Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Re-Drafting My Spiritual Formation-- Log #1: What Characterizes the Journey?

At the outset of this series of posts I need to mention two things: First, I’m a “product” of the modernity era where we trusted a lot in “absolutes” (in contrast to the post-modern, more "relativistic" era in which we now live). We’ll chew on the significance, or non-significance, of this in later posts.

And secondly, I’m also a spiritual “product” of a “fundamentalist” childhood and youth environment which gave way in college to a less rigid but still conservative “evangelical” faith and practice. Unfortunately for me, I wallowed there for almost four decades, always keeping one eye open for a faith with more substance.

Several years ago, influenced to a degree, I’m sure, by my sons’ interest and higher education accomplishments in theology and faith practice, I began to sincerely question the apparently eroding foundation of my own faith, and, increasingly, it took on a life of its own. A few of those queries I chatted about in a recent post.

This expanding interest in exploring the historical and theological foundations for my faith resulted in my reading a number of books that dealt with the topic. Among these books are The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, Practical Divinity by Thomas Langford, Rethinking Wesley’s Theology by Randy Maddox, The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright and I’m currently reading Exclusion & Embrace by Miroslav Volf.

The experience of indulging in the content of these books has profoundly affected me and has resulted in a paradigm shift in my Spiritual Formation (the foundation on which we base our faith – or lack of it).

My spiritual foundation, before the quest, consisted of a “Sunday School” Christian education in my youth plus a few college Bible courses, good as they were, and a legion of discussions with college friends and adult friends through the years, plus hundreds – maybe thousands – of sermons and even some personal and group Bible study – hardly enough for a reliable keystone.

All of this, then, precipitated my search for a faith of substance that has resulted in the current course adjustments in my spiritual voyage. In this first post, I’d like to think about the starting point for anyone’s faith journey. How does it all begin?

Most would agree it begins with a “conversion” to the faith – in our case to Christianity. But how does this happen? Is it being “saved”? Is it simply “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ”? Is it a Catechism? Is it Confirmation? Is it Baptism? Is it Holy Communion? Has conversion always been thought of consistently by the Church?

When I discovered in recent years that protestant “evangelicals”, and more pointedly “fundamentalists” of the early 20th century, had radically altered the sense of conversion during their comparatively brief history, I was taken aback.

When I further learned that the terminology “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” likely didn’t even exist – as we know it – at the time of the Reformation, I was more astounded. I make this observation not in any way to denigrate the term – it surely has valid meaning – but instead to point out the changes that have occurred in protestant “evangelicalism”.

I’m the kind of person who needs authenticity as an integral part of my spiritual formation. In examining “evangelicalism” I found its “ancestry” to be quite genuine but its “evolution” to be suspect. And here’s my reasoning.

For most of the first 15 centuries after Christ, and in mainline denominations even since the Reformation, the church considered the meaning of conversion, more or less, to be along the following lines.

A child is baptized – or christened – into the Church by a pastor or priest in the environment of caring parents and a nurturing congregation. (This purposefully ignores "Believers Baptism", which has its own symbolic connotations.)

At the age of “accountability”, about 12, when the then youth can make his or her own cognitive volitions, after going through a comprehensive "catechism", or religious training, he or she is “Confirmed”. But what is one “confirming”? According to the historical church it is confirming one’s baptism into the church – the “body” of Christ – at a point in life where the youth fully understands the meaning of his or her actions and chooses to become a follower of Christ. (This, also by design, ignores how an adult experiences "conversion", but the basic elements are parallel.)

(It is interesting to note that both Christening and Confirmation had corresponding rites in Judaism, from whence came Christianity. Also noteworthy is that it was at the age of “confirmation” that the young Jesus began engaging the spiritual leaders in the Temple, completely ignoring his parents’ plans.)

To continue in the “conversion” progression, by participating in the holy sacraments (Holy Eucharist and/or Communion) in the cultivating context of the Church, one matures in the faith. sharing the liturgies, creeds and ancient traditions. The Christian thereby becomes strengthened in the comprehension and mystery of God so he or she can live out the faith daily, and, in so doing, be the “salt of the earth”.

It seems to me that this old and traditional church concept of conversion is far more encompassing and compels much more understanding and involvement than the “evangelical” interpretation, which focuses primarily on “getting saved” – important – but then relatively ignores nurturing and maturing aspects of the faith.

Often, at the same time, evangelicals focus their endeavors on trying to create a mega-church or a Christian campus "safe haven" where they then cocoon themselves away from the world to whom they’re supposed to be a savory, co-mingling model.

