Saturday, July 31, 2021

Explore. Dream. Discover.

 I love this wisdom from Albert Einstein:

Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of other men [and] for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellowmen, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.

Each of us is here for a purpose. For me, that has meant life as an academic and a teacher, and I will always treasure the years I spent in the classroom. I'm thankful to God for the opportunities he has placed before me, and I'm thankful for the body and soul I have been given through which I could fulfill those goals. I am so thankful for my wife. Becky always stood by my side. She was there to encourage me to pursue my dreams. Marrying her was undoubtedly the best decision I ever made apart from calling upon the name of the Lord. And my students? My entire heart is filled with love for my students. They took my instruction and added a delicious dose of spice and humor.

All this comes to an end today, at least in terms of formal titles. But there is more to life than titles. "Every man dies, but not every man really lives" said William Wallace (as played by Mel Gibson in Braveheart). 

The calling of teaching has allowed me to really live. I feel like I am standing in the middle of a picture postcard. It has been unspeakably beautiful. One thing I will say about my career is that regardless of whether or not my goals were met or whether or not I have been "successful" as the world defines success, I have never had any regrets. I have always tried to perform to the very best of my God-given abilities. Soli Deo gloria!

And you, dear reader? "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did do," wrote Mark Twain. "So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." 

God is calling each of us to explore, to dream, and to discover. Becoming a Christian is an acceptance of that fact. It's not an effort, a striving, a vain chasing after the wind. It's a letting go, a yielding of ourselves, a commitment to a God who is working on you from the inside out to give you new purpose, new values, and a new pattern for life. Friend, you are a unique creature of God. He will lovingly guide you and direct you over every hill and through every obstacle. Every decision you will ever make -- college, marriage, career -- God has it all planned. As you get to know him better and better, and as you start making decisions that affect your future, his plans for your life will become more and more clear. You can count on it. 

I leave you with the words of John Paul II:

It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal. 

Friday, July 30, 2021

A Lesson from Farming

Here are some of the things we've had to learn (some of them, the hard way) since we started farming in Virginia:
  • How to fence and cross fence a 123-acre farm.
  • How to raise sheep, goats, donkeys, horses, cattle, and chickens.
  • How to slaughter and butcher our own chicken, goats, and cattle for meat. 
  • How to raise and can our own vegetables. 
  • How to bottle feed orphaned goats.
  • How to cut, rake, and bale hay.
  • How to stack square bales in the barn.
  • How to build a gambrel barn.
  • How to de-worm the animals.
  • How to rotate pastures.
  • How to cut firewood.

Farming teaches you many lessons, and many of those lessons are spiritual in nature. Today one of my chores was to clean out the water troughs. 

I thought of that old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." This reminded me of something I read today in the book Church Transfusion by Cole and Helfer. I found it in chapter 6, "Detoxifying from Dependence." This chapter includes such headings as "Stop Being the Bible Answer Man" and "Learn to Become a Disposable Pastor." Here's the quote I wanted to share with you. 

How often have we heard people say they were leaving a church because they just weren't getting fed there? For far too long we have lived with this dysfunctional codependent relationship that expects the pastor to feed us. Since when does a shepherd feed his sheep? Sheep feed themselves! A good shepherd leads his flock to green pastures and still waters, but he doesn't open the sheep's mouth and stick a handful of grass in it.

John Stott, in the chapter on "Preaching" in his outstanding book The Living Church, agrees:

But how do shepherds feed their sheep? The answer is that they don't! To be sure, if a newborn lamb is sick, the shepherd will doubtless take it up in his arms and bottle-feed it. But normally shepherds do not feed their sheep; they lead them to good, green pasture where the sheep feed themselves. 

He adds:

Thus all preaching should lead people to the Scriptures and encourage them to browse there for themselves.

Here's a picture of one of our many pastures. 

As you can see, this one has goats in it. As a faithful goatherd, it's not my job to feed these beautiful animals. It's my job to see that they have a constant supply of proper nutrition and hydration -- in this case, a healthy pasture and a rain-fed pond. Even if you're not a farmer, surely this makes sense to you. And if you ARE a farmer, then you know it is true both intuitively and by experience. That's the same message Paul was conveying to the believers in Ephesus when he told shepherd-teachers to "prepare God's people for works of service" (Eph. 4:11-12) -- not to do all the ministry but to equip believers to become mature servants in Christ. And his message is the same today. 

