Pilgrim Cafe

Continuing Conversations on the Human Spirit


Personal Journal

Thanks Living


During my Junior High School years (remember Junior High?) My parents placed me under the tutelage of an old, retired teacher, named Mrs. Lee. Mrs Lee, a great grand daughter of the famous Southern general Robert E. Lee, lived adjacent to my school in a large yellow antebellum mansion that was itself a bit mysterious for a young southern boy.

Mrs. Lee was a pint size jolly septuagenarian lady with silver hair and an infectious laugh. She had been a grade schoolteacher in her time and had developed special skills for teaching young persons how to read and continued tutoring kids long into retirement.

The house had tall slender windows with open panes that let in the light revealing flowery tattered wallpaper of an earlier era that revealed its age and the care of its owner. I usually arrived early for lesson, and was allowed to rummage around exploring nooks and crannies, trinkets and memorabilia on display or tucked at the end of shelves in her burgeoning bookcases.

I literally loved going there and being allowed to explore before getting down to the business at hand. One day, I can remember, I discovered a large square cabinet in the adjacent room. On its front were two long cabinet doors and a crank on its right side. Unable to restrain my curiosity I carefully opened the two vertical doors revealing an ornate grill framing oblong cotton cover. Addional inspection revaled that the cabinet top lifted from the front. Peering in I saw what should have been a turntable, but was more like a round tray with a ¼ inch high rim. Just to the right of the tray there was an arm like a phonograph but it had no needle, I could not figure out what this odd player would work. It was different from any I had ever seen. Confused, I asked Mrs. Lee when she enter the room to start the lesson.

“O honey,” she laughingly replied, “That’s an old Victrola phonograph, record player.”

“This does not appear to be able to play,” I replied.

“O, its been that way for years,” she continued, “One day years ago it just stopped working. There are some records in the lower cabinet under the speaker.”

I curiously assessed the apparatus before me once again. I discovered the circular tray was not tray at all. It was the turntable on the old machine. Years before someone had turned the playing surface upside down and left it. Mrs. Lee, not mechanically inclined, left it that way. To her mind it had stopped working. It was broken. I inverted the turntable and it fit perfectly. I turned the crank to wind the drive spring, found an old 78 record and inserted a wooden needle discovered in a small compartment. These adjustments completed, the old phonograph played as it had years before.

“That’s wonderful!” laughed Mrs Lee. I can hear those records once again.” She was like a child with a new toy. She began to rummage through the old hard discs locating music she thought had been lost to her. It was so much fun and I felt like my limited understanding of electronics had truly been useful that day. In the weeks that followed, she would recall with sheer joy how thankful she was at the return to function of her phonograph. I heard her comments as personal gratitude for what I had done.

Have you ever received gratitude for something YOU have done for another? Certainly, you have. Such grateful responses come as moments of great celebration and empowerment. You feel valuable to others and encouraged to do even more.

Thanksgiving is an annual national celebration of just that, GIVING THANKS, for what has been done for us. Ancestors who stuck it out. Weathering hardships most of us can not fathom in order to settle this new land and raise families that would see it as home. Every step we take, we are supported by the life-giving efforts of others who have gone before.
Our weekly services of worship are actually times to pause, in our ever busying routine, to give thanks for the circles of caring and empowerment within which we live. Not just those we can list when we put our mind in gear, but the myriad relationships which we daily continue to take for granted or even those of which we are unable to be aware.

Mrs. Lee helped me experience the empowering feeling of being on the receiving end as someone to whom thanks is given. When you receive thanks, it is like loose ends are somehow tied together. When someone thanks me for something that I have done, it is as though they have validated the relationship, even if I had no ulterior motive in helping out.

A typical response these days, when someone else thanks us for something that we have done, is to quip off, “No problem.” We say “No problem,” rather than you are welcome or glad to do it, or something more relational. I have tried to eliminate this glycerin like expression from my responses for that reason. I suppose, when that is said, it is an attempt not to encumber the other with a sense of obligation. But along with it we eliminate the notion of value that is also implied. If you are someone of value to me, knowing that our relationship is worth investing in is a good thing. My response then is a way of affirming the value of our relationship and by extension, you as a person.

The same holds true in one’s relationship with God. The Hebrew idea of thanksgiving involved a recognition that God was the sole source of power in ones life. It’s a way of recognizing the value of the relationship as an important source and resource in our lives.

