An update and two book reviews about walking

South Shore of the UP

I am away, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, for two weeks. One of the weeks is vacation and the other I set aside for study. During this time, I have been reading a lot! The Bible and commentaries on the book of Daniel, the new biography of Karl Barth by Christiane Tietz, Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, Casy Tygrett’s As I Recall: Discovering the Place of Memories in our Spiritual lives, Gregory Orr’s A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry, Richard Lischer’s Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery, as well as poetry by Barry Dickson, Tim Conroy, and Nancy Bevilaqua. I have also been taking daily walks of three to four miles, and wrote a review of a book I’d finished just before coming here: 


Robert Marfarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

 (2012.  Audible released the same year, Robin Sachs, narrator, 11 hours 23 minutes)

The book begins with the author taking a walk at night. He had me there as I love walking at night and letting my ears and nose supplement what my eyes can barely see. The author didn’t disappoint as he walks around England and Scotland with travels to the Himalayas, in the West Bank with a Palestinian friend, and on the Camino de Santiago from France to Spain. Most (but not all) of these trips are made with others. Along the way, with attention to detail, we are provided a glimpse of what the author experiences. We learn about the trees and flowers, the animals, and the stars above. He also draws us back into time, as we are seldom the first person to walk a particular path. Walking paths require a history. Macfarlane searches out this history as he walks. He walks even out on a spit of land at low tide, a dangerous trek as he must make it back before the tide returns and the spot is often foggy, making the journey back even more difficult.  

And while this is a book mostly about walking, the author to my delight, had a section about sailing from the Outer Hebrides to points south and west. While walking has been important, in many areas, such as the British Isles, sea travel allowed humans to travel more efficiently. He takes these trips in older style boats, navigating by the stars.

As he tells about old paths and walking trails, Macfarlane introduces other authors. He brings these authors into the dialogue. Edward Thomas, an English walker and poet killed in the First World War receives the most attention. I didn’t realize he had not only been a friend of Robert Frost, but Frost wrote his poem, “A Road Not Taken” for Thomas. Thomas was notorious for not making up his mind and Frost later regretted sending him the poem, for shortly afterwards he joined the army and died in France. He also spends time talking about his grandfather, a British diplomat, who loved to walk and climb mountains. Toward the end of his life, his grandfather’s adventures shortened, but he continued to shuffle around. 

While I listened to this book, I plan to add a paper copy to my library. There are sections I would enjoy reading over and over. 

Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

(New York: Penguin Books, 2000), 326 pages, notes and some photographs. 

The title drew my attention. I’m a wanderlust and this book is a delight. I don’t really know how to categorize it. It’s a kaleidoscope of many parts: anthropology, science, history, adventure, exploration, philosophy and poetry. There is a little of something for everyone, which may make the book overwhelming for some. But I found it wonderful.  

Solnit begins by taking us on a walk near her home in the San Francisco Bay area. Soon, she is exploring philosophers who think while walking and then she’s off discussing how we began to walk and how it helps us see the world. She discusses the idea of the garden and the British walking tradition, especially as it was experienced by poets like Wordsworth and Keats. There are pages devoted to private property and the battles, especially in the UK, over the battle of the right to walk across private property. As she expands walking, she focuses on the French Revolution and the role mass “walking” has played in protests. From France, she explores walking in the Civil Rights movement to the Tiananmen Square revolts in China in the late 1980s.

I was surprised at the beginning of chapter 10 (on Walking Clubs and Land Wars). She was at the breakfast table of Valarie and Michael Cohen’s cabin in June Lake, California. I’ve been there! I know Michael from when he taught at Southern Utah University and one summer, when I was completing the John Muir Trail, Michael joined me for the Yosemite section. Michael wrote a biography of John Muir, which allows her to discuss Muir role in American walking. Before going west and establishing the Sierra Club (of which one of their missions was to take people walking in the mountains), Muir took a 1,000 mile walk from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico (he even travelled through Savannah and camped out in Bonaventure Cemetery. Click here to read about my hike with Cohen and a review of his latest book.

In later chapters she discusses how the city began to destroy the need for walking, but then has provided a haven for walkers in places like Central Park. She also discovers the “underside” of walking such as women “walking the streets” to find clients as prostitution and how, in centuries past, women alone on the streets were assumed to be of that profession. She even discusses walking on a treadmill, which doesn’t allow you to see much of the world but does allow for needed exercise.  I must confess to having listened too much of this book while in the gym.

