Author Archive for Russell Brown



26
Apr
21

Your Real Name

As Juliet once famously asked, looking heavenward from her balcony, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”

Juliet’s ambivalence on the topic of names is understandable; if her lover Romeo hadn’t been cursed with the surname “Montague,” their affair would have been totally copasetic. 

For the rest of us though, names seem to matter… a LOT!

They connect us to a family history, for one thing. They provide the good folks at Ancestry.com with a healthy revenue stream for another. They give us clues about identities or qualities our parents hoped to instill in us, or perhaps detected in the first hours of our lives. 

Take Hunter, for example. Or Rex (Latin for “king”). Or Linda (Spanish for “beautiful”), or any name with blatant biblical origins such as Ruth, or Deborah, or Paul, or any one of the 12 disciples.

On a personal note, I have been engaged in a lifelong tug-of-war with my feelings about my name. My grandfather’s name was George Clifford Brown. My father’s name was George Clifford Brown, Jr. And for reasons I was never privy to, I got the name George RUSSELL Brown. I guess my dad SORT OF wanted to carry on the family lineage but didn’t want me to be burdened by carrying that oh-so-pretentious “III” through life. 

As a very young guy I decided GEORGE sounded “too adult,” so I went with a shortened version of my middle name. That is why, to all my friends and family thereafter I was RUSTY

That name, however, caused me to become the butt of a Sunday school teacher’s cruel joke. I thought it was a little strange that day when she called on me read a passage from the lesson. The subject of the lesson was the Dead Sea Scrolls and as I read aloud, I read that the author described the scrolls as having, “… a rusty brown color.”

Hardy har har, Mrs. Crompton. At least the rest of the class enjoyed your little stunt.

When my family moved from Ohio to the suburbs of Seattle just before my senior year of high school, I decided it was high time for a rite of passage. That was when I dropped RUSTY and went with RUSSELL.

Then, ten years later, I got my next name surprise. When applying for my first passport, that I discovered I had been misspelling my own name. There, in black and white, on my birth certificate, on the space marked, “Middle Name,” it read: RUSSEL. 

One “L”. Not two. 

Now, thanks to the website, “Behind the Name.com,” (https://www.behindthename.com), I have discovered that the name GEORGE comes from the Greek and means “farmer or earthworker,” while Russell (two “Ls”) is derived from French meaning “little red one.” 

How’s THAT for auspicious? 

Here’s the thing though; at this ripe and maturing age, I am finally at peace with my name. As the jokester once said, “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.”

I have also come to learn that there two other names that mean a lot more to me… much more than “Rusty,” or “Russell,” (or “Russel,”) or “George.”

As John the Evangelist tells me in the book of 1 John, I have been given the name CHILD OF GOD; “See what great love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God!”

(1 John 3:1, NRSV). 

And Jesus himself called me the best name of all. He has called me “friend.” He was really talking to his original group of disciples when he said this, but I hear Jesus speaking directly to me in John’s gospel when he says, “… but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15, NRSV).

And you know what? YOU have also received those two awesome names!

How cool is THAT!!

Abundant blessings;

23
Apr
21

Fanboy Nerves

Have you ever met a celebrity?

Growing up, my best friend’s father was the weatherman on the Channel Six Nightly News. I always thought it was pretty cool to go over to Kirk’s house and see Nick Thompson – the guy who told thousands of people in the Columbus, Ohio metro area whether to expect rain, snow, sleet, or sun – sitting in his BarcaLounger in a T-shirt, smoking a cigarette, and reading the newspaper. 

Many years later my friend and I bumped into all five members of the Grateful Dead walking up the alleyway behind Seattle’s Paramount Theater. It was an hour before concert time and they were heading into the stage door, getting ready to play. In that stunned, star-struck moment, the only words I could coax from my mouth were, “Play good!”

What an IDIOT!

To that I can add meeting and posing for a picture with ABC TV’s George Stephanopolous [Trust me, there really IS a picture. I know it’s somewhere around here…] and bumping into Bo Jackson as he dropped off his clothes at a Kansas City dry cleaner.

