Archive for category Faith

A Letter to Bomps

Over the next 4 days one of my hero’s will be having most of his blood drained and replenished to keep him here on earth just a little longer.  In an effort to keep him busy thinking about other things thought I would post this letter so the world (the 3 people who might read this) can see why he is so special.

Dear Bomps,

As your only grandson there has always been a strong bond between the two of us.  The bond is unique because of the years of being in your immediate presence 24/7 on the orchard at the end of Putman Road.  I believe a large part of my character and personality was foraged at the home you built from the ground up.  The memories that flood my mind are vast and  I am so pleased I have been able to share some of those with you over the last few months. For the sake of those who have never met you I wish I could share all the moments that made me laugh, cry, and smile but they are to numerous to share, for that would take a lifetime.

The stories from your life where priceless to this boy listening at your feet.  There was being pulled over at 14 for not having a license while delivering milk for Great Grandpa McEwen, leaving for Alaska at 16 to start something new, lying about your age to get into the Navy so you could chose your branch of service or watching you try to explain why Aunt Irene had been around longer then you and Grandma Ag had been married.  (I appreciate the awkwardness you felt on this one much more now than then).  The fires you fought in Bellingham for your 20+ years on the department , and the story of how you and Kenny Smith got the jobs in the first place.  For the record you would have not enjoyed working for the post office anyway, you were a firefighter.  Your helmet hangs on my office wall today as a reminder of those days.  I could go on and on….

The shared memories we have that I will one day lavish on my kids and grandkids are golden.  The frozen manure pile, your personal favorite, will forever mark the beginning of my manure research.  The trips to Loon Lake in the back of the truck while using the Tab cans as toilets, getting lost on the Honda Trail 90 on the hill and ending up in Canada, shooting birds for hours, watching the pea combines, learning if you roll a tire into the burn pile at the right time it won’t burn black and alert the neighbors, plus splitting wood and hauling it with Dad.  I still remember watching your knee go out on the hill and watching you get so upset because Dad had to stop cutting the Alder down.  I continue – watching you build cabinets, prune trees, spray, mow, garden, can veggies, run the only registered cherry orchard on the westside of the state of Washington with ease.  Then there was that fateful trip to HiNotes, we travelled that way so many times it is hard to remember why that day, but you had to make a pit stop in the woods and I yelled those famous words, “Hey Bomps what you doing? I can see you bald head!” then on your return, “Hey Bomps, what happened to your hanky?”

Time and time again in my daily life I remember you.  The smell of oysters or clams always takes me to the TV room for the noon news to catch the weather.  The room where we would have a 5 episode marathon of All My Children on a Friday night.  It was in this room I fell in love with the news, Donahue, M.A.S.H, Peoples Court, The Price Is Right and Matlock mainly because I was sitting next to you.  It was there where you tried to explain the nature of the Jim Jones cult and tragedy as I stumbled over the Newsweek pictures.  You taught me about stocks with Ed and how to sit and listen to family.   It was some of those moments in the living room with Ed, Aunt Evie, Art, Kenny and Lorean Smith, Grandpa McEwen, Aunt Dotto, Earl, and Grandma Ag I wish I could repeat in my own live.   For as high strung and patient lacking you and I are you knew how to invest in family.  I am still learning this lesson a lesson I need to learn quickly before it is too late.

You loved a woman who came with an extra in a day when no one talked about such things.  I don’t know if anyone will ever know how you and grandma felt during those years when Grandma Z raised Kathleen but I would have been hurt and mad.  All I ever saw was love.

Don’t worry, I remember those times when you showed the less then perfect side of Vernon McEwen but it was these moments that assured me Jesus loved all our flaws and we could love Him through them as well.  (Trust me I fully understand you and I are two peas in a pod and can be pretty short with those around us at times)

Bomps, you have showed me how to work hard and provide for my family.  You showed me how to love a woman through for better or for worse.  You showed me how to worship God while sitting at an organ or working in the yard.  You showed me how to carry a gun.  You showed me how to run an orchard.  You showed me I have a tremendous Dad.  And more importantly you showed me how to live and die.

Whether you go home tonight, next week, or as you said in 21 years know you have lived well and given you family the best examples of living life through the ups and downs that come our way.  I am proud to be the only grandson of Vernon McEwen.  When you do see Jesus – thank him for letting me have you as my Bomps.