At Thanksgiving we remember the early stories of survival recounted by our genetic and spiritual ancestors. We recognize that we are NOT SELF-MADE PERSONS. Our lives are built on the dedication, sacrifices, genetics and spiritual contributions of other persons, often others who will, of necessity, remain nameless to us. Even those of us who have drawn on our own abilities, resources or achievements. We are eternal recipients of the contributions of others even if we don’t know who to personally thank.

Thus, Thanksgiving is not just a national celebration, its not just proper etiquette, it is lifelong state of mind we are invited to cultivate. Thanksgiving suggests THANKS LIVING. It is a recognition of the essential relationships that feed and empower our lives daily.

And so, may I invite you on this Thanksgiving, even if it is over a burger at a fast-food franchise. To join me and think on these things. OK?

Thank you, and

You are welcome.


meditating buddhaA lovely, unpublishable [not pictured], pen and ink depiction of the Buddha meditating by an undisturbed pool of water rendered by my love Gail Evans speaks deeply to me. The figure sits quietly by a pool of still water that reflects his image to the viewer. One at first wonders if the buddha is exhibiting a cliche, navel gazing, as is commonly expressed. On closer inspection, however, one discovers that he is not narcissistically fixed on the reflection of self, but peering beyond the moment of apparent reality into the pool of pure consciousness itself.

As I regularly consider my own inner pool, it seems that, at times, consciousness is all there is, that there is no other reality. Other times, it seems that even consciousness itself is a construct to appease a simple mind that can only generalize from evidential flickers across my screen. Not to construct a reality from these flicks is to remain between the frames of life’s animating flow or to freeze on one frame as though it were all that needed to be seen.

In these times of clarity, I am a bit unnerved by the thought that reality is but my own construct, my reality and that of no other. I can see, however, that the grand designer, must have wanted it that way by making it essential for us to share views, to network, and to work together in order that a fuller reality may birth among us.

wpid-wp-1412873141813.jpegA lion’s share of my 45 years as a United Methodist Clergy was spent as you see me in the picture above, leading group singing. I became so associated with the guitar and songfests that it may interest you that I was not always confident in such public exposure, infact it frightened me terribly.

I burst forth from  my chrysalis as I left the small east Texas two that had been my home from kindergarten through college. I answered a call to church work thinking I would be a Minister of Music in a large church by entering Southern Methodist University in Dallas as a MSM candidate. It was not long after meeting the many really talented and gifted student drawn to this world calibre program that I came to feel seriously flawed. I was only a meager talent at best and gifted only with a nice, not fabulous, voice and could play no instrument whatsoever. At the end of the first year of the program, it was clear to me that music, though maintaining potential as a lifelong avocation, would not serve me well as a vocation.

The Seminary, Perkins School of Theology, next door became a likely place to explore. It wasn’t long before I discovered a small career subspecialty career field called Christian Education. It was all about Sunday School organization, Youth Group formation, leader training and a bunch of other small print at the bottom of the label in which was hidden the words preferably play an instrument to lead singing.

In my first appointment out of seminary I became the Minister of Youth and Education. I pulled out an old guitar, having finally reached the small print, and began to practice. It was not good. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to risk it, so I let it sit. Then one weekend I took my teachers to a training workshop at a large church in Dallas. The speaker was a famous female Christian educator who had written a book entitled Teaching the Bible to Children. During the workshop, she pulled out her old orange crate Japanese guitar and prepared to lead the group in a children’s song. Her playing was simple and the guitar betrayed the fact that she won it at a carnival and her voice was weak and off pitch, BUT the group sang the entire song and it worked in her lesson. After she was done, she confided that she was not a singer, a revelation that surprised no one, and that she knew her playing left much to be desired, but she continued,

I used my guitar because I wanted to encourage those of you who do play some instrument but have considered yourself not  good enough to do it anyway. If you let yourself enjoy it, others will sing along.

Her words were literally music to my ears and I felt courage rekindle in my heart. I went home pulled out the Mexican Chaquita guitar and began to practice. As I learned a song, I would use it with children.

When I moved to a new church, I would parle with the youth and have them teach me their music and how to play it. Then I would play in the back ground as they lead singing until I felt I knew the songs well enough to take a more prominent role. I copied everyone I could and learned from many. I watched from those who looked natural and adaptive to different settings and situations that arise on stage and developed my own natural style. I became able to read a crowd and keep the energy high. The rest, as they say, is history.

A Blown Steriotype

On my way to work today I pulled up behind a Ford Ranger pickup at a busy intersection. Waiting on the light I began scanning the vehicle for clues about its driver. A large sign was posted in the rear window “Tune In To the Rock 106.9″ . I could hear thudding bass sounds throbbing from the cab.  “Kid,” I thought.