In my opinion, therefore, “evangelical” Christianity, reflected by its worship, has “de-volved” into repetitive praise-choruses, piecemeal Scripture readings, "entertaining" dramas, “Power Point” computer-illustrated, projected sermon outlines and altar calls, whose varying format is determined, to a great degree, by what will “attract” the greatest number people - many of whom are dissatisfied evangelicals from other churches. Could the federation of evangelicals just be missing out on a whole gamut of meaning in traditional Christianity?

On the other hand, it is likely that evangelicals themselves don’t feel that way, as I’m sure they believe they are just as committed to and maturing in their faith as those in mainline churches.

The appearance, to me, however, is that evangelicals have become more enamored, perhaps, with a more “appealing” individualistic, “cafeteria” religion, rather than the rich, but obligatorily more demanding, traditional faith practice of two millenia.

This is not to propose that evangelicals are necessarily “wrong” or “not truly Christian”; it’s just to observe that they may be inadvertently ignoring a vast, deep reservoir of centuries of traditional faith and practice, perhaps in the interest of “popularizing” religion. But that nuance is a whole other post.

Happily, I’m finding the traditional kind of faith, with the authenticity I yearn for, in the mainline Lutheran Church we’ve been attending. And it’s radically enriching the meaning of my journey.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Faith Journey Puzzle Presents Blog Series Opportunity

In a previous blog post I indicated that, of late, more and more pieces in my faith journey puzzle are falling into place.

I find that I am being affected by many very encouraging factors – first and foremost my wife, who has blossomed as a wonderful, well-read confidant and spiritual sparring partner; my two sons as they each live out their respective callings and share their spiritual and theological considerations with me; my church and the pastors who are guiding our faith praxis; and of course a myriad of book authors who poignantly share their engagement with these important issues.

This morning while I was reading one such author and repeatedly saying to myself “right on”, “yes!”, and “why haven’t I discovered this before?”, I had an epiphany. Well, not exactly an epiphany. I was, however, fascinated with the idea that I could do a series of blog entries on this continuing "faith journey" theme.

Therefore, I have decided to do so. Because this series signals a paradigm shift in my thinking about spirituality, I’ve decided to call the series, Re-Drafting My Spiritual Formation. I’ll likely use chapter subheads for each post to describe the particular “Ah-HA” of the day.

Hopefully I’ll soon have the first post ready, in the series, but I’m not going to rush things. I’d rather that the posts were somewhat thought-provoking reflections (if that's possible for me) rather than spontaneous, “off-the-top” inspirations. We’ll have to see what evolves as we go.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Sermon and a Summons

In my January 25 post, I mentioned that after reading The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright, I was disturbed by my own ineptness as a functioning follower of Christ. I have a lot of self examining to do in this regard.

Earlier today my son Gregg, who’s a Friends pastor in Oregon, preached a powerful sermon that pretty well summarizes what has been bouncing around in my head. Click here to read it. Then, if you'd like, print it out and read it again in a day or two – for reasons obvious after you read it.

At the core of my frustration with myself is the realization that I have really not engaged the faith by putting it to work among those with whom I rub elbows on a regular basis or especially among those who I know are in some sort of need or who are ostracized for some reason.

Of course I have all kinds of reasons why I don’t, and some of them might even contain a grain of legitimacy. But I believe the simple fact is that I have not bothered enough to connect with those who need to experience God’s love as expressed through my faith and my life.

You’ll understand what I am getting at after reading Gregg’s sermon. It’s made my day. And hopefully it’s motivated me like a summons to try to begin to live differently.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


I think there’s a folk song about Saturday from several decades ago. I kind of remember a catchy tune and the word “Sat-ur-day” and maybe even the words “the-fourth-of-July”. But no more circuits will connect in my brain to bring it back to conscious memory.

If I told this to my wife, she’d be singing it instantly, as music – and a razor sharp memory – are parts of her persona. I’m really starting to get frustrated with this memory thing, but that’s really an aside.

What I started to blog about was Saturday and its “routine-ness”. Seems like nothing much exciting happens on Saturday, but I guess a lot of “stuff” gets done.

In my working years (in contrast to retirement) I looked forward to Saturday to hopefully get a respite from the weekday grind and maybe get a few things done around the house. My mental "to do" list for Saturday was always longer than could possibly be completed, however.

