The Martian and Survival Stories

Matt DamonRehearsing a different kind of left behind story, The Martian immerses viewers into an astronomic tale of survival against all odds. Fellow crewmembers accidently abandon Mark Watney, believing he died during an overpowering storm. Awaking to the fiery glory of a morning on Mars, Mark starts making plans to live. The Martian combines science just beyond our reach with humor, teamwork, and an impending deadline to celebrate the indomitable human spirit. Yet while we root for Mark’s deliverance, the film also speaks to something deeper about the nature of human existence.

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A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

ThanksgivingIt’s Thanksgiving. The pumpkin pie is perfectly baked. The football game is on. At last, you’re sitting at the table ready to enjoy a juicy turkey and Grandma’s infamous dressing. You hold hands, say grace, and finally take your first bite. “Huh?—this tastes a little untraditional,” you say to yourself. “This wasn’t at all what I was expecting!”

The flavor is good, but different. You realize your Aunt twice removed on your Dad’s side—who just happened to be in town from Milwaukee—made the dressing this year instead of Grandma. What was she thinking? You’re a little offended by her odd seasoning. There’s too much thyme and sage; it’s like you’re eating a spice rack. Has she served up a turkey-day travesty?

I had the strangest dream about Thanksgiving.

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watts drums

My Dad pastored several different churches when I was growing up, but we never stayed at any of them for very long. We moved often, from town to town, church to church, and house to house. Our average length in most places was only two years, so home always felt like a place I had just left but could never go back to.

Now that I’ve lived in the same house for over nine years, home feels more like a tangible object, something I can hold onto with both hands. Perhaps it is a small wooden drum that fits neatly into my palm. The bleached animal hide is stretched taught against its sturdy circular frame, and the sound it makes when I thump it is exactly the right pitch.

Most mornings my drum beats slowly, quiet and steady, while the children crawl out of bed and clamor to the kitchen for breakfast. The oldest one wants a bagel, the middle one likes cereal, and there’s warm oatmeal for my smallest. “Just coffee for me this morning, honey” says my husband, smiling as I refill his mug.

By the time everyone is dressed and fed and the sink is full of their dirty dishes, the drum is beating quickly and loudly. We hurry to the cars and drive away in opposite directions, like spokes on a wheel.

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A Lesson in Barley

Malting Floor

I walked in the door at the corner of Jackson and Central, passing the flickering gaslights and the dark-grained woodwork and taking a seat at a stool. I took my wallet, keys, and phone from my pockets, set them on the smooth, epoxied countertop, and laced my fingers together in a posture that Jeff had come to know well. He walked up with an expectant smile, drying his hands on a small towel and throwing it over his shoulder.

“I’ve got something you need to try, man,” he said, and he drew a bottle of deep amber liquid off the shelf. “We just got this in, and it’s fabulous.”

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Simply Living


Editor’s note: We’re excited to introduce Palmer Gregg, Director of Storytellers (a title we all want) at CrossRoads Missions, photojournalist, enjoyer of pipes, and appreciator of handcrafted things. As you might expect from a director of storytellers, he’s a wonderful fellow for standing around under a tree and talking at length during a lovely afternoon. Also, he has a beard—the surefire mark of a spinner of tales.

Simply Living is a personal photo project I took up seven years ago after leaving the demanding and busy world of newspaper journalism. A simple life is intrinsically beautiful in its intentional focus and devotion to a small set of internally coherent ideals. It was, and is, something that I greatly desire for my family.

My intention at the time I began the project was to continue following and photographing this family every few years as they raised their children, grew their vineyard and lived out their intentionally simple life in a world where multitasking and constant distractions are the norm.

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