of you may be asking, “so what?”[5] Well, the Preacher of Hebrews now tells us why. 


This section begins with a “therefore.” What has been previously said directs what comes next. 

In the opening three verses of this passage, we’re reminded of what has been just been covered. We now have confidence to approach God and to enter into the most holy of places because of Jesus. He’s both our High Priest and our sacrifice. Jesus’ blood has been shed for our sin. He creates a path that we might follow into a new life that takes us behind the curtain that has shielded previous generations from God. 

Jesus makes authentic worship possible

When we approach God, we’re called to worship. As people of faith, worship is necessary. When we worship, we acknowledge that God is so much bigger and stronger and better than us. We admit our limitations while proclaiming God’s glory. For Jesus has made authentic worship possible. 

I like how The Message translates verse 19, “we can now-without hesitation-walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” In worship, we boldly come into God’s presence. 

But worship involves more. Not only are we drawn near to God, and hold onto the promise, worship involves others. And worship isn’t just singing of hymns and listening to scripture or sermons. Verse 24 reminds us to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” In other words, from our worship we work for the well-being of others. 

Worship as gathering

But first, we must gather. Worship isn’t something we do as individuals. Yes, as an individual, we can pray and connect to God, but worship requires others. Jesus said he’ll be where there are two or three gathered, not one.[6] And when that happens, we are transformed as we move into the presence of God. 

So, because of what Jesus has done for us, we can worship in joy and be full of hope. Our worship can transcend where we gather as we’re ushered into God’s presence. That’s the good news. We need to hold tight to this hope. 

A warning against sin

In the second half of our passage, we’re given a warning. If we continue to sin when we know better, we’re told in verse 26, God’s not going to like it. We should ask ourselves what kinds of sin does the author of Hebrews speak? After all, we’re all sinners. Even Paul refers to himself as the greatest of sinners?[7]

There are a couple of things we should understand here. We’re not talking about just any old sin. First of all, it has to be a sin willingly committed and we must have known that it was a sin. And even if we’ve committed sin, we shouldn’t lose hope. Earlier in this chapter, as we saw last week, Jesus’ sacrifice covers our sin.[8]


Sin is a part of the fallen human condition, which is why we have to depend on Jesus. So, here, the author refers to more than just an act, doing something against the law. It appears the sin here is apostacy or the abandonment of the hope we have in Jesus Christ.[9] When we experience God’s good news, and then abandon the faith, we have good reason to fear. Such sin “profanes the blood of Jesus,” we’re told. 

Drawing again on the Old Testament, the author of Hebrews reminds us that “vengeance belongs to God.” God will repay those who profane the good work of Jesus. We should be reminded that it’s not up for us to judge someone else, but at the same time we should examine ourselves and make sure we hold fast to the faith we have in Jesus.

Faith, Hope, and Love

One commentary summarizes this passage with Paul’s three-fold ideal of “faith, hope, and love.”[10] All three appear here. We have faith in what Christ has done for us, hope in our confession, and finally love that’s shown in how we relate to others.[11] The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to remain faithful as they inspire one another to love and do good. 


Let think for a minute what the author might say to us not attending church. Granted, we’ve been in a difficult time for the past year with COVID and trying to avoid catching the illness. But as we come out of such a time, we need to quickly get back into the habit of gathering for worship. Interestingly, it appears from this letter, there were those who skipped church back in the first century. That still doesn’t make it right. 

However, I think Hebrews reminds us something important here. Coming to church isn’t about us. Too often we think it’s about what we get out of worship, but that’s to miss the point. First of all, we direct our worship toward God, not toward those in the pews. 

Secondly, as we’re told here, we come together to encourage each other. I am not to be the only one offering encouragement on a Sunday morning. All of us are to be encouragers. And sometimes, to encourage, we just have to show up and smile. Or maybe we catch someone doing good and acknowledge their efforts. 

Concluding hope

Because of what Jesus has done for us, may our lives be filled with worship, and may you encourage one another and have many good friends. Amen. 

[1] F. F. Bruce The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1964), 224.

[2] William T. Vollmann,  Riding Toward Everywhere (New York: HarpersCollins, 2008), 50.

[3] Vollmann, 13.

[4] Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2006), 254-255.

[5] Thomas G. Long, Hebrews (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1997), 103-104.

[6] Matthew 18:20. 

[7] 1 Timothy 1:15. See also Romans 7:24-25. 

[8] See Hebrews 9:28, 10:10.

[9] See Long, 109.

[10] 1 Corinthians 13:13

[11] Hugh Montefiore, The Epistle to the Hebrews (NY: Harper & Row, 1964), 174-175.

Two Books: A spy thriller and a self-congratulatory humorous look at gumption

Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer (2014) 

This is the story narrated by an unnamed man who doesn’t fit in, anywhere. A bastard. His father was a French Catholic priest and his mother a Vietnamese maid. In many ways, the narrator is of two minds. Given the opportunity to study in the United States, he learns the ways of the West. But he’s still Asian, even though never fully accepted into his country. A Captain in the military, and an aide to a General, he is also a member of the Vietcong. Fittingly, the reader never learns his name. We only know him as “Captain.”

