Nearer, My God, To Thee

Commentary

I dedicated this little poem to my friends of color, by whose grace, wisdom, and other beauties I hope to better appreciate our Heavenly Father. It’s a slow process. Foolishness is bound up in this heart of mine.

The background image is a stylized photo that I took from my office window. There are times of day when several birds come to my garden. I haven’t figured out why the various species pick the same time, but they do. Almost always, the titmouse and chickadee couples come at the same time. And when they come, they are often joined by a cardinal couple. Is there a certain light or temperature that is just right? I don’t know. Thus the question: “What is that secret chime?”

I titled this “Nearer, My God, to Thee” because the pleasure that I take in the variety of birds who congregate in my little garden must be akin to the pleasure God takes when people of every nation peacefully enjoy the world he created.

My Virtual Background

Commentary

DREAMS OF ANOTHER LAND

That life should get progressively better, and satisfactory here and now is illusory. We are exiles, who learn our condition slowly, if at all.

This week, I got to do the scripture reading for our church’s virtual worship service. The passage was 1 Peter 1:1-2. That’s a short passage, easy to read. But when my pastor indicated that he liked the idea of a personal introduction, I had an extremely hard time recording it. Thinking about what it means to be an exile, and the hope we have — given God’s kind plans for us — I was overwhelmed with a mixture of sadness, hope, and thankfulness. I’d get to “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” and stop the recording, because I just couldn’t go on. By the way, the background image above is a frame from the reading when I finally got hold of my emotions.

Thinking of my birth city in another land brought back memories last night, and I had to work them out in a poem this morning.

Mourning, Too Soon

Commentary

This is not an Easter poem. Or is it?

I jotted this down yesterday morning after a sleepless night, one where an admittedly minor ailment was reminding me of what took the lives of my parents. I’d have posted it yesterday, but ran out of time. Now, as I post this, it is Easter.

If you see ambivalence, mixed with annoyance, mixed with underlying hope, you see well. Hopefully, my reading of the poem (above) will reveal the negative side of my feelings.

The background photo is one I took up in the mountains last year on a similar morning, after a similar night.

Here is an exchange I had with a concerned friend, when he asked about the ailment. After describing the ailment, I wrote:

So, the poem was written out of fear and mild exhaustion, but with the realization that I was not acting in the full hope that often moves me. It’s full of double meaning.

Darol responded:

Yes, the middle of the night amplifies our fears and disappointments. I tell myself that the daylight will scatter them, and that they will end forever in that eternal morning.

Good, wise friends. They’re the best!

Broken Sunset

How I Built This

On a rainy day walk around the lake, I came across a smashed-up smartphone. It had no identification on it, and wouldn’t power on after charging, so I gave up on trying to find its owner. However, I did notice that there was a pretty interesting reflection when I turned the phone just right. I initially tried to take a picture of that, but gave up. Instead, I took this straight-on shot:

I decided to see if that could be layered over an older shot that I took near the Bath House:

I boosted the saturation of the above shot with Snapseed on my Pixel 3a phone:

Then, I used the double-exposure tool in Snapseed to combine the broken screen shot with the super-saturated sunset.

Grape Hyacinths With a View

Often, I have to sit on the ground or lie down in the grass to get the best perspective for photographs. It always occurs to me that this is the view that little critters in the field have of the world around them. Do they appreciate beauty? I hope so.

In the days since I took this picture, the grape hyacinths have really taken off in other areas around the lake. But I want you to see how small THIS patch actually is, so you can appreciate the importance of a selective point of view. Also, you’ll see that I pushed the post-processing of the image above pretty far (maybe too far). I was trying to isolate the colors in a late-afternoon shot. At that time of day, the light is very yellow, and to separate out the elements as our magnificent eyes do, I had to reduce yellow (increase blue). In any case, I was doing the post-processing on my phone, which isn’t always the best idea!

Flowers In The Shadow

UNJAUNDICE VISION

Only in the shadow
Was the yellow light
Sufficiently subdued
For us to welcome
Beauty unforeseen.

— Brad Hepp, 2/22/2020

There, now I have tied this to the conversation I was having with a friend when I took the photo. We were pondering how weakness and inadequacy may actually be celebrated as part of the suffering that precedes restoration and exaltation in the Divine economy. See James 1:9-18

Funny Detail at World Missions Center

Today, the Director of the World Missions Center at SWBTS in Fort Worth gave me a great tour of the campus (we’re collaborating on a book for use in Brazil). One fun little thing: in the main foyer of the World Missions Center, the floor is a large map of the world with one color of terrazzo for the land masses and another for the oceans. Dr. Ray pointed out that there are no borders represented EXCEPT for that representing the country of origin of the floor construction foreman: El Salvador. As a lover of maps, I couldn’t help but appreciate this one! I have superimposed a map from Google to show that he was almost on the money (unless he’s actually from western Nicaragua!)