Compared with some people I know, my list of close encounters of the celebrity kind is very short. The fact is, being in the vicinity of famous and/or accomplished people makes me feel awkward, unimportant, and small. I fear if I had more encounters to report, they would all include awkward, blubbering fanboy moments like the one I had with Jerry Garcia and friends. 

But here is the truly amazing thing for me to stop and realize; every day I bump into arguably the most famous, the most earth-shaking, most significant human being the world has ever seen! And instead of tensing up and stuttering, I come away overflowing with trust, confidence, and deep peace.

I am sure you know I’m talking about Jesus, right?

No, he didn’t make multiple platinum selling records, or interview Princess Diana, or set NFL rushing records, or walk on the moon.

All Jesus did was make the deaf hear, the lame walk, the blind see, and the dead live again. He only drew the dividing line between B.C. and A.D. on our calendars and got up from the grave three days after offering his earthly life as a sacrifice for you and me. 

Jesus merely set into motion a world-wide movement that has transformed the hearts of billions of men, women, and children and has survived every attempt to wipe it out. 

And yet… this awesome world-changer reaches out to you and to me every day, smiles, and says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29, NRSV). 

And you know what? 

He doesn’t make me even a little bit nervous.

Abundant blessings;

21
Apr
21

Will It Matter?

This was about one action in one moment.

And yet, it was about so much more than that.

The trial of Derek Chauvin that found the former Minneapolis police officer guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter focused its attention on the isolated action of one misguided police officer and the way he responded to one store owner’s complaint against one individual named George Floyd.

And yet this trial was about so much more. 

Derek Chauvin’s trial was also about using this unique moment in time as a vehicle. As ripples of outrage went out around the world, this trial also became a vehicle for shining a light on the disparities in treatment between white people and people of color by law enforcement officials. It became a vehicle for asking fundamental questions about how police officers handle themselves under stress. It became a vehicle for reexamining the relationships between a police force and communities of color. 

Most of all though, it became a vehicle to help us critically examine whether this nation really means it when it says we stand for, “… justice for all.”

Too many times we have seen shocking cell phone videos. Too many times we have seen body-cam footage. Too many times we have stood in front of our TV sets and asked, “How can they get away with doing THAT?”

And too many times, we have also seen justice denied. 

This time, there were too many eyewitnesses. This time, the visuals were too stark. This time, the “thin blue line of silence” was broken by officers who courageously spoke out against one of their own. This time the ground swelled and churned in righteous outrage. 

This time, justice was done.

We weep in relief. We embrace in celebration. At the same time, though, we wonder, “Will this moment matter? How far will the ripples of this moment spread? Will they reach deeply enough into the substrata of our racially biased criminal justice system to make any long-term difference? 

Or will this ultimately just be about…

… one moment, and

… one man?”

19
Apr
21

Watch Your Eyes!

Today, for the first time in a jillion years, I got new glasses.

Not just new lenses. New frames, too. 

And if I do say so myself, they are pretty danged snazzy. 

All of which made me pause and think about the importance of my eyes.

Somewhere in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offered his listeners this important observation: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eyeis unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.” (Matthew 6:22-23, NRSV).

Which prompts me to ask: How is your eye… or rather, how are your EYES today?

No question; eyes and their use have always been important to us. Not only do they help us navigate through our surroundings, but they also serve as a critical instrument of self-expression. 

Here in the time of the global pandemic, however, their importance seems to have skyrocketed exponentially. 

Think of it. When we find ourselves in a time – as we do today – where masks hide the lower half of everyone’s face, the entire weight of emotional expression falls on the eyes. We have to learn to “SMIZE” (or “smile with your eyes,” TM, Tyra Banks), express pleasure, fear, concern, angst, boredom, surprise, disgust, horror, love, and 85 other emotions ENTIRELY with our eyes.

That seems like a mighty heavy burden to lay on those two little jelly-filled balls.