While I listened to this book instead of reading it, I was so enamored with the quotes and insights that I picked up a hard copy for my library. When listening to the book, the reader starts out with quote after quote, which goes on for several minutes. It seemed weird to have so many quotes. At the beginning of each major section of the book, the reader goes on for some time with more quotes. This didn’t make sense until I purchased the book and realized that running along the bottom of the pages of the book are the quotes followed by the name of the author of the quote. The person reading the book would read these quotes for each section, then return and read the text. It was the only way to do this to make any sense. Otherwise, the reader would have only hit part of a quote that appeared on each page. While the quotes at the bottom of the page gave an artistic flavor to the book, I am not sure they added to the story. 

If you’re a wanderlust, you might find the book enjoyable. But I am afraid that many readers may be overwhelmed in the variety of worlds that Solnit explores. That is both a strength and weakness of her book.

An old freighter heading through the Detour passage, heading south. The newer freighters have the pilot house in the back. Notice the limestone loading dock behind the boat. That’s on Drummond Island.

Saying Goodbye and Time Away

View of Lake Huron from the top of the 40 Mile Lighthouse

I am spending the next two weeks in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I’m staying in DeTour, which is at the far eastern end of the UP’s mainland. It’s where you catch the ferry from Drummond Island. I have a wonderful view of the St. Mary’s River, where the freighters make their way from the lower lakes up to the locks at Sault St. Marie (the Soo Locks). During this time, I will be reading books, maybe doing some writing, some hiking and spending a few days with a friend on his sailboat. I will also preach two Sundays at DeTour Union Presbyterian Church (in exchange for staying in their manse, the church is seasonal and brings in ministers to preach in exchange for a week in a very comfortable home).

Also, I have very limited internet, so don’t expect to see me too much on the WWW for the next two weeks. But I’ll be back in August.

40 mile Lighthouse

Driving up, I took US 23, which runs around Saginaw Bay and the shoreline of Lake Huron, through the towns of Tawas City, Alpena, Roger City, and Cheboygan. Even though I lived in Michigan for over a decade, this was the first time to take this drive or to be beside Lake Huron. I have driven MI 22 (which runs from the Leelanau Peninsula down the west side of Michigan) many times (and I highly recommend that drive). But this time, taking US 23, I was in for a new treat.

I spent Wednesday night in Standish, heading out in a new direction on Thursday morning. Sadly, it rained most of the way, but by late morning, it had stopped. So I stopped and spent an hour or two exploring the 40 mile lighthouse.

The view from the front porch… The island across the water is Drummond.

One of the hardest things for a pastor is to say goodbye as someone moves away. A few years ago, I started writing blessings for those moving away. This past Sunday at Bluemont, we said goodbye to Charles and Diane. Here’s my blessing and a photo of the three of us. Bluemont is currently meeting outdoors so this was done under our picnic shelter.

A Blessing for Charles and Diane Sullivan

For the past twelve years,
you have lived on the mountain,
bringing joy to your neighbors
and to our little rock church.
Charles played Santa at Christmas
while Diane faithfully attended the Women’s Bible Study
and, with her sister Bev, began “Hanging of the Greens.” 

You’ve enjoyed the seasons,
the warm summer days,
the cool fall ablaze in color,
the winters with whisps of smoke from chimneys
indicating a warm home,
and the rebirth in the spring,
when the birds fill their air with their songs
and dogwoods line the Parkway.

But like the seasons,
our lives and our needs change,
and health reasons call you back to the flatlands,
to be closer to your children.

So go forth with our blessings,
trusting in God as you enter this new season.
Continue to “have a ball”
and to be “the life of the party.”

And when the weather is good,
and you have a few hours to spare,
we’d love to have you drop in,
we’re not that far away.

Until then, go with God
whose unbounded love connects us
in this life and the one to come. 

Jeff Garrison
July 11, 2021 

That’s me with Diane and Charles

Fear, the impact of a guilty conscious

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
July 11, 2021
Mark 6:14-29

Thoughts at the beginning of worship

Last week we saw how, when famous, it can be humbling to go home where people know you too well. It was no different for Jesus. He visits his hometown and immediately faces opposition. So, he leaves. But he also greatly increases his ministry as he sends out the disciples two by two. 

This week, we’re going to see another impact of Jesus’ message, this time on those in power. This passage follows shortly after Jesus’ telling of the “Parable of the Sower.” That parable is followed by another examples of how the gospel fails to take hold. According to the New Testament scholar, Mary Ann Tolbert, whom I quote in today’s bulletin, our story today falls into the seed that is choked by weeds. Herod is an example of one more concerned with the world that with the gospel.[1]

Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, rules Galilee. The Herods were ruthless rulers and very corrupt. When this Herod hears about Jesus, his guilty conscious makes him think John the Baptist, whom he had killed, has come back to haunt him. Our text today isn’t even about Jesus. This is the only section in Mark’s gospel that’s not primarily about Jesus.[2]

Read Mark 6:14-29

After the Scripture

A ride on the city bus


We moved to Petersburg, Virginia just before I started the first grade. I spent my first three years of school at Walnut Hill Elementary. There were no school buses in the city. You either walked to school, your parents carried you, or if lucky, you got ride the city bus to school. The later was a treat which I only did once. When you’re six years old, it doesn’t take much to be impressed and consider something a treat. Most of the time my parents drove me to school. 

However, one day, early in the school year, I got to ride the bus. I’m not sure why. Maybe my father was out of town and a sibling was sick so mom couldn’t take me. Whatever reason, mom sent me on bus stop with Ellen. 

       Ellen was an older woman, a six grader who lived next door. She seemed to get a kick out of taking me places. When she did, she always introduced me as her boyfriend. This didn’t bother me much because the perks were good. She took me to the pool on hot and humid summer afternoons. 

       On this day, as I was getting on the bus, I realized I had left my fare at home. I had a nickel in my pocket for a carton of milk, that’s how much it cost back in 1963. There was no time to run home, so I pulled it out to give it to the bus driver. Ellen intervened. She told the driver I needed that money for milk. The driver said he’d pay my fare and I could repay him the next time I rode the bus. 

       There was no next time. A week or so later, during the week John F. Kennedy was shot, we moved. Out new home was close enough to the school that I could walk. I never rode the bus again and never repaid the driver. 

My guilty conscious

We lived in Petersburg another two and a half years. The whole time I feared bus drivers. When a bus came down the street, I turned my head so they wouldn’t recognize me. I assumed there was a character sketch of me on a wanted poster in the bus garage. I knew if the driver saw me, he would stop and demand his nickel along with some interest. My conscious was guilt-ridden. 

Although I didn’t want to leave my friends and worried about hurricanes as we moved after the third grade down near coast of North Carolina, I also let out a sigh of relief. If you’re going to be a fugitive, it’s safer to do it in another state where your misdeeds are unknown. 

Herod’s fear

       Certainly, my misdeeds were nowhere near as evil as Herod, but I understand his fear.  Like his father Herod the Great, the one who so feared the birth of a child that he had innocent children killed,[3] Herod Antipas lived a scared life. He feared his evil deeds would catch up with him. So, when word spread about Jesus’ teachings and miracles, Herod thought the worst. “John the Baptist has come back to haunt me.”

       We don’t know all the story about Herod and his wife, Herodias.[4]Mark tells us John challenged the two of them since Herodias had been married to Herod’s brother, Philip. We are left to assume Philip is still alive, making the marriage an adulterous relationship. 

More details into Herod’s life

Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, provides more insight into what happened. Herod was in Rome and stayed with his brother while there. He became enamored with his brother’s wife. It appears the attraction was mutual. Herod takes his brother’s wife back to Galilee. Complicating matters is that Herod already had a wife, the daughter of Aretas IV. Herod’s father-in-law ruled the providence just north of Herod’s kingdom. Getting wind of what was happening (Herod returning with his brother’s wife), Herod’s legal wife fled to her father’s kingdom. He, in turn, invade Herod’s kingdom and defeated Herod’s army. The Jews saw this as God’s punishment for Herod’s misdeeds. Rome had to intervene and established peace between Herod and his former father-in-law.[5]

Speaking truth to power

Understand this, John the Baptist attack on Herod and his adulterous relationship created a political problem in addition to a moral one. With a jilted ex-wife and her father on his border, willing to support a revolt against Herod, any threat of rebellion was feared. But the Baptist felt it necessary to speak truth to power. To appear strong, Herod has John arrested. The move, he hopes, silences John. 

Strange as it seems, we’re told in these verses that Herod likes John. He considers the Baptist a righteous and holy man. He protects John from the wrath of his wife. Herod’s psychological make-up is complex. On one hand, he knows right from wrong. But on the other, as a man afraid of what might happen to him, his actions are ruthless.

On his birthday, Herod so enjoyed the dance his stepdaughter performed that he promises her anything. She could even have half of his kingdom. The girl, who was probably in her mid-teens, runs to her mom for advice. Her mother doesn’t appear to have a moral bone in her body. Her daughter could be set for life, but instead, she uses this request to rid herself of her critic. 

“Ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter,” she suggests. They’re at a banquet after all, so a platter goes with the decor. Herod feels he has no options. His promise and his desire to appear strong place him into a position that compromises any moral compass he may have had. 

There ain’t a lot of good news in this passage. It’s a commentary on power. Herod has all the power that could needed. The only way he could have been more powerful was to be Caesar, but that wasn’t in the cards. In his kingdom, he had power over life and death. If he kept peace and collected taxes, Rome stayed off his back. He could do as he pleased. But he still shook in his boots. He was afraid of what his ex-wife and her father might do. He was afraid of John. He was afraid of looking weak.

As we learn in this passage, when Jesus began preaching, Herod takes notice. “Good grief,” he probably said, “John’s back.” Herod is afraid of the dead. This passage reminds us of the power of words and ideas. John’s words and the ideal of a righteous life scared the most powerful man in Galilee. Those who trust in the power of brute force will always, sooner or later, be disappointed and punished.[6]

It also goes without saying that those who speak truth to power may suffer in this life. Their reward may not be in the present. John the Baptist and other such prophets-the Martin Luther Kings, the Bonhoeffers, and the Joan of Arks will be rewarded. But it may not be until the next life. 

Herod knew he had done wrong. The belief that John had returned was the work of a guilty conscious. 

We know Herod finally met Jesus.[7] He just happened to be in Jerusalem for Passover, a few years later, when Jesus is arrested and taken to Pilate. Learning that Jesus was from Galilee, Pilate sends him over to Herod, hoping to get out of the middle of this mess between the Jews. By this point in the story, Herod no longer thinks Jesus is John. He is, however, glad to see Jesus. He’s heard a lot about this man. 

In the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, Herod taunts Jesus to walk across a swimming pool. Jesus refuses to do or say anything, so Herod dresses Jesus up and sends him back to Pilate. Herod could have done the right thing and freed Jesus, but again, he takes the easy way out. Isn’t that just like us? Take the easy way out. But instead of taking the easy road, we should take the righteous road.


In closing, I want to go back to the story I told you in the beginning. I don’t want you to have a wrong impression of me. It was probably 20 years ago, when I was living in Utah, I wrote a short memoir piece about not paying the bus fare. I showed this to my mom asked if she remembered it. She did. She also remembered giving Ellen the money to give to the driver the next day. For about thirty years, I worried about a debt that had been paid by my mother. I think we are often like that in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Although John didn’t rise from the grave to accuse Herod, Jesus did rise from grave. He died, and rose, and paid our debt. And for that, we should be forever thankful. Amen. 

[1] Mary Ann Tolbert, Sowing the Gospel: Mark’s World in Literary-Historical Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 158. 

[2] Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to St. Mark (Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 158

[3] See Matthew 2 (especially verses 16-18). 

[4] She was also related to Herod, through her grandfather Herod the Great (see Hooker, 160). In addition to being corrupt, incest wasn’t unusual for the family (Lane, 218, provides a family tree for the Herods). It also should be noted that Herod wasn’t a King (as we’re told in Mark 6:14). He was a tetrarch. While he wanted to be a king and some may have referred to him in such a manner, he never obtained the title from Rome. Mark may even be mocking Herod by using this title (Lane, 211). 

[5] This story is told more fully (but with some differences than scripture) in Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews XVIII, 3. As for the differences, Josephus was writing long after the events (40 or so years) and has a different point of view. For a detail treatment of the differences between Josephus and Mark, see William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 215-220.

[6] Acts 12:20-23.

[7] Luke 23:6-12. 

Highway 58 and some recent photos

Aaron McAlexander, Greasy Bend: Ode to a Mountain Road (Stonebridge Press, 2016), 224 pages, a few black and white photographs.

Highway 58 cuts across Southern Virginia, from Cumberland Gap (Along the Tennessee/Kentucky border) to the Tidewater. The highway crosses swamps, fields of peanuts and tobacco, old industrial towns like Danville and Martinsville, then climbs the Blue Ridge and the Grayson Highlands before it enters Kentucky. Highway 58 used to be the Main Street in Meadows of Dan, near the Blue Ridge summit, where the author grew up. Just to the east, near “Lover’s Leap,” were several especially dangerous hairpin curves. When the fog rolled in, these curves were even more deadly. Each had a name: Midkiff Curve, Green Martin Curve, Greasy Bend, the Bob Fain Curve, and the Harley Hopkin Curve. McAlexander tells of accidents that occurred along this stretch. Today, there are still curves and steep drop-offs, but the road has been improved and modified so that it’s not as dangerous as before. 

Using this ribbon of highway as a backdrop, McAlexander tells of stories of growing up in the 40s and 50s along Highway 58. Many of these stories are of himself, but there are other legendry stories of outlaws and bootleggers that fill the pages of this book. We learn of country stores, AM radio stations that brought farm reports every morning, raising and inseminating dairy cattle, cutting hay, the secrets of good cornbread, and the reliability of the old Ford 8N tractors. 

Today, many of these stories are only known when they’re on paper, the rest of such stories are as lost as are the towns that Highway 58 now bypass (even Meadows of Dan is bypassed, with the four lane running just north of town). This book is a delight to read. I kept it on my nightstand, reading a story each evening before bed. 

I only have one bone to pick with McAlexander. He cited on the back cover that US 58 at 508 miles in length, is the longest US highway in a single state. Being from North Carolina, I immediately became suspicious. I knew it wasn’t as long as US 64 is between Manteo and Murphy (that’s 545 miles in length). US 64 in North Carolina is the same mileage as US 1 is in Florida, which runs to Key West. I got to thinking about other long roads. US 90, from El Paso to Orange Texas is 774 miles in length. But the longest I found (and I stuck to roads I’ve driven at least a portion of) is US 101, which runs along the Pacific Coast with 801 miles of asphalt in California. 

This is the 3rd book by McAlexander that I’ve read since moving to SW Virginia. I’ve also reviewed Shine on Mayberry Moon and The Last One Leaving MayberryEach book is a treat! 

Some photos I’ve recently taken (all within a mile of US 58)

The hayfield outback was cut by a local farmer last week
The “backyard.” You can see my grapes are reaching up toward the wire and behind the barn (and hickory tree) is my garden)
My green cabbage has been eaten up (but it should be okay for sauerkraut). My red cabbage is beautiful!
The squash is good!
In another week or two, I’ll be feasting on tomato sandwiches
I enjoy walking the backroads in the evenings
The sunrises and sunsets are so wonderful (this was a 15 minutes before sunrise)

Hometown Rejection and Rough Roads

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
July 4, 2021
Mark 6:1-13

The video of the sermon was recorded on Friday at Mayberry Church. Because it was recorded on Friday, it is a bit different that the text below (that had two days more to jell).

Thoughts at the beginning of worship:

It’s a rough road to glory. You could also make such a case for the American Revolution, but we see such in the life of Jesus. Last week, Jesus was riding high. He’d healed a sick woman and raised a young girl back to life. Things looked up for Jesus. His stock rose in the eyes of the people. 

Today we’re going to see what happens when he visits his hometown. There is nothing like going home to be humbled. At home, people know you too well. I have had several opportunities to preach in my home church and it’s humbling to be up front with your six grade Sunday School teacher eyeing you from the front pew. She probably went to her grave thinking I was still up to something. I’m not sure Jesus had the same troubles, but maybe. After all, it didn’t matter if I was guilty or not, she just assumed I was up to something.  

Our text reminds us that things are not always easy and that’s okay. Flannery O’Conner, a southern writer who spent her early years in Savannah, thought it should be normal for Christians to be suffering in some fashion. And if we’re not suffering, she suggested we check and see if we we’re following Christ as closely as we think we are.[1]

Today, our passage has two parts. First, we hear about Jesus returning to his hometown with less than warm welcome he received. He caught grief. Then we get a glimpse of how Jesus’ revolution works. The disciples are sent out, two by two. They travel light. This is no pleasurable stroll in the country. 

Read Mark 6:1-13

After reading the Scripture

Thursday morning, while pondering how to begin today’s sermon, I killed some time thumbing through my Twitter feed and came across this from Eric Clapp:

If your pastor doesn’t quote President Thomas J Whitemore’s words to the Air Force regiment as they prepare to save earth from an alien invasion and herald a global Independence Day, it’s time to find a new church.[2]

If any of you want Clapp’s contact information in your search for a new church, just ask. For I don’t plan to base today’s message on a dystopian action movie. But his tweet allows me to make this point. Different people have different expectations and you’re never going to please everyone. We see that in today’s Scripture.

Preaching on Independence Day

       That said, there are certain days that preaching is harder than others. The fourth of July is one of those hard days. After all, a sermon should be based on Scripture and there is nothing about America, hot dogs or apple pie in the Bible. Nor is there anything about fireworks, except perhaps for those at Sodom and Gomorrah, and we certainly don’t want to go there today.