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A Little Self Promotion – Front Page Tri Cities Herald

Scientists see biochar as promising fuel source

By Kevin McCullen, Herald staff writer

Scientists in Eastern Washington are at the forefront of research into an ancient practice that shows promise as a clean fuel source, a way to improve soil condition and to capture carbon that otherwise would be released into the atmosphere.

Researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the federal Department of Agriculture’s research station in Prosser and Washington State University have been integral figures in studies of biochar and its potential uses.

Biochar, a charcoal-like material, is produced when biomass — including wood, plant and animal waste — is burned in the absence of or under low oxygen conditions so the material doesn’t combust.

This process, called pyrolysis, thermally decomposes the waste into biochar, bio-oil and syngas. Biochar and bio-oil show commercial promise and syngas offers a power source that can run a pyrolyzer.

The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service has estimated that if the United States were to pyrolyze 1.3 billion tons of various forms of biomass annually, it could replace 1.9 billion barrels of imported oil with bio-oil. That would represent about 25 percent of the annual oil consumption in this country. In addition, USDA estimates the country could sequester 153 million tons of carbon annually by adding biochar to soils.

Although widespread research on biochar began less than a decade ago, debate already is brewing on whether its prevailing commercial use will be for fuel or for soil and carbon sequestration.

In January, UOP, a subsidiary of the Honeywell Corp., announced it had been awarded a $25 million grant from the federal Department of Energy to build a demonstration plant in Hawaii to take waste feedstocks of wood, agricultural products and algae residue to produce bio-oil. The oil then will be refined into aviation and diesel fuel with technology developed in part by PNNL, a junior partner in the project.

Biofuels, including bio-oil from char, “can’t replace all petroleum,” said Doug Elliott, staff scientist with PNNL’s Chemical and Biological Process Development unit. He has been researching biofuels for three decades.

“But U.S. production of biofuels could replace one-third of our total petroleum products annually and on a continuing basis,” he said.

Could create jobs

Or the use of smaller portable pyrolyzer units one day could be deployed in forests to clean up wood waste piles, produce lower-grade fuel, generate power and create jobs in rural communities. The Forest Service is funding research of a small demonstration project in a small Northeastern Oregon community.

“There’s all kinds of things that are potentially usable as a fuel source. You can make this work on a whole lot of things that don’t have a value and actively have a cost,” said Eric Twombly of BioChar Products, who is conducting the forest fuels project in Halfway, Ore.

Twombly fired up his mobile plant in December at an old lumber mill site about eight miles from the Idaho border. He hopes to produce at least 500 tons of biochar and at least 300 gallons of bio-oil using chipped wood waste.

A farmer already is buying some of the oil to use in his orchard heaters, and Twombly uses the syngas to power the plant. It now employs three people, but Twombly envisions one day creating at least a dozen full-time, family-wage jobs.

And ongoing research by soil scientist Hal Collins and his team at the USDA’s vegetable and forage crop research unit in Prosser is looking at how dairy waste could be transformed on-site into a product that could be added to the soil, used as an energy source and to eliminate the environmental concerns of waste ponds.

Jim Amonette, a soil chemist at PNNL who has extensively studied biochar, and others say it isn’t a panacea that will resolve the nation’s energy and environmental challenges. But he says its potential use in storing carbon and as a soil amendment is promising.

“You are basically taking a biomass that would be back in the atmosphere in five to 10 years and converting it into biochar that will be in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years,” said Amonette, who contributed a chapter to Biochar for Environmental Management, considered one of the definitive reference works on the topic.

“It is one of the few ways you can pull carbon out of the air and generate energy at the same time,” he said.

Different products

The process isn’t new. Researchers have found areas in the Amazon basin where people centuries ago deposited charcoal, leaving behind areas with rich soils and lush plant growth. Scientists aren’t certain how they created the charcoal, said David Granatstein, a sustainable agriculture specialist at Washington State University and a co-principal investigator of a study published last year.

Scientists subsequently have found that different methods of pyrolysis — fast and slow, which are distinguished primarily by the rate of temperature increase in the pyrolyzing unit — produced different amounts of finished product.

Fast pyrolysis takes place in seconds, with temperatures that can reach up to 1,000 degrees. WSU researchers and Collins found in their study, released in 2009, that higher heating produced more bio-oil and less biochar from the same amount of biomass, while slow pyrolysis with slow heating rates yielded more char and less oil.

Amonette said research of the two methods in general has shown that a ton of biomass subjected to slow pyrolysis can produce up to 750 pounds of biochar, while the fast process yields 300 pounds of char.