Farming tells a story, people! Are we listening?

New Book: Church Transfusion

You were so right! So were all the reviews on Amazon. This book rocks. It's the perfect read on a day when you're giving the old legs a rest. 

One of the authors is a former student of mine at Biola. No, I am NOT claiming credit for his genius.

Here are some quotes from this fascinating look at "church":

  • Every New Testament picture of the church points to a living connection with Jesus as the most essential component of its being.
  • We must begin by replacing our vision of the church as a business with one of the church as a living entity indwelt and empowered by Almighty God and every believer as the "workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus for good works which He prepared beforehand for us to do" (Eph. 2:10). 
  • The DNA of the church consists of divine truth, nurturing relationships, and apostolic mission. 
  • ... let the presence of God among us be the only glue that binds us together as a movement.
  • ... positive change is likely to start small and take some time to permeate the church.
  • The responsibility of leadership is to encourage life and health in the body and help its members become fully functioning disciples of Jesus who have each been called for a particular purpose.
  • We can never expect our church to mature into the image of Christ if we allow them to remain babies who are still sucking milk from their pastor week after week. 

As one reviewer put it, this book "paints a picture of stark contrasts between church-as-it-is and church-as-it-could-be." Yea verily. 

What's next for me today you ask? Earlier I mowed. 

Now it's time to spiffy up the guest house. Leadership teams have begun to reserve the place again. It's good to see Becky's vision living on.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Running 27.34 Miles for Jesus

As you know, pardners, this Saturday I'm hangin' up my spurs, gettin' the golden handshake, callin' it quits, turnin' in my badge, "going West, young man, going West," gettin' my 10 percent AARP discount, fallin' asleep on the couch, and applyin' for a job as a Wal-Mart greeter. The latter goal especially deserves something heroic, don't you think? So today I got up early and drove to the local trail to get in a "retirement" run.

Like careers, all runs have a finish line or ending point. Today my goal was to run 27.34 miles to celebrate God's amazing goodness to me during the past 44 years of teaching. Get the math?

 27.34 miles = 44 kilometers.

When I finished the only thing that didn't hurt were my eyelashes. Sure, I pushed myself, but I know of no other way to live. My run today reminded me of why I taught all those years. I didn't teach because I wanted to but because I had to. I'm a teacher, so I teach. I know of no other way to live. The laughter, the camaraderie of my fellow teachers, the beautiful people we call students -- I thought about all these things as I ran today. 

Tim Noakes, in his book The Lore of Running, says that the degree of discomfort felt in the marathon is the worst that most men (and most women outside of childbirth) ever experience. Why do we drive our bodies through that pain barrier? Running today was my way of saying "Thank you" to Jesus for giving me 44 wonderful years in the classroom. In 1976, teaching became a part of me. I can't even begin to imagine how different my life would have been had not Harry Sturz hired me to teach Greek. Teaching has introduced me to countless people who have taken the educational bull by the horns and then have soared. Have I soared? Was my career a success? I'll have to leave that to the Lord on the Day of Judgment. I do know this: Neither running nor being a Christian is a cakewalk. They require all-out effort. Worry about what others are thinking and you'll lose your focus. On the other hand, persistence and endurance are musts.

My friend, what has God called you to do and be? No race can be run by sitting on your laurels. You won't get far in an easy chair. You've got to run like the wind to win the prize.

Jesus, the prize is YOU. You will neither fail me nor abandon me in my older years. You are with me from now through eternity. I needn't be afraid or discouraged. I only need to follow you.

Welcome to the New Dave Black Online!

Welcome to the new and (hopefully) improved Dave Black Online! I know you thought this day would never come but it's here. This is the Blogger platform I'll be using from here on out. 

Just a heads-up (or two):

The old website will still be live. For now. Eventually all my essays and blog archives will migrate to the new site.

