Wednesday, July 1, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale X

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind" -- Dr. Seuss

God's Exellency, his wisdom, his purity and love seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind" -- Jonathan Edwards

Rupert Zimmerman sped his Porsche 911 Classic across the BSB in the soft light of the midnight sun. With Elizabeth and her husband off cutting the ribbon on a new school in Zambia, Zimmerman had dared to swing a 'road trip' to Big Diomede earlier the previous afternoon. Though he never attended the church he'd funded there, he looked forward to the intellectual sparring with Pastor Greene he might find in a dinner invitation. The lure of Kris' homemade cookies and the possibility of homemade macaroni and cheese (her mother's recipe), often sealed the deal. The man who could buy everything, save the love of a family, was drawn to the table by the trappings of that which those who are rich in money often miss. While around the word at many a poor table the laughter of children and the smells of familiar dishes mingled deliciously, men like Zimmerman were fed by personal chefs in a sterility that no spices could dissipate. Kris was starting to show and soon there'd be another life at their table. Zimmerman cherished these visits, knowing that the baby would probably mean an end to the leisure to visit.

Zimmerman had indeed been blesssed with homemade macaroni, and the conversation had gone deep into the night. "What do you think is your purpose in life?" Greene had asked. "To build that damn bridge!... Sorry Reverend!" was his lightning retort. Greene deftly turned the conversation: "Who gets the glory from that bridge?" Zimmerman had stepped too easily into the trap. "Damn..." If he said "I Do!" it would be an arrogant assertion of the surface truth. If he thought of all the unseen hands and inventiveness behind it, the "modest" answer, but indeed the truer one, he would swerve solidly into the realm of Divine Inspiration. Though he sternly resisted it, Zimmerman was beginning to believe in it. Inwardly he knew that it had taken far more than his own cunning to create a Bering Strait Bridge. Elizabeth's husband, the engineer, had as much as told him that nature itself had provided answers to the seemingly insurmountable challenges faced in actually building the bridge.

Martin O'Malley had once related to Zimmerman the story of R. G. LeTourneau, who's company had been awarded a contract to build a machine to lift airplanes by the government during the great war. No one had ever built such a machine before, and the engineers were stumped. Wednesday evening rolled around and LeTourneau announced to his stunned team that he was going to a prayer meeting. "But, sir,... We've got a deadline on this thing!" The great industrialist replied: "But I have a deadline with God." LeTourneau went to the prayer meeting. He sang praises and poured out his heart in earnest prayer. He said that walking back to his office from the prayer meeting, he 'saw' the design he was seeking for the machine clearly in his head!

He was trapped anyway, so Zimmerman recited the LeTourneau story for Pastor Greene. It was easier for him to state the obvious in third person anyway. But state it he did. It was the first time Greene had actually ever heard Zimmerman acknowledge God's hand. Surely it was a milestone for him of some sort. Zimmerman wondered aloud to the young Pastor how Letourneau or Martin O'Mally could pray almost as if conversing with the Divine?... was it possible for a hard, faithless man like Zimmerman to pray like that?

There was a man, I believe more heartless than you..." Greene began. "His name was John Newton and he traded in the souls of men..."

Newton's story, Greene concluded, could be summed up in the great hymn he had written:

Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound; That saved a wretch like me..."

Greene and Zimmerman, for the first time ever, prayed together. Intellectual discussion that leads nowhere was something Zimmerman never had time for. Kris had long since retired, but Zimmerman saw the supper dishes and offered to help Greene clean up. Greene tried to decline the offer but Zimmerman found himself barking as if to one of his bridge superintendents: "I'll load the dishwasher." If God's heart was seen in service, and Zimmerman had seen plenty of examples lately, the least he could do was return the favor.

The newer Eastbound span was closed for cleaning and maintenance work. The hazmat schedule was light that evening and security waved Zimmerman through even though it was a violation of protical for hazmat hours to let him through without permits. Once before a guard had stopped Zimmerman from doing the same thing... he'd entered hazmat blockout without his identification badge, and the guard turned him around. The man, realizing too late who he had denied access, feared for his job. Indeed was called into Zimmerman's office the next morning... where he received a raise and a promotion. That was in the early days when Zimmerman was not as well recognized. He suspected he'd been tagged by facial recognition software this time anyway, so he drove onto the bridge resolving to forget the matter. If, and he still had his doubts, God could indeed forgive a ruthless industrialist, the ruthless industrialist could surely extend the favor to one of his staff.

Driving up the suspended ship crossing of the old BSB leaving Big Diomede, something didn't feel right. Was it the relaxed security? Zimmerman's least favorite part of the span was the ship channel crossing on the old span. He and Martin had fought viciously over the length of the suspension span. Martin wanted a longer, more gradual rise but Zimmerman was seeing serious cost overruns and overrode his engineer to demand the shortest span allowable. That led to the notorious 'blind hump' that truckers cursed continually. The newer span had been built longer to correct the problem, but tonight traffic was diverted to the old bridge.

To compensate, a driver activated warning system had been installed to stop traffic if necessary. It had been tested but never actually deployed. Zimmerman's thoughts wandered to the potential killer he had unwittingly created... A blast of an air horn burst his ears... two 53' trailers were flying sidewise in his direction over the hump! They seemed captured in an eery waltz as they turned, scraping and sparks filled the tube! Zimmerman thought he saw the silhouette of a man running, but he might of imagined it. The warning lights came on! One of the drivers had been able to hit the in-cab button. Releasing from their death-dance, the two trucks exited through the wall of the tube with a loud crash! Zimmerman ground his brakes, bringing the 911 to a halt. A third trailer had jacknifed as well and blocked all the lanes.

The overhead lights flickered, then there was only darkness! The wind from the wound in the tube wall filled the bridge with a salty sea air. Zimmerman was transported by the smell to family beach trips where he was the avid sand castle builder. Once he'd jokingly dug a hole in the sand, added approach ramps and created the "Tunnel to France." They'd laughed. It was a ridiculous idea, but now, you could indeed drive to France... but what was the cost? Was this an act of terrorism thwarted?, or still in the making. Terrorists always struck when security became complacent, and Zimmerman's being on the span now was due to just such a lapse! The trucks piercing the wall had resulted in communications dropping out. Zimmerman tried to call his security office... silence!

With all of the BSB communications created as phone apps, there was no service. Zimmerman picked up his cell... he caught a faint signal from the phone tower in Wales. Unable to raise anyone on his staff, Zimmerman feared the worst. His bridge might just become his tomb! How thankful he was for his timely lesson in prayer! He was not afraid of dying, as he feared he would be in a situation like this. Still, a sense of unfinished business gnawed at him... not a great work to be built, or quest to be won, but a lady's heart. Tonight he had indeed tasted undeserved love... but he had known it once before, deep in his past. It would be a decent hour in Virginia he thought as he pushed the phone button to call Pat.


(to be continued)

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale IX

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Of all the wonderful feats I have performed, since I have been in this part of the world, I think yesterday I performed the most wonderful. I produced unaninimity among fifteen men who were all quarreling about that most ticklish subject -- Taste." -- Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Zimmerman's complex at Wales was originally meant to be simply a construction camp and to continue as a port of entry to the Americas. It was a city in itself that seemed determined to outgrow whatever space was alloted to it. The buildings were fabricated in the same shipyards that produced the components of the great bridge. Indeed one felt like one was inside a cruise ship walking through the endless connecting corridors. Pat Zimmerman had come up with her husband in the early days but hated the hallways. Her poor circulation made the cold outside unbearable, but the "Labyrinth of Exile," as her husband called the sprawling complex, simply depressed her.

