Sunday, December 30, 2007

Soldiering On

I preached this morning at the little church in the Presbytery South of Here. Since I'm booked in for the next four weeks, I'll call it Daniels Run* Presbyterian.

Thrills and adventure arriving. As the crow flies, the church is close to two major divided highways. But by the lay of the land, it's in the back of beyond and the windy twisty roads can take you anywhere.

Especially when what you think is the church address is actually the number of the church secretary's house! So much fun driving up and down Daniels Run Church Road, attention split between trying to spot something, anything! that looked like a church and coming up with excuses and apologies for being late, when I knew it was my own fault, I shouldn't have hit the snooze alarm the second time this morning and why, oh, why did my dog have to lift his leg on the bookcase and the rug in the Kitten Room just as I was about to put my coat on and take him out to do his business anyway and put me even farther behind, but of course you can't tell a congregation you've just met that, it'll make them think you can't control your dog, for Pete's sake, let alone that you have no discipline about getting up in the morning, and-- oh! where was I?

Oh, yes, trying to find the church. Ended up going back down to the bottom of the road, to the feeder highway, to actually look at the Presbyterian Church Up Thataway sign and see how many miles it said I had to go. Vs. Google Maps' opinion, that is.

In the end, my being late didn't seem to matter. Most of the members got there after I did, and between coordinating the hymns with the organist (the same church secretary), getting the Christmas tree and the Communion Table candles lit (well, one of them), and so on, we got started around fifteen minutes past the time, which seemed to bother no one.

Singing the hymns was a further adventure. Good thing they were familiar carols. The organist is largely self-taught and does the best she can, but that doesn’t necessarily mean playing the notes when and for as long as written. I kept soldiering on, trying to give a lead, figuring that if she and I and the congregation came out together at the end of each line, we were doing pretty well.

So that was all right.

What wasn't all right was the feeling I had while I was preaching my sermon. It felt like nothing at all was happening. Nothing was coming back to me from the congregation. Or worse than nothing. It was almost the feeling I’d get if I’d been preaching a half hour and everyone wanted to get home and watch the football game. But I didn’t have a long sermon for them today. What was the problem? Didn’t know. I felt like I was just flapping my jaws. Couple of times, I found myself thinking, Is there any point in my going on with this? What if I should just stop?

But I told myself, No, I've got solid Scriptural meat and milk for them here, both pastoral and theological, and I have to lay it out for them whether they react to it or not.

Afterwards, there was one man, at least, who seemed very affected by what I'd preached. And everyone seemed very friendly and eager to see me next week.

So I guess you never know.

I just hope things loosen up during sermon time the next four weeks. It could be grim otherwise.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Are My Values Screwed Up or What?

Yesterday afternoon I came up with a number match for a contest at the local appliance dealer's and won two nights' accommodation for two at my choice of a selection of destinations.

You can read all about it here.

So my friend Frieda* and I are planning to visit Colonial Williamsburg in the spring.

But I am not that excited about it.

I mean, I'm not that excited about actually winning the scratch 'n' match.

No, I am more excited that furr teh furst tyme eber eber eber i aktooly haz gottid mee a nawt sekund in the comments on I Can Has Cheezburger.

That r pathetik.

(Teh kommint r parthetiks, 2).

*Rolls eyes at self*

I can haz persp-- purrspk-- hed awn strayt, plz?


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

An Advent Evening's Entertainment

Yesterday afternoon my friend Hannah* dropped off her four-year-old daughter Letitia* at my house while she took her son Stevie* on an errand. Letitia had come to help me make Christmas cookies.

The Whistle, the Kittens, and the Bloooood-uh

First thing the child did when she arrived was to ring my Westminster chimes doorbell. Twice. Once inside, she proceeded to blow her whistle (a favor received at an afternoon preschool Christmas party) not twice, but repeatedly.

"Letty! Don't you want to see the kittens? If you keep blowing that whistle, they'll hide under the bed and they won't want to see you!"

"Why not?" (Blows whistle again.)

"Because it scares them."


"Because it hurts their ears." (Mine, too, Kiddo!)


"Because it just does. So stop it, okay?"

We go into the Kitten Room (formerly the Guest Room). I'd trapped the kittens there in anticipation of the child's coming. Otherwise, they'd run and hide among the boxes under the basement stairs and not be visible for hours.

The kittens Gwenith and Huw are hiding under the bed.

Against the far wall.

Of course.

"Get Creamie for me!" demands Letitia, using the name Gwenith went by the week or two she lived at their house. "I don't want Tiger! He scratches me!"

"Huw doesn't scratch me," I reply confidently. "C'mon, Huw, come, baby, come on, boy." I coax him out to where I can just-- uh! reach my left hand--ooh! in under the bed--and, uh, pff! get him around the shoulders and-- "Ouch!! he scratched me!" Got the second knuckle of my middle finger! Ow!!

But I didn't swear in front of the four-year-old. And I didn't let go of the little cat. Not till she'd petted him tentatively a time or two.

"Now get Creamie!"

We pull the bed out from the wall. And I scoop up a squirming, protesting, wiry bundle of pink and white fur.

"Can I hold her? I want to hold her!"

"Can you? She's gotten pretty big, hasn't she?"

Letitia regards the eight-plus pound kitten in my arms with new respect.

"No, I don't want to hold her since she's gotten that big!"

Just then, I noticed how badly my knuckle scratch was bleeding. "Come on, Letty, I have to get a Band-aid on this. We don't want to get blood on Gwenith, do we?"

We open the door. Gwenith and Huw escape and disappear. Downstairs. To the box storage under the basement stair landing.

Of course.

In the bathroom, I'm getting out the peroxide to disinfect my cut. Letitia lets rip a new one on her toy whistle. Tweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!

"Don't doooo that!!!!"

"Why not?"

"Because it hurts my ears, and if you don't put it away Right Now I'm taking it away and you may never, ever see it again. Okay?"


The Dog's Salute

With the child's help I get my cut cleaned and bandaged. Though it's still bleeding so much I'm worried we might end up with strange red streaks in the sugar cookies, and they won't be food coloring. But before I had much time to consider this, in walks Llewellyn, my part-collie, part-beagle, part-some-other-kind-of-hunting-dog mutt, and marked the excitement of the occasion by peeing on the bathroom floor. And finished it off by saluting the door jamb and the hall floor in the same fashion.

"Llewellyn!! Naughty! Naughty!! . . . No, Letty, stand right there! Don't move an inch!"

Fortunately, she obeys, and I clean up the mess with an old towel from the linen closet.

Well, at least it was on the vinyl and the wood, and not on the carpet. At least.

Maybe I should have taken him outside at that point. But there didn't seem to be any point to it, since he'd, well, seemed to have shot his bolt.

I thought he had, anyway.

Cookie Artists

And we wanted to get to the cookie-making business. So after we'd both thoroughly washed our hands, down we went to the kitchen. I covered her party dress (which she refused to change out of) with the apron I'd made in 6th-grade Home Ec class, and I donned the Philadelphia Orchestra apron I received, o lord, thirty years ago as a WFLN fund-raising premium. And weren't we a lovely pair of throwbacks!

And we had a lovely time. The dough was already made, so we took turns rolling out and Letitia wielded the cookie cutters. And acted as official dough sampler.

Cutting out cookies is a deliberate process with a four-year-old. Especially with a bright one like Letitia, who asks tons of questions and expects real answers to them.

"Are you a kid?"

Bless the baby! "No, not any more."

"Are you a teacher?"

"No, not right now. I used to be."

"What are you, then?"

(Oh, an unemployed architect. An out-of-work Presbyterian pastor. I don't know, myself, so how can I answer a four-year-old? )

I don't try. "Um, so, Letty, what did you do in preschool today . . . ?"

. . . More trees, holly, angels; also moons, dog-bone shapes, and dots. She's really keen on the dots.