This is certainly a time for us to take good care of the health of these critters, for sure. It is also a good time to remember to be a little extra cautious about how we are using our eyes. For example, are we…

… rolling our eyes?

… averting our eyes?

… leering with them?

… looking covetously with them?

… staring with them?

… registering embarrassment or shame with them?

Your eyes disclose your heart. They have the power to hearten or to discourage everyone you meet. 

Our eyes serve as our ambassadors… going out ahead of us to tell others who we are and what we are about. They don’t lie… even when we ask them to.

So, please… take good care of your eyes…

… and watch them carefully.

Abundant blessings;

15
Apr
21

The Dry

Man… this sure is a dry time.

And I say that as I gaze outside the window to my left, and notice a malicious mixture of slush and snow falling from the sky.

The dryness I am referring to is inside… not out.

And it seems to have come upon me in the span of time between two successive heartbeats.

One moment I was overflowing with ideas for essays, blog posts, witty Facebook posts, and cocktail banter. 

The next moment… dry, unbuttered toast.

Guess I’ll have to write about the experience of drying up.

I know I am not alone in this affliction. I’ve heard testimonies from other folks who have encountered their own deserts. Nothing to do but wait it out, they say.

Droughts are a regularly recurring phenomenon in the Bible, too. Most of the time they show up as God’s punishment on an unfaithful people. Sometimes, though, they just show up.

And the people wait.

And the people pray.

And the people wait some more.

And the people pray some more. 

And then, one day, after a longer spell of dryness than anyone had ever seen before, the rain begins to fall. 

And the rivers overflow their banks.

And the valleys turn lush and green again.

And all the people all rejoice. 

I’ll keep you posted…

Abundant blessings;

13
Apr
21

Crafting Corners of Control

Has this conversation ever happened in your home?

HONEY #1: “Honey? Have you seen the ______? I could have sworn I saw it here in this cabinet the last time I used it.”

HONEY #2: “Oh! Yes! I moved it over to that other cabinet last week. It seemed like a better place for it.”

HONEY #1: (… forcefully biting back a snarky comment). “Ah! That explains it! Thanks.”

This exact dialogue happens fairly frequently here at Chez Brown with yours truly playing the part of Honey #1. And since we have only been in this particular house just shy of 17 months now, we are still truly in the experimental phase of “where stuff goes.” 

When this event happens, I almost always start to register a complaint about the thing getting moved. But I always stop short, because darn it, she’s RIGHT! That new place IS a better place to keep the thing. When I really stop and think about it, it was kind of silly that we had it in Place #1 at all. 

And then, if I stop and think about it a moment longer, I realize I have a problem. 

My problem is: I LOVE pattern and predictability. In truth, I am absolutely head-over-heels enamored with the status quo… to the point that I am regularly on the verge of penning sonnets of desire to “the way things have always been.” The other day, in fact, Joan had to forcibly stop me from taking out my pocketknife and carving “RB + HOMEOSTASIS” on the trunk of the big pine tree in our yard.

I know I am not alone in my infatuation with solid, predictable unchangingness. Every day I meet scores of fellow travelers who spend sizable portions of their day standing and impotently shaking their fists at flexibility, flux, and fluidity. 

But just because there are legions of us lovable Luddites, it doesn’t mean we are right. I call this not-at-all-thinly disguised love affair a problem because it is absolutely at odds with the nature of the God of the Universe. 

I like to think of myself as a follower of Creator YAWEH. To ensure that is actually true though, I have to figure out a way to get on board with the fact that this God is a moving, shaking, dynamic God, constantly in the business of building up, breaking down, renewing, and reforming. 

Always has been… always will be.

The world this God created was designed to be a moving, tumbling, shifting salad of variety. I am pretty sure, in fact, human beings endowed with free will would not have made it off the drawing board if God were not a big fan of unexpected curve balls. 

God spoke about this exact thing when he spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19, NRSV). Later on, the apostle Paul reminded his Corinthian church members that Jesus also embodies the same dynamic qualities when he tells them, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NRSV).