The "Labyrinth of Exile."


He'd taken the name from a biography of Theodor Herzl by that title and it stuck. It was a machine produced environment created of necessity. In great design rooms people like Pat's granddaughter were creating wonders like the Big Diomede Biospohere and the tundra farms. Still, if the design studios were a rich world, the connective tissue of the hallways and public spaces was an impoverished one. The small band of overachievers engaged in this great work required little in the way of diversions. Pat could not survive in such a sterile world. With great sorrow, Rupert resigned himself to the life devoid of family that so many of the world's great innovators seemed to be sentenced to.

The Biosphere and the calling of the Greenes was born largely out of a desire to correct this. Pat had been initially impressed when she visited and saw the richness of Kris' little house in contrast to Rupert's sterile hallways. She thought it an anomality though and didn't want to lose the circle of supportive friends she had in Virginia. The Biosphere was nice, but it was a small circle of light in a very large entity that seemed to Pat more like an oil camp on steroids. If she took notice of how Rupert seemed drawn to the Biosphere and its gardens, she must have been skeptical of it. Rupert had always befuddled his wife. He loved to photograph the flowers in their Virginia garden but often forgot to water them. He was her own real-life version of James Thurber's fictional "Walter Mitty," often seeming to inhabit another world. Unlike the fictional Mitty, Zimmerman was building his 'other world' and a world starved for such endeavors embraced him for it.

Zimmerman wondered at how such basic needs as breathing and the need to walk required no motivation, yet standing in a man's full potential eluded the ability to teach. He devoted himself to studying how men might develop the hunger to rise to the height of their potential and walk in it. He sparred often with Greene over how to inspire men. Marx had called religion the "Opiate of the Masses," yet Rupert thought it was more like the pills drivers took to keep them awake on the long road to Yakutsk. It was, to Zimmerman, a necessary boost in the driver's inate alertness. "Truck Wrecks on the Siberia Highway" were a macabre subject of continual fascination on the internet. The fact that these incidents were few and often photoshopped did nothing to shatter the myth. The road was truly dangerous.

Rupert pondered great moments in history. There was the Battle of Trenton where a band of weary patriots turned the tide of America's Revolution. The American response to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the resolve to win the world's most horrific war on multiple fronts preceeded the establishment of Herzl's vision. Yet in his own lifetime, Zimmerman had seen the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington met with an initial resolve that soon withered. America resigned herself to whatever forces the world would throw it. Such Fatalism went against Zimmerman's constitution. As students of engineering found their way to his studios, Zimmerman rounded out their education with a healthy dose of history... and that history full of the stories of overcomers!

Rupert's school also looked at life through the Macro-lens as well. He learned that infants, no different from his granddaughter he surmised, had been placed in an orphanage in Tehran, Iran. The attendants of this place merely fed and changed the infants. There was no cuddling, no interaction, there simply wasn't time for that. An appalling percentage of these precious souls never sat up, never walked... they simply died. He studied long and hard the transformation in society's view of orphans in the Victorian Era. Men like Charles Dickens and George Müller had seen the wretched street urchins most people despised as jewels to be polished. Müller, relying solely on Divine provision, built five large houses for Orphans at Ashley Downs in Bristol, England. He trained the girls to be nurses, teachers, clerical workers and domestics. He apprenticed all the boys in various trades. He was excoriated for training these unwanted children "above their station." He ignored the critics.

George Müller
George Müller.

When William Wilberforce had ended the slave trade in the British Empire, he had thrown the city of Bristol into economic depression. The port there was heavily devoted to that wretched business and suffered heavily when it was brought to a sudden halt. The unintended consequence had been a rise in children condemned to a life of poverty. Ending the vile business of enslaving Africa's children had resulting in England's society spurning the needs of her own.

In 1831, 24 year old Isambard Kingdom Brunel was awarded a contract to bridge the Avon Gorge. It was the dream of a prosperous wine merchant who provided the initial funding. The completed bridge would become the symbol of the city, but lack of funding dogged the project. It took thirty years to complete it. For years only the towers stood completed. In 1833 Brunel began work on the Great Western Railway, which would become the instrument of Bristol's economic revitalization. The nicknames: "Great Way Round" and "God's Wonderful Railway" seem to describe well Brunel's great work.

Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge became the symbol of the City of Bristol.

Building the Great Western Railway.

Zimmerman and his apprentices studied the work of men like Brunel, who in the Nineteenth Century had built shipyards and had designed the first propeller driven transatlantic steamship. Like the steelworkers in Bodine's photographs, they seemed involved in the pouring of some fiery inventiveness beyond their ability to create on their own. In fact, the stuff of creativity seemed dangerous, its mishandling capable of reducing its handler to ash. The more Zimmerman accomplished, it is safe to say, the less ownership he felt of the work he'd seen accomplished.

Children at Ashly Down.

Children at Ashly Down received education and training for future employment. the day started at 6am for the orphans, normal for working-class children of Victorian times.

While boys would be placed in apprenticeships at age 14, the young ladies would remain until 17. They received training to be Nurses, Teachers and Domestic Servants [as the group in maids' uniforms above].

William Wilberforce.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale VIII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them." -- Isaiah 11:6

Who is the little girl?" Kris had asked Rupert that night. There was another photograph of her making a very strange face to show her first two teeth. Yet another showed her taking her first steps! Clearly Rupert adored this child. "That is my Anna's first child... my GRANDDAUGHTER!" Rupert answered.

She's a real cutie!"

Look at the photos closely." said Rupert. "See the heroic struggle of mankind in a very tiny vessel!" Indeed Zimmerman had carefully composed his captures of the girl to emphasize each moment of triumph.

I can say with some certainty that meeting her changed my life."

Rupert continued: "I had built a fairly successful business in the lower 48. I made a lot of money. Then things changed. I saw the business falter. People were seeming to give up hope... even the ones who said they trusted God were stashing food and leaving the stream of life, it seemed. I, a non-believer, was extremely discouraged. With no hope of Heaven, and quite deserving of Hell, if such a place exists; I drank to ease the pain. Pat, my wife, was loving and supportive through it all but could offer me no solace for the here and now."

She doesn't know that one night I went out in the garage and turned on the car with the garage door closed. I wanted to go to sleep and simply forget about living. Something stopped me that night. I heard a bird's song outside the window and I thought of Pat. I've had close colleagues end it all and saw the pain their loved ones carried for years. I just couldn't do that to her... I love her so much!"

Somehow I sensed that if I hung in their a little more, I'd find some reason for hope again. I needed something to grab on to. Someone had to LEAD the people... like your Moses led the people to the Land of Promise... then Herzl after him. That mission now consumed me! Then Anna, my oldest daughter, called me a few days later and let it slip that she was going to have a baby!"

I know I'm rambling on, but let it be known that I saw in my daughter's little girl the essence of human triumph. She pulled herself up to crawl and each step she took required no motivational program... though we praised her profusely. The struggle was hers. The triumph consumed her will. You know, there are no books needed on how to teach your baby to walk!"

Is it crazy, Pastor Greene, to say that my granddaughter taught me one of the most important lessons in my life?" Green shook his head to reassure the older man that indeed this was a very natural thing: "More people need to observe the ways of Children." he said. "you know the story of Moses begins with a baby. Moses was supposed to have been killed but his mother and his sister conspired to save him. The rest is history, as they say."

Pat says I'm obsessed with my projects... like a baby obsessed with the NEED to walk."

I'd say you NEEDED that dedication to link two continents sir."

Indeed I did, and Martin and Elizabeth did as well." Rupert went on to lament how rare a commodity that was these days. "I wish I could bottle it and sell... no, I wish I could GIVE that away. Heaven knows that we as a species so desperately need it!"