Woven into this story is the narrator’s boyhood friendship of two other boys: Bon and Man. As they studied in a Catholic school, they promised to look out for each other. This they do, despite the fact that two of them become undercover Vietcong while the third is a diehard supporter of the South Vietnamese government.


The story begins in April 1975. South Vietnam collapses. The General assigns the narrator the task of creating a list of those to be evacuated. Their plane will be the last to make it out of Vietnam. The refugees end up in Southern California where they gradually rebuild their lives. But the General is intent of returning to Vietnam and freeing his country from Communism. This happens but ends in disaster. However, the disaster expedition allows for a reunion of the three boys who had pledged their allegiance to one another. 

There are many disturbing scenes in this book. Being undercover means the Captain has to consent to the torture of fellow Vietcong. He even is called to carry out murder of those suspected of Vietcong activity in America. While the narrator doesn’t participate, he describes the brutal rape of a suspected Vietcong woman.  There are also other sex scenes in the book. We learn of how he “comes of age” with a squid (the scene is enough to make me forgo such food). Later, there are encounters with prostitutes and a Japanese American lover. The Captain, in a manner, appears to be a chauvinist. 


Much of this book is about the cultural differences between the east and the west. In a way, the story criticizes everything. This is an honest book as the faults of all sides can be seen: communism and capitalism; the South, the Vietcong, and the Americans; eastern and western philosophy, atheism, Buddhism and Christianity. The author often brings in art (especially music) and literature to make his point. Graham Greene’s The Quiet American receives several references in the novel. 

I enjoyed this book and while the likelihood that all three boys would end up in the same place at the end seems far-fetched, it’s a powerful story. I listened to the unabridged edition of the book on Audible. The actor doing the reading was exceptional. 13 hours and 53 minutes in length. 

Favorite Quote:

“I like my Scotch undiluted like I like my truth. Unfortunately, undiluted truth is as affordable as 18-year-old Scotch.” 

Nick Offerman, Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers (2015).  

Why this book

I was drawn to Offerman from his book, Paddle Your Own Canoe. However, I had a hard time purchasing a book in which the author appears on the cover in a canoe with terrible paddle-form. (Get on your knees, Offerman!). Instead of being impressed with his craftsmanship in building a canoe, I saw a lazy canoeist. After looking at his other works, I decided to listen to this book. The author reads the book. This, I always consider a benefit. The book consists of a series of essays on Americans who have, according to Offerman, shown “gumption.” The characters in the book could serve as models for us. Early in the book, I came to see Offerman as a grumpy redneck liberal.  

The Good

There is much I like about Offerman’s writings. He encourages hard work that creates things for which we should be proud. He appreciates skill and those who see mistakes as just a way to learn more about how to be successful. He loves nature and simple things such as solid wood, a good book, and basic food. He finds solace in nature, loves his wife, and acknowledges the superiority of North Carolina barbecue. And he appreciates the writings of Wendell Berry and Michael Pollan and the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted. While acknowledging the failures of our nation in dealing with slavery and Native Americas, he sees something good in folks like George Washington.

The Bad

There is also much I dislike about Offerman’s writings. His use of obscene language is over the top. Obviously understanding that some don’t like his use of language, he even defends himself. This book constantly advertises for Offerman, Inc. Over and over again, the quality craft from his wood studio finds its way into the book. You can purchase such work. He continually promotes his TV show, “Parks and Recreation,” of which I had not seen. (I streamed a few episodes of the show. I wasn’t overly impressed even though the deadpan style of his character—Ron Swanson—was a highlight). And he promoted his wife and her television work along with the work of those he highlights in the work. Furthermore, Offerman seems to take great pleasure (and admits it) at meeting his heroes. 

The Ugly

I almost gave up on the book because of his disdain for the church. He seems to have made his mind up about the uselessness of religion from his own Catholic upbringing and the antics of the politically active right-wring Christians in the media. The few caveats offered about the good done by the faithful, or the beauty of Scripture, far overshadows the condemnation he preaches. Yes, the church has not always upheld to the standards of Jesus, but in its truest form, he has acknowledged its own sinfulness.

The thing I disliked the most is Offerman’s oversexualized references to entertainers (of which he’s one). This trend is best seen in the last third of the book. Here, we learn that Carol Burnett has constantly rejected his invitation of a three-some with him and his wife. He also expresses his love of and marriage proposal to Jeff Tweety (despite the fact they’re both married to women). I know this was supposed to be funny, but I wasn’t amused.

Part 1: “The Freemasons”

The book is divided in three sections. The first and the shortest are the “Freemasons,” which focus on three of America’s founders (Washington, Franklin, and Madison), along with Frederick Douglas. Not only does Douglas show gumption by fleeing slavery, educating himself, and working to free other slaves. He was also, at one point in his life, a boatbuilder (something Offerman appreciates.

Part 2: “The Idealists”

The “Idealists” is the label applied to the second section. We meet Theodore Roosevelt (later in the book we learn Conah O’Brien introduced Offerman to TR). Others include Frederick Law Olmsted, Eleanor Roosevelt, Tom Laughin (the writer and star in “Billy Jack” and the first of this list that I didn’t recognize), Wendell Berry, Barney Frank, Yoko Ono, and Michael Pollan. This was my favorite section of the book.