Pressure to produce bio-oil could grow as oil prices continue climbing. UOP has said it expects to start fuel production in Hawaii no later than 2014. The company estimates it could produce gasoline and diesel for about $2.50 a gallon, Elliott said.

Others, however, tout the potential value of biochar for use in soils and in controlling greenhouse gases. Production of biochar locks up carbon from the biomass that would otherwise rot or be burned, and therefore decreases the amount of carbon dioxide returned to the atmosphere, according to researchers.

“By finding ways to keep this carbon out of the atmosphere for longer periods, we’re making better use of the service provided by plants when they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis,” Amonette said.

Soil scientists also have found biochar is good for storing carbon because it takes a long time to decompose, Collins said. It also has shown promise in retaining phosphorous, nitrogen and potassium — helping prevent them from leaching into lakes and streams — and retains moisture because it is porous.

But research by soil scientists thus far suggests biochar isn’t a magic elixir for all types of soil. It may work best in tropical and highly weathered soils — such as in the southern U.S. — where minerals have leached out of soil.

“It’s not a nutrient. It imparts some characteristics that improve soil conditions,” Collins said.

His team in Prosser now is looking at transforming dairy wastes into a fuel source and reducing environmental issues with the waste. The researchers are taking manure run through a digester at an Outlook dairy, running it through a pelletizer to change it to pellet form, and then subjecting it to slow pyrolysis to produce bio-gas or bio-oil.

Biochar produced in the process is being applied to dairy waste water to remove excess nitrogen and phosphorus, which could be sold as a fertilizer.

“We think it shows a lot of promise,” Collins said.

Research will yield more clues into potential applications of biochar and bio-oil. Economics also will play a key role in how the technology is developed, said Jim Bartis, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corp. who specializes in energy.

“We know we can implement (the technology) now on a small scale,” Amonette said. “We can’t wait 50 years to get all the bugs out.”

* Kevin McCullen: 509-582-1535;

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Run, Walk, or Crawl – Just Finish

This phrase is not original to me but I have used it during my last few marathons to justify walking after a major battle with cramps around mile 22.  When I first started running marathons 10 years ago the thought of walking was in my mind an Epic Failure only reserved for “the lesser”.  Ten years older and wiser I now realize the power of the marathon comes in the completion.  Yes, I strive for PR’s and the ever present goal of qualifying for Boston (before I hit 40) but at some point I realized that when you cross the finish it doesn’t really matter how it looked in the middle…I finished.  I strapped on my Brooks – moved forward – didn’t quit. 

Philippians 3:13-14 says Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.   The last month has been one greenhouse failure after another causing stress, frustration, heart ache and perhaps a graduation delay, but it is the past.  Now I start the process all over again, with yet another lesson learned through trial and error, but with more knowledge comes a greater chance for success.  It’s like the marathon, it doesn’t matter what the middle looked like in the end, it is finishing that counts.  Although it might not be pretty, whether I receive my doctoral hood in December or May will not matter 10 years from now…I just have to finish. 

Off I go to a committee meeting, then to prepare for replanting the greenhouse, and clean out the manure tanks.  I am straining toward what is ahead – pressing on towards the goal – to finish the race, because I have to Prepare the Soil for Harvest

Tightening up the running shoes (Brooks of Course)  I will Finish – Running, Walking or Crawling.

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Mr. Freeman’s Trail

Freeman’s trail, it is a special place hidden from the masses but open to all who ask. Created for days when you need to clear the fog and spend some time in worship.  It could be the woods, the quite, or the man who made it but one thing is for sure…Freeman’s trail will also bring you back to what is important.           

Jim Freeman, my high school cross country coach and life long friend built a running trail on his property specifically made for days like these.  (Mr. Freeman was a world class marathoner in the late 60’s early 70’s – 8th at Boston – 2 invitations to Olympic trials)  I have run this trail since 1992 throughout every season.  I have even just taken my wife for a walk around the picturesque surrounding.   Saturday was no different.  

Running along side my friend Tim we spent over an hour talking faith, life and biology.  As we ran the mud covered my shoes (Brooks Adrenaline GTS) and backside.  The quick turns inside the woods laced with enormous cedars revved the heart beat into the upper 170’s.  The upper hill, which Tim insisted we run 4 times, made the calves scream with pain as only a “good” hill can conjure.  In the flats along the mowed path we would continue talking as our bodies regained the courage to run another lap.  Then as we passed by the food bank garden and pond the talking stopped, the pace increased and we pushed the hills.   It was a good Saturday run. 