Moses lived so he could part a sea... could it be that you have lived so that one could be bridged?" Greene wanted to continue the thought, but his wife interjected: "Where is the little girl now?"

Oh, she's one of my engineers." smiled the bridge builder. "She and her husband live here in Wales."


(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale VII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Realists are, as a rule, only men in the rut of routine who are incapable of transcending a narrow circle of antiquated notions." -- Theodor Herzl

Dream and deed are not as different as many think. All the deeds of men are dreams at first, and become dreams in the end." -- Theodor Herzl 

Rupert Zimmerman would tell you that he believed only in what he could see. The problem was that as he worked to build one of the world's great wonders, he knew that he was actually already aware of much more than met his eyes. This troubled him. Zimmerman lived alone in a suite in one of his prefabricated towers in Wales. A vast picture window gave him an unobstructed view of his bridge... but Rupert was becoming ever increasingly aware that it was NOT his bridge, nor Martin's or Elizabeth's. He thought of Samuel Morse: "What hath God wrought?" was his initial thought when the telegraph sprang to life. The bridge belonged to the world... it was something that's time to be had come. Rupert Zimmerman was simply the instrument... in, could it be?, the hand of... God?

Framed by the enormous window, perception of the bridge itself was ever changing with every new season... even every new day! Sometimes the bright Summer sunlight defined the structure precisely. On a foggy day you could perhaps see a few of the marking lights... extreme fog left you staring at a window full of grey nothingness. On a crisp Winter day when the Sun was below the horizon, you could see every light, but not the bridge itself. Zimmerman too was aware of the thousands of cables that worked together to secure the great bridge in place. They were below the water and out of sight. Most of the mass of the bridge's unique pontoons was below the surface. O'Malley had designed them to remain extremely stable in the erratic currents... inspired by proportions found in the natural world.

His wife, Pat Zimmerman, lived in Virginia. She was a lovely woman who had stood by Rupert through decades of failures and successes, but she simply couldn't take the cold dark climate of Wales. Rupert was considered a war criminal in the lower 48 now so he slipped into the country to see her on a fairly regular basis, but without a pattern. Pat's home in Virginia was warm and welcoming. Rupert's suite in Wales was, to put it simply, a "man cave." The furniture was minimalist, to say the least.

The simple white walls were punctuated by large prints of black and white photographs. Beautiful nature photography by Ansel Adams shared the room with the work of Baltimore photographer A. Aubrey Bodine. Bodine had captured the environment of the Chesapeake Bay and the construction of the first bridge across the bay in the 1950's. Bodine went into the steel mills of Baltimore and photographed the muscular men making the molten material from which great ships and bridges, towers and transport machines were formed.

When the Cathedral of Mary our Queen was being built, Bodine climbed the scaffolding to capture stonemasons building a modern building with their ancient craft. Bodine also captured sublime moments in Baltimore's community: women washing the rows of marble steps on the fronts of seemingly endless rowhouses... children playing in fire hydrants, stevedores and Chesapeake Bay fishermen all were captured by Bodine's observant eye.

As a boy, Zimmerman had been captivated by the photography of Bodine. The Baltimore Sun Sunday Magazine regularly printed his work and the photographer masterfully captured the spirit of a muscular port city that had had a hand in building a great nation. The 'Brown Section,' as it was called, was a weekly journey into the city's otherwise unnoticed wonders. Bodine worked as a photographer for The Sun for fifty years! Rupert was fascinated by men and women with vision... and the ability to see things in new ways.

On a glass coffee table sat a well-worn copy of Bodine's 'Dignity of Work.' There was also an even more dog-eared copy of Theodor Herzl's Aultneuland... Herzel's novel presented a vision of modern day Israel but was published in 1902, when there was no such nation. Once Zimmerman had entertained the O'Malleys and the Greenes in his suite and Pastor Greene asked him abut it. Greene's wife was a fine photographer so as Elizabeth showed her through her father's collection; the industrialist, the engineer and the man of God had lost themselves in conversation.

Kris found herself drawn to a small photo in an out of the way place. Here was a photo Zimmerman himself had taken of his first grandchild at seven months. Rupert had crouched low to the floor to capture the girl's first attempts to crawl. Her cheeks were rosy from the exertion and her smile beamed: "Look what I can do!" Indeed her heroism seemed right at home beside the larger, more prominent images of steelworkers and stevedores. Zimmerman seemed to possess a keen vision of man's noble potential. Greene would call it 'Imago Dei.'

Herzl was a man with a vision... it is safe to say he was tormented by it." said Rupert: "The eerie thing is that he was spot-on in describing the nation that was born, or some say REBORN in the so-called 'Promised Land.' When Herzl wrote his novel the land was securely in the hands of the Ottoman Empire. In 1917 England's foreign secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a declaration stating that this land should indeed be given as a homeland to the people who had inhabited it since ancient times. World War I saw the end of the empire and British control. It wasn't until 1947 that Israel was truly 'reborn' in the wake of that terrible war."

Rupert was a man who was prone to ramble on. Greene was the kind of friend who tolerated it because he sensed the man's need to handle ideas many considered outrageous. Zimmerman's insecurity required that he 'footnote' his thoughts, making him a poor conversationalist. Greene was a man of vision too, and sensed this. "Did you know that this little nation is the size of New Jersey in the lower 48, yet she produces more agricultural output than most large nations of Europe?" Zimmerman opined.

When I wire flowers to Pat, my wife in Virginia, it is safe to say that there is a good chance they came from an Israeli greenhouse!" Rupert went on to describe the amazing technology coming out of this small nation. Artificial sight for the blind, smart cars that 'drove themselves' and cutting-edge agricultural innovation all eminated from this tiny plot of ground. Indeed, Rupert, Martin and Elizabeth looked to this innovative people for much of the wisdom they needed for their work.

Zimmerman lamented the unfulfilled parts of Herzl's vision. In Aultneuland, there were no prisons. There were farming communities where men were reintroduced to healthy participation in greater community. The stark reality was that prisons around the world had only grown in population and had become schools for societal dysfunction and recidivism. "What," Zimmerman wondered, "would it take for Herzel's vision to become reality?" Zimmerman also lamented that Herzl had envisioned a world where Arab and Jew lived and worked side by side in peace. After the establishment of the nation of Israel, her Arab neighbors Egypt, Syria and Jordan all rushed to wage war on her. Much of the Arab population was incited to flee Israel with the promise that they would return behind the conquering armies. When that didn't happen many of them became permanent refugees. The nations they fled to never enfranchised them. In their bitterness of soul they became easily radicalized.

How does one rebuild the human spirit?" Rupert had asked Greene. He clearly identified the failures in Herzl's vision as failures to do just that. Yet he balked at the notion of so-called "blind faith" in an unseen Divine. He saw Greene's work as that of inspiring men to a higher standard for the here and now. Greene was a man of another Kingdom. Still, when a man like Pastor Greene labored to build the works of this unseen Kingdom, the fruits inevitably flowed forth into the world we know now.

Bering Strait Bridge terminus at Big Diomede.


(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale VI

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old, Behold I do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert" -- Isaiah 43:18-19

For the Support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." -- American Declaration of Independence, attributed to Thomas Jefferson

As Joe and Chris had pushed on through the Yukon Territory on A2, they had seen the glimmer of reflected sunlight from Elizabeth's latest initiative... tundra greenhouses. The soil of the tundra had long been known to be extremely fertile but since it was frozen most of the year all that grew there was low scrubby vegetation. Martin pointed out that there was an abundance of geothermal energy in the same vicinity as the fertile tundra. All you had to do was drill for it. With an abundance of oil and gas companies flocking to the region, you simply paid them to sink your wells as a 'side job.' Hot water and steam gushing from deep in the Earth powered turbines to generate electricity, extending the growing season with artificial sunlight. Next it was used to heat the greenhouses and warm the topsoil so it could be cultivated. Finally the cooled water was used to irrigate crops, sinking back into the tundra so the process could be repeated.

