Dave Fuller

Dave Fuller is a reader and writer. Most of his writing has been in the area of resources for youth ministry leaders and parents of teens. In his day job, Dave leads a team of creatives who develop marketing materials and strategies for banks. He is a percussionist and graphic designer, but these days finds his greatest fulfillment in encouraging and supporting young artists.

Thoughts & Texts to Accompany Your Advent

Nov 29
“But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings…” A curtain closes and a 400-year wait begins. 1

Nov 30
And the Psalmisťs words resonate. “We see not our signs; there is no more any prophet; neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.”2

Dec 1
But the propheťs words seemed to carry with them a certain imminence. Are hope and despair endpoints on a common scale that tips with time?

Dec 2
“I’m homesick—longing for your salvation; I’m waiting for your word of hope. My eyes grow heavy watching for some sign of your promise…”3

Dec 3
Little darling, iťs been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since iťs been here
Here comes the sun 4

Dec 4
Waiting as part of community seems more heartening and anticipatory than waiting in solitude, where it can take on a certain dreadfulness.

Dec 5
“To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.”5
Malachi 4:2 1
Psalm 74:9 2
Psalm 119:81-82 3
Here Comes The Sun. The Beatles. 4
Flannery O’Connor 5

Dec 6
“All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs.”6

Dec 7
“The experience of each new age requires a new confession, and the world seems always waiting for its poet.”7

Dec 8
What was that about being “despised and rejected”? Isn’t that incongruous with the image of the promised redeemer?

Dec 9
Who can pretend to empathize with the nine-month waiting of a pregnant and unmarried, teenage virgin?

Dec 10
Wonder like a child whose expectancy is untainted by the disappointments and broken promises of yesterday.

Dec 11
Did those who were waiting ever picture dirt floors, straw and the smell of animals?

Dec 12
The stuff of expectancy: name choice, nursery colors, and shower registry somehow seem superfluous.

Dec 13
Anticipation can be so sweet when you’ve heard the angel say, “Fear not!”

Dec 14
“These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance.”8

Dec 15
Fresh bread and rich wine prove the sensory power in anticipation.
Romans 8:22a The Message 6
Ralph Waldo Emerson 7
Romans 8:23 The Message 8

Dec 16
Now bread and wine remind us as we wait again.

Dec 17
The poetry of longing: yearning, ache, burning, hunger, thirst

Dec 18
Iťs already settled. His name will be Jesus.

Dec 19
Remind us again what the angel promised.

Dec 20
Anticipation’s counterpoint is often-times anxiety.

Dec 21
“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”9

Dec 22
“a Man of Sorrows”10

Dec 23
Prince of Peace

Dec 24
Birth pains

Dec 25
Incarnation!
a hymn by Charles Wesley 9
Isaiah 53:3 10

 

 

References

1 Malachi 4:2

2 Psalm 74:9 2

3 Psalm 119:81-82 3

4 Here Comes The Sun. The Beatles.

5 Flannery O’Connor

6 Romans 8:22a The Message

7 Ralph Waldo Emerson

8 Romans 8:23 The Message

9 a hymn by Charles Wesley

10 Isaiah 53:3

A “Fear Not” Story

In the heart of America’s heartland, on I-40 just west of Oklahoma City, there is a patch of federally-owned land named Fort Reno. At Fort Reno is a cemetery. Most of the graves there are Germans who died in Oklahoma in the 1940s.

I love a story with a happy beginning. Why do we love stories that begin, “Once upon a time…”? For me, the lights dim; red velvet curtains pull back and the moment overflows with the promise of adventure and wonder. We know that on the other end will be the line: “and they lived happily ever after.” But still, we take the ride.

As great as that opening line is, there is one better. It is: “Fear not!” It creates enormous anticipation because we don’t know what precedes, the assumed conjunction, “but.”

Like, “This ride is off limits to the very young, the very old and the very pregnant, BUT fear not.”

Can you think of a line that starts a story with more white-knuckled, slack-jawed angst than “fear not”? The line creates the exact opposite of its admonition. That is until you hear the rest of the story. At that point, the two short words become a sort of mantra that serves to remind of a promise we can use the rest of our lives.

If you don’t know of the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914, a Google search will provide hours of reading material. The story is a true one, although embellished over the years of its telling. It is a story of an hours-long cessation of fighting during World War One. It seems that a cease fire was called between the fighting fronts of the British, French and Germans. There was an area between the frontlines called “No Man’s Land.” It was strewn with dead and injured soldiers from both sides. The cease fire was called so that each side could walk safely into No Man’s Land to retrieve the bodies of the fallen troops. But on this Christmas something more happened. Small Christmas trees with candles that had been sent to the German soldiers on the front lines were placed for all to see. Christmas carols gave a common language as enemies became something else and spent the day together. For just a several hours war stopped! It just stopped.