When overwhelmed by the crashing wave ready to pound every once of good intention my faith solidly holds me in place.  This anchor never moves however at times my vision is blurred and I struggle to see the obvious.   Although the deepest part of my core knows it is holding firm I need a good run to sort it out.  Saturday was one of those runs. 

Thanks Mr. Freeman for the beautiful trail.

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God and the Long Run

Have you ever wondered why God brings certain things to your mind from scripture? In the last month 2 places have repeatedly been imprinted on my daily thinking process.
1) Ezekiel 37
2) 2 Samuel 23:20-24
I have been camping (as some would say) on both of these stories. What does the valley of dry bones and chasing a lion in a pit on a snowy day have to do with me? The answer is still unclear and I believe it might take a few more weeks of pondering, however here are at least a few responses.

1) When Ezekiel was taken to the Valley of Dry Bones God ask him what he saw – His response was “Only you know O Sovereign Lord” Can the bones live? What a tremendous question – can our shattered lives, dreams, situations be rescued? Ezekiel allowed his answer to be based on what God saw not his own vision.

2) We were called to trust God and living dangerously and recklessly, trusting God’s Word is not an option and this is the beauty of the long run.

The beauty of the long run. No music in the ipod just you with God. At mile 8 my mind starts to relax and open. It is then that God begins to reveal the issues. The things he wants to address in my live. The scriptures he wants me to dwell upon, the run is never easy, the pruning he prescribes is hard to swallow but I look forward to the next lonely stretch of road where God will refresh my dry bones.

When was the last time you went on a long run? If you haven’t done it lately go beyond the 8 mile marker.

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Intentionality @ 35

Turning 35 a couple days ago did not send me into a tailspin of regret, depression, or worry but rather it confirmed the drive to be intentional in all I do. If you know me, there is no doubt I am a driven person with a certain goal in mind

“ I exist to restore hope to my generation, anywhere I go, anyway I can, anyone I meet living dangerously and recklessly trusting God’s Word”

My grandfather always told me he was given 70 years and anything else was a blessing from God. If 70 years is the standard then I have 35 years to finish the race as to win the prize.
The prize…what are my intentional decisions focused on?
3 kids that become independent responsible Christ following adults
Fulfilling the destiny God has for me i.e.
A doctorate in Soil Science
Teach science at NU and then travel to different projects around the world showing Christ love in a particle manner which will open a door to message of Christ’s hope (simply go through the doors he opens so I can do whatever he ask)
A marriage of 46+ years and these are just a couple…

With 30 days until my first comp exam (closed book 3 hrs – Soil Microbiology) I am reminded that every decision of time, effort, money and sleep must be done with the goal in view. I press on one hour at a time remembering the words of Bonhoeffer, “when Christ calls someone he calls him to come and die” and PRE “ To give anything less then your best is to sacrifice the gift”

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My Plumbing is Backed Up

imagesNo, I am not talking about my “personal plumbing” but rather the house.  I spent most of Thanksgiving and the 2 days following under my house replacing pipe and trying to move a mass of something towards the mainline.  Late Friday afternoon as Thanksgiving dishes were still piled high in the kitchen I had to admit defeat and call in the professionals (who in returned broke my pipes), but by Saturday night Thanksgiving dishes and clean up were complete…


While under the house trying to free the mass I found myself getting bitter, angry, frustrated to the point of wanting to throw the wrench at the furnace.  The bitter, angry, frustrated not so handy man came out of the crawl space with me until I got to work this morning to find the internet down – which I needed to finish homework. 


Now it is 9:30 and after reflecting on words from Amanda Hamar and Ephesians 5:17-20 I think it is time to grow up – inflate the ball (sermon illustration she used) – and be wise with my time and get an infusion from on high.  The weekend is gone and today has just started.  It is time to live not as unwise but wise…


Just like the drain I think I just needed to consult with the professional.  It is a continual discipline I need – without the continual discipline the spiritual outside and inside look a little off color. 


Have you had a good chat with the creator lately?   