Environmental 'protectors' in the lower 48 cried 'foul,' but their own data actually proved you could turn most of Siberia and the Northwest Territories into farms without making a dent in the Earth's temperature balance. The change was not without precedent. In the late Nineteenth Century the American West had been transformed into the breadbasket of the world. Immigrants fleeing famine joined with adventure seekers and restless pioneers to build this new world. Disney's Main Street was but a faint allusion to the energy of these communities as they had faced the frontier with little else than determination and faith. Faith, in the end, was the nutrient that kept them strong. Rupert's shipbuilding friends were happy to fabricate greenhouses fit to withstand the snow loads as his great bridge and the support buildings necessary for it were nearing completion. His Swedish friend followed in the path of Sears Roebuck in providing fine houses for the pioneers. On Martin O'Malley's drawing boards were plans for a new world to take shape in the Twenty-first Century. A world wracked by war and famine eagerly awaited it.

Elizabeth's vision would bring people presently crammed into refugee camps to work the soil inside her greenhouses. The Bering Strait highways would become a conduit for them to feed their homelands. All this would require the participation of thousands of souls who would plant, cultivate, harvest, drive trucks and provide necessary services for those involved in these activities. Coptic Egyptians, now living free of persecution, populated one of the first villages. Their rich Orthodox Church seemed right at home among the vestiges of Russian America. Sumatran Muslims who had made their fortunes working away from home on cruise ships now were able to make a living with their families intact in their own little community.

Elizabeth followed the example of Nineteenth Century America in broadcasting the little groups in such a way that they would need to cooperate with other communities while they enjoyed the familiarity of their own. Perhaps ths sharing in taming hostile wilderness is one of the Divine's greatest gifts to mankind in that they learn to work together. Joe and Chris had stopped to help Abdul change a tire earlier in the day. Men of two different cultures, they were brought together by a common struggle -- the struggle for survival on that hostile road. Chris had never spent time with a Turk before, but Joe remembered when his Grandfather, a NASA engineer in the 1960's had worked with a man from Ankarah named Ali. Ali was the son of Turkish immigrants and was a fellow engineer. Joe's Grandmother had learned what foods to avoid serving as the men shared each other's homes in hospitality.

NASA, in their infinite wisdom, had decided to send Joe's Grandfather and Ali as consultants to the European Space Program. They arrived in Paris during the height of Algerian separation. As tanks rolled through the streets, Joe's Grandfather walked those streets with a man who many mistook for an Algerian! They were very relieved when they moved on to Rome and then to London for the remainder of their work. Abdul was new to the Bering Strait Highway and he was not having a good time of it. He should not have drawn the card of a hazmat load so early in his career, but as all drivers know, these things happen. In addition to increased scrutiny at checkpoints, he had faced mechanical issues with his truck and was woefully behind schedule. Now he'd sat on the side of the road with a blown tire, missing his scheduled insertion into the hazardous materials hours the night before.

A very gracious and hospitable man in his own culture, Abdul was nonetheless impressed by the two American's genuine concern for him. Joe seemed to have put aside his own schedule in his mind as the three men wrestled with the unruly rubber. In fact, the Americans seemed to come from a gracious state of mind that he could relate to. How unlike the television 'cowboy' Americans he had been taught to detest these men were. What lay inside a man like Joe, who in his sixties wielded a tire tool like a twenty year old? He wore the ravages of age and a hard life, yet his eyes were merry with a youthful twinkle. Surely it couldn't be his religion. These crazy Americans had THREE Gods, not one, and they did not submit to the disciplines necessary for a holy life! Indeed, many of Abdul's interactions with European Americans seemed to bear out his prejudices against them. On a few occasions he'd met men like Joe, and they shattered all his theories.

Was it a drug, like the pills most drivers took to stay awake on the endless highways? Surely Joe would acknowledge the harsh reality of life, yet he seemed to live with one foot in another world. Whatever pill Joe was taking, Abdul secretly wanted it. The more Abdul learned about Americans, the more befuddled he became. He was driving for a company that was a competitor to Intercontinental Logistics, who Chris and Joe drove for, yet the two men seemed eager to be his friend. Chris was a deep well of information on how to survive the Bering Highway. He knew what to say (and what NOT to say) at the security checkpoints. He knew that straight-up bribery would land you in the impound lot, but that when they seemed immovable in their inquisition, certain verbal postures and 'friendly gestures' would speed you along. Indeed, the two men seemed genuinely interested in Abdul's success! He'd read of American companies in what seemed like an all-out war for customer base. Then a fire destroys one of them. Where he had been taught to see the judgement of the Almighty, something else took place. The surviving competitor actually made space in his own building for the displaced workers and the competitor he so fiercely had battled with just weeks before.

The man who's company had survived shared his own resources until his competitor was whole again. Then the two companies became two distinct entities again. What most people missed was the friendship of the two men in their professional associations. Like rival quarterbacks in professional football, they publicly sparred while privately they acknowledged some sort of brotherhood. With Americans, like any other people, Abdul concluded; you had to look deep beneath the surface. Understanding these people required a vision of a world unseen.

Greenhouse farms at the Big Diomede Biosphere Interchange. 
Graphic by Bob Kirchman

(to be continued) [click to read]

Tundra Greenhouse Farm.

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale V

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Posterity, you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it" -- John Quincy Adams

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will" -- George Bernard Shaw

Elizabeth Zimmerman O’Malley was the youngest of Rupert and Pat’s three children. The older two had been more like Pat. Rupert loved them dearly, but blessed them as they chose different paths from his. His oldest daughter Anna was a gifted teacher. Anna’s children were the delight of Zimmerman’s life. He loved to converse with them. Sandy, his middle child, was a noted travel writer and photographer. Elizabeth was her father’s little shadow. If Rupert sketched a design, Elizabeth had to try to draw it better. Zimmerman quit his job working for another super ego when Elizabeth was young and for a time worked out of a home office where Elizabeth sat at a little desk next to her father’s big table. Zimmerman came from an era when design required drawing by hand. He’d often add texture with crosshatching or stipple with a pencil.

Once a client of Zimmerman’s came into the shop as little Elizabeth was hammering away at her paper with a pencil. “What are you drawing, Elizabeth?” She had asked. “I’m drawing STIPPLE!” was the little girl’s reply. As a girl she copied her father, but as a young woman she excelled him. Being Rupert Zimmerman’s assistant was not for the faint-hearted. He’d been through dozens of them by the time Elizabeth arrived in Nome. Zimmerman trusted his nascent ideas to scarcely anyone. Indeed, his own wife Pat wondered at the rabbit trails of her husband’s mind. Elizabeth was strangely comfortable there.

As a boy, the creative and uber-sensitive Zimmerman had been taught by nuns. One of their favorite pastimes it seemed was to slip up on little boys doodling in class and rap them on the knuckles with a ruler. Use the wrong size pencil and they’d break it over your hand. There was a place behind Rupert’s peripheral vision where if a person entered he would freeze in whatever he was doing, a holdover from those days... unless it happened to be Elizabeth. When he became known for his successes, young people would want to come and learn by watching Zimmerman work. Often one would try to get closer and look over his shoulder. Rupert would freeze in his tracks... then say tersely: “only Elizabeth is to stand there.”