Often during those years, I have to admit to thinking about the Saturday list, realizing the futility of trying to finish it, and then deciding to invent something to do that was a lot more pleasurable but, in my mind at least, still had some “work value”.

These were the Saturdays I might have called a meeting to work on the Little League fields that either or both of my sons played on. Or take the car in to the shop for a needed check. Or maybe “plan” the steps needed to remove all the pine needles from the roof (special broom, gutter wash, new ladder, etc., etc.). That might take up most of the morning.

Today, even though it was “routine” in tone, was nonetheless fun. We’re working on “socializing” Buddy our new dog, and so we decided, with their concurrence, to take the dog to Doug and Jamie’s home for a few hours. Our son and his wife live about a half-hour drive plus a ferry boat ride away.

Not only were we able to do some shopping in the big city but also the report on Buddy was that his behavior was just fine. Then when we got home and picked up the mail, there was a letter from our three-year-old granddaughter containing a gorgeous picture she had painstakingly drawn for us in living color.

Of course we then had to phone Aubrey and thank her and tell her what a fabulous job she had done. We also had to congratulate our other granddaughter Hayley, whose term project went so well it ended up on display. She had, on her own, chosen and carefully constructed a Motte & Bailey castle (how did she even know what that is?). I’ll pretend I know.

And of course we also had to talk to Talli, the eldest, about what she’s reading in her book club and about school. And we even talked to Gregg, our son (who, along with Elaine is often at the short end of conversation when we’re on the phone with granddaughters).

Today was one of those days full of the things that make life worth living for us grandparents and parents. And it was a “routine” Saturday to boot.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Lot To Digest

Today I finished reading N.T. Wright’s book, The Challenge of Jesus – Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is, to which I first alluded in a post yesterday. I feel like I’ve just eaten a monster meal, like a Thanksgiving feast, but it’s all still a big bloat in my (already distended) mid-section. I need some time to digest and process what I’ve taken in before I can blog much about it.

I can, however, make some initial observations that do not need to be interpreted in light of the book. First, I cannot easily come to grips with the fact that I have lived virtually my entire life as a “Christian” but have not really investigated sufficiently nor understood comprehensively the mission of the person whom I purport to follow.

Secondly, (also to my own discredit) I have always practiced Christianity more or less as an exercise of mental assent, rather than as a participator in a glorious – albeit risky and thorny – journey.
This wonderful author has stimulated some eyelid action on my part in this regard.

Thirdly, after reading the book and watching Dr. Wright clearly and definitively lay the all-important groundwork and then build a compelling case for being involved in the cause of the kingdom – and all of what that means – I cannot at this point find any valid reason for non-involvement.

Through the years, it has been far easier for me to discuss and debate interpretations of various Christian viewpoints rather than take some personal risk and experience how it might actually work in my everyday world.

Oh, don’t jump to any quick conclusions and think that I’m saying that I’ve suddenly found Nirvana. What I am saying is that when I process the message of this author and begin to try to effect it in my life, I’m likely to be just as questioning, confronting and deliberating as ever. But at least I now have a more enlightened understanding of the commitment and of the journey I really want to make and take.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Super" Weather?

Today was the third or fourth consecutive day without noticeable rain (note the subtle distinction between "noticeable rain" and "measurable precipitation," the more professional term used by weather wags). If I would have said "measurable precipitation" it would only be the second day.

The truth is it was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon on this day, albeit a bit on the chilly side. So, after 34 of the last 36 days having "measurable precipitation", we are enjoying the respite that, we are told, will vanish again in just a day or two. What you see above is the view from our driveway looking to the southwest as this afternoon gave way to evening.

We feel privileged to live here in the Northwest, weather notwithstanding. Plus, it's one of only two areas in the country with a Super Bowl team.

How Much Spiritual Emancipation Do I Need?

Early last Fall, I placed a post on this blog suggesting that John Wesley, the Reformer and effective founder of Methodism, might be, in a manner of speaking, my spiritual emancipator. By that, I meant that his theology (mostly compiled by others from his written sermons) struck a resonant chord with me and helped me in dealing with some faith questions and struggles.

Of course one man’s thinking from the 18th century doesn’t begin to cover the entire gamut of religious or theological issues, to say anything about what we’re all now dealing with in the post-modern world.

Since Wesley’s time, we’ve passed through the period of “modernity”, which contained comfortable absolutes (“safe havens” to people like me), and into the “post-modern” era where nothing, apparently, can be considered certain. Now, if we desire and seek a degree of stability and certainty for our thinking, we apparently must pick and choose it, if we can find it, from a massive reservoir of individualistic thinking that supposedly offends no one.