Comments are disabled for the time being. My life is simply too full at the current time for me to respond to your comments. Maybe we can do this in 10 years when I "really" retire. 😎

If you don't like the color scheme, blame me. I've always loved blue and orange. Of course, I also love to wear headphones around the house even when I'm alone, and that's weird. 

Finally, I still have a mega-surprise up my sleeve for all of you. That will have to wait for another day, however. 


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Faith and Pain Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Can you hear the farm gate creaking open? Only 3 more days until this old horse is put out to pasture. He spent the day on campus putting the final touches on his new website, spoiling his assistant (this time we enjoyed my favorite cuisine in the whole wide world -- Korean), and ordering a new computer for his home office.

Then he made his airline reservations for Dallas (the funeral is on Monday) and also let people know that this Saturday they are welcome to drop by the farm to give the old horse a few carrots before he trots off into the sunset. Dad has been on my mind for much of the day. I know the stages of grief that mom has begun to go through. Trials -- who wants them? But then there's that little section in James chapter 1 that we can't escape. We accept the trails of life because we know they

  • deepen our faith
  • increase our endurance
  • enhance our character
  • build us into maturity

Oh my, you can't beat that combination. But, says James, all these things come by way of trials -- things we would normally not have chosen for ourselves. Ruth Graham once said that faith and pain are not mutually exclusive, that we can have pain and have faith in God at the same time. She's right. Thankfully, just when life seems too difficult to manage, God steps in and meets us right where we are. All I know for sure is that last night God was waiting for dad to be with him. He was waiting to embrace him and welcome him home. Now dad and Becky and all the others will spend eternity giving God praise. He is a loving and merciful God. He sees our struggles and our striving. Even when we are too worn out to hold on to him, he holds on to us with his everlasting arms. Grieving friend, we need him to do that work in our hearts today. Live in the awareness of his embrace. Allow yourself time to grieve. Allow your heart to break if necessary. Even if life does not get easier, we can move on in strength as we learn to trust him.

Mom, eager to see you and the rest of the family on Sunday. Know that life will feel pretty different for a long time. Keep your heads up and do the best you can. See you all soon.

Brad Lapsley: Finally Home

Last night Brad Lapsley went home to be with the Lord.

I had the blessing of marrying his eldest daughter. He raised her far from our shores, in a place he called, not Ethiopia, but Utopia.

He loved Ethiopia. So did Becky. I'll have more on his life and legacy soon.

I love you dad. I'll miss you. Please give Becky a big hug for me.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Running Schedule Update

Here's another running update for those who might be interested. It's not like I'm obsessed with the sport or anything like that. I love the event shown below so much I'm doing it for the fourth time.

It's an evening run (or you can bike if you like) in downtown Durham and all proceeds go to support a really great cause, the Durham Habitat for Humanity. Right now they are turning Plum St. and Morning Glory Ave. into a community of 21 affordable homes. I might move in myself. The event will take place on Saturday evening, Aug. 14. I can tell you, there is no post-race street party quite like the one you'll experience after this event. Earlier today I went for a short run on the local trail.

It was HOT out there.

How hot was it? It was so hot the cows were giving evaporated milk. It was so hot the chickens were laying hard-boiled eggs. It was so hot I saw a bird pull a worm out of the ground with an oven mitt. Holy moly, I said to myself, how in the world am I going to run 27 miles (44K) on Thursday in this heat? All I know is that it is going to be much harder than I thought it was going to be. I'm not sure how I'm going to pull it off but I will because I said I would. I have a plan that I think will work. This plan starts Thursday. This means I have one more day to slack off. My legs feel great, and I can handle the heat as long as I can stay hydrated. As you can see, I pampered my body today after my run.

It asked for arroz con pollo, and arroz con pollo it got. (I am very co-dependent, as you know.) Really, I tend to pamper this old body of mine. It never once complains. Some of you know what I'm talking about. Congrats to all of you tough and gritty runners out there with a huge heart. Don't let nothin' stop you. As for the rest of you, I know you must be sick of my running updates, so thanks for sticking with me on this journey. 

My latest Hoi Polloi Interview

My latest Hoi Polloi interview with Abidan Shah of Clearview Church has just been posted online. If you're really, really bored, you can go here to listen in.