"After Creamie and Tiger get all grown up, and they don't jump on things anymore, and they're all grown up, you think they could come to our house and be our kittens and live with us?"

"Uh, I think that's up to your mom and dad."

(Who would emphatically say NO. They're my kittens, thank you very much. You have two big cats of your own that your dad is allergic to already. So lay off my kittehs!)

Love Locked Out

After the first two sheets of cookies were in the oven, I set up the gates to bar Llewellyn from the kitchen. Did not want him jumping on the counter for samples. He moped and whined, but too bad. He's not getting any if I can help it.

Juvenile Chemistry, or Chaos Cubed

We had the first sheet of Round Two filled and were starting on the second, when the doorbell rang. It was Hannah and Stevie, come to help with cookies, too, and to eat a snack meal of chicken nuggets (her provision) before she took the children home.

Well. You know those elementary-school experiments where you poured vinegar on bicarb of soda to make a volcano? Or better still, those dorm-party episodes where you really shook up the beer cans for the fun of watching them spurt across the room when the pop top was pulled? That mildly describes the effect of plunging six-year-old Stevie into the mix.

Two children is not one child plus one child. It is a whirlwind squared. Cubed. Dodecahedron'd. Stevie demanded a piece of the action (and of the cookie dough). Letitia, crowded out, began to do the spaghetti-leg whine. Stevie lost interest in baking and ran down the basement to try to find the kittens. Letitia joined him and they proposed pulling out all the boxes to make the kittens come out. No. We get them back upstairs and send Stevie into the living room with treats to play with the dog. He does. For about three minutes. Then comes back into the kitchen (about collapsing the dog gate as he does) to brag that he's going to get a set of Yugi-Oh! cards for Christmas, Yes! Yes! Yes!

Next thing we know, both kids are down on the basement landing, with Stevie proposing to play some imaginative but hazardous game with a large flashlight I keep there, while his sister gleefully egged him on. His mother and I run to investigate. He won't give the flashlight to his mother. He won't give it to me. Not even with our Stares of Death coming at him from two directions. "No! No! I'm keeping it! No! It's my Secret Weapon!"

"Stevie," I say, "put it down!" He turns it on instead.

"Stevie," says his mom, struggling with him to get it away, "turn it off and put it down!"

Actually, I know the thing is hard to turn off. He does get it extinguished-- then it comes back on again. "Hahahaha, look! It's magic!!! I'm the only one who knows the secret! It's miiiiieeenn!!"

"Stevie, this is my house and I did not tell you you could touch my things." Did I make any useless threats? Did his mother? Hell if I know. I think it was only his bafflement at not actually being able to control the thing that made him put it back and come upstairs.

So we send him into the living room again. Where he entertained himself sliding on the fake Pergo. I'd hoped to finish the last sheet of cookies so I could get them in the oven then out for the chicken nuggets to go in. But clearly there was no time. Something was about to spontaneously go ablaze, and it wasn't the gas in the oven.

To be fair to Stevie, he's one of those kids who bounces off the walls when his blood sugar is low, not when it's high. And it was lower than a sidewalk crack at the moment. He needed protein, and he needed it now.

So, chicken nuggets into the oven, with one sheet of cookies! Nuggets out, and the last two sheets of cookies go in! Mom opens the fridge to organize drinks. Stevie sees two bottles of blue flavored water in there that I bought one day in thirsty desperation and pulls them out, demanding them for his sister and himself. I consider one split second: no, too much artificial junk. Too much for me, way too much for them. "No," I tell him.

"No! No!" (with manic giggling) "They're ours! They're ours! We brought them! We can have them! Right, Mom? They're ours, they're ours, they're ours they're ours they're ours they're ours!!!!!"

"No, Stevie, they are not. They're mine, and you're not having them. And I do not appreciate your taking them out of my refrigerator without permission, and then lying about it. You keep that up, you won't be able to come back and see the kittens for a loonnnng time!"

"No, no! We brought them, we brought them!" Giggling, darting, feinting, till I got the blue bottles back and put them where they belonged. Hannah gets glasses of water on. Time to sit down and eat, and the kids are wrestling each other on the living room floor! "Come on," calls Hannah, "time to wash up and get to the table!" They go on wrestling. Somehow she manages to untangle them and get them seated. More or less.

The Oven Rebels

Just then, Eeeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeeeee!!!

"FIRE!!!" screams Stevie! "Run for your life!!! Run! RUNNN!!!" And he and his sister go pelting off to the front room, bellowing "Fire! fire!"

Eeeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeeeee!!!

"Don't worry," I say calmly, "that smoke detector always goes off when I've got something in the oven. It's just because the oven's dirty. I'll just push this button-- here-- and it should shut up."

But it didn't. Eeeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeeeee!!!

"FIRE! FIRE!" shout the children. And the damn smoke detector still won't shut off. I take it down. I can't remove the back to loosen the battery. It keeps on screaming. So do the kids. Wonderful.

I resort to putting the thing in the living room out of range of the dirty oven smoke, and take my place at the table. Hannah has the kids seated, and Stevie proclaims, "I'm saying grace!"

"No!" Letitia replies bitterly, "you said it last time!"

"Well, I'm saying it!" And he does, including a touching line about "Dear God, help us to do the things we should." At which this ordained clergywoman managed not to laugh hysterically. How could I? He's a child! With my friend his mother sitting right there! Besides, I believe in total depravity from before birth, oh, yes, I do! So how could I be disappointed or surprised?

"Why does he always get to say grace?" whines Letitia. "It was my turn!" Hannah about has her mollified when suddenly, Eeeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeee!!! Eeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeeeeeeee!!!

It's the bloody upstairs smoke detector! Good grief! The oven's only on at 350 degrees! Yeah, I could smell the drips burning a bit, but still!

Hannah squelches the children while I go squelch the upstairs detector by opening a window. I sit down again and start eating when, Beep-beep-beep! Beep-beep-beep!

"Shut uuuupppp!!!" roars Stevie. Oh, gosh, is that what I'd just said? Did he get that from me?

"No, it's just the timer for the cookies. It's time for them to come out of the oven. I'll get them on the rack and up out of the dog's way and-- Oh, no!"

Our lovely cookies. They were burnt black and brown, the color of a Rottweiler. But nowhere as nice smelling as your average large fierce dog.

Just what I need. I'm ready for my big Christmas baking campaign, and the oven thermostat goes out. Again.

The Meaning of 'Naughty'

Oh, well. I shoveled the carbonized remains onto the racks, figuring Llewellyn couldn't possibly be interested. And he wasn't. During dinner. During dinner, he lay calm and well-behaved next to my chair. Waiting.

Somehow, Stevie and Letitia managed to get some food into their little stomachs. Hannah and I began to clear up, and here came Stevie into the kitchen, seated astride my mutt and shouting hilariously, "Ride 'em, cowboy!!"

That tore it. I rescued Llewellyn and took the child very firmly by the shoulders and gave him a stare he couldn't possibly misapprehend. "Stevie. Don't. You. Ever. Do. That. Again. You understand? Llewellyn's a good dog, but you do that to him and he may think the only way to defend himself is to bite you. And I do not want you to get hurt. Do you understand? . . . Okay."

About that time, his mother, who'd been dealing with his sister, came in and realized what he'd gotten up to. 'That's it," she said. "You get on this stool and sit here until we go home!"

"Oh, nooooo! You're going to tie me to the stoooool! No, no!" Yeah, right. I keep my bondage ropes right next to the dishwasher detergent.

"Knock it off with the drama queen act! Your momma said sit, and you're gonna sit!"

Said Stevie's mother, "I think I've changed my mind about those Yugi-Oh! cards. I'm taking them back."

He flew off the stool and struck a tragic pose at her feet. "No, no, I beg of you!! You can't! You can't!"

"Get back on that stool, or I definitely will!"

