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Songlines

familyofsouthwaleswilliamblake

Portland, OR :: It bothers me that I haven’t been able to summarize this project for the “About” page of the blog. No kidding, I wake up every morning worrying over what that might mean. I wrote a little in a previous post about what the project is not, but hardly anything about what it is.

When I am asked in person to describe OTNR, I ramble awkwardly for five minutes. I say something about growing up in the evangelical church, and something else about exploring our spiritual heritage; I go on about visiting churches and talking to people along the way, and then, when the person’s eyes glaze over, I say the only thing I know for sure, which is that I don’t know what to expect – that the the project will be shaped by what we find out there on the road.

“Do you know where you’re going to go?” is another common question. But we don’t really. We hope to spend October with my parents in Keizer, Oregon (just north of Salem), November in northern California, and December in southern California. We’ll spend January and February somewhere on the west coast, though we don’t have definite plans. Then in late February or early March we’ll start from Portland and point our camper van, RV, or trailer east. I’d like to head immediately to Lincoln, Nebraska to visit my old church. Who knows after that. “Do you know where you will go?” is a completely reasonable question. (It’s also, come to think of it, a question with two meanings for many of the people I hope to talk to on this journey.) But I can’t give you a good answer.

I feel a bit like the Australian Aborigine who, submitting to the call of the “walkabout,” sets out on a moment’s notice and follows the invisible paths of his ancestors. These invisible paths are known to indigenous Australians as “Footprints of the Ancestors” or “Way of the Law.” To Europeans they are called “Dreaming Tracks” or “Songlines.”

The great traveler Bruce Chatwin wrote in a book called “The Songlines” that “wherever men have trodden they have left a trail of song (of which we may, now and then, catch an echo).” Chatwin imagines that “these trails must reach back, in time and space, to an isolated pocket in the African savannah, where the First Man opening his mouth in defiance of the terrors that surrounded him, shouted the opening stanza of the World Song ‘I AM!’” This is the best description I have for the project. It’s not even mine, but it will suffice for now: we’ll be traveling along the songlines of American evangelicalism.

All this is to say, be patient, dear reader; stick with us. Hope with us that the details of the project will unfold as we submit to its momentum.

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