Meet Katherine Beiers

Meet Katherine Beiers. At 85 years of age, she was one of the last runners to cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon in 2018 amidst horrid conditions. It took her 7 hours and 50 minutes.

She showed as much courage as the first place finishers. You can read her story here.

Suffice it to to say that over the past 69 years of life I've run through some pretty turbulent weather. So have you. Life never gets boring. There's always a new adventure right around the corner. People have asked me, "What are going to do after you retire?"  I realize that my retirement is very minor in the larger scheme of things, but it alters MY life and I'm allowed to have a response to it. My answer is always, "Just keep moving forward." Really, the trick is to accept your lot in life and stop dwelling on it. Yes, I will continue to teach (about two classes a semester). I'll continue to write and blog and travel and speak in churches. The farm work will remain another constant. I am also very excited about my upcoming races. I know I can't run forever, but maybe, just maybe, I will qualify for Boston when I'm 85. Even if I don't, Katherine Beiers has shown all of us the way we should choose to live. It's not in the limited world of living in the past but in the open-ended world of optimism, faith, hope, and personal choice.

Don't sit. Don't stand still. Keep moving forward. Run with endurance your race.

Monday, July 26, 2021

More New Books

These arrived today.

And yes, I am embarrassed to say I've never read these classics before. Plan to take care of that little matter this week. Oh, this bombshell also came in today's mail.

They must have sent it to the wrong address. I would never get involved in the latest brouhaha in evangelicalism, now would I?

Do You Do Crazy Things Too?

Was up early this morning.

My plan was to drive to the East Coast Greenway for a short little ride.

I did 44 miles to thank the Lord for 44 years of teaching.

This is proof that retirement warps one's mental capacity and makes you do dumb things. On Thursday it will get crazier when I attempt to run 44K in one shot. That's 27.34 miles for us Muricans. I'm still trying to think how I'll explain all of this to my therapist. Granted, I don't have a therapist, but I'm pretty sure I'll need one before the week is out.

Please tell me you do crazy things too.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

There Are So Many I Want to Thank

One week from today it will be over. On August 1st, the Lord and I will begin writing a brand new chapter of my life, post-retirement. There's so much I want to accomplish this week, but one of the most important is best expressed in a quote by Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone:

Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve cooperation of many minds. I may be given credit for having blazed the trail, but when I look at the subsequent developments, I feel the credit is due to others rather than myself. 

 Hence this post. There are so many I want to thank:

  • Allen Carden of Biola who saw potential in a kid from Hawaii and got him into college even though his high school grades weren't exactly stellar.
  • Peggy Russell who arranged for me to receive an academic scholarship that paid for my tuition for the last 3 years of college and through my entire M.Div. program.
  • Harry Sturz who taught me to love Greek and then taught me how to teach it at Biola. Harry, I learned everything important from you. I miss you.
  • All my teachers at Biola and Talbot but especially Drs. Mitchell, Rosscup, Bynum, Kwast, McDougall, Flory, Christian, Kirk, Kurtanek, and Payne.
  • Bo Reicke with whom I spent three wonderful years studying for my D. Theol. degree. No one ever modeled for me the balance between humanitas and pietas like he did. I want to be just like him when I grow up.
  • All of my wonderful faculty colleagues at Biola/Talbot and Southeastern. Thanks for reminding me that my task as a teacher is to work myself out of a job and pass the baton to Jesus.
  • To all the publishers who accepted my manuscripts: Zondervan, B & H, Baker, Kregel, T. & T. Clark, Eisenbrauns, Lang, and Energion. You are such a blessing.
  • The colleges and universities abroad that invited me to teach in South Korea, China, Ethiopia, India, Armenia, Ukraine, Great Britain, Germany, and Switzerland.
  • All the personal assistants I've had (you know who you are -- thank you!).
  • The administrations of all the schools I've been a part of. 
  • The authors whose books have helped me to think more biblically -- especially Jacque Ellul and Vernard Eller.
  • Becky who believed in me from day one. Thank you, honey, for never giving up.
  • My kids and grandkids who keep me laughing and who teach me to accept life's challenges with grace and courage.
  • All of my dogs who always managed to greet me with tail-wagging enthusiasm when I came home.
  • Most importantly, I'd like to thank the thousands of students I've had in my classes through the years. I want to thank each and every one of you for your willingness to include me in your academic journey and for all the laughter and tears we have shared. Thanks for letting me be me but also adding your own personalities to the mix. It's been a fun ride.
Steve Jobs once said, "My model for business is the Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other's negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That's how I see business: Great things in business are never done by one person; they're done by a team of people."

