Simplicity – an open letter to a friend

When photographer Ken Williams shared his photo gallery link with his friends, Cliff Bisch pondered what the concept of simplicity means to him as he viewed Ken’s eclectic images of rural America and living a simpler way of life, especially the photo triptych and blog post Pioneer School, Clark, WY.

Cliff wrote Ken a response that touched me so much, I asked Cliff if I could have his permission to share his thoughts with you. He kindly granted his wife permission.

Simplicity is a bit too hard to explain nowadays. Some of my favorite memories include laying down in 3-ft tall grass, throwing green oranges in the orange groves, the smell of fresh plowed dirt, digging tunnels in the dirt, and climbing in old pepper trees. It was all about the smells, even the smell of a campfire at a State Park campground when real wood was the fuel.

I do remember the smells of the classrooms, the gym, the sweaty gym clothes, the semi-warm milk cartons, the fresh mimeo machine prints in the morning; it’s the smells that really link out past, and the digital world has no smell. It wisks by at the stroke of a key. People are deleted from our lives, and likewise they have little lasting impact. They can be erased from the pictures, and replaced with a digital shrub.

My life is looking at this screen all day, every day. One keystroke and it is all gone. I have been longing for adventure in the real world. Sailing would be good, travel good in any form. But little stuff is OK, too. I really enjoy sharpening the blade on a hand plane so it cuts paper with no effort. Replacing a bearing so a motor does not howl. Adjusting a handlebar so that it is comfortable. Discovering how hard to hit a chisel so that the wood slices rather than tears. Finding new uses for tools that I never really understood.

Discomfort is not fearful.I like the morning mist on my face, rather than trying to fend it off. There is a certain reward in the rain soaking through my shirt. Getting uncomfortably chilled affirms that I was there to do that. The sore muscles are really a reward and proof of life. I am not wanting everything soft and perfect. True, a warm fire sure beats a dank room with a baseboard heater, but moisture sweating down the inside of the boat hull at night does not invalidate the slap of water on the hull and the echo of cormorants across the water at dawn.

Every wood has its own unique smell and taste. Birch and maple look remarkably similar, so the taste will tell them apart. Birch is Tinker Toys and Popsicle sticks that you used to chew on. Maple is dead and flat, without that marvelous twinkle in the flavor. Yellow cedar is intoxicating when you plane it; almost necessitating that you open the windows for the abundant sweetness. Real mahogany is as suffocating as a dust storm, though easy to work with and gorgeous when all tarted up.

Cliff

Read more on L.E. Erickson about Ken E. Williams, Photographer.

Passion to Action, a crazy love story

My friend Jay Loecken defines himself as a “Lover of God.” Husband of an incredible wife named Beth. Father of four amazing children, Ben, Bekah, Abi & Noah & Ministry Director for Crazy Love In Action.” I met Jay back in the summer of 2009 when I was the Creation Care community manager for SustainLane.com, an online green guide. I invited Jay to tell their love story Loving Others – Living Simply. The Loecken family has been traveling the United States in their RV demonstrating to all they meet “crazy love in action” based on the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan, about God’s crazy love for us and what it means to show His love to others in a tangible hands-on way. The new name of their outreach is Passion to Action. Their mission is “to inspire, empower and mobilize people to put their faith in action”. Rather than tell their remarkable story, Jay has given me permission to repost their story from their Passion to Action website. Please join us as we hit the road with Jay, Beth, Ben, Bekah, Abi, Noah and friends.

Our Story

Our dream of hitting the open road and traveling the country in an RV began in the early years of our marriage. With a few babies, moves and job changes, our dream never became a reality. In July 2007, our family had the privilege of going to Africa on a life changing missions trip. When we returned, we wept as we realized all that we had in comparison to the African people. Our country host, Paul, shared his powerful testimony of growing up in the slums. As he spoke about the importance of having a dream, we realized that we had let our dream die. We decided to earnestly seek God to see if this dream was from Him. Over several months, God spoke to us through prayer and His word and we believe He has truly led us on this adventure.

Our journey began the summer of 2007 when we went on a life-changing missions trip to Kenya, Africa.

While in Africa, we had many conversations with our country host, Paul Omondi, who grew up in the slums of Nairobi. He described the heart wrenching challenges he faced growing up in that environment and how he saw many of his friends pay for their wrong choices with their lives. He described how some of his friends were burned or stoned to death. He told us that what kept him alive in the slums was that he had a dream to one day be the President of Kenya. He spoke of how God places a dream in all of us. What was our dream? We knew it was buried deep in our hearts, but we were too busy pursuing the “American” dream to even acknowledge it. The 5 of us (little Noah stayed in Atlanta with friends) served for 10 days in Kiu, a small community outside of Nairobi, Africa. We went there to serve and bless others, but we received much more than we gave. The people of Africa changed our lives forever. Until you see them face to face, their lives are only an image on a TV screen, looking very surreal. When you hug them, talk with them, see their living conditions, pray with them, it touches your heart in a way that is hard to describe. They are the most generous, joyful people we have ever met. They are clearly poor and in desperate need of so much, yet they have a richness that many Americans will never experience. Their faces and our time together will forever be etched in our hearts.

Coming home to the U.S. was difficult as we experienced a myriad of emotions. How could we have so much and yet be so discontent? We were thankful for how blessed we were, yet at the same time wondered if all that we owned added to our life, or actually stole life from us? As we allowed these questions to surface and answered them honestly, we began to pray about what to do. As a family, we wept, prayed and searched God’s Word. We needed answers and direction. We discussed our dream of traveling the country full-time. We no longer wanted to wait for “some day”, nor did we want to just travel for site seeing, adventure, or homeschool reasons. We knew that this mission needed to have a purpose and that it was bigger than us. Initially, we felt a little crazy. We researched, prayed, questioned and wondered. We also wrestled with the fear of the unknown and the fear of failure. Through it all, we finally came to the conclusion this was in fact what we felt God was leading us to do.

In November 2007, we put our home on the market. We waited 5 agonizing months and during that time we were able to detach ourselves from our home and to purge our hearts of materialism.

In March of 2008, we sold our home. Two weeks before we moved, God provided the perfect used RV for our family and surprisingly it was driven to our home in Atlanta all the way from Las Vegas, NV. Through this and several other events we saw specifically how God was capable of meeting all of our needs.

On April 18, 2008 the house was sold, the RV was packed and we hit the road. Although we left behind many wonderful friendships, we knew beyond a doubt that we were following what God had put so heavily on our hearts.

One of Jay’s favorite quotes: “Preach the Gospel to everyone, and if necessary, use words.” St. Francis of Assisi

Follow the Loecken’s blog and read more about the mission of Passion to Action, each member of the family and their posts Stories of the Obsessed, videos and photos.