Part 3: “Makers”

The last third of the book is titled “Makers.” Here we meet those who excel in different crafts from making tools and boats and furniture, to authors, musicians, and comedians. This list includes Thomas Lie-Nielsen, Nat Benjamin, George Nakashima, Carol Burnett, Jeff Tweedy, George Saunders, Laurie Anderson, Willie Nelson, and Conan O’Brien. The first two of the “Markers,” are the others that I did not know before reading/hearing this book. This was my least favorite section of the book.

Concluding evaluation

As I like the idea of everyone excelling and doing good work, there can be much gained from Offerman’s words. I just wish he could realize he could be funny and less offensive, while sharing the same ideas. 

Hebrews 10: Sacrifice

Jeff Garrison  
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
March 14, 2021  
Hebrews 10:1-18  

The sermon was taped at Mayberry Church on Friday, March 12, 2021

At the beginning of worship

Over the past few weeks, as we’ve worked our way through the Book of Hebrews, we have been in an advanced Christological class. We’ve experienced Jesus as our High Priest. We have learned of Jesus establishing a new covenant. And we’ve explored the differences between earthly and heavenly sanctuaries. 

Ideal verses the shadow

Much of this discussion in this part of Hebrews which we’re in, parallels a Platonic idea that compares the ideal with the shadow. We often mistake the shadow as reality.[1] In such, we see this sanctuary as a real place. But Hebrews makes the case the case that our earthly sanctuaries are only an imperfect representative of the heavenly reality. Through Jesus Christ, God casts off our sinfulness, which allows us to come into God’s presence. When our time here is over, to enter the real sanctuary.

Sacrifices in the First Century

The preacher of Hebrews has one last theological point to finish making before he moves into the section of this book dealing with ethical implications of what we believe about Jesus. He’s been talking about sacrifice all along. This would have been on the minds of many first century Jews. Even pagans sacrificed. This was seen as a reality in that era. But as we’ve already seen, the sacrifices witnessed at the temple were imperfect. They could not perfect those making the sacrifice. But Christ, who sacrificed himself, who paid the price of our sin once and for all, can perfect us. 

Next week, we’ll hear the preacher’s call to persevere. Because of what Christ has done for us, we should stick with him. But before that, we’ll delve into the sacrifice Jesus made. 

What does it mean to sacrifice?

So, let me ask you, what do we mean by sacrifice? Frederick Buechner describes sacrifice as “something that is made holy by giving it away for love.”[2]  And that’s what Jesus does for us. He gives away his life out of love for the world.  Such a definition should also help us understand our calling to sacrifice.  

Read Hebrews 10:1-18

After the reading of Scripture

Warm Radiators 

I was ordained in Ellicottville, New York. I spent three and a half years there, enjoying the life of a ski bum. While there, I lived in an old house, built in the late 1890s. My favorite thing about the house were the cast iron radiators. They were wonderful. Before Donna and I was married, it was just me and Happy, my cat. Happy loved those radiators, especially in the fall and spring. In the winter, because the weather was often very frigid, the radiators got too hot for her to sit on. But the rest of the year, they made a great perch for her to observe the neighborhood.  

In the winter, while Happy stayed off the radiators, they were a perfect place to dry socks and gloves and to warm up a jacket or towel. I assure you, there is nothing like getting out of a shower and wrapping yourself in a towel that’s been warmed on a radiator. Likewise, there is nothing like heading out into the cold while wearing a prewarmed jacket or gloves. Such warmth just makes you feel good inside. 

The warmth of God’s love

We should have similar warmth when we think about what God does for us. We’ve been created by God who loves us, who wants the best for us, and who adopts us as his own children. We’ve been redeemed by a God who doesn’t give up on us even when we think we’ve been just a big disappointment. 

God’s love for us is so strong because he was willing to offer up his own life, in Jesus, to atone for our sin. We are cared by a God whose presence is with us always. Think of God’s love as that warmed towel or jacket, wrapping itself around us, warding off the cold. 

Jesus is the reason we can be warmly drawn to God as opposed to hiding in fear. In him, we find forgiveness. We are cleansed. We are able stand boldly before God, not having to be shielded by a curtain like our Hebrew ancestors. 

Jesus’ obedience to God meant he took up his cross. Jesus’ self-surrender to God was total. “Not my will but Thine,”[3]he prayed to his father. This prayer is “the climactic expression of a life of complete openness to God.”[4] As we learn in our text this morning, Jesus has made the ultimate sacrifice for us.

The meaning of “sacrifice”

Let’s think for a few minutes how we use the term “sacrifice.” It’s a noble term. In baseball, there’s the sacrifice fly. You hit a deep fly ball, which allows a runner on third base to make it home before the throw can reach the plate. While the batter doesn’t end up with a run on their record, he does the job necessary to help the team win. 

Parents speak of their sacrifice for their kids. It may be so that they can have a better educator or a better experience with childhood. Depression era stories of parents who refused to eat until their children were fed touch our hearts. 