As a boy Zimmerman drew picture after picture of amazing things he wished to build. Cities on the Moon... space stations... outposts in faraway wastelands all flowed from the boy’s hand. After a teacher had unceremoniously ripped up one of his drawings, Zimmerman hid his work under his bed. He grew up to work making other people’s dreams into reality but somehow he never forgot his own. Where Zimmerman was strong on hard line, his daughter was strong on form and color. Together they were masters of the narrative that would become the Bering Strait Bridge. When potential investors saw their work, they were reassured by the depth of it.

Rupert, Elizabeth and Martin plugged on. Together they brought a great work to fruition. As Barry Soetoro’s policies mired the economy of a great nation, some like Pat started quietly storing food and silver, preparing for the worst. Some, like Zimmerman, looked to history as they planned for the future. Most thought them a bit crazy though. Post-war Alaska, however, needed a great work to hold on to. They were grateful to Zimmerman for providing it.

The opening of the Bering Strait Bridge and the creation of the Siberian Autonomous Republic opened up a great new frontier. The Confederation of the two Autonomous Republics possessed more potential energy resources than Saudi Arabia. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a huge stretch of nothing, suddenly blossomed with new exploration rigs drilling for oil. The funny thing is that the rigs themselves were almost unnoticeable and the wildlife flourished. Zimmerman’s fortunes grew with the region and now Elizabeth was able to invest the Zimmerman fortune improving lives around the world.

Where her father saw the potential to build, Elizabeth saw the potential to invest in people’s lives. In her mind there was no point in constructing a great bridge if people had no ability to produce crops or goods to ship across it. She was saddened that so many people in the lower 48 were living on government handouts and no longer producing things. What she saw in the rest of the world broke her heart.

(to be continued) [click to read]

The Big Diomede Service Plaza.

Map of Connecting Highways. Graphic by Bob Kirchman

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

THYME Magazine: Restoring All Things

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume IX, Issue XXII

G-d's Audacious Plan
to Change the World
Through Ordinary People

The only two things that can satisfy the soul are a person and a story; and even a story must be about a person. Men... are much oftener led by their hearts than by their understandings." -- G. K. Chesterton

Modern Evangelical Christians often miss the power of the story" -- Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet

After I had completed the manuscript for 'Pontifus, the Bridge Builder's Tale in Three Parts,' I discovered Restoring All Things by Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet. It was as if these two scholars had seen my feeble attempt to bring redemption into a contemporary (albeit slightly futuristic) narrative. They see the dark and hopeless narrative of the culture and counter it with stories of hope and heroism by quite ordinary people.

The language of the Church often seems like a foreign tongue to those in contemporary culture. Indeed, in the afterglow of great revivals, Christian thought was present in the culture. One would know some Biblical wisdom as part of the narrative. Today the Church is speaking into a culture that has relegated Christian ideas and ideals to a place outside the discussion. The authors note how C. S. Lewis: "...had the challenge of building the bridge between the culture of Oxford and Cambridge and the culture of the Church. These cultures were worlds apart by his time." 

Lewis was 'bilingual,' so to speak, understanding the language of the Church as well as the language of the academy. He was able to present a world unseen to those in the secular academy. He and his fellow 'Inkling,'  J. R. R. Tolkien opened new vistas to mankind in the Twentieth Century. I am eternally grateful to them.

But the real beauty of this little book is that it is NOT merely a catalyst for intellectual discussion, but a call to action. Smith and Stonestreet show how Christians, ORDINARY Christians, ministered to those in their own communities. It was Christians who cared for their neighbors during plagues. History is full of the stories of the Church meeting human needs. The Saints of the past lay out a pattern for compassion today!

It is the Church that will continue to make the case for the value of all lives... making the case that if we want to protect children from abuse, we will protect them in the womb as well. The authors quote the oft repeated statistic that divorce rates are about the same for Christians as for Non-Christians and dig deeper, finding a significant difference for those who actually adhere to Scriptural authority. The oft quoted statistic includes ANYONE who merely identifies as a Christian. The reality is where Scriptural principles are the benchmark, there is significantly LESS divorce.

In fact, the Church can do the world a great service by 'Giving Marriage to the World Once Again.' Indeed, a world that has cheapened and discarded the institution simply needs to see more of the lovely thing it was created to be.

My favorite chapter is: 'Coloring Outside the Lines,' and it describes how Christians have cherished learning and innovation through history. The Church can provide meaning, purpose and foundations for the acquiring of knowledge. Though we often associate Christian curriculum today with notions such as: "color the grass green, the tree trunk brown..." the truth is that the Church historically has led in education, even establishing the great universities.

Today the Church must reengage in G-d's work to Remake the world. Smith and Stonestreet provide the workbook; and illustrate it profusely with stories of ordinary people doing just that.


Special Book Section

Three weeks ago we began the serial presentation of "Pontifus, The Bridge Builder's Tale in Three Parts." [1.] This week we present the fourth chapter of the first book: "Dinner Stop at the End of the World" below. This special book section will continue through the Summer. The full publication of THYME will resume in the Fall.

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale IV

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope." -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a price upon its goods, and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated." -- Thomas Payne

Like the Transcontinental Railroad of old, the Bering Strait Bridge was forged out of the ashes of a time of great Chaos. Alaska was now an autonomous republic, much like Texas in the Nineteenth Century. When United States President Barry Soetoro brokered an unprecedented third term, he then attempted to defund the bulk of the American military. Here he made a fatal miscalculation. The man who had no stomach for extended conflict, who often went to bed when he should have gone to the situation room, forgot that the men and women in his command had no such misgivings. All it took was a handful of generals who quietly slipped to Alaska with the codes for the missiles and Soetoro was their hostage.

Taking a lesson from America's bloody Civil War, the generals were quick to offer terms of peace tailor-made for Soreto's constitution. Alaska would become an autonomous state and provide basic security along with the United States Armed Forces. The rift that had long existed in the so-called 'United States' was now official. Soetoro's 'Blue Party' had promised citizens scores of benefits, all to be provided by the government. When the bill came in, there was no longer a thriving economy to pay for it. Gradually Soetoro's regime had to limit what they could give away. An economy in shambles looked to men and women who seemed to come from another era. Those men and women would carve a new nation out of a wilderness.

A brief time of conflict did ensue. Soetoro loyalists commandeered some landing craft. Coming ashore at night, they sacked and burned Juneau before moving on on to attack Anchorage, hoping to isolate and destroy the pipeline terminal at Valdez. General Palin created the ruse of a man unable to direct his troops, drawing the Soetoro forces ashore with the appearance of poor defenses, he hammered them from the hills surrounding Anchorage. Although Anchorage burned, the economic lifeline of Valdez remained unscathed.

The loyalists blew up every bridge and communication tower they could. They soon came to the realization that in destroying Juneau, they had failed to destroy the Alaskan government. Under the red crosses on tents outside Fairbanks, deep inside Alaska, the business of the young republic went on. Cell towers might have been taken out but ragged children ran to and fro with important communications. The President of the young republic shared a tent with war wounded and took a turn at tending for their needs. Citizen-soldiers bolstered the ranks of American troops who had followed the renegade Generals. They were ragged and often had to provide their own supplies and ammunition. In the end they proved to be a "well organized militia."