Talk about needing more spiritual emancipation. I feel like I’m almost worse off now than when I started this journey. But there is hope.

My elder son has jokingly(?:-) suggested that my spiritual formation (the bases upon which we build our personal faith and theology or lack thereof) is quite undernourished – and I must reluctantly agree. I would also suggest that many, if not most, “moderns” like myself -- especially those who formed their religious thinking patterns within Christian “evangelicalism” or more particularly in “fundamentalism” -- could easily suffer from the same malaise.

One thing is true for sure: we moderns are quite uncomfortable with the shifting sands of post-modernism.

As I mentioned earlier, however, there is hope. Thank God for thinking, lucid biblical scholars. I’m presently reading a book by N. T. Wright, Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey and the former Dean of Lichfield Cathedral. He is considered by many to be one of the top New Testament scholars in the world; he is also a veteran of teaching New Testament studies for 20 years at Cambridge, McGill and Oxford Universities.

The book is titled The Challenge of Jesus - Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. In it, this thoughtful theologian takes the reader through the often oblique secular history of the life of Jesus, sets it in the culture of the time, and interrelates it to the religious or theological Jesus that we find in the canon – not an easy task if intellectual integrity is a criterium. Further, he offers what he feels is important to consider as far as maintaining this integrity in our post-modern world -- and this is especially where my present interest lies.

When I finish the book, I’ll certainly have a post or three about it. Perhaps you might even find that these are issues you might want consider as well in your faith journey.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

"Bird Dog" on Hawk Watch

A razor-taloned raptor this afternoon swooped out of the clear – but normally moist – northwest sky and rendered a black panther harmless. Yep, the Seattle Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl!

Our recent addition Buddy, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, joined me on the recliner to watch the NFC Championship game. Kay Lynne was right nearby on the couch. He is, of course, a spaniel, and aren’t all spaniels bird dogs?

Apparently so, as Buddy faithfully watched almost the entire game with “rapt(or)” attention just hoping to catch a glimpse of the Seahawk mascot. The picture above shows him seated in the recliner under my arm.

The bird that serves as the Seahawk mascot has an ominous, almost vicious specter which kind of leads me to believe it may really be a falcon – but who’s checking. When they showed the bird during the prelims, Buddy stirred a bit but couldn’t quite get himself up out of my recliner to consider anything like a point.

After only five days with us, he’s proving to be, first of all, a great bird dog and, secondly, a true football fan. And that, of course, makes him a welcome member of this family. With that, we’ve had ample posts on the new dog. Off to something else in the next one.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


Buddy, our new Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, is providing a laugh a day for us. Yesterday, he grabbed his little-too-big "chew" and proceeded to parade it around the house. Sorry about the red eyes; he actually has beautiful dark eyes. All I could think of was the late great British statesman, Winston Churchill, and his ever-present stogie. Perhaps we should call the dog "Buddy-Winston"(?)

Friday, January 20, 2006

This'll Make You Think About How You Think

My son Gregg is a distinguished and insightful Friends (Quaker) pastor. He also has a blog that is my envy, as I'm one of the technically challenged regarding the internet and computers.

His post today really grabbed me and gave me cause for reflection. Check it out by clicking on "post today" in the previous sentence (even this little nuance is "new" to me). The book he refers to I've been meaning to read; now it's next on the list.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Meet our new Buddy

Our new dog, who already answers to “Buddy”, has turned out to be more than we ever could have hoped for. It was the right breed for our lifestyle, and it was the right dog.

Getting a first picture of him was extremely difficult, as we didn’t want to flash in his face too often this soon. The pic above is the best of the first group we snapped, and I cropped it down to just show his “pretty” face. Already, he is truly a tag-along buddy, which is what we desired.

Maybe I can bribe my California buddy Ed Wall to send one of his church portrait photographers our way, so we can get an official portrait. Pictures notwithstanding, the dog is doing wonderfully well.

He’s barely nine months old, so the six-hour airplane trip yesterday, including a stop and plane change in Salt Lake City, had traumatized him pretty much. As we began the drive towards home, Kay Lynne just held him and comforted him. It took about 25 minutes of love until his little tail started moving.

My son Doug “happened” to call my cell phone not 5 minutes after we picked him up at SeaTac airport. He asked if Buddy might “need a potty break”. There was a small lawn next to his office building that would work just perfectly, he deadpanned. So Doug became the first in our family, outside of my wife and me, to meet the little guy. Buddy passed his first “exam” with flying colors.