Soon however the troops were ordered back to their bunkers, the fighting resumed and millions more perished.

Did it matter that in the midst of the sounds, smells, the horrors of war, men gathered in peace and remembered a story that begins, “Fear not”?

John Lennon recorded a song he titled, “Happy Xmas (War is Over).” I don’t know his intent, but my perception is that he juxtaposed the happy, innocent, storybook feel of a Christmas Song with a questioned state of a humanity that draws lines, stays divided and doesn’t seek the promise of the season’s story even though it is attainable. Lennon seems to anticipate our hypocrisy.

[By all means give a listen to Lennon’s song and check out the arrangement of the song by Yo-Yo Ma and Jake Shimabukuro on the album, “Yo-Yo Ma & Friends, Songs of Joy & Peace.”]

My father is a World War Two veteran. One of his duties during the war was guarding German prisoners of war who were being shipped to Oklahoma to work on farms. If you’re interested you can find more about this here: http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/P/PO029.html.

I asked my father, who has served as a pastor for many years, to recall a time he remembered when he could say that God was very present in the moment. With hundreds of memories to call upon, he didn’t hesitate. He told of a time on a train hauling the German POWs to Oklahoma. It was Christmas. He said that all of a sudden a German soldier began to sing:

 

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,

Alles schläft; einsam wacht

Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.

Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

 

And before he could finish the first verse, everyone on the train was singing Silent Night.

The cemetery at Fort Reno is a reminder that many of those young German men never made it back to their homeland. They wore the uniform of one of the most dehumanizing movements in our history. And still somehow there is something beautiful in a moment when people remember a story that begins, “Fear not!”

I wonder: would a moment like these be possible today?

 

The Call of the Mud Angels

I was 18 years old and in Florence, Italy in 1969, playing drums in a touring band. I suppose I was too busy drinking and chasing Italian girls to realize the Arno had flooded Florence less than three years earlier, but hey, I was a Baptist preacher’s kid in a far away country on my own for the first time. Now I wish that I could have been a “Mud Angel” who helped rescue and restore some of the world’s most important pieces of art, as well as books from the flooded Biblioteca Nazionale.

Restorers moving Cimabue’s “Crociffiso,” a victim of the 1966 flood in Florence.

I don’t know who should be more ashamed, me or my art history professor, but I had never heard of the angeli del fango (“mud angels”) until I read Dark Water by Robert Clark.  Clark wrote of the angeli:

You could call them volunteers, except they hadn’t volunteered or been recruited: they’d simply appeared as though from thin air and set to work.

It was always cold and always damp where they worked, and often where they ate and slept. There was, of course, a surfeit of Chianti dispensed from immense demijohns just as there was limitless talk and laughter. People fell in love: with art; with one another; with themselves, because how often did you get to be a hero, much less an angel.

Because I tend to fall into the romance of an idea quicker than Clark Griswold, this mission, this project, this role drew me and made me wonder if they could still use an old guy as a mud angel forty-some years later — not that I knew anything about restoration of art or books. I once dabbled in what I thought was restoration until an old, tobacco-chewing mechanic set me straight.

In high school, I bought a 1940 Ford with a plan to “restore” it. But being under the influence of the Beach Boys and others who sang of the virtues of a cool ride, one that would assure you would never be without a date on a Saturday night, I began to “pimp my ride,” although we didn’t know that term back then. I wanted a car equipped like the Beach Boys’ “409,” memorialized in their song of the same name:

Nothing can catch her,

Nothing can touch my 409,

My four-speed, dual quad, posi-traction, 409

Giddy up, giddy up, 409

So the first order of business in my “restoration” of this old car was to move the shifter from the column to the floor, attached to a four-speed transmission. This was critical for any hot rod. On the first test drive following this transformation, I stopped by the garage of the tobacco-chewing mechanic for a part. He came out to the car rubbing his permanently grease-stained hands on a filthy red shop rag. I was expecting high praise for the quality of my work, but instead got a rant from the old guy that began, “You cocky, long-haired, sumbitch! You ain’t restoring this old girl (pause to spit); you’re restylin’ her.”

With that he wiped tobacco juice from the corner of his mouth with his shop rag, then turned and walked back to his garage mumbling expletives and shaking his head, as if trying forget what he had just seen. But he taught his lesson, and this student now knew what restoration was and wasn’t, at least when it came to cars.

Reading the July 12 issue of The New Yorker this summer, I came across an article called “The Mark of a Masterpiece” by David Grann, and from this article I learned more about restoration, creation, and conservation.