Just then, Llewellyn, taking advantage of the diversion, jumped up on the counter and began chomping away on the burnt Rottweiler cookies.

"Llewellyn! No! Naughty! Naughty! Naughty!"

"What does 'naughty' mean?" inquired Stevie from his perch.

"What you've been all evening," I replied grimly.

The Doggie, ReDoo. Sort of.

Hannah retrieved the kids' coats and after a little more silliness and histrionics, Letitia and Stevie were got into them. We made sure they had all their stuff, and arranged for them to come back on Friday to ice the cookies and make some more. We said our goodbyes and I was walking them to the door, when--

"Llewellyn!! Naughty dog!"

"Wha'd he do? Wha'd he do?" in tones of anticipation and wonder from the children.

"He pee'd on the floor, again. Here in the front room. No, Letty, don't walk there, you'll step in it! Stevie, keep back! I'll get a towel . . . There. Now you can get to the door. I'll clean the rest of it up after you leave."

"Why'd he go to the bathroom on the floor?" Stevie inquired.

"Probably because you kids were so wild and loud he got too upset and excited and couldn't hold it in."

And with that charming judgement I said goodbye to Letitia and Stevie and their mother and she took them off home to their beds. Where I hope they settled down and actually slept.

But it occurred to me after they left that Llewellyn could just as well have lifted his leg on my grandmother's antique lamp to get revenge for being shut out of the fun in the kitchen. But if consideration for the dog's bladder will help Stevie and Letitia keep the mania level down in my house, a little misplaced justice isn't-- misplaced.

An Advent Meditation

I got more towels, and cleaned the dog's offering off the fake wood floor. I dumped the burnt cookies in the trash, cleaned the kitchen, and watched the kittens emerge shellshocked from the basement.

And I contemplated how different being a mother is to being a teacher or childminder who only has to deal with kids' craziness a few hours at a time and then can let them go home and out of her responsibility. I still wish I could have had children of my own. But oh, would I, could I have had the backbone to stand up under the job?

I'm sure that Jesus' mother Mary had more kids. The little brothers and sisters started coming, and she didn't have time to notice how perfectly-behaved her Firstborn was. She was just darn grateful that He gave her no trouble and was such a help with the younger ones.

That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it. Blessed Advent, everyone!

Monday, December 17, 2007


I was wrong about which George Hanover it was who is reputed to have stood for the Hallelujah Chorus. It was actually George III's father, George II. "Our" King George didn't take the throne for another nineteen years (or seventeen, if it's the first London and not the first Dublin performance that's in mind).

My musings about the widespread nature of the practice here in daughter America still hold, however. According to this link, some New Zealanders, as they approached new republican status vis a vis the British crown, were saying the custom should be stopped!

Anyway, mea culpa for having my historical facts crooked. But at least this correction gives me an excuse to post a view of this year's Heinz Hall Christmas tree!

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Despite wind, weather, and sloppy roads I made it into town this evening for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra-Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh performance of Handel's Messiah.


I've been acquainted with Messiah as a work since I was in high school or before. I've sung it in performance once or twice, and innumerable times in Messiah sing-alongs. And it always seemed to me that there was this great gray gap between "His yoke is easy" at the end of Part I and "Worthy is the Lamb" at the end, broken only by the Hallelujah Chorus and maybe the "Rod of Iron" and "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth" arias.

But life and experience alter many things, and tonight it was those parts I used to blur over that made the most impression on me. "He was despised." "Thy rebuke hath broken his heart." All those parts that tell how Jesus the Christ was rejected and rebelled against by the people He came to save. That's how it is. No redemption without suffering, no crown without the cross. Angels announcing "Glory to God!" to shepherds and a Child born unto us are all very well-- but that good news means nothing without what followed thirty-three years later.

There were some college-aged people in my row who left at the intermission, before those parts were sung. Maybe they thought as I used to. Maybe they were too young to understand.

But I hope not.


I've read that it was King George III who leapt to his feet at the first performance of the Hallelujah chorus, so impressed was he. And all his subjects present followed suit, and so have audiences thereafter.

Yes, that George III.

You'd think it would be considered unpatriotic for us Americans to assume and keep up the custom. But I'm glad it isn't. Farmer George, despite his political myopia concerning certain trans-Atlantic colonies, wasn't wrong (or mad) all the time. And this is one time he was very right and sane indeed.

And tonight in Pittsburgh, we stood.


I would say the PSO chamber musicians and the Mendelssohn Choir did very well.


Considering that conductor Julian Wachter chose to take the tempi so fast, he resembled a Presbyterian preacher with a half-hour's worth of sermon whose elders have told him he'd better not go over fifteen minutes--or else. Very marcato, very clipped, scarcely a largo or a tenuto the whole evening.

Maybe I exaggerate. But not by much. The later it got, the more prestissimosimosimo he went. In the middle of the "Blessing and honor, glory and power" chorus, I heard a man in the row above me whisper to his wife, "He's taking it too fast." I glanced around. His wife was waggling her fingertips together in a rapid motion, like the beaks of ravenous birds. It summed up the conductor's technique very aptly.

You can get certain musical effects with that approach. Maybe you could argue they would be authentic Baroque effects. But go too far, and you no longer have music-- only effects.

The soloists? I liked the bass-baritone the best. The mezzo seemed to have trouble with her phrasing-- she never seemed to hold a line. I don't know if she was fighting a cold, or doing it on purpose.

All the soloists had good tone and intonation. But none of them really filled the hall. Maybe it was the acoustics.

Maybe I wish I could afford to sit closer and find out!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I've picked up my final grades for my AutoCAD 2008 class from the tech school website. And thanks to my final push to get some extra-credit work in, I kept the final mark up to a quite decent level, thank you very much.

So now, how shall I proceed?

Do I simply write new letters to the firms I contacted before, informing them of this Portentious News? Or do I revise and totally reissue my architecture resume with a whole new letter (and a whole new purchase of 24 lb classic laid ivory bond)?

Either way, do I simply put down that I "successfully" completed the course? Or do I blow my own horn louder than that and say I "achieved marks consistently above the class average" (assuming that's true-- was last time I looked-- but I'd better make sure)?

I figure I should definitely emphasize that I'm immediately ready to use my new AutoCAD skills to a firm's benefit. After all, my lack of expertise in that area is, I suspect, a big reason why I haven't gotten all that much response from my August mailing. And there's no use wasting stamps if the new edition won't rectify the problem.

Hmmmm. Maybe (given my shortage of good paper) I'll split the difference. New resumes and letters for the big firms within shorter commuting distance, and letters only for firms farther away and for those I suspect aren't so CAD happy.

And dropping a word in the ear of the people at my old firm won't hurt, I imagine. Even if I'm 95% sure I wouldn't want to be hired back there . . .

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Drought Has Broken!

No, not in Georgia. Sorry.

No, the drought regarding pulpit supply assignments.

I haven't preached anywhere since the 16th of September. All the pastors in my presbytery were back from their summer vacations. And all the churches in the Presbytery Over the Border where I was filling all the vacant pulpits last winter and spring have now got fulltime called ministers. Or they've made long term arrangements with Certified Lay Pastors or retired ministers in the same presbytery.

Got a couple of drip-drops in October when one church in the POB engaged me for the 4th Sunday in Advent. And another one booked me for Easter Sunday.

But nothing else.

Till 6:58 this evening.

When I got a call from the pulpit supply arranger for a church in the Presbytery South of Here. And they had five preaching slots open from the 1st Sunday in Christmas all the way through January! And no scruples about the same pulpit supply filling all of them!

So thank you, Jesus! I get to preach Christmas and all of Epiphany short of Transfiguration Sunday! Showers of blessing indeed!

Re: Decorating

I maeded me a Label Cloud!

And I didn't deleeted it! LOL!

. . . I wish there'd been colors in the RBG chart I used that were a wee bit closer to the ones on the template, but the ones I have will do for now.

