Sunday, November 30, 2014

11.30.14 along S. Florissant Road, Ferguson, Mo.

I have a regular appointment in Ferguson, and today I biked there from the MetroLink station as usual. I love this path, the Ted Jones Trail.

 I meant to just grab a cup of coffee or some ice cream at the Whistle Stop before my appointment - didn't want to be a gawker - but I did bring my camera, and I'm glad I did. Like along Grand near my home in the Tower Grove neighborhood, the artwork on the countless boarded-up windows throughout downtown Ferguson was stunning.

Along with the colorful designs and positive messages, it was great to see people interacting. Multiple times, cars pulled over near someone painting to thank them for what they were doing and admire the work.

The three men painting boards on the Whistle Stop were local residents, as were most of the people I spoke with. One of them explained that after the boards are no longer needed, the plan is to auction off the artwork, with proceeds going to help the local business community.

These folks (below) traveled in from Indiana, hoping for justice and peace.

Ferguson Public Library (below) ...

The skies threatened rain in the afternoon, but that didn't keep this boy from adding a chalk message of his own.

City Hall ...

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping' ... there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world." -Mr. Rogers

Friday, November 28, 2014

11.28.14 along south Grand

I took a walk this afternoon in our neighborhood and was amazed and inspired by what I saw.

"Be the change that you wish to see in the world." -Gandhi

“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” -Einstein

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” - Mother Theresa

Before I left I saw two people with a typewriter writing poems for people on the spot (learn more at

They wrote one for me and read it aloud. "What's your name?" "Evie. It's e-v-i-e; v as in victor."

(((St. Louis)))

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Better questions

"Do you know for certain that if you were to die today you would go to heaven? If God were to ask you why he should let you in, what would you say?" 

I was a fearful adolescent, and approaching strangers to ask them questions like these did not come easy in high school. I did it anyway on occasion, knocking on doors along with other church members in an effort to draw our unbelieving neighbors’ attention to matters of eternal significance. One time the uncomfortable field trip was part of a weekly class on sharing our faith, where we studied chapters from a book titled Telling the Truth. In another instance, during a youth conference, a handful of my peers and I were carted to a busy downtown district to videotape such conversations with people on the street.

At the time, I took it all very seriously, and much as I struggled to be bold, I believed souls were at stake. Acquainted with worry from an early age and less than confident of my own eternal destination, I think I also participated in the evangelism in search of a surer sense of salvation for myself. I wish I could have imagined being in the shoes of those we approached enough to let them be. I knew what it was like to lie awake worrying about hellfire, in want of the assurance others professed.

Upon leaving the church in my twenties after a crisis of faith, I soon found myself on the receiving end of evangelistic attempts at dialogue. The volume has tapered off the last few years. But the comments, concerned letters and arguments still come calling now and then – a less-than-pleasant reminder, among other things, of my own efforts as a teen. The latest – a handwritten letter – arrived earlier this fall.

“One day each of us is going to die,” the relative wrote to my husband and me. “According to an atheistic belief, we will be just like an animal, nothing more. But according to my belief we will bow before the triune God, and we will go to one of two places, Heaven or Hell. I would rather be in my shoes than yours. Only one of us is right.”

This divide was sandwiched within an otherwise cheery update on our loved one’s life and several expressions assuring us of much affection and regard, the authenticity of which I appreciate and do not at all doubt. But here it might just as well have been Blaise Pascal, or my younger self, imploring us to place a safer bet before it’s too late. Pensive and stuck on the question of God’s existence way back in 1670, Pascal reached a moment where he took a pragmatic leap toward Christian belief, despite personal uncertainty.

“I look on all sides,” he wrote, “and I see only darkness everywhere. Nature presents to me nothing which is not matter of doubt and concern. If I saw nothing there which revealed a Divinity, I would come to a negative conclusion; if I saw everywhere the signs of a Creator, I would remain peacefully in faith.”

He moves beyond this dilemma soon enough, reasoning that he has significantly less to lose in wagering that God in fact is. Any troubling ambivalence about the matter is laid to rest, at least on paper. 

Another possibility is to set the whole matter aside, embracing the uneasy state of not-knowing and pouring our finite energies into equally difficult, but hopefully more productive, inquiries - questions I don't ask nearly enough: How can we make things better? Where can I help?

Wednesday, August 06, 2014


Previously having read mostly that Emily Dickinson “could not stop for Death [so] He kindly stopped” for her, my first significant encounter with the poet, in my senior year at a Christian college, came as a shock.

She was theologian, interpreter, biblical commentator—an exegetical master whose skills exceeded those of the people with access to the pulpits. And I realized that she was saying in her poems and letters the kinds of things I wished I had the mind and the audacity to say but understood to be bordering on blasphemy.