The defense of the important port of Valdez was their shining moment. As Juneau and Anchorage smoldered in ruins, Soetoro loyalists tried to circumvent the naval vessels protecting the oil terminal. In their overconfidence they tried to move inland to destroy Alaska's economic lifeline. They were met by the ragged men who had been all too easy to rout earlier... now in the mountains where the same ragged men prevailed. German general Rommel had traveled to Virginia to study Thomas Jackson's Valley Campaign before he became known as the 'Desert Fox.' Alaska's General Palin was, if anything, a more thorough student of Jackson. Alaska might have provided a more limited infrastructure for troop movement than Nineteenth Century Virginia, but her mountains held way more secret passages.

In the American Civil War, Thomas Jackson had enjoyed exellent communications using signal posts such as Massanutten Mountain in the great Valley of Virginia to relay his important messages. Alaska presented a vast array of “signal knobs” for a military engineer with the abilities of Martin O’Malley, Palin's chief strategist. Yupik Inuit specialists joined the effort, communicating in their native language at times. Soetoro's forces couldn't crack the code. Palin always was aware of their positions. By the time they realized it was a Native American language, the war was over. The defenders of the Alaska Republic dug in for a long fight, remembering the lessons of the Civil War, but the Soetoro forces had no great generals and Soetoro himself had little taste for war, especially war that could not be quickly won. His unmanned drones were innefective in the North, where men who honed their marksmanship hunting polar bear were quick to pick them off. After the tide turned at Anchorage, peace was negotiated.

At the battle of Anchorage Rupert Zimmerman, who was no soldier but a strong defender of his land and family, was wounded. This requiring the amputation of his right leg. Recuperating in exile in Nome, he began sketching his great bridge. A new republic, resource rich but lacking connection to the rest of the world, was waiting for him. General Palin's chief engineer, Martin O'Malley, was also in Nome. The dashing young Captain took a liking to Zimmerman's daughter Elizabeth. Elizabeth had left her native Virginia to be at her father's side. Elizabeth was a gifted artist and a visionary in her own right. An interesting charrette ensued as Zimmerman's great bridge came to life before their eyes.

Zimmerman found in Martin a man of the stature of Claudius Crozet, Napoleon's engineer who came to Virginia in discrace after planning the Battle of Waterloo. Crozet had built railroads and canals. He built the Blue Ridge Tunnel through the mountains with an army of 2000 Irishmen. O'Malley, the descendent of railroad builders, joked that he'd require three times as many Frenchmen to accomplish his task. Martin and Rupert set to work to create drawings and raise capital. With solid commitments in place, the men made a trip to Wales to survey the stage upon which they would begin their magnum opus.

Although they almost lost their lives when their tent burned on the tundra above Wales, Rupert and Martin survived to begin their great work. Returning to Wales sick and disoriented, the men recovered rapidly as they began assembling resources to build the Bering Strait Bridge. The genius of Zimmerman and O’Malley was in convincing their backers that they really didn’t have any genius. What they were building was nothing that hadn’t been done before. They referenced the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-tunnel built in the nineteen-sixties in Virginia. That span was 26 miles long and connecting Alaska to Siberia simply required two spans of similar length joined end to end at the Diomede Islands. What they left out of their narrative was the relative difficulty of what they were proposing. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-tunnel was essentially built on pilings driven into the sandy floor of the Chesapeake Bay. The Bering Strait was infinitely more complex, a wild undersea topography that was complicated by plate tectonics.

Three men had died building the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-tunnel. Assembling a bridge exposed to the whims of severe weather had its risks. Zimmerman came up with the idea of a tethered pontoon bridge prefabricated in sections in the relative safety of shipyards. Seagoing tugs would maneuver the pieces of Rupert’s game into place and robotic submersables would place the cable stays to keep it in place. Another problem of the Bay Bridge-tunnel was exposure to the elements of travelers on the bridge. A truck had once crashed into the Bay after apparently being struck by lightning! Wind sometimes wreaked havoc on large trailers. Bering Strait Bridge traffic would move in covered roadways. Assembly in shipyards created an economy that allowed for such upgrades.

The only elements of Zimmerman’s plan that had to be fabricated on-site were the high suspended portions to allow for the passage of large ships. O’Malley designed two -- one in each long span, feeling that would be more than adequate. At the last minute the Russians threw a wrench in the process, demanding another high crossing on their side of the Date Line in the span between the Diomedes. O’Malley worked out a design change but stretched the construction budget over the limit in doing so. Zimmerman was furious. His investors were becoming uneasy. In the end he gave the Russians the shortest suspension span possible.

(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

THYME Magaine: A Love Song

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume IX, Issue XXI

The Story Behind the Photo

The photo above is one I took of the morning flag raising ceremony at Capon Springs, West Virginia. Every morning, when the resort is in operation, the owners will select a child to raise the flag. I readied myself on the third floor porch of the Annex building, which is now the main building since the Mountain House, which was much larger, burned in 1911. I must have been distracted somehow, but the child stepped up rather quickly to raise the flag. I literally shot the photo without thinking.

When I looked at the captured image, I saw the shaft of light. Then I was washed by a great flood of emotion as the light seemed to be as a message of comfort from the Divine. Indeed He hears our prayers for our beloved land. He cares for us. Don't give up. Fight the good fight. I offer you 2nd Chronicles 7:14:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

Yes, our problems are great... seemingly insurmountable, and yet I remember that band of men under George Washington at Valley Forge and the Battle of Trenton. The odds weren't so good then either. In 1985, Katharine Lee Bates visited Pike's Peak. It was an arduous journey but the sight of the great mountain stirred her to write this great love song... but it is more than a love song, it is a prayer. Read the verses we seldom sing and you will see her great prayer for this country.

America the Beautiful
Words by Katharine Lee Bates,
Melody by Samuel Ward

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam 
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!


Special Book Section

Two weeks ago we began the serial presentation of "Pontifus, The Bridge Builder's Tale in Three Parts." [1.] This week we present the third chapter of the first book: "Dinner Stop at the End of the World" below.

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale III

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


They shall bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing." -- Psalm 92:14

The spirit of man is more important than mere physical strength, and the spiritual fiber of a nation more than its wealth." -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Most innovations like the Transcontinental Railroad and the Bering Strait Bridge spread a blight across the landscape they traversed. In the 1890's, "Hell on Wheels" came to be the term used to describe the loosely formed "towns" that blighted the building of the great railroads. Rupert Zimmerman would have none of that on his Bering Strait Bridge. He was not so great a moralist as much as one who realized the toll lawless frontier society exacted from its victims. Knowing that the vilest of human or devilish institutions rush in to fill such a void, Zimmerman had sought to proactively fill it. His biosphere city on Big Diomede was the prototype. Kris had followed her husband to the end of the world to co-pastor the church there. Zimmerman had financed the whole community, including the church. He had seen the folly of making profit at the expense of human suffering, indeed HE had profited at the expense of others. As he learned of the evils of human trafficking and modern day slavery, he had become something of a 21st Century John Newton, loathing his former life and seeking an antidote. He couldn't control the follies of man but he could provide a healthy environment, at least along the tolled portion of the Bering Strait Bridge Highway.

The biosphere enclosed a garden-like eden for her citizens. Kris had had a hand in designing the parsonage, one of the first hand-built houses in any part of the Bering Stait Complex. It was something wrought out of that beautiful classicism that characterized American cities before the Great Depression and the World War. Zimmerman, who'd shamelessly utilized prefabricated structures, even revitalizing a ship interior manufacturing plant in Virginia for his larger buildings, seemed to sense the toll such industrialism took on the human soul. Here on Big Diomede he sought to find and hopefully plant something far more enduring than even his great bridge. Seeking the company of men like Dan Cathy and David Green, who saw their companies as a means to more than a profit, Zimmerman sought expression for his own altruistic purpose in the marvel he had wrought. His Great-Great Grandfather had made his fortune building Chicken Coops. Once a necessity for shipping poultry, they were now seen only as 'Americana' decor in restaurants. His Father had worked in the shop before it closed down and he had passed one story, that of being mentored by Cliff Aylor, a man who taught him how to save the odd pieces of belt lacing and relace drive belts utilizing every last piece. Grandpa was a hard man when it came to wasting nothing. But the words of Cliff's that had become inspiration were these: "Your Grandfather loaned me the money for my first house."