Accordingly, the last word of thanks must go to the one with whom I've been co-yoked since I put my faith and trust in him at the age of 8. My story has been weaved into his every step of the way. Jesus, you are still the model to which I aspire. I love you.

5 Random Things from My Week

Here are 5 random things from my week.

1. Loved this quote by Chuck Swindoll in his book The Church Awakening:

Some churches have adopted a professional ministry mindset entirely. Like the consumer culture they live in, the people pay the pastors to do the work of the ministry, while they sit and watch and offer critiques. Where is that in the Bible? A pastor who allows this approach to occur has fallen for what I call the "Superman Syndrome."

Now remember, this isn't Jon Zens talking, It isn't Neil Cole. It isn't Frank Viola. This is Chuck Swindoll for crying out loud. Maybe there's hope for our churches yet.

2. On YouTube I've been watching the ACCA meeting this week in Illinois. The ACCA is a group of airline content creators on YouTube. One of them, Dan Gryder, posted a video interview entitled No Arms? No Problem! In it I was introduced to a pilot you absolutely need to meet. Jessica Cox was born without arms and yet she flies an airplane (as well as scuba dives, surfs, has a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, etc.) and travels all over the world speaking to children who were born limbless. Jessica, you are an inspiration and a walking example for all of us who are full of excuses. The simple decision to change our mindset from "I can't do it" to "I need to figure out how to do it" is super empowering. By the way, Jessica flies an ERCO Ercoupe that uses a two-control system that links the rudder and aileron systems. In other words, this plane does not have rudder pedals and therefore Jessica can use her feet for the throttle and yoke. Jessica, you are one amazing lady!

3. I made a significant change to the syllabus for my Advanced Greek Grammar course this fall. I've cut out the busy work and put all their eggs in one basket: a term paper on any topic in the teeny little book of 3 John. Here are some possible topics:

  • Eldership in the New Testament
  • The New Testament emphasis on hospitality
  • Learning as imitation
  • The idiom "mouth to mouth"
  • Hapax legomena in 3 John
  • Does verse 2 teach the prosperity gospel?
  • The discourse structure of 3 John (hotly debated!)
  • Marked word order in 3 John
  • The use of the passive voice in 3 John

Here I am reverting to the philosophy of education I experienced when I got my doctorate from Basel: No quizzes, no exams, not even any required courses. You just researched and wrote. There will, of course, be lots of reading (A. T. Robertson, Runge, Porter, etc.).

4. We are one step closer to getting Harry Sturz's The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism back into print. The publisher likes the idea and all that's left is to write an acceptable proposal. This book is a definite must read.

5. Did I tell you I'm planning on biking 44 miles to commemorate my retirement this month after 44 years of teaching? I also hope to run 44 kilometers this week (not miles!). I am so incredibly inspired to do this. Wish me well!

Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Germans Have a Word for It

I realize I've referred many times on this blog to my usual morning Bible time on the front porch. God is the only one who understands my circumstances, struggles, and seasons of life, and so he alone gets to direct my paths. After my Bible study this morning the Lord invited me to attend a worship service during my 5-mile run today. The venue was the great outdoors, the music was amply provided by the sound of chirping birds, and the morning message was brought by the one and only John Stott in a sermon from Philippians 4 entitled Rejoicing in Christ. In it Stott talked about the need to find stability in the Lord, unity in the Lord, peace in the Lord, and contentment in the Lord. He zeroed in on verse 5: "Let your graciousness [reasonableness, gentleness, big-heartedness, serenity, equanimity, cheerfulness, calmness, composure, etc.] be known to everyone."