I found her more than simply convincing; I found her, I think, existentially seductive. Her ideas laid a claim on me that I couldn‘t, and didn‘t want to, shake off. And I wanted to claim those concerns for my own—concerns for divine mercy, for equity, for love.

What then could I do but try to convert her, in a way, in my head and in my research paper that fall? I fashioned her into a contemporary Job, similar to the Old Testament hero in her honest perplexity before a terrifying god. This portrait made some comforting sense of the dark, theodicy-related questions she voiced, leaving them unresolved, like Job’s, while at the same time carving out a place for us within the circle of orthodoxy. After all, Job still made it in, right? But in the end, maybe Dickinson converted me.

A few years later—in the middle of grad school and a crisis of faith—I returned to these poems for solace. Dickinson’s work suggests that she was deeply affected, afflicted even, by certain biblical stories, like Abraham almost killing his son Isaac because God tells him to. God and the scripture were important to her, and deeply problematic as well. Her words interacting with the canonical ones explode simple categories of rejection or acceptance, belief or unbelief. Could I follow her lead somehow? It seemed a thoughtful way forward, a way to reorient myself to a spiritual text that now appeared as thoroughly fallible as it was valuable.

“Or maybe folks like Emily Dickinson,” said a family member when I tried to articulate this at the time, “make it more difficult than it has to be?”

Dickinson herself was both poet and pugilist, to borrow her own description of the patriarch Jacob. Wrestling with mystery and divinity, refusing to let the angel go, offering up a blessing of her own. And I think she was correct.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Make way

Another dozen cyclists will hit the St. Louis streets tomorrow, most of them between the ages of eight and 13. As they officially graduate from the Earn-A-Bike course and take home their two-wheeled prizes, I'm delighted for them. But I feel some concern, too.

Over the past few Saturdays at BWorks, we've emphasized safety above all else. They bring their helmets every week. They know how important it is to be aware of their surroundings and to use hand signals and make eye contact with other users of the road. They look out for hazards, surprises, car doors. They understand that pedestrians have the right of way and that they should be courteous and predictable as cyclists. They've practiced braking, shifting gears, looking over their shoulder without swerving. And I'm confident they're getting the message that biking is super fun yet also serious.

Photo courtesy the parent of a recent pint-sized grad
What worries me is of course the things beyond their (and my) control, especially drivers. Sometimes it seems like everyone driving is on the phone (or looking at it). And some drivers behave as though they feel personally offended by anyone not traveling inside a private, enclosed bubble of zooming steel. Too many others are in such an apoplectic rush, incapable of demonstrating a glimmer of empathy or patience.

Overall, I think things are improving, actually. More often these days I catch myself waving appreciatively at cautious, kind drivers rather than shaking my fist at the reckless and aggressive among us. If you're a driver here in St. Louis, do keep any eye out for the young and vulnerable around town, please, and for pedestrians and cyclists everywhere. And if you're a cyclist, please wear a helmet(!) and ride respectfully, for the sake of the less experienced among us if nothing else. They're watching and learning from you. We all have a responsibility to them.

"Get a bicycle. You won't regret it. If you live." -Mark Twain

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How you will stand it

Flora at Devils Tower, June 2014
My sweet dad penned a simple yet slightly ominous lullaby for me as a little girl. At the more difficult points in my admittedly limited human experience and relatively easy life, its wistful melody still keeps me company, soothing my anxieties and frustrations:

"It's a hard life, Evie.
It's a bitter life, Mary Eve.
If you're crying now,
Then I don't know how you will stand it,
When the leaves fall in the autumn of your life.
So take good rest tonight."

I did cry frequently, more than earning that particular line. Possibly it was, and is, mostly weakness, a tendency to melancholy. But it seems I'm tuned to live, to stand it, by letting the tears fall freely.

Some people say we're never given more than we can handle, more than we can bear. But I anticipate more. It will come. The leaves fall. Life or the universe or god "stuns you by degrees," Dickinson says, "prepares your brittle nature for the ethereal blow."

But here we are, and I want to try to be brave, even though it hurts (life, that is). This has not been the easiest year in a lot of ways, but I'm grateful for how it has put things in perspective and reminded me of what matters--humor, integrity, kindness, health. Also coffee. And I'm indebted to Joe and understanding friends and family who have helped me keep my head up, even when I've not been much fun. Also the mad catter (the Dash cat man), who somehow manages to be his cuddliest, most attentive self when you're struggling.

"I will hurt you, hurt you, hurt you, says the world, and then a meadow arches its back and golden pollen sprays forth." -Kathryn Davis

Thursday, March 13, 2014


"What will you give in exchange for your soul?"