(Hey! I wonder what happens when you enter arbitrary color numbers into the HTML? Do you get new and amazing shades-- or does it just spit it out and tell you, Try again?

Not now. Maybe later.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Happy Birthday, Hector Berlioz!

In honor of the 204th anniversary of the birth of composer Hector Berlioz, I present this clip of my kittens and dog appreciating the "Scene at the Manger" from his L'Enfance du Christ.

Vois leur gaîté!

(C'est la musique magnifique! --Even if my study is a mess.)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

i can has sacrilege?

Not sure how it is, that I can get through fifty-odd Christmasses with their trappings and customs, when suddenly something will just go Boiiiingg! and I'll think, "I. Cannot. Stand. That."

Not anymore. Not this year. Not ever again.

It hit me the other day in our town's biggest gift store. This shop has great stuff if you want festive linens and platters and folk-arty salt-and-pepper shakers and hand-blown glass ornaments shaped like fruit and that sort of thing. But I got wandering amongst the Nativity scene displays and noticed how many of them feature big-eyed mindless-looking children or goofy animals or any number of permutations and combinations on sickly-sweet kyewt.

Like this one here

(Courtesy of It Came Upon a Midnight Weird's "Cavalcade of Bad Nativities")

And it's like my eyes were opened. I just wanted to yell, "NO!! Enough! Don't you know what you're making a sentimental farce of there? Do you realize who it is you have the temerity to represent in that ridiculous, minimizing, idolatrous way? It's the eternal holy Creator God of the Whole Freaking Universe who's allowed Himself to go through the mess and pain and hassle of human birth and human life and human death! That's Almighty God there in that manger, not a blinking teddy bear! And no, He's not come to bring sweetness and perpetual kyoot, He's here because we human beings made such an infernal muck of the world He gave us and now He has to come in person and straighten our gosh-awful disgusting mess out by Himself!"

The birth of our Lord is beautiful. It's awesome. It's overwhelming. It's stupendous. It's humbling.

But it bloody well isn't kyewt.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


No, not the house, the blog.

I really don't [didn't] like the long, trailing tag list I've got [I used to have] on this site. I've seen other Blogspot blogs with assemblages of tags in fonts of various colors and sizes, and think I, why can't I have that, too?

But it's hard to add a feature to your blog if you don't know what it's called so you can search for help on it.

Well, just the other day, I found out that's called a "tag cloud." Hurray! I entered it into the Blogger Help search engine. And the results directed me to the Technorati site, where I made me a tag cloud for another one of my blogs,

Hmmm . . . Seems to have picked up the tags, but the colors are [were] off. And what's with this "top tags" business? I want all of them, so I can get rid of the long tag list!

So I tried Blogger Help again. This time, a fellow user's comment took me to This site gives me more options about background, colors, etc.

But what is this? ZoomCloud hasn't converted my tags, it's culled words and phrases from my posts and their titles! Not too useful, when you like to play with metaphor and quotation as I do. And there's still that everlasting tag list hanging out on my blog. Not what I want.

Well, I'll leave it for now. I have actual decorating to do, for Christmas and on my house in general. But if any helpful readers could direct me to a site that can make me the cloud tag widget I need, I'd be ever so grateful.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Both Heaven and Earth in Lytel Space

Yesterday afternoon was the deadly-deadline for submitting the last of our assignments and projects for Introduction to AutoCAD 2008.

I was up all night the night before finishing the required work and then seeing how much headway I could make on the extra-credit parts. By 2:50 PM I had one EC drawing done, but there was No Way on God's Green Earth that I was going to get it dimensioned and labelled and still make it 26 miles down the highway to get it printed and handed in before the end of the school day. Besides, I had to meet some of my community choir colleagues at 4:45 PM, thirty-five miles back up north again, to carpool to our first performance of the season at a Light Up Night festivity.

So cutting my losses, there I was scrambling round my office to gather things up, trying to remember what I needed to take to campus to get everything I'd completed in.

Then I remembered: I needed one thing only. My thumbdrive. My last assignments, my final project (with extra-credit submission), everything I'd done all term was contained on that one little 2" x 1/2" x 1/8" device.

Res miranda! Not that long ago, who would have thought that so much could be contained in such a wee bit of metal and silicon! What a marvel!

And there are much smaller and more capacious devices than my thumbdrive-- tiny mp3 players, implantable chips, things I know about but can't even name. It really is a modern scientific miracle.

But "miracle" is an elastic term. And is this really the first time in human history that such a thing has been? If I really want to marvel at much and more contained in less and little, I'm a fool not to look at the season we're about to celebrate.

For see what happened at the first Christmas. The second Person of the Trinity: the eternal Son of God, who fills the universe and by whom the universe and all things were made and are sustained: this immense and limitless Being condescended to be contained as an embryo in the womb of a young virgin mother. All That . . . in so little!

Our modern material science has figured out a lot, but it will never comprehend the marvel of what happened then.

There is no rose of swych vertu
As is the rose that bare Jesu,

For in this rose contained was
Heaven and earth in lytle space,
Res miranda.

By that rose we may well see
That He is God in persons three,
Pares forma.

The aungels sungen the shepherds to:
Gloria in excelsis Deo,

Leave we all this wearldly mirth,
And follow we this joyful birth,

Alleluia, res miranda,
Pares forma, gaudeamus,

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I spent Thanksgiving at my mom's in a Big Southwestern State. Everybody there was there. Meaning all my siblings and their spouses and a certain number of their kids and one of their kid's kids and one of my step-dad's kids and his wife and his kid.

Of course, we got to talking about Uncle Elliot*, who died a week before on the 15th. Turns out, the idea of no funeral, no burial, no obit in the paper, no nuthin' except ashes to be scattered on Lake Erie next summer was his idea, not his wife's, my aunt Natalie.* Natalie would have preferred to observe the usual rites. But unlike some relatives, who figure the post-death observances are for the sake of the survivors and go ahead and do what they want (the dead person being dead, and past having an opinion on the matter), she respected her husband's wishes and has done and will do as he asked.

Talking amongst ourselves last Thursday, we wished it had been different. We wished we could have gathered in Massachusetts with all the family to mourn our uncle's passing. We made do with the stories we told each other the other day, but it wasn't the same as it would have been if we could have been there with Elliot's children our cousins and Natalie and her brothers and other friends and relations. When somebody dies, the loss is mitigated somewhat by the stories you share among yourselves. The survivors are drawn closer even as the deceased family member departs. We were sorry to miss that.

Nevertheless, Uncle Elliot's wishes were Uncle Elliot's wishes, and we have to respect them.

But this evening, it hit me that I do not respect his wishes for no wake, no funeral, no obit, no nuthin'. I may have to accept the fact of them-- it wasn't up to me to carry them out. But I don't have to like them.

It's the "no notice in the paper" thing that galls me the most. What was he trying to say? That his life didn't matter? Was he somehow glorying in the idea that "all we are is dust in the wind"? Was life worth so little to him that he wanted it so quickly forgotten, that he didn't even want to let old friends and work colleagues know he was gone? It seems to minimize not only his life, but this transient but marvellous gift of human life in general.

And it makes me angry. D--- him!

(I'd better not say that. It might be true.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007


About a half hour ago, I was on listening to J. S. Bach's cantata BMV 156, Ich Steh mit Einem Fuss im Grabe ("I stand with one foot in the grave"). At the same time, I was trying to get a fountain pen to write, and amid the whorls and loops, just for fun, I was doodling the names of my maternal grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather.

Then the phone rang. It was my mother. She said, "I have something I have to tell you," and I immediately knew it wouldn't be good.

"I'm flying up to Boston tomorrow."

"It's Uncle Elliot*, isn't it?"