Don’t Shame The Floor

In college (the first time 92-96) I was the RA of the Ducks (500 Floor).  It was a year to remember as I was allowed the privilege of stepping into a community of men built on tradition, honor, friendship, eggs and fun.  It was a group of guys who to this day pride themselves on the phrase “Semper Fi Duck or Die.  Of the many traditions on the floor, some of which are now discontinued by the administration for fear of lawsuits, was the rock of shame.  Honor and Integrity actually meant a great deal to this band of manhole borrowing – egg throwing – brothers.  If at anytime they felt you shamed the reputation of the floor through your actions a large rock was placed outside your door.  You then had to carry the rock throughout the day to classes, meals and chapel.  When ask why..your only response, “I have shamed my floor”, because it wasn’t just about you.


My loving mother called last night telling me that Mary and I were talked about yesterday in her Sunday service as an example of “faith and stuff”.  Society these days puts a lot of weight on self…your actions don’t affect anyone else…you are the individual.  I think society is wrong we are not in this alone: failure of honor, integrity, school, grades, job and the like reaches to others around us.  


I am at the overwhelmed stage in the semester with little hope of relief but I can’t quit now.  As I walked out the door this morning, I told Mary I can’t fail to get this degree when so many people are watching.  Her response: “no you can’t – people have prayed, given resources, used us as examples – your boys are watching your determination, you moved me across the state, God has opened doors.  It doesn’t just affect you…you have to press on.”  


So this morning with 3 weeks left in the semester and 112 days to preliminary exams,  I remember the words of the Ducks. 


Don’t Shame Your Floor.   

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Living or Surviving

My wife and I had an interesting discussion after she returned from a meeting.  Can a person live passionately for something 24/7?  At the moment I am neck deep in the final classes of my PhD with preliminary exams just 4 months away.  I should have time for nothing outside of school at the moment.  Can I live passionately for something 24/7?


Yes, however doing something passionately does not mean dropping the ball on everything else around me.  This incorrect thinking would do more harm to my cause in the long run.  Being Passionately Missional is a better term to describe what is possible.  Everything is purposefully and passionately filtered through the mission.  Every decision our family makes is filtered through this missional thinking.  It is not a movement, not a person, or a program but the foundation of what we are…we are passionately missional.  Our entire life is filtered through the mission and yes it happens everyday all the time. 


It did not happen overnight but it has been this way since I was 16 years old.  Mary and I decided as a couple we were going to live life through our call.  We didn’t want life to just happen but wanted to be missional.  Everyday is not a summer camp or green peace protest but everyday is lived passionately for the ultimate mission. (see post: why I exist)   


This weekend I have no time for anything outside of reading and writing; however I will hand out candy at the church on Friday and have 20 odd people from work over on Saturday for a little fall fun.  Those decisions and invitations were on purpose.  


I would contend – if we do not live life with a missional attitude, we are not truly living at all we are just surviving – we were not called to survive but to live life to the full.  

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The Stump

Saturday morning the time had finally come for the call of the wild to be answered.  I awoke Macuen (7 ½) for his first trip into the woods wearing hunter orange, deer season was open. Coffee and hot coco in hand we drove to the hill in search for the buck with my name attached to his antlers. 


The morning started out with a nice hike in the autumn mountains with buck signs scattered throughout the trail.  After about two hours into the hunt Macuen was getting a little cold dismayed his two pairs of socks were not holding in the heat.  Knowing this was not the time to teach the boy a lesson it was time to head back to the truck to reheat the toes.  Yet, Dad had to go just a little farther into the clearing to see what was around the corner.


I told Macuen to sit on this stump in the middle of the woods and I would be back in a minute.  As I came back here was my son, my first son sitting on a long with eyes desperate to return to the truck.  The relief I saw when I came around the corner was striking and it took me back to Genesis when Abraham was taking Isaac to the hill for the sacrifice.  I could imagine Isaac like Macuen – Dad when are we going to see the deer…maybe there is one over there…dad we have to find the deer…are we there yet… Then to put Isaac on an altar to be obedient…Abraham “was huge”, the faith to follow God with this reckless abandonment…I am not sure I will ever have that kind of faith.  As I took Macuen off the stump and headed for the truck rifle in one hand and his hand in the other…I will never forget that imagine of Macuen on the stump as a remind of God’s love and true faith. 


A side note:  As the day went on we team up with the old crew from Mt. View, Pastor Scott, Gary and Adam for the perfect afternoon hunt.  In a 15 minute window Macuen bird dogged a 4×3 which ran 30 feet in front of Gary.  Gary harvested deer number one.  20 minutes later it was being cleaned and hung at the cabin.  Macuen was thrilled to see the process from start to finish…it is good to be alive.     


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