Lamp, Moon, and Blackbird

The Original

I was zoomed in as much as I could on my smartphone (Pixel 3a) when I took the above photo. Even though I had just been watching a flock of blackbirds, I didn’t notice this one flying in and out of the frame when I pressed the “shutter release.” Later, when I went to edit the shot (and crop square for Instagram), I just couldn’t resist my perfectionistic urge to move the bird exactly under the moon. I did that with the cloning tool in Photo Editor on my phone. All of the other tweaking (rotation, deepening of sky blue, extra contrast) was done with Snapseed.

The Man From Valladolid

I walked right past this man on one of my hikes around White Rock Lake. But then I turned and asked “May I take your photograph?” I couldn’t understand his response, but he seemed to be saying “Yes.” We soon discovered that both of us speak Spanish, and I learned that he is from Valladolid, Spain. He says that the cat really seems to enjoy riding in this carrier, and it doesn’t tire him at all to carry her that way.

Since my shadow was falling right between him and the bike, I walked back just a little on the path and took my photo from there. Below, you’ll see the original. Late afternoon sun casts such yellow light that I reduced the warmth in order to separate the colors a bit. It’s still too yellow, if you ask me, but you can only push color so far before it looks fake. As you’ll see from the original, the bicycle was positioned too far from the man for an effective square crop, so I did what I rarely ever do: cloned with Photoshop. That’s how I moved the bicycle closer to him. Can you see my error? Look closely at the left handle bar in the photo above. And now that I look more closely, I see another two other errors. Good thing nobody was paying me for this!

Original Photo:

[EDIT 1/31/2020]: I ran into Raul again today. This time he was without cat. We sat on a park bench by the lake about 20 or 30 minutes and talked about Spain (he returns in two weeks), the history of the Moorish conquest of Spain, work attitudes in Spain versus the U.S.A., and unemployment there. He says there’s 20% unemployment (50% among young people under 35, who end up living with their parents as a result). He attributes the lack of enthusiasm for working in Spain to low wages and the fact that everyone is paid the same. On the one hand, it sounds dreary ($1000/month average income), but then the simpler life there sounds attractive. Raul is mid-50s, and is already retired. He says that’s common. He was astonished when I told him I expect to do some work until I’m 70. I didn’t tell him that my Dad was doing heavy-duty theology and writing well into his 80s. More than once, Raul pointed to his watch, exemplifying how the Spanish worker watches the clock. He said many do that right up until they retire, and then — shortly after — they die. My Spanish may be attrocious, but I’m pretty sure it’s a relief to Raul to hear it, even if butchered by a Gringo.

The Wholesome Response

Late last summer, I was on one of my strolls around White Rock Lake. I stopped to collect seeds of Queen Anne’s Lace by the path. After filling a small plastic bag, I continued my walk. A few minutes later, I felt in the pocket for my car key. “Oh no!” It wasn’t there. When I reached into my pocket to pull out the bag, I must have pulled out the car key as well, and dropped it in the weeds.

Returning to the area where the key had dropped, I made a careful search. No luck!

The next day, I returned with a leaf rake, and tried pulling it through the weeds to turn up the key. Still no luck!

Worse yet, while I was raking, who should appear on the running path but Phillip Paris!

“Hi Phillip!”
“Hi Brad.”

It was a training run. Naturally, Phillip just kept running. When he had gone another 20 yards, I couldn’t stand the humiliation.

“Hey, Phillip!”
He stopped.
“I know this must look crazy. I lost my key, and I was using this rake to help me find it.”

“Oh,” said Phillip with a smile. “I know how much you like the running path here, so I figured you were just helping with maintenance.”

“No, I’m just crazy when I lose something!”

That evening, I told Joshua my embarrassing story, and Phillip’s kind answer.

“What a wholesome response!” said Joshua.

“Yes,” I thought. “What a wholesome response. And how proud I am of a son who calls it for what it is!”

Light and a Motorist Who’s Polite

A passing motorist politely stopped his car to avoid messing up this photo. When I gave him the “thumbs up,” he rolled down his window and said, “That’s gonna be a helluva shot!” He could tell that the light was pretty special.

Confession: I had waved the motorist on when I saw him stop, and was slightly annoyed at him. “What’s his problem? Does he think I’m casing his neighbor’s house? Is that why he’s just sitting there?” It was only when he rolled down the window and spoke with me as a fellow lover of the light that my jaded assumption was rebuked!

One of the more notable houses around the lake

Here’s what my friend Jon wrote when I posted the photo on Instagram: “One spring evening in 1989, I sat on the wall in front of that home with Chris and asked her to marry me. Hard to believe it was 30 years ago.” So, I went back and reshot the house WITH the retaining wall and posted it for Jon and Chris. This time, it was an overcast day, so the light is very different!