Uncle Elliot, my mother's younger brother. The only son of my late grandfather whose name I'd just been idly scribbling. Uncle Elliot, who last year was diagnosed with lung cancer, and who refused surgery or other treatment because he felt fine at the time and didn't want to compromise his quality of life, not even for five or six more years on this earth. My mother is flying up to Boston tomorrow, because my aunt called to tell her that he is literally standing-- or lying-- with one foot in the grave.

"He's going downhill fast. I'll be there till Saturday, and help Natalie* with whatever she needs."

And so it looks as if I will never see my Uncle Elliot alive again. I may well not see him again at all.

For he and my aunt Natalie, his third wife, are in retirement extremely private people, even towards family. My mother told me that Natalie hasn't informed even Uncle Elliot's children from his first and second marriages. It clearly was a relief to my mom that she at least had let her, Elliot's only sister, know. I told my mother that if the funeral plans Elliot and Natalie had made included family, to let me know and I'd make arrangements and come.

But the way things are, I expect no such call.

I saw my uncle and aunt last about eleven years ago, and it did not go well. Uncle Elliot was amiable enough, but Aunt Natalie made it clear that my being there was trouble and interference and a disruption in general. I'd always thought there'd be plenty of time for us to get past that and try again.

But time went by, and duty and pleasure and busyness got in the way, and after all, would it actually go better another time around? So I did nothing positive about it.

You'd think I'd be sitting here now in great sadness and grief, both because my only maternal uncle is dying and because I hadn't managed to see him since Thanksgiving of 1996. The irony is, I'm not. And I can't.

I can't, because even if I had made overtures towards my aunt, it wouldn't have made any difference. Even if I'd gone to Massachusetts and attempted another visit, it wouldn't have drawn us any closer. Because that's the way my family works. We don't feud, we aren't enemies, we do keep in touch from time to time-- we just aren't close.

No, the grief and sadness that lies in wait for me runs deeper and began farther back, before I was born, when currents were set in motion that I can't fathom or explain even now. The grief and sadness are there because I can only imagine the family spirit and togetherness that others seem to enjoy. Their vibrant affection is like a foreign country to me. Most of the time, I let the happy inhabitants of that land enjoy their patrimony, and I do well enough in mine.

But at times like this, I begin to wonder why that heartfelt closeness has been infrequent at best with my kith and kin. At times like this, I wonder if somehow I've been robbed of something it would have been very good to have, something that ought to have been mine.

But robbed by whom?

By the human beings-- including myself-- that conceived and aggravated this state of affairs? Yes, of course.

But above it all, hasn't God in His permissive providence allowed it to be so? Shall I, a guilty sinner, rail at God? Shall I not rather accept my own fault in not at least trying to make things better, and be faithful and still? And know that somehow, God can and has and will take the wrongness of it and make it right?

Even if I can't do anything directly for my Uncle Elliot at his home near Boston, under hospice care, dying?

But one thing I can do: I can pray, by God's sovereign providence, that by whatever means he would reach out for the Lord and Savior he hasn't had time for all his life, and enter the next life in salvation and peace.

That would be a sublime-- and divine-- irony. Soli Deo gloria.

Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe,
Machs mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt,
Bald fällt der kranke Leib hinein,
Hilf mir in meinen Leiden,
Komm, lieber Gott, wenn dirs gefällt,
Was ich dich bitt, versag mir nicht.

Ich habe schon mein Haus bestellt,
Wenn sich mein Seel soll scheiden,
So nimm sie, Herr, in deine Händ.
Nur lass mein Ende selig sein!
Ist alles gut, wenn gut das End.

Friday, November 09, 2007

"It's So Easy to Slip, It's So Easy to Fall . . . "

Back in my misspent but fun college days, our favorite local country rock band would do a cover of Little Feat's "Easy to Slip." Hadn't thought about that song for years. Not till day before yesterday when, thanks to the helpful people at Earthlink, I was put on to a website that gives the back stories and lyrics to all sorts of popular songs. I only came across that title by accident; I was really looking to find out more about Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken."

But I've been thinking about "Easy to Slip" since late last night. Oh my, have I! Late last night, or rather, early this morning, I was calling it quits on my AutoCAD homework and packing up my papers and so on. I leaned over in my office chair to put my thumbdrive in my purse-- and I--and the chair-- kept right on going. Had to catch myself, but how? My dog Llewellyn was asleep on the floor just where I was about to land!

Just in time I grabbed the edge of my computer table, managing to avert total disaster, and replaced the caster that had come out of the base of my chair and left that one leg of it hovering in midair. No harm, no foul.

But heading downstairs a few minutes later to take the dog out, I got to wondering, "Hm, what did I do to my left ankle? Did I knock it on something and bruise it?"

Nothing more likely, klutz that I am. But by the time I'd got Llewellyn out to the alley to do his business and come back upstairs to get ready for bed, my ankle was hurting like yip. Had I--? No, I couldn't have! Pulled off my shoes and socks and yep, it was swelling demonstrably. Yes, it is easy to slip, and it's also easy to sprain your ankle when you don't even realize it.

No, I did not put ice on it. Yes, I should have. But it was late and I needed to get to bed to get up for my early class. So I just took some ibuprophen and didn't feel or remember a thing about it till I tried to put weight on it first thing this morning.

Damn! Not going to class was not an option. First submissions of the final project were due today, and I had some questions I simply had to ask the instructor before I could finish them.

So I dug out my grandmother's old but still effective ankle brace, put on a good tight pair of socks, donned some sensible shoes (okay, the same ones I sprained the ankle in, but oh, well!) and drove in. Thank God most of my route is on the freeway and I don't have to work the clutch much. I was able to get around the campus all right thinking of my right leg as a kind of punt pole to pull the rest of me along. I leaned on railings where available. When nobody was looking, I hopped a few steps. Hey, it's all right. It's not like I'm reduced to pegging around on crutches that are too tall for me, like the unfortunate blogging architect out in Denver who not only sprained her ankle recently, but broke it as well. I'm getting along.

No, I haven't been to the doctor about it. What is he going to tell me that I don't know already? And no, I haven't put my leg up at all all day-- I was in the school's computer lab till after 4:00 PM finishing the finals submissions and completing some other work I could do only there. And since I got home there've been animals to care for and mail to sort and supper to cook and eat.

But maybe ignoring my sprained ankle isn't the smartest thing I can do. Maybe I'd better put my little feet up. Or my little foot. And put ice on it.

And face up to unwrapping it and examining it.

Which I really don't want to do. Which, after "Easy to Slip," makes me a kind of north-of-the-Mason-Dixie chicken.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

You Never Know . . .

A week ago yesterday, I picked up a message from my answering machine after returning home from choir. The caller said he was an elder at a church in the Presbytery Over the Border, and he wanted to talk to me about supplying their pulpit in the near future. He left his number and the directive to call back after 4:00 PM.

Oh, excellent. I haven't preached since mid-September!

Next evening, I called back several times, even though I had an AutoCAD test to study for. No answer. No answering machine, either. I let the phone ring and ring, as if the sound could create a hearing ear was no man was, but it was but vain repetition, a sounding gong and a clanging cymbal.

Next evening, Halloween, I called back earlier, closer to 4:00. Ring-ring-ring-ring-ring! Still no answer. This was frustrating. I really do want to preach wherever I can get the opportunity. But why put someone who's never home and who has no answering machine in charge of arranging pulpit supply at your church?

Still, I tried again later, after the trick-or-treaters were all safely home, the depleted bowls of candy brought inside, and the porch lights (if not the jack o' lanterns) extinguished. Ring-ring-ring-ri--!

Oh! Did someone finally pick up the phone?

Darned if I could tell for sure. For instead of, "Hello, this is So-and-so," I heard sounds of electronic confusion (a TV on loud in the background?) and a man's rough voice shouting something incoherent ending with "fifteen minutes!"

Then the line went dead.

Was that some strange sort of answering machine, that hadn't been turned on before?