When we look around at our community, our country, and the world and notice that nothing seems to be nailed down, we understandably become a little queasy. Our hearts long to find a little corner of calm and stability. We want to know that we can indeed control SOMETHING… even if it is just the location of the Crock Pot. 

God regularly reminds us – sometimes the hard way – that we won’t ever find security in STUFF. 

We will only find security in our connection with the One Who Created It All. He speaks to the seekers of stability and says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NRSV). 

THAT is the anchor that will never let us down…

… or move to a different cabinet.

Abundant blessings;

07
Apr
21

No Secret Cobbler

Way back in the W.Y. (“Working Years,” for the uninitiated), I went out to lunch with my pastor buddy Steven. We dined at a local burger place and discussed a few of the many mysteries of the pastoring life. 

I don’t remember everything we talked about that day, but I am sure that among the things we discussed were such esoteric, theological topics as, “So where do you go to get a really good drummer for the praise band?” and, “Are there really no circumstances in which it is OK to strike a parishioner?”

[Just joshing on that last one…]

I recall that I finished my burger and fries and – since we were still deep in conversation – I went back and ordered the special blackberry cobbler ala mode they were featuring on the menu that day. 

It was DELICIOUS!

When I got home that night, Joan asked me, “So… who did you have lunch with today?”

I said, “Steven,” thinking it was a little odd that she knew I had lunch with anyone at all.

She then followed up with, “So I guess you went back and had a little dessert, too!”

I said, “Now hang on a minute! How do you know that? Have you hired a private detective to follow me around all day? I mean, OK… I’m sorry I didn’t bring you any blackberry cobbler, but honestly honey, you’re freaking me out a little here.”

Joan then reminded me that our bank sends her a little “BING!” alert whenever there is a transaction on our jointly held debit card. She saw one swipe for the burger and fries and then a few minutes later, a second, lesser charge. 

So then, using her considerable powers of deduction, she was able to piece together the exact steps of my lunchtime behavior.

But I’m not going to lie; the whole thing was a tad unsettling. I mean, I didn’t particularly mind that my wife was alerted every time I used our debit card. After all, I had nothing to hide. The whole thing just sent out a “Big Brother Is Watching!” kind of vibe. 

So, in response to her financial vigilance, I resolved to become devious. I decided that every time I wanted to buy something goofy or frivolous, I would use cash, thereby subverting the whole family surveillance system. 

OK, here we go!” I bellowed to the sky. “Blackberry cobbler, morning, noon, and NIGHT!!”

It didn’t take me long for me to realize the futility of the path I had embarked upon. First of all, here I was… actively scheming to deceive my spouse. You know, the one I exchanged sacred vows with 20 years ago. The one with whom I had “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, NRSV). The one I had promised to “love, honor, and cherish.”

There is also the small matter that whatever I do… whatever I think… every word I say… is already known anyway. I may be able to hide a blackberry cobbler dessert from Joan by using cash or toss a soft-drink cup onto the road when no one is looking or keep that $5.00 bill that the cashier gave me by mistake, but none of that is secret.

All of that – and so much more – is utterly and completely known.

I am known, head to toe, inside and out, front to back, by The One Who Created Me.

So are you.

And while this revelation might sound like anything BUT good news, it is actually gloriously, ridiculously awesome news. 

Because that One who knows us better than we can possibly know ourselves also LOVES us gloriously and ridiculously and unconditionally.

And if that news isn’t worth celebrating with a slice of blackberry cobbler ala mode, I don’t know what is. 

Abundant blessings;

27
Mar
21

Getting Uncomfortable

Germany, Young man lying in hammock and reading a magazine

Before Word #1 appears on this page, I have to settle in at my desk and get nice and comfortable.

Before my car’s engine roars (politely) to life, I make sure I am quite comfortable there in the driver’s seat.

TV viewing in the evening for me is always preceded by strict attention to the comfort of my position on the couch. 

And then, at the end of the day, when it comes to that most essential human activity, SLEEPING!, I devote a great deal of attention to seeking out a position of maximum possible personal comfort. 