I continued my investigation. Hanging on the rear window was the telltale gun rack. “A redneck kid who happens to like Rock,” I then concluded.

A little to far to make out what caliber weapons were hanging on the rack, I surmised high-powered with large scopes, maybe even AK47, just as well go big when I was imagining. I drew closer.

As I moved within striking distance of the Ranger bumper the racks contents became clearer, fly rods and spinning gear. “What!” my head screamed. “This can’t be!”

What self-respecting kid with a gun rack and a Ranger would be carrying fishing gear where guns ought to be? I was stunned.  My mind couldn’t hold the dissonance.

Then I began to laugh at my propensity to build profiles with little information. 

I Thought

Written during an annual remembrance of my Dad, I THOUGHT addresses a myth regarding the finality of death.  Other’s may relate to the images of distance and closeness. It reminds me that we seldom have ideal relationships with our parents. Often there are leftovers when they die. In some very important ways, our relationship with each parent (or guardian) continues after their death. I have discovered a deeper relationship with my dad in the years and experiences since his death. I now understand him at a depth that I could never have imagined possible.


I thought I had felt all I

      Had to feel for you.

I thought our years of struggle

    To be what we were for each other

       Had extracted all the tenderness

           All the grief

           All the sympathy

       I possessed

I thought the grave

    Would be but dim reminder of losses incurred

       Not scream finality

       Not close any remaining door.

I though my hopes for you

    Had long since been exhausted

       That I held no remaining longings

           No graspable ravels to deaths dull shroud

I thought faint tenderness would hide itself

    Moments your touch opened my soul

       The balm of your presence

           Quieting goblins in the night

I thought life had left me

    No remaining vestiges

         Nothing to prick this conscience

           To spin dark dreams

I thought that this would be the end

    That grave’s grim grasp

       Would free me

       Would close the covers of this story

I thought I would no longer need to weep

I was wrong

On the Death of Dad

Allen Simons

ingView from My Window

Perched in my crow’s-nest overlooking a placid sea of shadows, I can see six tranquil neighboring back yards. All is quiet as owners pull back shades for houseplants to drink in morning sun.

The snow is melting after several days of subfreezing temperatures. Patches of earth and leaves peeking from under white blankets. Every plant awaits breaking warmer weather.

There is quiet between whirring vehicles passing on the avenue. There is retreat here. A quiet corner in the middle of the city. Birds pick at remaining seeds as neighbor cats stalk and play in the sunlight. All absorbing the early warmth of encroaching spring.

Seasons continue to ebb and flow like an unpredictable tide leaving traces of ; moisture for thirsty roots, still unsatisfied with the skies annual offering. Is there more to come? Is this all there is?

What of the coming parch of summer winds? What of searing sun, returning gift to giver?

Answers come in time. For now, sun streaks shadows through vanishing snow.

King Speech

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr

It was November 1964. I was a Sophomore student at Sam Houston State College, in Huntsville, TX. I received an invitation to travel with a friend to the national convention of the United Methodist Student Movement in Lincoln, NE.

I must admit that the trip interested me because  I could ride in a new Corvette Stingray from Huntsville to Lincoln. It was a dream trip. The destination actually took back seat (and there was only a tiny one in the Stingray). We whizzed across the country as speeds  just under the radar. Pulling into gas stations people would gather to look at the car and I would feel pride as I climbed out of the bucket seat.
Too soon however we arrived in Lincoln. I had never been to a large convention before.  The numbers of students from across the county and the size of my church’s reach impressive. It was a challenging program of speakers addressing us as potential future leaders.
There was a surprise keynote speaker planned for Thursday of this five-day conference. There were rumors that it would be someone famous or important in world affairs, but nothing was announced. At the close of the Thursday morning session, we were told that special precautions were in place for the afternoon Keynote Speech. We all had to be there fifteen minutes early. We were to bring no materials with us as they would be confiscated at the door. There would be the necessity for absolute security.
Of course the preparations heightened curiosity and excitement. Who could this speaker be?  Finally time for the afternoon keynote arrived, the atmosphere was electric. The three thousand participants gathered in an orderly fashion under the watchful eyes of Lincoln Police and the Nebraska State Patrol. The master of ceremonies advanced to the microphone and began an introduction of the afternoon speaker. It was the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
This speech literally changed my life and appreciation for the role that Christian people were attempting to play in racial justice. I returned from the conference and reconnected with my studies.
In my Senior year the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) arrived in Huntsville to orchestrate a series of sit ins in the local restaurants. I was President of the Sam Houston Wesley Foundation (Methodist Student Ministry). Members of the student body of Perkins School of Theology arrived in Huntsville to join in the demonstrations. Envoys invited the Wesley Foundation to challenge the students to become involved. We declined direct involvement, but covertly supported the cause publishing necessary fliers and bulletins  in our printroom. In a few days I was summoned to the President’s office and summarily told to discontinue involvement. I refused. I was told that the President, a long time personal family friend, would, “close the damn thing down if I persisted.”
Taking the threat to my board, involvement was to discontinue. Some of us continued support even further under cover, but were seen as deserters by Perkins Students who were on the front lines.  Eventually, though the administration became aware of my involvement as limited as it was and my father’s job was threatened. A heated dinner conversation with my dad, brought all to the surface. I ceased involvement.
Upon graduation, I entered Perkins School of Theology and was confronted by some of the students that had worked in Huntsville opening the lunch counters. Throughout the first semester, cafeteria encounters and discussions opened my understanding of the problem of segregation. Other students were involved in demonstrations in front of Dallas WHITES ONLY establishments.
I joined the cause. Those picket line experiences opened me even further to the problem of entrenched racism and gave me the opportunity to talk with owners and discuss from the standpoint of peaceful resistance the issues we were rasing.
To hear the transforming speech of Dr. King, CHECK HERE.