So fifteen minutes later I called again. Line opens, again the background noise. And again, the loud and angry man's voice, this time ripping out " . . . won't put up with this bu!!sh1t!!!"

And again the line went dead.

I checked the number I'd been calling on my cellphone against the number on my caller ID. I replayed the message and verified the number the church elder gave. It was all the same.

Huh? Is this elder an ecclesiastical version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Does he have an alcoholic grown son living with him? "Inexplicable" didn't half describe it!

But I want to preach wherever I can. So I looked up the number of the church and left a message on their machine, to have this elder call me.

Which he did, this past Sunday. Everything is lovely: I'm scheduled to preach for them one of the Sundays in Advent.

The elder referred to the call I'd left at the church. "Sorry," he said, "for not picking up when you called. I get so many phone solicitors, that if I don't recognize the number, I don't answer the phone!"

Tentatively I said, "Somebody picked up on Halloween night. It sounded like--" [I determined to put the best construction on it]--"there was a party going on."

"Oh, no," the elder replied. "No parties here! It's just me and my grown daughter, and we never do anything like that!"

"Well," said I, "maybe it was the television I heard." And I left it at that. But I don't believe it for one moment. Not about the rough voice. Not about the irruptions of vulgarity.

"I'm sick of you sales people calling me every fifteen minutes!!! . . . I won't put up with this bu!!sh1t!!!"

I wonder, does this elder even now realize that the person he was swearing at the other evening was not an interruptive phone solicitor, but an ordained clergywoman of the Presbyterian Church (USA), under whom he was proposing to sit to hear the Word of God?

And even if it had been a phone solicitor, does this elder not realize that Christian courtesy should extend even to modern-day publicans/tax gatherers such as they? That his ordination vows constrain him in particular to act in Christian love and courage towards all people he encounters, regardless of who or what they might be? Even if that Christian love and courage mean simply saying, "No thanks, I'm not interested," and hanging up?

And yes, do I realize that I represent Jesus Christ to everyone I come in contact with, whether they know I'm ordained or not? It's scary to think how many times I must've thoughtlessly said unChristlike things to people I encounter, even if they weren't as spectacular as the ejaculations of the pulpit supply arranging elder for the little church in the Presbytery Over the Border.

Really scary.

Lord help us. I mean that literally. Because, you just never know.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pride Goeth Before Destruction, and a Haughty Spirit Before a Fall

I tried one of those "What Theologian Are You?" quizzes today.

I admit it: I kept coming up as Karl Barth and I could never figure out why. I got through theological college without even reading much if any Karl Barth!

So I tried being more decisive about my answers. And came out as Jonathan Edwards.

Well, that's a fine thing indeed.

Look at the way our quiz-makers describe him (and hence, me) below: "Passionate about preaching," very good. "Accomplished theologian": I can't claim that honor, but it'd be a wonderful commendation to deserve.

But oy vey! "The original fire and brimstone preacher"? Not what you want said about you if you're trying to convince a church or a presbytery of your pastoral abilities!

I know good and well that Jonathan Edwards' reputation as a fire-and-brimstone preacher is vastly overrated. "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God" was preached to an assembly of pastors and theological students, who probably needed to be taken off their high horses and would know how to receive it. Edwards in his pastoral ministry and congregational preaching was more likely to emphasize the "religious affections" and a Scripture-mediated experience of the love of God.

Sounds pretty pastoral to me. But in this world of "perception is reality," again I go, Oy vey!

But I can put up with that. Being compared to Jonathan Edwards! That's really great!

. . . Hey, wait a minute. Where did this 33% worth of Schleiermacher come from? And this 7% share of Charles "Evil Eye" Finney? Yuck!

What a dumb quiz this must be!

Which theologian are you?
created with
You scored as Jonathan Edwards

You're the original hellfire-and brimstone preacher and you take God's justice very seriously. You are passionate about preaching and an accomplished theologian.

Jonathan Edwards


John Calvin




Martin Luther


Friedrich Schleiermacher


Karl Barth


Charles Finney


Paul Tillich




Jürgen Moltmann


Friday, October 19, 2007

Whoops! Spoke Too Soon

Concerning the AutoCAD 2008 class I started yesterday morning:

The "Oh, golly, everybody knows this!" phase ended very quickly. Like right after break.

I perceive that even though this class is considered an introduction to AutoCAD 2008, it's not an introduction to AutoCAD or computer drafting itself. A lot or most of my young fellow students encountered some earlier version of the program in high school or wherever.

Me, I'm thinking, thank God I did those last two projects at the architecture firm last winter by the seat of my pants in AutoCAD 2007. Otherwise, by now I'd be completely washed out to sea.

As it is, I'm barely keeping myself out of the riptide. It doesn't help that my middle-aged eyesight makes it difficult for me to see both what the instructor is doing on the main classroom demo screen and what I've got in front of me on my own classroom computer. Once I asked the teacher, "Where did you get that?" when he swooped up and brought down a menu from some fuzzy and indiscernable icon. He said, "Up here." I can't see what's "up here"!

I'm not asking again. Obviously, it's something we're supposed to know from Before, and for that I can play around with the student version of the program I now have installed on my home computer, or I can look in the great, big, fat textbook.

So far, I'm not sure what we have the textbook for, except for reference. Or maybe because the software came bundled with it. The syllabus seems to bear no relation to it, and the second exercise (which is due Tuesday) is out of the manual for AutoCAD 2002.

This morning the regular teacher couldn't arrive till the beginning of the second hour and we had a sub up until break. I have to say I liked her technique better. She was much better at taking things step by step and having us do them two or three times so we could really get them into our eyes, ears, minds, and hands.

Well, no griping, no moaning. This class cost good money, I need to get good value out of it, regardless.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Keep an Eye on the Road Ahead

Currently in the break period for the new AutoCAD class.

I see it'll be like those math classes in junior high: we start with the "Oh, good grief, everybody knows this" stuff in the first day or the first week-- but if you let that put you to sleep, you'll get left in the dust.

I just completed the first Activity assignment, just now during break. It was only setting up folders. Big deal. But I see that the next one gets serious, using some techniques I didn't use when I was teaching myself CAD at the architectural firm.

So let me be warned.

Friday, October 12, 2007

I'm Going to Learn Remote-Control Drafting!

So far, nothing solid has come of my resume broadcast in August. I have one firm that's very interested-- if and when certain potential clients sign on.

Otherwise, not much of anything.

I have concluded that my lack of AutoCAD expertise puts potential employers off.

So thanks to a general mailing, I became aware of a local two-year tech college that offers architectural CAD training. And thank God, they were able to put me on a Personal Track and let me take AutoCAD 2008 only for a fee I can manage. Otherwise, it would have been the whole two-year associate's degree course with transcripts and trying to get credit for previous work and practically a full time course load and fees of over $40,000.

No, not now. Not at my time of life. Overkill, for sure.

I go in on Monday to pay the fees, then I start at 8:20 AM this coming Thursday. Two hours a day, four days a week, for the next five weeks. I could have taken the 10:30 section, but no. If this one job comes through, coming to work three hours late will be bad enough.

And I do need to relearn some day/night discipline . . . getting to bed at 1:00 AM is not early.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

What Have I Done?

You look at this picture, and what do you see?

You see me tackling the long-put-off task to remove the thirty-year-old linoleum from my drafting board so I can lay down the new vinyl cover I bought from Charrette a few weeks ago.

You see me discovering that there's a lot more nasty stuff going on under that vinyl than I ever imagined.

You see me wishing I could have just put the new vinyl over the old linoleum-- if not for the nicks and mars and bumps that'd be sure to telegraph.

And you see me thinking that, even though I have had this board since 1977, even though it was a gift from a friend and colleague I used to know in Philadelphia, even though it's always fun to fiddle with the pull on the edge of this old converted pocket door, I may just give it the chuck. I can get a nice smooth piece of birch plywood cut to size at Lowe's. Do I really want to waste time and energy getting all the lino and crap off of this?

Not particularly.

God! this is frustrating! Is nothing ever simple?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pro Christo et pro Ecclesia Eius

This evening we had a special called presbytery meeting, and I don't know if I was a champion of the faith and a defender of the interests of the Presbytery, or just a nitpicking pain in the rear.

Well, no, I do know where the truth lies in this, and it's only my ingrained cowardice and reluctance to do anything that might cause anyone not to like me that has me making that serio-comic comment.

In light of the upheavals going on in the Presbyterian Church (USA), my presbytery appointed a task force to draft guideline documents on a number of crucial issues. Such as, what we as a presbytery believe, how we will deal with churches that choose to lodge protests against denominational policy by withholding all or a portion of their per capita assessments, how the presbytery will work with churches who are so fed up with current PC(USA) shenanigans that they want to bolt altogether, and other such matters.

Tonight was the second reading. Amendments were solicited by the presbytery office. I submitted six-- two on matters of content, three on matters of clarity, and one (which I withdrew) on a matter of style.

Three passed; the others failed, one by only one vote. I couldn't help but wonder what people thought about me going to the mike so many times. But if I were convinced the body would be helped or harm to it prevented by the proposed change, did my self-consciousness really matter?

The irony of the evening for me was the comments of one task force member who kept speaking against my rewording suggestions by saying the present text was perfectly clear to the members of the task force.

Yes, and when I do a set of drawings and specs, when I've been working on a particular design for months on end, my intention is perfectly clear to me, too. But then the project goes out to bid, and hey, voici, the bidding contractors don't find every last thing perfectly clear. And out comes the good old Addendum form, to be distributed to one and all.

Tonight was a chance for those outside the process to bring fresh eyes and clarity to the project, in effect before it went to final "bid." I and a handful of others did what we could.

As for the language that remains vague, I suppose as long as we have the framers around, they can give us an interpretation. I suppose there's no point in worrying that looseness and uncertainty in these documents could get us into trouble twenty, thirty miles down the road. The rate my denomination is lurching towards self-destruction, a little vagueness on our part won't make a lot of difference. And if the PC(USA) is still around thirty years from now, that'll be such a miracle that anything we did tonight will be outshone into oblivion.


(There's a postscript to tonight's performance: I woke up this morning with a sloppy, drippy sinus cold and took a couple decongestant tablets before I drove off to the meeting. When I got home-- just after my renewed drippiness had induced me to take two more-- I happened to read on the box that they're 24 hour pills! Oops! You mean I was on twice the recommended dose when I was at presbytery? You mean that's the cause of the slight unreality I felt this evening, the sense of distance that took my craven gut out of the picture and kept me moving to the mike to propose and defend my submissions? Looks like it! [Insert Cowper reference here.]

(As for now with four of those one-per-day pills under my belt, I'd say too much Sudafed makes you jumpy, not drowsy. But I won't go get behind the wheel to find out for sure.)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Well, I Suppose It IS Starting Already

Tonight was the first rehearsal for the 2007-2008 season of the Village Singers, in which I sing soprano.

You can always tell when Linda, our director, has been off to another choral conductors' conference in the vacation. Tonight we practiced making human A-frames, to share tone and resonance, and maybe a few nits while we were at it.

We also began to practice this season's Christmas music. As usual, we have a whole calendar of concerts in December, and we have to start now so by then we'll be able to achieve the sound and ensemble that Linda now hears only in her head.

And as much as I gripe about the culture making us focus on Christmas too early, there's a way in which early preparation is inextricably tied to the season.

God, after all, started preparing for Christmas-- that is, for the Incarnation of His Son-- as far back as the Garden of Eden.

All that process of the call of Abraham: of Israel's slavery in Egypt and their deliverance from it: of kings and prophets and exile and restoration: all that was God getting ready and getting His people ready for Christmas.

And Christmas itself is about the Son of God getting ready to die on the cross for our sins. And the cross was preparation for Christ's resurrection, and the resurrection for His ascension into heaven, and His ascension into heaven was preparation for the sending of the Holy Spirit and the birth and commissioning of the Church.

Preparation after preparation after preparation! From of old to the present and into the future! All this preparation, getting ready for the great eternal feast that God has planned for His people when He makes all things new. That will be the ultimate holiday. That will be when we finally can sit down forever and rest and enjoy.

In the meantime, we're in choir working on music for Advent and Christmas of 2007. And yeah, we do have to start getting ready now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It's Starting Already

The first Christmas catalogs for the 2007 season arrived in the mail today.

Here they are:

Once I'd scanned the covers, they went straight in the trash. I haven't the time nor the call now even to think about Christmas gift buying, even if I did have the cash.

Of course, come next December 23rd when I'm standing in the interminable queue at the post office, or when yet again I'm staring at the stack of Christmas cards and envelopes I have neither addressed nor sent, I'll think back to today and go, "You improvident twerp! Why didn't you take the hint and get started early for a change?"

I'll risk it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

As If I Had Nothing Better to Do . . .

I has a cat.

I has also compewtr an indernetz.

An grate REFORMED theologie!

Puts thim loltogthur, we can haz ~~~~~~~~~


(see belw plz)

Moar ltr mybe. Kthxbai.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Homing Pigeons

Back last April when I got put "on contract basis" from the architecture firm (due to, I was told, lack of work matching my skillset), my soon-to-be-former boss said, "I know! We'll say you're going on part time so you can spend more time doing church ministry work!"

I, being the Be Agreeable First, Think Later type, did not gainsay this. I figured, maybe This Is God's Way of Pushing Me Out to Pursue My Ministry Vocation.

But it's four months later and all I'm doing in that line is pulpit supply preaching, which I'd been doing all along. None of the possibilities that were talked up for me here in my presbytery have panned out, and as for my listing on the wider PC(USA) pastor-congregation computer dating website, I've gotten nary a nibble.

So I'm throwing in my lot with the architects again. At least, I've started sending out resumes, like flocks of cream-colored Classic Laid 25-lb. bond pigeons.

Of course these pigeons have to be tracked very mile of the way. I know it'll take a lot of phone calls and follow-up e-mails even to get my foot in the door.

I'm asking for informational interviews, whether firms are looking for a Project Architect of my qualifications or not. I didn't grow up around here: I don't know the architectural firms at all. At my former company, we were kept at it so steadily you didn't have time to get to know the people in your own office, let alone anybody anywhere else. If I can at least see who's doing what, I'll know whom to concentrate on, whom to pester like my cat knocking things off the dresser to get me up in the morning, because I really want to work there.

Till then, I'll see if any of my "pigeons" makes it home.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Physician, Heal Thyself

I'm printing out my sermon for tomorrow. I've chosen more or less the Revised Common Lectionary passages from Luke and Colossians, the former covering Jesus' parable of the Rich Fool and the latter, where we are to consider ourselves dead with our true lives hidden in heaven with Christ.

I'd intended to focus on the theme of True Riches, but the bridge collapse in Minneapolis last Wednesday made it right to deal also with the motif of death.

A very sound sermon the Holy Spirit has given me, I think: All about the wrongheartedness of confusing making a living with having a life, and of confusing the temporary life of this earth with the eternal life in God. With a descant on how our attitudes on that have to be right all the time, since at any moment our lives might be required of us, just as in the parable of the Rich Fool, just as with those poor victims of the bridge disaster the other day.

The Holy Spirit is also reminding me what a wry sense of humor my God has. Why does He always insist I preach my sermons to myself first? Why does He so cleverly arrange it so, no matter what the texts are, they and my sermons always are applicable to me?

It struck me in the Luke passage that, by human estimation, the man in the crowd who asks Jesus to make his brother divide the inheritance with him isn't greedy at all. He only wants what's his according to the law. He only wants his means of livelihood.