       I didn’t realize just how difficult preaching today is until I saw the analysis of polls on American Christian identity. I hope it’s wrong, for only a small minority said that their faith was most important to their identity. An overwhelming majority said it was their faith and being American were equally important. And in another small minority, their American identity was most important.[3] Those who think being American is equal or more important than their faith should memorize Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me.” 

While we should be proud to be an American, we must always remember that our allegiance first and foremost belongs to God as revealed in Jesus Christ. And we should also understand that in Scripture, independence and freedom has to do with God breaking the chains of sin, not a human political rebellion. 

       This doesn’t mean that celebrating our national independence is wrong. I hope to enjoy fireworks this evening and maybe even eat a hot dog or a slice of watermelon. However, we are called to keep our priorities straight as we saw in the 89th Psalm, a portion of which we used for our Call to Worship. 

This Psalm celebrates God’s covenant with David. The point is made. God always comes first. While our nation revolted against a king, there is a king we better not revolt against, and that’s Jesus Christ.[4]When we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, our allegiance shifts to him and his kingdom. Of course, we know not everyone buys into Jesus in this manner. It’s always been that way, as we see in today’s Scripture reading. Even in the first century, there were those embarrassed by Jesus. 

Part 1: Hometown jealously

       Let’s look in detail at today’s text. We’re told that after the healings we read about last week, Jesus headed home. Here, Mark doesn’t identify the town as Nazareth, but Mark had already identified Jesus’ hometown as such,[5] so we can safely assume he’s talking about Nazareth. But this isn’t a story about Jesus coming home from his travels, with a bag of dirty laundry as if he’s returning from college. He’s not just returning to hang out with the guys. Jesus returns with disciples. He’s returning with status, for a rabbi who had disciples was considered important. And Jesus has a dozen of them. Furthermore, Jesus’ reputation precedes him. Folks at home have heard about his teachings and healings. 

       Of course, to the hometown folk, this raises questions. What’s up with Jesus? How did he become so popular? Who gave him such wisdom? After all, think about this from their point of view. The last time they saw him, Jesus had calloused hands from sawing wood. Now those same hands are healing the sick. We can see jealous brewing, can’t we? This is a local boy who’s done good.

Instead of celebrating Jesus’ homecoming, the people of the town make fun of him. We see this when they refer to Jesus as the son of Mary… without a mention of Joseph. Is this because word got around that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ real father? Or, is this a way to put down Jesus? Leaving out his father and only mentioning his mom and siblings was a put down. They want to make Jesus look bad. Normally a man is referred to as “son of,” but not here. The hometown crowd tries to discredit Jesus.[6]

       Jesus, catches wind of their thinking and responds, saying prophets aren’t honored in their hometown. Surprisingly, we’re told Jesus could do no great deeds there, but that he did heal a few sick people. But there was no big miracle. Some of the folks may have expect a grand miracle but did not believe. From what is said here, it appears that without belief, there will be no miracle.  We’re told their disbelief surprises even Jesus. 

Part 2: Sending out the 12

       So, Jesus leaves his hometown and continues teaching. But now, he expands his ministry by sending out the disciples two by two. 

       The Gospel of Mark begins on a high note. Jesus comes on the scene proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the good news.”[7] With such a beginning, we expect great things to follow. But when Jesus reveals his strategy for bringing about his message, for creating his church, he looks to twelve ordinary men. These disciples are as flawed as any of us. We observe their failures repeatedly in the gospels, yet they’re the ones God chose to lay the foundation for his kingdom. 

       Perhaps a parallel could be drawn from the founding of Jesus’ movement with the founding of our country.[8] We have not always lived up to the ideals of Declaration of Independence, and the idea that all people are created equal remains as a goal to which we’re still striving to reach. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a noble goal. In 1776, it meant the farmer and the miller were just as endowed as the professor and preacher.[9] In the first century, Jesus’ embrace of ordinary folks meant that fisherman and tax collectors were equal and both capable of being at the forefront of a movement that claimed his name.   

       This unassuming group was sent out almost bare handed. They took a walking stick and wore sandals. They also wore the clothes on their back, but nothing more. No clean clothes to wear after a dusty day on the trail. No wrap to sleep in at night. Nor did they have a hidden stash of money in their belts. And they took no food. These guys aren’t equipped for a campaign. Yet, that’s their assignment. They pick up the teaching and the work of Jesus and to multiple it, six-fold. They learned how to depend on the generosity of those they met on the road and to trust God. 