Grann tells of meeting Peter Paul Biro (whose father Geza was a “serious painter”) who studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. Geza, who died in 2008 at the age of eighty-nine, had his left arm — his painting arm and hand — crushed in an accident while a prisoner of the Russians. While trying to teach himself to paint with his right hand and needing to support his wife and two sons, Geza took a job as a restorer at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest — a job he hated. I found myself wondering if, when it comes to art — and maybe life — “creator” is a higher calling than “conserver.”

I looked again to the Grann article.

For all their seeming kinship, a restorer is the antithesis of a painter: he is a conserver, not a creator. Like a mimic, he assumes another person’s style, at the expense of his own identity. He must resist any urge to improve, to experiment, to show off; otherwise, he becomes a forger. Yet, unlike a great actor, he receives no glory for his feats of mimicry. If he has succeeded, he has burnished another artist’s reputation, and vanished without the world ever knowing who he is, or what he has accomplished.

Now my thoughts run broader than art, books, and cars, to people like me, created in the image of a Creator yet many times torn, fractured, broken, and in desperate need of restoration.

I can see for myself that when I try self-restoration, it becomes more like attempted re-styling: trying to make myself in the image of another. Many times my restoration attempts smack of mimicry or forgery, and I find myself wondering who I am after all. I long for authenticity, but many times see only a persona of some kind.

But what if there is an instance where the creator and the restorer are one and the same? I recalled a verse: There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.

What if Cimabue had been able to restore his Crocifisso himself? Would he have even wanted to undertake it? Maybe something more akin to redemption would have been on his mind — and a new creation.

I have come to this conclusion: dispassionate or dishonest restoration of anything will never be beautiful. (A re-styled ’40 Ford? Now that’s a different matter, although Henry Ford might beg to differ.)

I’m now reading the restoration themes in the biblical books of Job and Lamentations differently. Perhaps the writers knew something of this restoration:

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.

It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.

They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.

I would sing the repeated refrain of the eightieth Psalm, more fervently today: Restore us, O God; / make your face shine upon us, / that we may be saved.

The Dustbowl Troubadour

For us “Okies” (or, Oklahomans, in case you haven’t read Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath), our musical stars glow brightly: Carrie Underwood, Garth Brooks, Leon Russell, Hoyt Axton, Reba McIntire, Jimmy Webb, Patti Page – just to mention a few.

But one of my favorites is Woody Guthrie.

Woody was born July 14, 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma, and died in 1967. Okemah is a Kickapoo Indian word which means “things up high.”

Labeled the “Dust Bowl Troubadour,” many of Woody’s songs are archived in the Library of Congress, and his impact on folk music is pervasive. Woody was the father of eight children – including folk musician Arlo Guthrie – and grandfather to many, including Sarah Lee Guthrie. Bob Dylan calls Woody his musical mentor. His continuing influence on folk music is showcased annually in a music festival that bears his name, held each year around his birthday in Okemah.

The term “Okies” was at first a derogatory term for people fleeing to California during the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression – and Woody Guthrie was of that era. When you contemplate the plight and poverty of that time, his song “This Land Is Your Land” seems even more amazing. It is his most famous song and continues to be sung regularly in schools across the nation – and, most recently, at the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.

The version of the song we typically hear and sang as kids in elementary school would leave the impression of Woody as an optimist and hopeful patriot, which he most certainly was. However, there are lyrics that were removed from the published version that tell us of his activist side.

Here are lyrics we typically sing (feel free to sing along):

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
Saying this land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

Here are the verses that didn’t make the cut:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

By the way, the lyrics to this timeless song are all Woody’s, but the tune was from a Baptist hymn called “Oh, My Loving Brother.”

Troubadours wrote in several lyrical genres; it seems to me that Woody did, too. There are a couple that I think fit him perfectly.

One of those 13th century troubadour genres is sirventes. According to Wikipedia, “It was a song addressing current events from the perspective of a sirven (“servant”). It was always partisan, being either highly complimentary or oozing with vitriol.”

The guitar Woody used in most performances had a sticker on the front that read, “This Machine Kills Fascists.”

Another was the viadeyra: “A dance song devised to lighten the burden of a long voyage or to enliven the trip.”

These genres and more are evident in Woody’s music and his influence. He was most certainly a troubadour. And when you’re born in a town whose name means “things up high,” in a state that takes a derogatory name like “Okies” and makes it a badge of honor, in a nation in which he knows he has a place and he will serve in that place because he knows it’s not yet as it ought to be – his work, his art, and his message endure.

There are certain things in which mediocrity is intolerable: poetry, music, painting, public eloquence.
– Jean de La Bruyère