Loaned me the money for my first house." Clearly there was a profit one could derive from business that could not be tallied on a balance sheet. Zimmerman ached to see something bigger than himself emerge from his endeavors. The more he tried to deny it, the more it seemed clear as a bell that his great bridge was not a work of Zimmerman, but of an unseen hand that moved human history. Human history was not and endless cycle, but a line. There was intelligence and purpose drawing that line. Just like the line Zimmerman had drawn across Alaska and Siberia, it led to a destination. Kris' first house was hand-built, but not on site. Her dream design had been cut and fabricated in a production center in Virginia by craftsmen under the supervision of an innovative Swede. The man was an old friend of Zimmerman's and cast in the mold of his Grandfather. Walls and framework were expertly fitted by master craftsmen in Kris' Mother state, packed tightly in a trailer and assembled carefully by those same craftsmen in the wilds of Big Diomede. Zimmerman loved the thought of following in his Great-Great Grandfather's legacy. The gratitude in the young couple's eyes was the bonus Zimmerman hoped for, even knowing that their gratitude was directed to an unseen hand.

(to be continued) [click to read]

Kris' house on Big Diomede. Graphic by Bob Kirchman

 Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Future of Humanity

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume IX, Issue XX

Where are the Christians setting out the huge constructive vision of what the Gospel means for the human future?" -- Oz Guiness

What is the Future of Christian Faith?
by Intervarsity Press

Is it possible for society to have redemption and renewal? Is the Christian faith still relevant in the very global world of today? Os Guinness, in his new book Renaissance, declares a hopeful yes. We are in a time of renewal, of change, of continuous reformation, and, as Os writes in chapter one, “a movement that is led by the Spirit of God, which involves the people of God returning to the ways of God and so demonstrating in our time the kingdom of God, and not in word only but in power and with the plausibility of community expression.”

Although we are in a time when the problems of western worldliness — exploitation of the poor, prevalence of prosperity gospel, to name a few — seem to be overtaking the church and the world more broadly, Os believes there is hope for the future. Throughout the book, he describes how the Christian faith influenced and shaped culture over the last two hundred years. Christians have established universities, built great cathedrals, brought literacy to cultures, and generally displayed God’s goodness through art, literature and science. Drawing on great thinkers like John Baillie, Christopher Dawson, C. S. Lewis, Thomas Cahill and others, Guinness shows that the church is in a moment of great transition, but it has been here before. In light of this, readers will see that now is the time to rely wholly on God’s provision, knowing that with it the Christian faith can continue to be the cultural influence it’s always been.

For decades Os Guinness has been one of the most nuanced, realistic, yet hopeful voices calling Christians to engagement with culture,” Tim Keller writes. “This latest volume from him should not be missed by anyone. Os summarizes some of the most helpful recent discussions, updates many of his own lifelong challenges to the church, and provides many fresh insights.”

Renaissance leads readers back to a center point and challenge for the faith of the future. Os writes, “[This challenge] is, I believe, that we trust in God and his gospel and move out confidently into the world, living and working for a new Christian renaissance and thus challenge the darkness with the hope of Christian faith, believe in an outcome that lies beyond the horizon of all we can see and accomplish today.”

Os closes each chapter with thought-provoking discussion questions and brief, stirring prayers that challenge and motivate readers to take action, however dark the times may seem.

Skye Jethani, executive editor at Leadership Journal, declares this book an essential resource: “Os helps us see our present circumstances in the right light. He illuminates why the catastrophizing done by many Christians amid cultural change is unwarranted, but also soberly addresses the genuine challenges we face with new clarity and gravity. Most helpful of all, Os directs our sight back to Christ, the author and completer of our faith, in whom we find both the courage and the resources to be his people in our time. You will not regret a single minute invested in this book.”

Interview with Oz Guinness [click to listen]


Special Book Section

Last week we began the serial presentation of "Pontifus, The Bridge Builder's Tale in Three Parts." [1.] This week we present the second chapter of the first book: "Dinner Stop at the End of the World" below.

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale II

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity" -- 1 Timothy 4:12

All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind are convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth" -- Aristotle

People always thought Kris was taller than her true height. When she stood next to her husband they assumed he must be seven feet tall. In actuality he was a little over six. Her fair skin and delicate features fooled you too. Under her girly exterior was a woman fit to "meet my mountains." Many of the strong people who had built the Texas Republic in the Nineteenth Century had come from Rockbridge County in Virginia. Sam Houston, "Big Foot" Wallace and a host of other heroes were raised in the rolling valley of Virginia. Kris grew up in their footsteps. She probably never thought she'd leave those gentle hills, but when Rupert Zimmerman sought a spiritual mentor for his Eden, he looked to a church with a history of sending ministers into frontier communities.

Walt Disney once set out to build an idealized version of the Nineteenth Century American town. He built "Main Street" in the center of Disneyland. Notably absent was any church. A 'cast' of characters portrayed a longed for Americana. Tourists paid good money to stroll in its ambiance, then returned home to face their own harsh realities. Such a world was only possible when portrayed by costumed characters funded by high priced tickets. Zimmerman might have simply been seeking a sober and diligent population for his empire, but he at least saw the hole in Disney's thinking. The service plaza was, without doubt, the center of Big Diomede's economic life. The little church in the biosphere was the heart of her life. Many considered Kris the reason. Her given name, Kristina Elaine, seemed to define her best. Meaning "Follower of Christ" and "Light," it defined precisely who she placed her identity in as well as her mission.

Zimmerman had funded Big Dolomede's Pastorate well, but Kris was drawn to reach out to those in the pulse of her economy. A number of women who'd come to Big Diomede with the intention of circumventing Zimmerman's 'codes of conduct' now found themselves singing in the choir as a result of Kris' intentional friendship. Now they in turn were reaching out to newcomers with the same intentionality. The Westward push of the American frontier had come at a high cost for the women who followed their restless men. Loneliness and madness were not the stuff of Luis L'amour novels, but they were the grim reality faced by many a pioneer wife. Kris made it a point to build bridges between souls, bringing together the families of Big Diomede in a circle, to protect them from the wild ravages of a lonely frontier. During the long Winters, she made sure the little community was not overcome by the surrounding darkness.

Summer brought families in minivans looking to drive over the end of the world. They'd often linger in Big Diomede's biosphere. The children would wander into Kris' open-air Summer Bible Schools, were she had created whole undersea worlds on painters' drop-cloths. Smiling belugas and orcas cavorted on fields of deep blue as Kris explained nature's wonders to "little pitchers with big ears." The biosphere's incarnation as a tourist destination was an afterthought, but the nature lessons seemed to be a well purposed institution. Parents would linger on the fringe of the group, finding the discussion far more informative and entertaining than the Park Service's "Ranger Talks," which always seemed to be a repackaging of the "Looming New Ice Age." Kris knew her stuff. A colleague had once dubbed her the "Critter Consultant" because of her knowledge and interest in the ways of nature. Kris had made sure butterflies and hummingbirds were introduced to the biosphere as a condition of her moving there.