We speak of sacrificing for our country. A soldier or sailor might be required to sacrifice their life. Think of the one who jumps on a live grenade in order to save his buddies. John F. Kennedy best described such sacrifice in his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” 

In church, we often speak of sacrifice when we go beyond in giving. Maybe it’s to build a new community center or to give up one’s life of comfort and become a missionary.

The one thread that holds all these types of sacrifices together is that they are done for someone else. It’s not a sacrifice if you’re doing it for yourself. 

The Buechner definition I used earlier rings true here. “A sacrifice is something made holy by giving it away for love.”

Jesus’ sacrifice

Jesus speaks of his sacrifice in this way: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”[5] And Jesus shows us what sacrifice really looks like. The cross is the ultimate symbol of sacrifice. 

Martin Luther King realized the deep meaning of the cross when he said: “[W]hen I took up the cross, I recognized its meaning… It is not something that you wear. The cross is something that you bear and ultimately that you die on.”[6]

While that is true, and our faith demands our lives, the good news is that we don’t have to die for our sin. Jesus did that. But a sacrifice means we do something for the well-being of another.

Today’s text

In our morning reading, we hear two extensive quotes from the Old Testament.  The first, from the Psalms, reminds us that God doesn’t need our sacrifices.[7] Why did God need those animals that were sacrificed? After all, they belonged to God to start with. In a way, everything we have belongs to God and God can claim it at any time. Not in need of sacrifices as such, God is pleased to sacrifice for us. This sacrifice, through Jesus, is eternal. It does not need to be made day in and day out, like the old sacrifices. 

The second quote, which we’ve already heard in Hebrews,[8] comes from Jeremiah. We are reminded that in the new covenant, God writes his law in our hearts and minds.[9] Having been freed from sin, we are open to hear God’s word and to live in a new way. 

The importance of sacrifice

In many ways, we don’t like talking about sacrifices these days. We’re conditioned to want what we think is best for us. I remember how, after 911, instead of us as a nation being called to sacrifice to win the war against terror, we were encouraged to go out and continue spending to keep the economy going. 

But sacrifices are important. By sacrificing, we demonstrate the love Jesus calls us to have for others. Likewise, by Jesus’ sacrifice, we experience the incredible love that God has for us.[10] Furthermore, our sacrifices commit us to the faith we proclaim. 

We are so blessed that we should feel God’s love wrapping us up in warmth. And because we’re blessed, because Jesus sacrificed for us, we’re to be a blessing to others. Amen.  

[1] While I point this out, we must understand that Christianity isn’t a Platonic faith and there are teachings within Plato that are contrary to Christian theology and more akin to the Gnostic heresy. The classic teaching of Plato on the differences between the ideal and the shadow are found in Book Seven of The Republic, with the analogy of the cave. 

[2] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), 83

[3] Luke 22:42.

[4] Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine, and Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 22

[5] John 15:13. 

[6] Quote from James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011), 84. 

[7] Hebrews 10:5-7; Psalm 40:6-8.

[8] See Hebrews 8:8-12.

[9] Hebrews 10:16 & 17; Jeremiah 31:33-34.

[10] Romans 5:8.

Two books on Pilgrimage

 Lisa Deam, 3000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life for Spiritual Seekers 

(Minneapolis Broadleaf Books, 2021), 211 pages including notes and a few drawings and maps

Early pilgrims

In the centuries between the crusades and the Reformation, there were many devout Christians who made pilgrimages. While Rome and Santiago de Compostela (the Way of Saint James) were the popular destinations, there were also hardy souls who attempted to make the trip to the Holy Lands. 

The journey to Jerusalem was hard and expensive. They traveled overland across Europe and climbed the Alps, in an era before guidebooks and maps. Without travel insurance and credit cards, they had to be careful as they made good targets for thieves. Once they reached Venice along the Italian coast, they bargained for a berth in a ship sailing for Joppa or another town along the Palestinian Coast.  It was not a plush cruise. No one served them umbrella drinks on the veranda. Instead, they were cramped in the bowels of a sailing ship for five or so weeks, eating dried bread meats and hoping they had enough fresh water. 

Once they arrived, they had to deal with customs. Muslims controlled the region and could friendly or not. Amongst these strangers, they had to hire guides to lead them to Jerusalem. Once they arrived, they had to pay a price for everything they did (In the centuries since Jesus, the Holy Lands had become a tourist trap).

Many had ecstatic experiences when walking the paths Jesus trod. They saw the signs. Some poured wine into embedded footprints that supposedly belonged to Jesus. On their knees, they would drink the wine (I suppose lapping it up with their tongues like a dog). Others were depressed. Jerusalem, 13 or more centuries after Christ, didn’t impress them. 

Deam’s pilgrims

Deam follows three such pilgrims. Margery Kempe was from England. She was a wife and the mother of twelve children. Yet, she found support to make the journey. Swiss friar Felix Fabri and Italian Pietro Casola are the other two pilgrims Deam’s focuses on. Deam also draws from other pilgrim accounts as well as the writings of those contemporary to the pilgrims, such as Walter Hilton and Dante Alighieri. In addition, she draws from modern theologians such as Eugene Peterson and Howard Thurman.