Three times a week I walk past the evangelist's table in the student union, with its banner announcing this question in bold lettering. Sometimes I come very close to approaching the display and talking to the man. I want to attempt a conversation.

Other times I just want to reserve a table right beside his, posing a different question: "What will you give in exchange for a cookie?"

I'll never actually pursue such a bake sale. His question—originally asked by Jesus—isn't nearly as amusing as it is terrifying, and it's followed up by a second question posted on his banner: "Are you going to heaven?" It is that dilemma that kept me awake at night when I was nine and ten and eleven. Am I going to heaven? Now and then the query still keeps me up.

One late-fall afternoon when I reluctantly pass the table the man's young daughter is helping him pack up the familiar banner and books. She smiles shyly at bundled-up skeptic me. She whispers something to her dad. Then comes his gentle reply, in reference to what I deduce to be my snowflaked winter hat: “Yes, hers is just like yours.” Chastened, I feel my face return her joy, and for a moment these eternal worries fade to grace.

"Compassion and gratitude come down from God," Simone Weil writes, "and when they are exchanged in a glance, God is present at the point where the eyes of those who give and those who receive meet."

This is just outside Laramie, Wyoming, where I wrote the above. Circa 2010.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Anecdotes of note

Some of the best emails in my inbox these days come from my nonagenarian grandmother, containing sweet notes, punny sayings, and then gems like this that are deserving of a wider audience.

In the excerpts below, Grandma remembers the three times when my late grandfather got hurt as an adult, or almost hurt in one case:

"He had few physical injuries even though he led a very active life. The one time I remember was when he sprained his ankle when the paint crew was working on a church in Rochester. As I recall they wanted a metal star removed from the steeple and your Dad climbed the ladders, removed it and proceeded to carry it down. All went well until he tripped on the bottom step, fell and ended up with a severely sprained ankle!"

"Anyway it never deterred him climbing ladders. [One summer] he was painting on a house at the corner of 7th Ave. & 36th St and in putting up the metal ladder it hit an electric line. Fortunately he was standing on the ground and although it burnt a rung on the ladder he felt only a strong shock. It did put out the lights on part of College Hill for awhile."

"I'm sure you've heard his story of riding an English bike, falling and breaking a wrist just a few days before the D-Day invasion, and when it came time for his company to take part in the invasion he pulled his sleeve over the cast and told the commander the doctor had OK'd his going in with the troops."

Considering his service in World War II, his years working in a Pennsylvania steel mill, and then decades of activity as a shop teacher and painter, plus just the kind of person he was, the fact that these were apparently the only three scrapes he got himself into is quite remarkable to me.

Grandma's ability to recall these and so many other stories is equally remarkable.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Original valentines

Garren McKelvy was his name. He happened to be absent on fourth-grade picture day, and I remember very little about his appearance, except that he evoked everything that is tall, dark and handsome.

I'd been patient all year, and my concealed feelings longed for an outlet. As Valentine's Day neared, I had a brilliant idea. This year, I'd create my own valentine cards, paying particular attention to the design and message of Garren's.

Most of the bright, construction-papered creations were warm but light-hearted and utterly cliché, informing my classmates that they were the cream of the crop or number one or a great pal. I saved Garren’s valentine for last. It consisted of two dark-blue hearts lovingly pasted together. I thought about using pink and red, but that seemed a little girly for him and too lovey-dovey. I needn't have worried about the color, though, considering the valentine’s not-so-subtle message, which I will never live down yet somehow don’t regret. "Dear Garren," it began, "One heart isn't big enough to hold the love I have for you. Happy Valentine's Day. From Evie."

Mercifully, the holiday fell on a Friday that year, so I didn't have to face Garren or the other boys in the class for a few days after the party that afternoon turned sour. Garren's reaction wasn’t what I’d hoped for, quite. I'd imagined him quietly pocketing the valentine greeting and finding me on the playground later, where he would reveal his own, corresponding affections, perhaps with a peck on the cheek or a confiding note. Instead, while my fellow students and I each sorted through our individual, decorated bags of obligatory valentines, a crowd of pint-sized gentlemen formed around Garren's desk. And before I could even guess at the topic of interest, one of the meanest ones suddenly cried, "Hey Evie, there's your lover boy!" Then they all laughed and I stared at my shoelaces, waiting for the bell to ring so I could sprint home and weep away the weekend.

I say I don't regret what I wrote to Garren, and I mean that. "Better is open rebuke than hidden love," a certain proverb insists, and I would have to agree. So would Saint Valentine. According to legend, this imprisoned Roman priest fell in love with his jailer’s blind daughter and miraculously restored sight to her eyes. When the romance was discovered, Valentine was sentenced to death. He sent the girl a farewell note on February 14, the morning of his beheading, signed, "From your Valentine." When I fear rejection, I can recall this original Valentine and find comfort in the notion that at least rejection is better than beheading.