In fact, I would be willing to wager that if someone showed me a scientific study of the amount of energy I devote daily to comfort-seeking, that number would make my eyes bug right out of my head. 

And what about you, friend? Are you likewise afflicted with CCSS (Compulsive Comfort Seeking Syndrome)?

I think we can all agree that no one will win a Nobel Prize in sociology for announcing the discovery that, “Comfort-seeking seems to be a universal human pursuit.” Cave people didn’t come up with the idea of fire just so they’d have a way to cook their brontosaurus burgers, you know.  

But I wonder… despite its ubiquitousness, is it possible we can get a little too carried away with this urge toward comfort seeking? Is the Dr. Scholl’s Company really telling us the truth when they contend that “Comfort is EVERYTHING!*”

In fact, I think there is a good case to be made that runaway, unexamined, “comfort seeking” is at the root of a whole host of human maladies. To wit:

  • Avoiding the difficulty and discomfort of hard, physical work usually leads to flawed, “squishy” solutions. 
  • People who don’t feel “comfortable” in the presence of people of different races, ethnicities, religions, or sexual orientations can very quickly become dangerous bigots. 
  • My aversion to the discomfort of re-examining my core beliefs can keep me permanently locked on to a set of toxic assumptions about the world.

When Jesus talked to the folks gathered around and said, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free,” (John 8:32, NRSV), he didn’t add, “And I promise; knowing the truth will be painless and easy-peasy.”

As essential as it seems to be to life on this planet, I am not sure I will EVER be comfortable with discomfort… whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. I have to face the fact that I will continue to be “that guy” who grabs for the footrest and the extra couch pillow to put behind my back. 

I think I can only pray that God will regularly grant me the strength to shove personal comfort aside in favor of some much-needed growth. 

Whew! I’m glad I got that off my chest. 

Now to go find a nice shady spot in the yard where I can lay down, sip an iced tea, and stare at the sky for a while.

Abundant blessings;

  • Not the actual slogan of the Dr. Scholl’s Company, by the way.
23
Mar
21

The God Who Gets It

By now, my response cycle has become a well-practiced routine.

I hear news reports of a mass shooting. I shake my head and sigh, “Not again.” I await the slow trickle of further details, incrementally ratcheting up my shock and outrage as numbers and circumstances are revealed.

Three dead… four dead… ten dead… lone gunman… “unclear about any motive…”, “eyewitnesses report…”, “scores of unanswered questions…”, “awaiting notifications of next of kin…”

The officials speak. The bystanders speak. Sometimes the family speaks. And through it all I shake my head in utter bewilderment and sorrow…

… until I reach for the remote and change the channel to see what else is going on in the world.

But this time it is different. This time the tragedy struck frighteningly close to home. 

That is because the grocery store in Boulder, Colorado where a gunman killed 10 people yesterday – including a Boulder police officer – is located two blocks from my stepson’s apartment. It is his King Soopers. In fact, he was in that exact store yesterday morning, shopping for a few essentials, not long before all hell broke loose there.

This time I saw the terror in the eyes of the survivors a little more clearly.

This time the stabbing pain of family members whose loved ones will never return from their trip to the store penetrates my soul more profoundly. 

This time my sense of outrage and confusion about people randomly killing other people using outrageous weapons that were never meant to exist outside of a military setting is much more unshakable. 

This time I find myself dwelling… not moving on as quickly as I did before. 

Because this time it feels close… personal… tangible.

It also reminds me why I consider the idea of God’s INCARNATION to be such a vital part of the faith I profess. In the light of these newly exposed nerve endings of mine, the biblical phrase, “… the Word became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:14 NRSV) suddenly takes on a searing new urgency. 

It tells me that God is not remote and abstract.

It tells me that when we suffer, God suffers. 

It tells me that human pain and sorrow and tragedy and heartbreak are even more real to God than they are to me.