    So, what should we learn from out text for today? There are at least two things we should take away from this text. First, we shouldn’t be jealous of the accomplishments of others, especially when God is the source of their power. Unlike the folks of Nazareth, we should rejoice when we see God’s work being done. 

Secondly, we need to realize we’re the heirs of the disciples. We’re the next generation, and like all generations before us, we have a responsibility to take Jesus’ message to the world. And to do that, we don’t need anything fancy. We depend on God, and we tell people what we know is true. And if we can do that, with the blessing of the Holy Spirit, the church will continue. For ultimately, it doesn’t depend on us, but on God. 

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.[10] Amen. 

[1] From a tweet by Jessica Hooter Wilson (@Hooter) on Thursday

[2] @eric-clapp.  See

[3] For summary see:  Poll done by Joshua Wu, PhD. He used this data for his summary: Wu is a Christian and says this: “I’m thankful for the liberties/privileges of being an American, but unquestionably value my faith more than my nationality.”

[4] Of course, we always revolt against Jesus our King—it’s called sin. 

[5] See Mark 1:9.

[6] Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (London: A. C. Black, 1990), 154. 

[7] Mark 1:14-15. 

[8] For this idea, I am drawing on a sermon on this text by William H. Willimon, “The Founding of the Church.”  See  

[9] Of course, it left out African slaves and Native Americans. 

[10] 1 Timothy 1:17

Another Bakery Story: The Perils of Working on the Christian Sabbath

I have already told you about becoming the oven operator about a year after starting in the bakery. It was a good move. The position was at the top of the hourly pay scale, and I had almost a quarter of the plant to  myself. I monitored the proof box, oven, depanner, and cooler. The oven, cooler and proofer were each the size of a house, the oven could hold nearly 1500 loaves while the proofer and cooler could hold over 4000 loaves at one time. This whole complex was automatic with lots of lights and bells to indicate something was wrong. I mostly walked around, making sure the electric eyes were working, checking the temperature in the various zones of the oven, the humidity in the proof box, and the temperature of the bread coming out of the cooler. If everything ran well, it was the best job in the plant. I could keep an eye on things while I reviewed formulas for chemistry or dates and names for a history class. But when things didn’t go well, it was a headache.

Thunderstorm havoc

One Sunday afternoon (we baked on Sunday for Monday sales), a thunderstorm seemed to sit on top of the plant. The lightning popped close, and each strike caused us to momentarily lose power. Since electricity ignited the oven burners, any loss of power automatically shut the gas off. When that happened, I went to work. The oven had around 50 burners. A manual knob had to be turned off for each burner. Then the dampers were opened so the oven could be purged with air. Then you could relight the oven safely. This was a safety feature to reduce the risk of explosion. Once the gas was back on, I’d light the burners, close the dampers, and continue. 

Having this happen once wasn’t a problem. Working fast, I could shut the oven down and re-ignited in about five minutes. Even having to go through the cycle twice in a row wasn’t too bad as I could slow the oven down and allow bread to bake longer to compensate for the loss of heat. But this day, we had several storms and they seemed to sit on top of us. I’d barely get the oven back baking before we’d lost power for a few seconds. Then I’d have to start over. 

Soon, the temperature in the oven was down 50, then 100, then 150 degrees. With an internal temperature of barely 200 degrees, there was no way I could slow the speed down enough to bake the bread. Slowing it too much caused the dough in the proofer to rise too high. Half baked bread had to be tossed. The mechanic on duty finally called his supervisor, the plant engineer, who told him how to rewire the panel, jumping over the safety switch. He did this and I was finally able to keep the oven going long enough to get the heat back up. However, the thought of a bypassed safety was scary. I’d heard of ovens that had exploded. But we had to do something had to be done if we were going to get back into production.

Crippling the most bread in the plant’s history

We lost a couple thousand loaves of bread with the thunderstorms, but it wasn’t anything compared to an incident that also occurred on a Sunday afternoon a few years later. At this point in my bakery career, I was a new supervisor. Things had been humming along as we were making the pound and a half squared off white bread, the type that has no taste but was so popular back in the late 70s and early 80s. We’d often make 45,000 loaves of this bread a day. John, my oven operator called over the intercom this Sunday Afternoon to say that something was wrong. The dough rose nicely in the proof book. But when the pans came onto the conveyor between the proofer and the oven, where lids were placed on the pans, the dough suddenly dropped. Yep, we had a problem.