Okay, okay. That message was just for me.

Lately I've been working very hard on what the Germans call Gelassenheit, or calmness (gentleness) of spirit. No person can be considered truly Christian without this trait being a major component of their personality. The person who loves God will be a person who is kind and gentle to all. Kindness is the outward manifestation of a heart that is filled with compassion, generosity, cordiality, and gentleness. People who are committed to being big-hearted don't sweat the small stuff. Their greatest delight is when others feel welcome in their presence. While they recognize that conflict is an unavoidable part of life, they handle that conflict in the least abrasive, biting, and brusque way possible. They know that their overall reputation for goodness and kindness will give them extra credibility when the time comes when they have to use assertiveness. Even when they are in conflict with others, they genuinely desire to maintain a positive presence in the lives of those around them.

Gelassenheit includes the feeling of contentment, peacefulness, and deep inner satisfaction. But note: It is possible to appear contented and yet to be without true Gelassenheit. The demeanor of people with Gelassenheit is consistently uplifting and never demeaning. They recognize that it's possible to speak forthrightly without any hint of condescension. They enjoy giving sincere compliments and commenting on the successes of others. They say, "This is my life, so I'll need to make the most of my choices even if others around me do not." They are overcomers, people who refuse to be defeated when faced with adversity. Rather than being threatened by conflict, they recognize that interpersonal conflict represents an opportunity to display goodness and fairness. This is, I believe, exactly what Paul means by the Greek word epieikes in Phil. 4:5.

Convicted yet? I am! Just think of how applicable Paul's command here is. A healthy Christian wants nothing to do with the desire to verbally conquer others. They stop attempting to force change in the other person. They are able to balance assertion and forgiveness. They take appropriate responsibility for their own emotional life. Today I felt like John Stott was speaking directly to me. My love for others has to be much more than a feeling. It has to be a commitment to prioritize encouragement over criticism and to find what is good in the other person even when that task seems so unnatural.

I know I'm not saying anything you haven't heard before. All of us have had to come to terms with our own deep wounds in life. By accepting the negative circumstances in our lives, we are not letting go of our legitimate concerns or convictions. Instead, in our relationships we have chosen to establish a new life that incorporates the hard lessons learned and that is careful to establish clear boundaries. What I want for us is not to be trapped by emotional dependency on others. Don't let your problems be an excuse to engage in fruitless debate or discussion. Show genuine tolerance for others' flaws and recognize when not to press an issue. Above all, drop the unrealistic requirement that everyone has to line up with your ideal standards. That's never going to happen nor should it. The Bible teaches that we will not get everything we want in life. But that's okay, because "the Lord is near" (Phil. 4:5). So be kind. Be gentle. Be bighearted. Be gracious. And for God's sake don't use your kindness as a subtle means of manipulating others to appease your yearnings. Be real.

From the land of outdoor sermons,


Guess What? We're Relaunching Dave Black Online!

Yesterday I spent the day on campus hard at work on various projects. Then I took my assistant and his wife out for dinner at a local Italian eatery.

I consider my life as a teacher to be a privilege and I feel so honored each time individuals choose to take my classes in the quest for personal improvement. But none of this would be possible without the help of others. For the past two years Rodolfo has been my personal assistant. I am indebted to him in so many ways. I am blessed to have had him at my side. What a fine team he and Lauren make!

They have a strong sense of purpose as servants of the Lord and their infectious passion inspires me to be the most conscientious teacher I can possible become. Yesterday Rodolfo was putting the final touches on a little secret project we've been working on.

That's right. May we have the DRUM ROLL please!!! Dave Black Online is going to be relaunched! I know, I know, I'm way behind the curve. My website has been a dinosaur almost since the day I launched it back in 2003. People, I never said I was tech-savvy. Anyhoo, I think you'll like the new site that Rodolfo designed. In fact, I know you will like it. Thanks for letting me be me during the past 18 years of blogging. (Has it really been that long??) Thanks also for putting up with an out-dated website and for being so gentle and sensitive in telling me about it ("Dear Dave, I really love your website! Now, there's this little thing about not being able to link to your posts ....") You, dear readers, are wise in every way.