The dog’s demeanor is perfect for us – VERY laid back yet social and quite inquisitive. He follows us everywhere and spent most of today checking out every corner of his new domain. Last night he slept in his new, thick-cushioned doggie bed -- right next to our bed -- and didn’t move once till morning. Now that’s my kinda dog. We think he’s a “keeper”.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Faith Journey Puzzle Pieces Beginning To Fit

You know how a piece in a jigsaw puzzle suddenly pops into place even though it seems you’ve tried it there before and it wouldn’t work? That’s how my faith journey seems to be going right now – a piece here and there over the last few years and a dramatic acceleration of “fits” lately.

I think it’s not a coincidence that this speeding up of “fits” has occurred after we began attending a wonderful nearby Lutheran Church a few months ago (see my Dec 20, 2005 post).

There is a surprising irony here, because as a kid, I first became acquainted with Christian thought and the church while my parents belonged to a Lutheran church in post-WWII Chicago. My faith journey has taken many twists and turns since then, but it now has the remarkable proclivity to come full circle.

After 40+ years of meandering in “evangelicalism” (for lack of a more precise word), my wife and I are unexpectedly putting puzzle pieces into place of late. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that the catalyst is our connection with this church.

I want to be clear, however, on one point. These emerging distinctions on our faith journey are less likely due to Lutheranism, per se, than they are to noticing fresh, enlightening meaning to mainline denominational worship.

There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that here I’m discovering the links to the traditions, liturgies and creeds of the ancient church that I felt were virtually absent in our previous venue.

I’ll try to shed some light with just a smattering of my nagging queries. Why, for instance, is there not more liturgy in evangelical churches? Do evangelicals not think liturgy is important, notwithstanding that the historical church has been immersed in liturgy since the beginning?

What has happened to the singing of the great hymns of the church written by the likes of Luther and Wesley? Does repeating the same incessant “praise” chorus ten or twenty times have anything to do with meaningful worship?

What IS worship? Is it singing choruses from a silver screen, a scripture verse, an entertaining drama and a three-part "Power Point" projected sermon? Or should worship be an important, reverent, meaningful, enriching adoration of an almighty God? And what about the meaning and practice of the sacraments that are so drastically rationed in evangelical milieus? I could go on and on…..

I guess at the core of all this is the fact that I always was wondering, in “evangelicalism”, why things were the way they were – and found a consistent, historical rationale to be lacking. In contrast, my faith journey puzzle pieces are now beginning to fit together more meaningfully as I learn and re-learn the value and importance of these timeless foundational creeds, liturgies and traditions.

They certainly do not seem to be the “vain repetitions” as was suggested in the previous venue. For me, they are becoming rich, fathomless and expressive elucidations of the faith.

My faith journey has taken on new life and new energy.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Getting Used To The Rain

My wife and I met and married in California over 40 years ago. Other than a 17-year stint in the Portland, Oregon area, a year or two in Spokane, Washington, plus the last 19 months here, the balance of the time was spent in the primarily sunny and warm parts of the San Francisco Bay Area.

For many of those California years, we could go from April through October without measurable rain. You might get a stray drop or two during the summer when a confused tropical storm might swing close by, but that was it.

In California you can actually enjoy your Christmas gifts on Christmas Day. I can remember playing catch with my sons using their spanking new baseball gloves on that day. Or testing the limits of a brand new bike right after the ribbon came off.

Not so here in Washington. Today, for instance, is the 25th straight day in which we’ve had the proverbial “measurable precipitation” (photo above is what it looks like today from our front deck).

However, it probably looks and sounds a lot worse than it really is. Yesterday, for instance, it drizzled a bit in the early morning, but the rest of the day was quite beautiful with just a few clouds here and there.

For a person like me who is prone to S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) a stretch of rainy days like this can be a drag. I’m really thankful for the sun breaks like yesterday. I even take a Vitamin D supplement each day which is supposed to help combat the disorder.

But, surprisingly, my severely arthritic knees have not been nearly as bad as I would have expected in northwest winter weather. There’s always a bright side to things, isn’t there? (Pun intended)

Of course the myriad of outdoor recreational opportunities remains accessible despite the rain (see my January 3 post) and sometimes is even enhanced by the rain – as in more snow at ski elevations. I’m getting more and more accustomed to just carrying on whether or not it’s gray or moist outside.