This is not a just a history book. The purpose is for the reader to realize how he or she is also a pilgrim in this life. While informed by historical pilgrims, this is essentially a devotional book. One of my complaints of the book is that there could have been more historical background and stories. But then, the book might have been less appealing as a devotional book and more for academia.  

I have often thought about leading a trip to the holy lands where, in addition to the Bible, I would draw from the writings of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. If I ever take that journey, I’ll add Deam’s book to the reading list and maybe the first hand account written by those who travelled there in the 13-15 centuries. Deam’s provides a bibliography of “medieval voices” that have been translated into English in the back the book.

Additional reading on pilgrimage

I have read a lot about pilgrimages over the years.  In addition to Twain’s The Innocents Abroad (I’d also suggest Roughing It and Following the Equator), I recommend Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage (see below)Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rolf Potts, Vagabonding, and the anonymous 19th Century Russian who wrote The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way. Deam mentions this last book, which was given to me by a Hindu friend from Malaysia.


“In the broad sense, a ‘pilgrim is one who is a stranger.'” Dante (11)

“Our pilgrimage on earth is an image of the glorious pilgrimage to the celestial city.” (17)

“Because Hilton had both secular and sacred vocations, he is the ideal guide for contemporary Christians on their journey of faith. He understood that some people are suited for religious live and others for vocations of the world, yet that all are called to a spiritual life of contemplation and prayer. (2-21)

“Whether en route to the physical or the interior Jerusalem, a pilgrim never walks alone. All need guide and companions for the journey.” (23)

“A paradox of pilgrimage,…, is that we are journeying toward a home we have not seen.”

“So much in life remains uncertain, but our destination does not.” (37)

“This practice of settling debt and writing a will-and indeed the whole enterprise of pilgrimage-flies in the face of our risk-averse culture.” (50)

“Old habits and ingrained ways of thinking tempt us to believe we are better off where we are (or were), even though Jesus beckons us to a better place.” (64)

“I am nothing; I have nothing; I desire nothing but the love of Jesus’ alone.” -Walter Hilton (68)

“‘We all long for [Eden], and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, it gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of exile.’ The grief that we feel is part of our history, a symptom of our shared humanity. And something would be desperately wrong if we did not long for our lost home.” -quote from Tolkien (121-2)

“Only when we are stripped of all that falsely shores us up can our soul stand naked before Jesus with a pure motive and clear vision. (138)

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred 

(New York: MJF Books, 1998), 254 pages

I wrote this review in 2010 and am republishing it here.

This book makes a lot of sense to me.  Travel should be so much more than just sightseeing and crossing off places on our bucket lists of sites to see before we die. To me, it is instinctive to learn more about the places I travel in an attempt to connect with the “soul” of the land and the people. 

In this book, Cousineau draws upon a wealth of pilgrimage literature as he encourages his readers to be attentive in their travels. Cousineau seasons his book with stories and quotes that come from the breath of humanity.  He draws upon pilgrims of all ages. Most are religious, but not all. It seems there is an embedded need within our psyche to connect with something deeper. Included in the pilgrims reported on are visits to Jim Morrison’s grave and baseball fans who seek out Ty Cobb’s cleats. Cousineau is familiar with the writings of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhist, and Hindu pilgrims, but he also is knowledgeable about native tribes and the legends of mythic journeys and what they have to tell us about pilgrimage.

What pilgrimage does to us

Pilgrimages change us. They can also bring political changes as Cousineau points to when writing about the “hill of crosses” in Lithuania.  The hill, the site of a Lithuania victory of Sweden, had been an important site for the country since the mid-19th Century. Crosses adored the hill, but after the Soviet take-over in 1917, they removed the crosses. Yet, people regularly replaced the crosses, often by those who travelled many miles and risked their lives. Finally, in 1985, the Soviets stopped bulldozing the crosses and a few years later, Lithuanian students began to protest for independence.  Looking back on his country’s long struggle, one Lithuanian commented on the importance of the Hill of Crosses.  “Just knowing that it was there made the fight for independence much easier.” (44-47)

Cousineau grew up in a family that traveled frequently.  His father felt that travel was good for the mind and his mother thought it was good for the soul. (xv)  Cousineau combines the two perspectives.“Pilgrimage is a journey that moves us from mindless to mindful, from soulless to soulful travel.” (xxiii) The chapters of the book follows a pilgrim’s path: the longing, the call, departure, the pilgrim’s way, the labyrinth, arrival, and returning. He speaks of the pilgrim’s lamp, the tower, the satchel, the well of refreshment, and the need to give gifts and make offerings. I recommend this book and include some quotes to tempt you to read it:


“If you truly want to know the secret of soulful travel, we need to believe that there is something scared waiting to be discovered in virtually every journey.”  (xxii)

Beauty is a ‘by-product of ordinary things,’” quote from Joseph Brodsky (22)

“Questions tune the soul…”  “Ask yourself what mystery is being guarded by your longing.” (24)
The tarot card for a pilgrim is “the fool.” (49)

“’It is not so much what you do,’ wrote Epictetus in his study of happiness, ‘it is how you do it.’” (92)

“The practice of soulful travel is to discover the overlapping point between history and every day life, the way to find the essence of every place…  Curiosity about the extraordinary in the ordinary moves the heart of the travel intent on seeing behind the veil of tourism.”  (121)

“Do not seek to follow the footsteps of the men of old, seek what they sought. –Matssuo Basho” (173)“…savored the melancholy beauty, what the Japanese call sabi, the ‘sigh of the moment’” (176)

A question for my readers

Have you ever taken a pilgrimage? How was it? If you have not taken one, would you be interested?