The white spongy squared-off bread wasn’t mixed in a traditional manner. A machine called a dough-maker created this bread. This machine mixed the dough at high pressure and speed in just a few minutes. Traditional mixers had cooling jackets and the dough mixed slowly at cool temperatures). This machine not only mixed, but also cut the dough into shapes and dropped it into pans. It was fed automatically with flour, corn syrup, shortening and a brew that smelled like bad beer. The brew contained a bit of flour, the fermented yeast, salt and all kinds of additives and each batch. Large stainless-steel tanks mixed the brew. Each tank made enough to make approximately 3000 loaves of bread. That meant if we had a bad brew, I had at least 3000 loaves of bad bread in the proof box, about forty minutes of production. It was a frightening thought. I went back to the mixing area and with my mixing operator we checked everything repeatedly. I had him checking and recording the dough’s ph. and temperature continuously. We checked the temperature of the brews. Everything seemed fine. I assumed something had been left out of the brew.

As this “fallen bread” started to come out of the oven, I had to pull some employees from the wrapping department to dump the pans of bread because it was too small for the depanner to pull out of the pan. Soon, back beside the cooler, there was a large pile of hot bread on the floor. Our production goal was to keep cripples under half a percent a day. There was no way I’d make my goal for the day, I probably wouldn’t make my goal for the week and maybe not for the year. When it got time for the next batch to start coming out of the proofer, I was hopefully that the problem would be over. It wasn’t; the bread continued to fall. I then had my mixing operator to shut down, dump the brews and to start over with fresh ingredients. I watched carefully. I made sure everything was measured just right. It put a large gap in production, but we had to find the problem. By this point, we already had a few thousand loaves of bread on the floor, and with another 6000 in the system, I was about to panic. 

I called the plant manager, who called the general manager and the maintenance supervisor, and they all came in. Soon, even the owners were on site. It was a mystery and even with all the top brass, no one knew what the problem might be. Making things even more mysterious, the roll line wasn’t having a problem, it was just the bread. I watched with anticipation as this new batch, made with new brew, made it way through the proofer. The bread rose nicely, but so had the early bread. I was there, along with the plant manager and general manager, when that dough came out of the proof box. But again, once it got between the proofer and oven, it fell. 

At this point, the plant manager suggested even more drastic actions. We stopped production and got all new ingredients from a different shipment. This meant that we had to send people to a warehouse to get ingredients that came from different shipments. We also changed the silo we were drawing the flour from just in case something was wrong with the flour.

While we were scurrying around trying to pinpoint the problem, a crisis was building back behind the cooler. Crippled bread piled up. Generally, we packed crippled bread in 55-gallon barrels. The barrels brought in a couple bucks when we sold then to small time hog farmers for feed. The farmers brought back the empty barrels for refilling. Another way to get rid of crippled bread was to bag it without slicing and selling it to a seafood place that made crab cakes. We called the crab company, and they took a thousand loaves. We called our hog farmers and told them that if they could bring trucks, we’d give them all they could carry. We had to get the bread out of the plant. Having that much warm bread sitting around unwrapped could develop into a mold breeding ground. So as the farmers arrived, an employee would use a scoop on a forklift to fill up the back of his truck with bread. We still wasn’t able to rid ourselves of all the crippled bread. The rest was hauled to the landfill the next day.

When the dough once again started to come out of the proofer, everyone lined up by the conveyor to watch it come out of the proofer. When the bread didn’t fall, I let out a deep breath. Finally, we had bread we could sell. However, we still had no idea what caused our problem. We had thrown away nearly 24,000 loaves of bread and had wasted almost a whole shift. Since we were only running two shifts, everyone that day worked a lot of overtime. We even called the next shift in early so that no one had to work 16 hours.

It took a few days to pinpoint the problem. Our answer came from a chemistry lab where we sent samples of the bread and our ingredients. We discovered the enriched salt we used had three times more iron than it should. Enrichment is added back to the dough to replace the good vitamins that are loss as the wheat is milled and bleached into flour. At times, we would dissolve pills and add them to the brew to make up for this enrichment, but since most bakeries use one percent salt to the amount of flour, lots of salt companies started adding enrichment to their product. This was to be more convenient, and I suppose it was, until it wasn.t. The excess iron made the heavily machined bread weak and caused it to fall when it left the moist warm air of the proof box. We got rid of that salt and the supplier had to reimburse us for our losses. Thankfully, I didn’t lose my job. However, I became known as the supervisor who threw away more bread than anyone else in the history of the bakery.

There were perils for working on Sunday.

Other Bakery Stories

Coming of Age in a Bakery: Linda and the Summer of ’76

A College Boy in the Bakery

Harvey and Ernest

Frank and Roosevelt