But my sinless Lord Jesus implies that he's greedy! He's greedy because he's focussing all effort and hope in life on material sustenance and how he can get it. He's not concentrating on God and His will for His life; no, he's willing to drag his brother's name publicly through the mud and ignore God in the process. The poor can be greedy just as much as the rich. They can be just as impoverished in their relationship with God.

And here I am, without a fulltime job since early April, drawing unemployment compensation that will run out before I know it. And I'm worried. I know I'm good at what I do, whether it's in pastoral work or in architecture. And I'm willing to get additional credentials where I'm lacking.

But I'm afraid. I'm afraid a suitable pastorate will never open up for me. I'm afraid that potential architectural employers will only see my age and the fact that I'm a novice in AutoCAD (I'm an ace at drawing by hand) and refuse to speak with me any further. I worry about losing my house and my possessions and coming on the charity of family or the State or ending up a bum.

Or worse, maybe, I'll starve to death and die!

I'm afraid, I worry, I focus on making a living or my inability to make a living and turn my eyes totally from the power and provision of God! I let that fear and worry depress me so much I'm unable to concentrate on finding the labor and livelihood that God has out there for me!

I don't say writing this sermon has screwed my head back on straight. But preaching it tomorrow should help the process a little. And may grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit move it forward a lot.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Looking at Liberty

I'm back in my home town of Kansas City, Missouri, for this year's mass choir call for the North American Welsh Choir. Final rehearsals for our Saturday night concert begin tomorrow morning, most choristers having arrived this afternoon. I came a little earlier, to allow me to see people and places I hadn't since I moved east four years ago.

Some of these places didn't actually exist four years ago.

One such is the new Liberty Memorial Museum. Oh, it was in the planning stages in 2003. And the fundraising stages. And the arguing stages, with those who thought it was a desecration of the 1926 design of the building to build a large-scale exhibit space under the deck of the nation's officially-designated World War I memorial. And the preconstruction stages, when it came to the rough structure and the entry doors.

But the museum was not officially opened until last December 2nd. And today was my first opportunity to see it.

Architecturally, it's impressive. You approach down a great ramped walkway past grassy terraces and an oval reflecting pool and enter through monumental bronze doors. The entry to the exhibit space is across a glass-floored bridge, one storey beneath which are 900 field poppies, suspended in a clear medium; each poppy represents 1,000 people killed in the course of the war.

The exhibits take you through the background and causes of the Great War, its mode of fighting, its armaments, equipment, and artifacts. But especially they seek to make the visitor understand what it was like for the average soldier, slogging away in the trenches for months on end, enduring the mud, disease, and vermin that were in their way worse than the firefights that punctuated the seemingly endless stalemate. This is shown especially in the trench exhibit.

I remember when the trench exhibit was proposed. There were complaints because, some said, it would glorify war. They must have been out of their minds. How can a representati0n of a dank, fetid hellhole glorify anything?

My only complaint is that the exhibit designers chose to have these tableaux viewed either through openings about a foot square or through three inch diameter holes, both punched in a wall about what? Nine to twelve inches thick? Wouldn't be a problem, if the openings were splayed on the inside. But they're angled, so you don't get a straight shot in. And often, what you can't see is exactly what you most want to make out. I found my digital camera (set to 'natural light') was an indispensible tool. That's the only way I was able to see what was really going on inside. This needs to be rethought. Not just because it doesn't communicate fully, but more because it commits the artistic crime of making the viewer step outside his experience of the work of art and say, "Why on earth did the artist do that??" And the World War I presentation at the Liberty Memorial is a work of art.
As to the artifacts, there are wonderful things, most of them donated by WWI participants or their survivors as far back as 1919. I especially liked the long German pipes with their ornamented ceramic bowls. Then there are the ominous pieces, like the torpedo you can touch, that so like the ones that sunk so many civilian vessels, including the Lusitania itself.

In many cases, seeing various objects was like greeting old friends who've come up in the world. I remembered many of them from when they were on display in the overcrowded little Museum built in the the original 1926 campaign.I don't know what's in the old Museum space now. I had a ticket to it, and also to Memorial Hall (be prepared to weep, especially as you consider the Gold Star Mothers of then and now). But the new Liberty Memorial Museum needs at least three hours to visit by itself, and I only had an hour and a half to give.

Three hours for that, another hour at least for the old Museum and Memorial Hall, half an hour at least to go up the tower, then another half hour to take in the limestone composition of the Memorial as a whole-- you could spend the best part of a day there and not exhaust what the complex has to offer.
And you come away with a salutary sense of the continuing impact of the Great War and a deep appreciation of the sacrifice of those who fought to stop old tyrannies and bring in new hope.

No, it wasn't the War to End All Wars. It was the war of its time. These battles have to be fought again and again, literally and figuratively. And it's good to count the cost-- and give the credit, for then and for now.

Anyway, I recommend that any visitor to Kansas City make time to go. It's more than worth the $8 adult admission.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Modern Life

I've just spent the past seven-plus hours on the phone trying to get a clean copy of Windows XP onto my little IBM ThinkPad 240X. I have three operating systems sitting in parallel on my computer, the bootleg XP Professional that came with it, the genuine XP Professional I paid a fortune for last year, and a vestigal version of the Windows 98 OS that was on it when the computer was new.
I want one system. Period.

I've been everywhere by phone or computer since 2:30 or so-- MicroSoft, the IBM/Lenovo website, IBM support in Atlanta (three or four times), and an auxiliary group called Experts Live. I've got a charge against my credit card for a service I didn't ask for and isn't looking to do me any good. And still, nobody can tell me what I didn't already know from the last time I tried this marathon in March.


a) this computer can't boot from an external USB CD-ROM (which is all I have to get stuff onto it, unless you include the thumbdrive, which plugs into the same USB port), because

b) the BIOS doesn't support booting from a USB device, and

c) This is a hardware limitation. I have to use the Boot Disks for clean installing Windows XP.

I knew all that before I even picked up the phone! All I wanted today was to find out, where do I get the boot disks that weren't included when I bought the little laptop off eBay over a year ago? And how do I use them to get a clean, genuine, non-parallel version of XP onto the thing once I do have them?

But seven hours later . . .

The problem is, everyone wants to be helpful. Everyone wants to be the one who Finds the Solution. So all these techies take me through all the steps with the BIOS Setup, etc., etc., etc., that I've been through before. And I humor them, because hey, they might just magically find something the last guy didn't. And they never want to give up! They always want to try One More Thing! There's always One More Patch to download and run through the system!

In fact, I'm even trying installing a Data Killer program, to see if maybe that'll get rid of the redundant systems and let me start over.

But I'm probably whistling in the dark. The fact remains that for some silly reason, this laptop with no integral A:\ or C:\ drive will NOT allow one to boot via the USB port.

And what all these enthusiastic, well-meaning, but ultimately not very effective people should have told me in the beginning is

a) I can't get a boot disk from IBM. They just don't provide them anymore;

b) I might be able to get one from some website or via eBay. Maybe;

c) If I do find one, I should Google for some other website to tell me how to install it; and

d) It's sure as shootin' that I won't be able to install it without purchasing or borrowing an external A:/ drive that runs off the serial port. Or I can try some local computer geek who has one and can do it for me.

The hilarious thing is I was trying this now because that I wanted to take the laptop with me when I go away tomorrow. I'm assembling with the rest of the North American Welsh Choir to sing a concert in my hometown this coming Saturday. I'm bunking at a friend's, and I really don't want to have to borrow her computer all week. Or to shlep my bigger, heavier Toshiba Satellite along.

But it looks like I'll have to, one or the other, if I want to keep up on my email, blogs, accounts, and so on.

But think of it-- twenty years ago, this would not have been a problem. Computer? Why does anyone want a computer with her on vacation?

But I've travelled with a laptop since 1995, and how can you expect me to stop now?