Hebrews 9: The True Sanctuary

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
March 7, 2021
Hebrews 9 

Taped at Bluemont Church on Friday, March 5, 2021

At the beginning of worship: 

So far, in the book of Hebrews, we have seen that Jesus is superior to everything. He tops angels and folks like Moses as well as the temple priests. He’s divine, having come from and returned to God’s heavenly throne.

Last week, the author returned to a previous topic, Jesus as High Priest. This week and next, we’ll see what this means in terms of the sanctuary and the need for a sacrifice. 

Journey to the holy lands 

This past week I read a book that was part devotional and part historical. Lisa Deam, a medieval historian, authored 3000 Miles to Jesus.[1] She follows several pilgrims to the Holy Lands in the 13th and 14th Centuries. 

Traveling to the Holy Lands was quite a journey in those days. Think about someone coming from England. They’d cross the channel and walk or ride a horse across France. They had the Alps to climb. Then they’d head to Venice, where they’d secure passage on a boat to the Holy Lands. 

During this era, it goes without saying, there were no plush cruises. No umbrella drinks on the veranda. Sea travel was tough. And then, once they arrived along the coast of Palestine, they had deal with customs and hire a guide. They usually rode a donkey to Jerusalem. At this time, the Holy Lands were under the control of Muslims, which also created challenges. 

It goes without saying that many died on this journey, but a many made it and they inspired others.  

These pilgrims in the medieval era put up with all kinds of hardship for an opportunity to walk where Jesus’ walked. Some of them had euphoric experiences in Jerusalem, others were disappointed. I can understand such disappointment. They had this hope of connecting in a tangible way to Jesus. But 12 or 13 centuries after Jesus, Palestine wasn’t what they expected. 

We are pilgrims

Deams, throughout this book, reminds her readers that our lives are a pilgrimage. We long for an encounter with the divine. But we have to have faith and realize that such an encounter may only occur in the next world. We do not live in a perfect world. We are not called to be citizens here. We are not called to set down roots for sooner or later, we’ll have to move on. Instead, we’re called to live out our pilgrimage, whatever shape our journeys might take, knowing that our eternal destination is within another kingdom.  Even the church is transitory.[2] It’s a vehicle to help us reconnect with God. 

Today, in our text, we’ll see that while there is a purpose in earthly sanctuaries (like this one), the perfect sanctuary where Jesus works is beyond the present.

After the reading of Scripture: 

I am nothing.
I have nothing.
I desire nothing except the love of Jesus alone. 

This mantra came from Walter Hilton, a 14th Century Augustine monk, who wrote what might have been the “Lonely Planet Travel Guide” on pilgrimages, had such things existed back then.[3]

I am nothing.
I have nothing.
I desire nothing except the love of Jesus alone.

Remember this mantra. How many of us live up to it? We only come to such faith by believing in the superiority of Jesus. Even then, it’s hard. But, sooner or later, our pilgrimage on this earth will come to an end and we’ll stand before the throne of God. At such a time, we’ll be naked. I’m not talking about the lack of clothes so much as being totally exposed. Our only hope will be in Jesus.

The old tabernacle 

In our passage today, we learn of a comparison between our earthly sanctuaries and the true sanctuary in heaven. When the covenant was made with Moses and the Hebrew people at Sinai, God gave them instruction on how to create a tabernacle.

This was one large tent. Portable, they could take it with them as they journeyed in the wilderness. The plans for this “tent-shrine”[4] is laid out in the 25th through the 27th chapters of Exodus. I encourage you to read through this at some point. The detail is exact. The type of wood to be used in construction is detailed. The “furniture” that occupied the tent, and the fabric that adorned the walls are specified. 

The design called for a curtain created out of blue, purple and crimson yarns and twisted fine linen. Woven into this curtain was a cherubin. It hung by golden hooks from a gold clad acacia wood rod, held up by silver posts.[5] Behind this was the “Holy of Holies,” which was only to be entered by the High Priest, once a year. 

An imperfect image of a perfect reality

But this tent/sanctuary was only an imperfect image of a perfect reality. That holy chamber, where earthly priests sought forgiveness for our sin, with dried blood of animals all around, wasn’t able to make them good or perfect. According to verse 7, its effect was only on unintentional sin. But the heavenly counterpart to the early tabernacle is able to provide, not a once-a-year cleansing, but eternal redemption because Christ himself offered his own blood for our behalf.