Anyway, I've moved on to greener pastures, as you can see from this picture.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014


I'm grateful for kind neighbors, St. Louis Metro, and working utilities this week--and for all those who work outdoors and in tricky situations, trying to deal with the extremely extreme weather to keep folks safe and the city running. Gloria, one of my bus drivers along the 73, is one of those everyday troopers, and I had the pleasure of riding along with her one morning a while back. I wanted to give just a peek at her typical morning:
"The steps are slippery," Gloria cautions as the bus empties out. "I hope everybody wore their coats—the temperature’s dropping."

After a night of heavy rain and thunder and the previous day’s balmy high near 70 degrees, it’s as though the St. Louis skies are suddenly alert to their seasonal blunder and abruptly switching back to temps more appropriate for the winter morning. By the time we reach the South County Mall on the second loop (Gloria’s third) at 10:23 a.m., it’s definitely winter again. Gloria absorbs the brunt of it, seated directly across from the front door that must open frequently, both to let people on and off and to make it easier to see all necessary angles at certain intersections.

During the South County Mall layover—all of seven minutes—she invites eight people waiting on the Lindbergh bus to come aboard to get warm, and they pile in. While awaiting our 10:30 departure, Gloria adds a layer to her uniform, right there in the aisle, wrangling her trousered legs into what look something like ski pants.

Gloria has been driving Metro buses for almost 21 years. She’s 47 years old, but I would have guessed she was in her thirties. Everyone here seems to know her. When we pass a trash collector, his face brightens and he waves excitedly from across the street. At one of what must be hundreds of stop signs along the route, a passing pedestrian in a yellow sweatshirt and pink pants glances up from the crosswalk, recognizes the bus driver, and blows her a kiss.

Chris tells me the bus is like a club and that Gloria really listens. When his mother died last September, "people on the bus knew," and he was glad to be able to talk about it. At his stop, Gloria tells him to have a good day and try not to work too hard.

"I really do care about what I do," she says. "It is a trying profession, because you're dealing with people, and people have problems. They train us to already know that--that people have issues. I don't take it personally. My mom used to say, 'You never know what's going on in a person's life.' Your job is to say, 'Good morning!'"

Friday, January 03, 2014

Off track

"The truth is, Evie, you are in a dangerous place. You are playing with fire. You are lying on the railroad tracks, by your own choice, and you may like it there and you may feel like that is the place for you, but you are not aware that you are on railroad tracks. You are not aware of the coming train. You don't feel the tracks vibrating. You don't hear the distant whistle of the train. You cannot see the cloud from the coal in the engine off in the distance.

"I am trying to get your attention and help save you. Only a miracle can get you off the tracks. Only God can reach down and pull you from their grip."

It's this memorable metaphor that closes an associate's earnest seven-page plea to me in the fall of 2010, followed by the friendly, handwritten postscript, "Please don't ever hesitate to call me any time [number]. I'd love to hear from you, and please feel free to write back." The young pastor's typed epistle has been sitting in a file folder with other kindly-meant attempts at salvaging this prodigal soul--other items I couldn't quite bring myself to toss.

The sermon-like qualities are striking to me, along with evidence that the correspondent invested much time and energy in crafting the letter and felt deep concern upon learning of my departure from the conservative faith in which we were both raised. "My faith has only grown in my correspondence with you," he writes in an earlier passage. "I've seen more clearly the utter hopelessness, sinfulness, and foolishness of unbelief ... I have spent hours thinking about how I might help you see our good God, hours writing and hours praying for you. But these hours cannot be compared to eternity."

I still feel a kind of guilt for becoming a burden to certain dear people along these lines and imagine ways I could have handled my loss of faith with greater care for others. There are some.

But this train is bound for doubting, this train.

"You said that you are more and more convinced that personal uncertainty about the biggest questions in life is a good trait. So you are becoming certain that it is good not to be certain?

"You would not think it good to be uncertain of whether you had enough credits to graduate, or whether your book was to be published, or whether you had cancer or not, or whether it was raining outside or not ... these are minor things in comparison to the major life and death questions of God and faith and so forth--very important questions that one must have certainty about. They are essential. Where did life come from? Where are we going? What is wrong with the world? What is the solution? Is there a God? What happens after death? It is essential that we understand and know these answers so that we can live."

I, for one, am still relatively stumped on a lot of those questions--even though I'm almost done plowing through Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist?(!). (It's a good book, by the way!)

Happy new year, all. I really like trains, by the way.