Whatever I’m doing must be working. Kay Lynne and I reminded each other yesterday while out shopping in the sun, that it sure is great to be living here. I hope I remember that when I have to go to the store later today.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Altered Lives

We’re anxiously anticipating the arrival, sometime next week, of our new dog Buddy. And though he’s not even here yet, he is already altering our lives.

But first, his life was altered today, and now his wonderful pedigree will remain only on paper (no pun intended). I found myself wondering how his surgery went and if he’s ok. I’m looking forward to an email yet tonight or tomorrow with a report on his condition.

The surgery was also expected to make him even more mellow than he already is. I know for sure that for the next few days he’ll be extremely mellow – and slow moving. However, the vet says that in a week he’ll be back to normal – well almost, at which time he can travel to his new home here in the Evergreen State.

Today I also booked my wife’s planned trip late next month to visit her sister-in-law in Illinois. I had originally thought of going along or maybe taking a business trip with an old college buddy while she was gone.

Wait a minute – we’re getting a dog! Will it be too soon, when she leaves, to leave Buddy alone with someone else? So, I decided to stay here with the dog to continue the bonding process. I can’t think of a better “sacrifice”.

On the flip side, if Buddy has bonded extremely well with us by then, I suppose I could decide at the last minute to join my wife for part of the trip at least. Our son and his wife, who live a ferry boat ride away, have indicated they’d like to “dog sit” in such cases, if their time permits.

So, we’ll just play it by ear, and go with the flow, as they say. For now, we’re just looking forward to Buddy’s arrival.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Dog Decision is Made

This past week we came to two decisions regarding a dog. First, we agreed we would, after all, get a dog, and second, we decided on one of the three in the running.

He'll arrive in the Seattle area mid to late next week. The only thing we've decided so far is that his name will end up being "Buddy", sort of in honor of a wonderful border collie we had in the 90's. We'll start by calling him a hyphenated name, "Present Name - Buddy". Hopefully then it'll be easy to wean him off to just "Buddy".

You'll have to wait until late next week, however, to see our choice. We'll introduce him properly then with a picture taken in his new abode. Now, it's off to church.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Finally Conquering The Wily Steelhead

We’ve lived in the wonderful state of Washington for more than a year and a half. And today I finally caught a wily Evergreen State steelhead. On my last post I whimsically hoped that the next post on this subject would include a “success” photo. As you can see above, wishes do come true.

My son Doug and I got a last-minute chance to fish today in between a series of storms which have been hitting our coast relentlessly of late. Last night a quick call to Bob Ball, our guide, gave hope. “The river dropped a foot and a half today,” he said. “We’ve got maybe a 24-hour window; get over here and we’ll give it a shot”. That’s all Doug and I needed.

At 7:00 this morning we were squishing through a still-dark muddy trail which led to the spot where Bob had tethered his drift boat on the Bogachiel River. Steelhead fishing is not for the faint-of-heart. The temperature was still in the 30’s but we were layered up with warm clothing and head-to-toe rain gear as we climbed into the boat. In a drift boat the guide rows primarily and fishes when the boat is at anchor. The clients, however, get to fish all the time. You kinda wish for the reverse when it’s cold like this morning was.

We fished hard for a bit more than eight solid hours, constantly casting a grass shrimp bait rig upstream and letting it drift downstream past the boat until the line straitened out. Then you do it over and over and over again, hoping that one of these crafty creatures will stop long enough on its upstream spawning journey to chomp on your shrimp.

The rain hit us about 9 am and tried its best to soak us for several hours. Then the wind came up and chilled us to the bone. But the rain gear held, and we stayed fairly dry. We even warmed up a bit when the rain died down, thanks to a great little butane heater which radiated just enough warmth to keep us semi-comfortable.

You’re not really considered to be steelhead fishing in the northwest unless it’s pouring rain, blowing wind, and the temperature is less than 40 degrees.

I’d love to say it was skill that landed the two fish above. But to be honest, it was pure luck. The two really skilled fishermen today were my son and the guide, each of whom hooked several fish but for some weird reason were unable, on this day at least, to get the scrappy things to the boat. In fact, we all lost fish after hook-ups. The guide did his job – he put us in the fish and that’s all one can ask for.

O yeah, these are hatchery fish, not natives (notice both are missing the adipose fin on the back near the tail). They each weighed about 6-1/2 pounds, a little on the small side for coastal stream steelhead. But we’ll have one smoked and we’ll barbecue the other one. If you’ve never tried it, there is nothing quite the equal of smoked or BBQ’d steelhead.