Tourists and truckers alike stopped on Big Diomede for much-needed physical refreshment. They lingered there for something else. Disney's Main Street facades were fake. The upper stories were actually scaled down so that they "looked" like three and four story buildings. They were actually much shorter. On Big Diomede the buildings were small and honest, the creation of a Swedish designer for whom form followed function, but something about the community made it seem larger than it was. There was no architectural trickery involved. When your children practically drop their little electronic games to run into a world of true color and wonder, no hyperbole is necessary.

(to be continued) [click to read]

Painting by Kristina Elaine Greer.

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

THYME Magazine: Building the Kingdom VI

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume IX, Issue XVIII

IMAGO DEI in Faith 
and Craftsmanship

The movie "The Matrix" takes us to a dystopia where man exists solely to feed the machine. Some feel that our present world is moving headlong in that direction as machines more and more surround us, inform us, entertain us and are seemingly attached to us. More young men live alone and spend most of their non-working time playing video games. Have we lost our sense of place as a unique entity in creation? Are we in need of rescuers like Neo, Morpheus and Trinity?

I read a fascinating review of Matthew Crawford's new book--The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. Crawford's Book [click to read] laments the "attentional economy" that reduces us to market guinea pigs in a world of technological stimulation. In light of last week's look at The Creative Mandate of Bezalel and Oholiab, I find Crawford's perscriptions most fascinating. He sees the answer in part in a return to the values learned in skilled practices, such as carpentry: "...the development of skilled practices allows us to navigate it in ways that ultimately focus our attention and expand our competence and agency. And since we usually learn these practices alongside others, often under the guidance of experienced teachers, they draw us into relationships with people as well as things. 

To learn a skilled practice like carpentry you have to humble yourself. You must endure failure, frustration, heckling, and perhaps injury, but you end up with expertise, confidence, and objective standards for judging your work and the work of others—all of which entail a truer and more enduring individuality than today’s hollow consumerist self-fashioning. This individuality also provides a surer foundation for democracy." [1.] He also sees the meditative qualities of Faith as essential to this more patient life, out of step with the techno-masters.

Crawford takes the reader inside the organ building shop of local builders: Taylor and Boody [2.] and indeed finds a comradery of craftsmanship. Indeed there is something to be found in the 'old' craftsmanship that is sorely lacking (or so it seems) in our modern world. But consider this; until the dawn of aviation the pipe organ WAS the most sophisticated machine on the face of the Earth. No doubt the dawn of the pipe organ once shook music as man knew it. Was the strong voice of the pipe seen as an encroachment on the gentleness of the string? For centuries, it would seem, each new technology initially rocks the world that receives it.

Indeed, new technologies tend to overpower the qualities of humanity. No doubt, the mills of the industrial revolution initially created a similar reductive effect on human autonomy. No longer did a man labor in concert with seasons and Sun, but rather to the stroke of the factory clock. Farmers needed no time card, for on the one hand, their work was never done. Life revolved around the making of everything from clothing to candles. There was canning to be done. Cows must be milked. But there was also the "laying by time," when one could fish, walk in the woods and follow one's own muse. That was not so easily come by in the first inception of factory life.

Manufacturing allows me to have a perfectly formed plastic flower pot, but replaces the everyday function of hand-formed ceramics. This does not mean the end of hand-formed pottery, but rather that it is now an art form of its own. Its high form still exists.The volume of ceramic goods produced by hand has decreased. There are fewer artisans who work the wheel, but those who remain produce extremely beautiful works of art. Eventually the factory became more friendly to IMAGO DEI. Hours were limited and to a certain degree collective bargaining allowed workers to demand the value they added to the process.

In fact, it could be argued that where workers were able to negotiate a market value for their skills and expertise, freedom expanded. The factory worker of postwar America enjoyed unprecedented leisure time. One could now putter in the garden, if one desired, without fear of hunger if it didn't produce. One of Staunton's finest photographers was employed by Waynesboro's Dupont plant. He was an amateur photographer in the TRUE sense of the word... he did it for the LOVE of it! He didn't have to find ways to sell his work, but he pursued it with a passion! He was famous for suddenly pulling the car to the side of the road to capture an interesting scene, startling his family riding with him. His photograph of Willie Ferguson's giant Watering Can sculpture was used for the city car decal.

A leather worker I met at a craft fair lamented to me that he often was creating the same belt over and over: "because it sells." Seeing that I appreciated good work, he showed me a very artistic piece he had made. He said sadly, I can't afford to make these because there is way more work in them than people are willing to pay for. Still, the man found great satisfaction in the fact that he could produce even a few pieces of such work.

For thirty years, I have produced hand-drawn renderings of architectural projects. The demand for such work has decreased as more and more designers are content to let the computer draw the perspective. Last week a military school embarking on a campaign to builds a new field house contacted me. "We want something MORE REALISTIC than what the construction company gave us," their representative said. I wondered where this was going. Often that desire simply meant they wanted photo-realistic computer renderings. I showed the gentleman my samples and he proceeded to get more interested.

Two representatives of the school came to view  the work in progress. "Wow!," one said: "I see our CADETS walking around the building." It was obvious that the painting captured something of the spirit of the institution and was indeed more "real" than a computer rendering with stock figures would have given them. That is not to say that a computer artist couldn't have gone to such detail, but most don't. The real point is that that extra touch is what sets man apart from the machine he is using. The HAND is what is important, not the brush (or stylus).

And here is where the real challenge lies. Technology changes the game, for sure, but eventually what stands out is the human conquest of said technology. Photography did not eliminate all painting, but rather became an art form in itself. Smart phones may eliminate human interaction... or they may foster it! When I Facetime my Granddaughter on the iPhone, is that device enabling or hindering real interaction? My iPhone lets me read several translations of Scripture on one device and is easier to carry than a stack of paper Bibles. The Notebook has become a place for writing prayers and adding Scripture (easily copied and pasted) to pray over situations.

Here is where I find Crawford's perscription most appealing. Cultivating the disciplines of meditation and prayer open new vistas for their adherents, however sophisticated (or simple) their culture. No doubt, the Roman world in which Judaism and Christianity found themselves, was complex. The fact that the disciplines of Faith and Faith itself, outlasted that great empire should give us cause for reflection.

"The American Flag Glass Organ Pipes" by Xaver Wilhelmy.
Photo by Bob Kirchman.

"The Father's View of His Forests." Photo by Brandy Mason.

Spring Triptych, A Celebration

"Spring Triptych," a collaborative celebration of Spring by three photographers: Texas Bluebonnets by Melissa K. Hand, Virginia Redbuds by Kristina Elaine Greer, Paperwhite Daffodils by Bob Kirchman. Prints may be obtained through The Kirchman Studio.

It all began when one of us saw a picture that the person sharing claimed was obtained by: "...rolling down a hill shooting a panorama." A little experimentation on my part proved that that was not how it was done.. but my uber-creative friends and I did discover the "Tiny Planet" app. THAT proved to be the secret! Using this we were able to manipulate our photographs to create some pretty wonderful images. Presented here are some of our favorites.

"Organ Keys" by Bob Kirchman.

How Christianity Invented Children


This Article [click to read] by Pascal Emmanuel Gobry recalls how Christianity was instrumental in transforming culture long ago.

Christianity's invention of children — that is, its invention of the cultural idea of children as treasured human beings — was really an outgrowth of its most stupendous and revolutionary idea: the radical equality, and the infinite value, of every single human being as a beloved child of G-d. If the G-d who made heaven and Earth chose to reveal himself, not as an emperor, but as a slave punished on the cross, then no one could claim higher dignity than anyone else on the basis of earthly status. That was indeed a revolutionary idea, and it changed our culture so much that we no longer even recognize it." -- Pascal Emmanuel Gobry