Now this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive not to sin because Christ has forgiven us. In the next chapter, our preacher will strongly condemn such thoughts.[6]

Thankfully, our hope is not in the tent of the first covenant, but in the new covenant. We need access to this truer tent, which Christ supplies. We also need to be aware that when we accept the first tent, the early one, to be the real tent, “our human hopes are misplaced.”[7] The tent, like the church, can become an idol. 

The Church

This passage has something to say to the church, of which we’re a part. Like the tent of the first covenant, the church we see on earth has been created by humans. It started with the Apostles being sent out by the resurrected Jesus to tell world of the good news. And it’s done a lot of good in the world, but our slate isn’t exactly perfect. Our ancestors fought wars over what Jesus meant by one statement or another. We are often quick to condemn those who don’t see things like we do.  Sadly, our churches often lack grace. 

We need to take ourselves less seriously. And we need to realize that salvation isn’t from the church itself. Jesus provides salvation. The church is just a messenger, and an imperfect one at that. However, our marching orders are important. The church is the vehicle Christ instituted through the disciples to continue his work in the world. 

The Church isn’t to be worshipped

So, while it is important for us to be in the church, we must not worship the church. We should acknowledge that there is no perfect church on the earth. This goes for Bluemont and Mayberry and all other churches in our neighborhood. 

Sadly, we don’t have to look very far to confirm the church’s imperfection. After all, look at all the major ministries that have shown us such truth: In the last few years, there’s been Mars Hill in Seattle, Willow Creek outside of Chicago, Hillsong in the northeast, Menlo Park out West, among many others. 

We need to realize that this side of glory, we’re never going to be perfect. And we need to be thankful that our salvation isn’t in our doing but in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. 

A longing for God

At best, the church gives people a longing for God. God’s book, the Bible, must be central. Our lives must be gracious and godly. If we can give people a taste of God, God’s Holy Spirit can take care of the rest. While our worship fails to live up to the heavenly glory we read about in Revelation,[8] that’s not a reason for us to give up. Instead, we help people have a small taste of what’s to come. We know Jesus has gone before us, pulling back that curtain that shielded us from coming into God’s presence.  

Baseball and being close to the action

Let me tell you a story. Baseball season is almost here. Spring training is underway. When I was a seminary student in Pittsburgh, I enjoyed going to the old Three Rivers Stadium and watching the Pirates. Wednesday night games were a favorite. If you were willing to sit up in the nosebleed section, where you actually had a good view of the whole field, it was only a buck. A buck to watch the Bucs.[9] This was back in the ‘80’s. 

One Saturday afternoon, I was willing to pay the big bucks. The Dean’s secretary and I were going on a date to a game. Back then, the Pirates were so bad, you didn’t have to buy tickets in advance. When I picked her up, she asked if I had tickets. “No,” I said. “We’ll get ‘em at the stadium.” She smiled and handed me two tickets. I looked down and couldn’t believe it. The seats were right behind home plate, just five rows up. These seats weren’t available to just anyone. I was shocked, humbled, and impressed. 

Her brother, who was in management at the William Penn hotel in downtown Pittsburgh, heard we were going to the game. Since the hotel had these seats reserved for the season, and nobody had claimed them, he gave them to us. It was exciting to be brought so close to the action. 

As a church we are to bring people closer to God. Just as I was brought close to the action that Saturday in Pittsburgh, in our own limited ways, we are to help people come closer to Jesus. But we will still remain separated until that time, to continue with this metaphor, when we find ourselves not just inside the park but on the field with Jesus.  


So, don’t worry that your church is not perfect. Jesus will take care of it. The same goes with us. Don’t worry that you’re imperfect. Jesus will take care of that, too. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be better. Yes, we are all to strive to be better while we depend on the love of Jesus. For in the end, when our pilgrimage is over, we must strand there exposed before the throne. Hopefully, at such a time, we can say (can you say it with me?):

I am nothing.
I have nothing.
I desire nothing except the love of Jesus alone.  Amen. 

[1] Lisa Deam, 3000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life for Spiritual Seekers (Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2021). 

[2] See Revelation 21:22. There is no need for a temple in the New Jerusalem with the presence of God. 

[3] Deams, 20, 68.

[4] The term “tent-shrine” is used in the footnotes for this passage in The New Interpreter’s Bible: NRSV. 

[5] Exodus 26:15-37. 

[6] See Hebrews 10:26. See also Hebrews 6:4-6 and Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville: WJK, 2006), 223. 

[7] Johnson, 225. 

[8] See especially Revelation 7:9-17.

[9] The nickname for the Pirates, “Bucs,” is shortened from Buccaneer.

Haw River: a short memoir and a book review

Haw River 1975

I pause, standing in the door of the gas station at the edge of Pittsboro, a Coke in one hand and a pack of peanuts in the other. Ripping open the peanuts with my teeth, I shake a few from the bag into my mouth, chasing it with a swig from the bottle as I look out into a gray and dreary February day. 

A sheriff deputy pulls up in his cruiser. I watch as he jumps out of his car, fitting his wide brim hat covered with a plastic rain protection on his head. He heads toward our cars, where my Uncle Larry checks the rope tie-downs on his canoe. 