Look for the new blog to be released on August 1st.

A Few New Books

More often than not, I'm reading books. Who am I kidding -- I'm a book junkie. I read for any number of reasons. I read primarily to grow as a person and in my walk with the Lord. This means I read mostly non-fiction books about life issues, the Bible, and about great people. While I can get much of this information online, I know for a fact that my personality is best suited when the reading experience is tangible. The goal is to hopefully understand life better and, as a consequence, to live better. 

My criteria for choosing a book are very simple. It's either a book I feel I need to read (as in a "must" read), or it's a book that seems like an amazing read because of its author or title or both. When I read, I'm always analyzing. You can always learn something new by reading a good book, especially when it gives you a different perspective than the one you're used to. The more provocative, the better. This year's stash includes the following tomes that appeared on my porch yesterday thanks to Mr. FedEx. I'll comment on a couple of them later, but for now I need to be about my chores and then get in a run. Love you guys!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Hiking Sharp Top Mountain (Strenuous!)

As I sit here typing this, my quads are burning. This morning, after my Bible time in James, I decided to drive up to the Blue Ridge and try out my new Altra Lone Peak 5s on a hike. I already knew they were great on the trails and even on hard surfaces. But how would they do on a really challenging mountain climb? As per usual, I took the back roads through scenic Southside Virginia.

This is some of the most beautiful and bucolic country in all of the Eastern Seaboard. Funny thing, despite being out in the boonies, I kept passing churches I have spoken in, like this one on the border between Halifax and Chatham Counties.

I finally arrived in Bedford where I caught my first glimpse of Sharp Top, one of the famous Peaks of Otter (the other being Flat Top Mountain).

When I began my hike at around 9:30 am, the weather was slightly overcast with a perfect temperature of 70 degrees. The parking lot, which is usually packed, was almost vacant.

Since I saw very few hikers out on the trail I assume that most of these people had taken the shuttle to the top and back. Before I tell you how the shoes did, let me walk you through the hike today. The trail starts out looking like it will be a piece of cake.

The opposite is actually true. Here in the mountains of Virginia, a hike can be classified as either Easy, Moderate, or Strenuous. Sharp Top is definitely a strenuous hike. The hike up was relentless.

The climb is a never-ending trek over rocks and boulders until you arrive at the summit. Not only is hiking footwear recommended, but I would also recommend you take along some trekking poles since the climb up and back is brutal.

At first the trail ascends gradually.

But then you find yourself in the midst of a real climb where the danger of tripping on a rock or root is very real.

The final third of the climb consists of ascending an endless number of stair steps that are cut out of the rocks.

All I can say is thank God for my trekking poles because my shoes were not very helpful for maintaining balance. When you reach this stone shelter you know you have just about arrived at the summit of Sharp Top Mountain.

This marker tells you that you've finally made it.

The haze meant that the views weren't quite as spectacular as they usually are, but you could still see a long ways down into Bedford County.

And just to the north is Sharp Top's twin, Flat Top. Gorgeous.

So how did the shoes do? I've climbed Sharp Top multiple times but today's hike was by far the most challenging (and slowest) of them all.

I'll give the shoes an A+ for traction -- I never felt like I would slip on wet ground or on scree. On the other hand, I'm sorry to have to give the shoes a solid D- when it comes to comfort and safety. With almost every step I could feel the rocks pushing into the soles of my feet. Furthermore, the shoes were much too loosey-goosey to provide a sense of security. The heel counter is too soft to give you protection from twisting an ankle, which I almost did several times. The only solution was to climb slowly and use your poles as a security backup for any surprises your shoes might throw at you. All this to say that I will definitely not be able to use my Lone Peaks on hikes that are in the moderate to strenuous range. They offer plenty of support for non-technical trails, but they are definitely not meant for more strenuous climbs. I might look into the Nike Wildhorse 6s instead.

I can't recommend this hike enough if you're ever in the Bedford area. But plan for it to be gnarly and do bring your trekking poles -- as well as shoes with a strong heel counter and thick soles. Not only is the view from the summit amazing, you might also run into some wildlife on your trek.