It also assures me that I could not be more off base than during those times when I am tempted to sink down in sorrow, wring my hands, and cry out, “NO ONE UNDERSTANDS WHAT I AM GOING THROUGH!!”

It brings Psalm 34:18 to mind where we read the timeless truth that says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.”

It will take me a long time to shake this one off and move on. I am equally sure that new outrages loom on the horizon as we begin to emerge from our cocoons and gather in large groups again. 

In the aftermath of this most recent horror, I feel a compulsion to DO SOMETHING instead of just sitting and sorrowing… but for the life of me I have no idea what that SOMETHING might be.

For now, I am going to pray that the families of all those affected by yesterday’s horror in Boulder might feel the arms of Jesus wrapped tightly around them, offering comfort and understanding…

… and give thanks for a God who “gets it.”

Abundant blessings;

19
Mar
21

Broken Limbs

They are everywhere you look here in Fort Collins… a truly heartbreaking sight.

Twenty-three inches of snow by itself might have done the trick. But twenty-three inches of heavy, wet snowwas definitely the coup de grace.

I’m talking about broken tree limbs.

Big limbs. Small limbs. Ash limbs. Pine limbs. Weeping willow limbs. Oak limbs. 

Weeping willow is REALLY weeping

Some crushed fences beneath. Some blocked parking lots. Some (not many, thankfully) brought down power lines in their wake. A huge limb from the willow tree in our next-door neighbor’s yard (shown here) snapped off and landed in our back yard. I am silently dreading the inevitable conversation that starts with me knocking on their front door a couple weeks from now and sheepishly saying, “So… when do you think you might want to call somebody to come take care of that?”

Stay tuned.

Driving around (Hallelujah! We can finally drive around again!) and seeing the staggering number of broken limbs makes me wonder; when did they break? What did it sound like? Why THAT limb and not another? 

I suppose it is all a matter of stress… applied in exactly the right amount at exactly the right point… that finally leads an otherwise intact, attached tree limb to unceremoniously snap off and fall.

I strongly suspect that if we were to conduct a detailed post-mortem of each of those broken limbs, we might find a hidden weakness in each broken limb. Perhaps some insect damage. Maybe a thread of disease. Maybe just a few cell walls that weren’t as strong as their neighbors.

Isn’t that the way it goes with people, too? I mean, let’s face it: we all experience stress. Yes, even us retired folks. Stress is an on-going fact of life. It is exerted on everything, all the time.

Sometimes, however, there is more stress than usual. Like, for example, when 23 inches of heavy, wet snow falls over two days. Or in a personal financial crisis. Or during a health crisis. Or because of a broken relationship. Or maybe even during a global pandemic. 

It is during those extraordinarily stressful times when those microscopic underlying flaws – the ones we really didn’t pay any attention to because they were so small – come screaming into the fore. They become the weak link that causes the chain – or, in the case of our trees, the limb – to snap. 

Too late we realize that the time to sit down and run a comprehensive, top-to-bottom systems analysis is BEFORE the 23-inch snowfall… BEFORE the time of the superstressor event. 

I have been thinking about this a LOT in relation to our current national crisis and would love to get your take on it; do you think it is possible that one of our “hidden flaws” as a country (i.e., the U.S.) is the reason we experienced the highest COVID-19 infection rates and highest death rates in the WORLD?

I will go a step further and ask: do you think it is possible that the love of our American, Wild West, rugged, go-it-alone, pioneering, mentality prevented us from taking the necessary, coordinated steps to keep this disease from killing over 500,000 of our neighbors?

I sure do.

And I am hoping that we might use the moment this deadly virus has given us to collectively recalibrate our definition of what it really means to be an American. I hope we can find a way to put new emphasis on the USpart of USA and stop acting like entitled, self-centered, spoiled brats, incapable of seeing beyond the end of our noses.

Perhaps there is still time for us to try and imitate the wise builder in Jesus’ parable, individually, if not collectively. You remember him… he is the one, “… who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. (Luke 6:48, NRSV).

I would be willing to bet that house withstood a 23-inch snowfall, too.

Abundant blessings;




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