Stepping out, the screen door slams shut behind me. Dodging mud puddles in the pavement, I head over toward our vehicles to see that the deputy wants.  

“Y’all boys ain’t going to run that river today, are you?” he asks.  

We plan on it,” Larry answers.    

“That ain’t a good idea. We’ve gotten a lot of rain and that river’s angry.”

“We’ll check the gauge before we put in,” Larry assures him. 

 “Well, if y’all boys go down that river, I ain’t gonna go lookin’ for you.” 

“We’re not asking you to,” Larry responds.

The deputy looks at the canoes on the two cars, then looks back at the two of us. Patting his pistol on his hip, he continues, “I ought to save y’all boys lives and shoot some holes in those canoes.” 

I envision him drawing his gun like a deputy from Dodge City, and firing from his hip, ruining my prize possession. Larry wastes no time, responding immediately, “Please sir, don’t do that.”

Paddling the Black River in the Spring of 1975 (photo by Donald McKenzie)

It’d been raining for days and is still drizzling. My dad and brother leave the store and join Larry and I as the deputy leaves. We discuss his concerns. None of us have paddled this river, but Larry has friends who have been down it. He says that as long as the river is at less than 6 inches on the gauge at the bridge, we should be okay. We drive over, parking along the edge of the highway and walk down under the bridge. The river is muddy and shrouded with fog. The waves of the water rushing pass the bridge abutment to which the gauge is attached are above the three foot mark. We decide to not to run the Haw.  

Running the Haw

Two years later, my brother, uncle and I would run the Haw River and would do it many more times, but always in a kayak.  It was an exciting in a closed boat when the water was three feet on the gauge. At the first big rapid, Gabriel’s Bend, the river flowed hard into a rock wall and made a ninety degree turn to the left. In high water, one would have to punch through an eight foot  standing wave as soon as the left turn was executed, an obstacle that would have swamped and swallowed an open canoe.

What we did that day…

On this day, in 1975, at a time there were few river guides, we looked at a map and decided to run a section of the Rocky River which paralleled the Haw about a dozen miles to the south.  We had no idea as to what we’d face, but the river didn’t look nearly as angry as the Haw.  We made quick time out of the six or eight mile run. It was evident we could not have made the run at a lower level as there were many rock gardens where the river, even at this height, was only six inches deep. 

Toward the end of the run, in sight of the 15-501 bridge, we had to cut across a rapid in order to stay in the main channel.  I was in the bow and my dad, who’d never paddled fast water, was in the stern. Suddenly the boat stopped, and water poured in.  I looked back at Dad and he was standing in the middle of the river, in knee deep water, holding the boat. He tried to crawl back in, but as he did, I was flipped out.  We were both floating through the rapid.  I turned around so I was facing down river and pulled my legs up, holding tight to my paddle. It was quite chilly, but at the bottom of the rapid, we were able to beach and dump the water from the boat. 

Dad and I paddled the last couple hundred yards in humbled disgrace. 

Coming off the Waccamaw River, 1981 (Photo by Philip Morgan)
I haven’t found my photos of the Haw, yet. There were never very many in that pre-digital age.

Down Along the Haw

Anne Melyn Cassebaum, Down Along the Haw: The History of a North Carolina River (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), 229 pages including maps, photos, notes and index. 

When I learned there was a book on the Haw River, it went on my to-be-read list. Cassebaum is a professor emerita at Elon University (which I still thought was a college), where she taught environmental and American literature along with writing.  In this book, she explores the Haw River from many different viewpoints. 

The history of the river

The Haw is an old river that cuts through the rock of a wide fall line. Native Americans fished in the river. Early colonists set up mills along the river and its tributaries. The river plays a role in the ending of the Revolution. Because it was at flood stage during the closing days of the Civil War, it formed a natural boundary between Union and Confederate lines. In the years after the Civil war, the river became home for a large number of textile mills. During this time, the river would take on the hue of the fabric being dyed. It was a polluted mess. After the Clean Water Act of1972, the river slowly cleaned itself. In the 70s, kayakers and canoers began to flock to its waters (see my above piece on my experience on the Haw). Then, in the 80s, with the closing of the B. Everett Jordan dam, named for a US Senator from North Carolina who owned a textile mill along the Haw, the lower part of the Hall was submerged into Jordan Lake.

Other topics explored

In this book, Cassabaum explores the full length of the river, from its headwaters to the confluence with the Deep River to form the Cape Fear. She covers both human and natural history, along with inserting her own stories of paddling and exploring the river. We meet authors who connections to the river’s headwaters including Catholic priest and environmentalist, Thomas Berry, and slave poet, George Moses Horton. Tales of paranormal experiences and haunted islands are shared. We learn of how the river has been “cleaned up” but how threats continue as lawns and agricultural lands pump more and more nutrients into the waters of the Haw. Having last paddled the Haw in the early 1980s, before the floodgates of the B. Everett Jordan dam were closed, I was glad to know that one of my favorite rapids (Gabriel’s Bend) was still available for paddling. Sadly, the Pipeline has long been flooded by the waters of Jordan Lake. 


I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about my home state and a river I once knew. For anyone interested in rivers or North Carolina history, check this book out.