Why Pilgrimage

And I’ve always worked on the principle that if it interests me enough to write about it, then it must interest a lot of other people.
Morris West

I have long been interested in the various journeys we take seeking profound depth in the human experience. At some point, in our lives, we experience a yearning for more; more than what we have accomplished, more than we have experienced, more than we have allowed ourselves to appreciate along the way.     
Peggy Lee once sang Is That All There Is written by legendary Rock and Roll lyricists Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller recalling the experience of a girl’s father grabbing her out of bed in the night and fleeing their burning home. Afterward in safety she recalls staring at the burning house and thinking, “Is that all there is to a fire?” The song continued with other potentially terrifying experiences in a child’s life ending each verse with the words, “Is that all there is…if that’s all there is then let’s keep dancing (living)”. There are many fears and terrifying thoughts that we have in our lives, but most of them tend to only be terrifying to contemplate. When we end up going through the experience we come out with a deeper sense of trust and appreciation for the workings of the universe. This is not to say that there are not legitimate things to fear in life, but fear is often a door to a deeper experience in the journey.
Many of the experiences we have in life serve as doors opening to deeper appreciation for the nuance, and mystery of life itself. This nuance is clearly expressed in literature, music and art. Poet Danny Rosen calls it a growing hunger. There is a growing hunger that we begin to notice as we travel the highways and byways that open to us. This hunger carries us deeper into the very experience of living and the mystery behind it. It is as though life at its best is a sort of spiritual journey, a pilgrimage, where doors open that allow us to enter new levels of appreciation and fascination with the unfolding present.
Leo Hartshorn in his blog A Different Drummer recalls the words of Rumi the Sufi mystic and poet:
“Respond to every call that excites your spirit.
Ignore those that make you fearful and sad,
that degrade you back toward disease and death.
—–Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi
Hartshorn continues:
When life has squeezed from you joy and wistfulness
When putting your nose to the grindstone brings in the money
but not freedom and dancing of the heart
Listen to that still, small voice that calls in the wind
It causes you to spread your wings and fly out over the fields of joy
The voice resonates with your true inner self
It brings wholeness and peace

Ignore the calls that make you drink the dregs of depression
Forget the fears that paralyze and keep you looking down in the dirt
when there is so much blue sky overhead
Avoid like the plague the disease of duty and the straightjacket of conformity
Soar on the wings of chance and ride in the current of risk
Climb to the peaks of promise and hope. Be light like the clouds
Follow those paths that excite you, stir your passions, and makes you dream
Consider each new day a sacred adventure ready to burst forth with new life

My fascination with the Pilgrimage of Life is the promise of unforseen heights and beckoning depths that draw me closer to the heart of the Universe and it’s Creator.

Purser Master Craftsman

Master Artisan

Fruita, Colorado is home for many crafters and artisans, poets and performers. Cullen Purser is one of the best. A gentle spirit, Cullen’s passion is forever learning the character and craft of working with wood. He has built: harps, guitars, and fine furniture. He takes on challenges that interest him and from which he can refine his skill. Cullen also enjoys songwriting and performing on his instruments. The words are elegant and deeply touching, the melodies reminiscent of the lyre. Click for a Free Press cameo.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: