Sunday, April 29, 2007

Crash Test Dummy

Everybody knows the job description of a crash test dummy. It sits in a vehicle being tested while that machine is subjected to impact and collision from whatever direction. The idea is to see how the dummy-- and by inference, a real human being-- will be affected by the forces applied.

The classic test is the head-on into a solid wall. Get the car, van, truck, whatever, up to a good rate of speed, send it on its rails straight to the concrete barrier, and BAM!!! see what's left thereafter. It's a useful test for the researcher. It's also (let's face it) rather satisfying for the random observer. There's something definitely cathartic about watching destruction that hurts nothing but things. And it's very good that the crash test dummy is nothing but a thing, NHTSA's Vince and Larry notwithstanding.

Because if the crash test dummy were a human creature with thoughts and feelings, he'd be about where I have been the past three weeks.

The 2nd was our deadline at the architecture office for getting out the revised bid set for the classroom/museum space I mentioned last August. Never mind now why it had to be rebid; the date was set so perhaps bids could be in in time for construction to begin on the date originally set; i.e., tomorrow, the 30th. My colleagues and I were working hard to meet the deadline. I in particular, as project architect, was going full bore, putting in fifty, sixty hours a week, doing whatever was necessary to get the drawings to the university for review and issue.

On top of this I had a full schedule of services at various churches for the end of Lent and Holy Week to plan and carry out, with two baptisms to do counselling for and a special Tenebrae service to lead. This was a wonderful privilege and blessing, especially since I don't have a regular parish. But you can see how things were going ninety miles an hour for me.

Well. We got the drawings done around midday the 3rd (okay, it happens). Late that afternoon, my boss comes back from a meeting with a new client, about a job for a master plan for a large local church. Now, I knew I was on the project team for that. The church leadership had told me to my face that they were going to recommend our firm to the trustees, because they wanted to work with me on it. So when my boss invited me into the conference room to "talk about the new job," it seemed perfectly natural.

But what he had to say was that now that the classroom/museum drawings were done, this new master plan job wouldn't be enough to keep me employed full time. Nor was there anything else on the immediate horizon to keep a hand-draftsman like me busy and profitable for the firm. So, he announced, they were shifting me to contract work.

Oh. Which has turned out to mean a few hours on the church master plan contract. Maybe some time with construction administration on the classroom/museum job, depending on what the client says and how the second round of bids come in. But goodbye fulltime work, goodbye colleagues, goodbye accustomed routine--Since the 9th what little architecture work I've had to do I've mostly done via a virtual network link in my office at home.

A crash test dummy could tell you how it feels, to accelerate faster and faster and then to hit the wall with pieces and parts flying everywhere and then, when the dust clears-- nothing. Or virtually nothing. No routine, no set schedule-- just lots of useless residual guilt. After weeks and months of putting so much time and physical and mental energy into the work at the architectural firm, the work isn't there anymore.

But the inertia of the shoulds and the oughts remains. Whatever I feel I should or could be doing in this interim time, it's trumped by the feeling that I should be fulltime at my downtown job! Even aside from finding a new job, there's so much I've put off, so much I need to do!

But the car's off the rails. The momentum is gone. So I haven't been real effective these past three weeks. A little of this, a little of that, a lot of catching up on my sleep after weeks of three to five hour nights . . . As the Tinman said to the Scarecrow, "That's you all over!"

But Spring has finally come (she says optimistically) and I must take myself in hand. So how's this: Eight hours for work (including looking for a new post, architectural or ecclesiastical), eight hours for sleep, three hours on the house and/or the garden, and five hours for meals, laundry, and anything else. Starting tonight.

If I don't at least try, I really will be a dummy!

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Little Incarnation

Came across an intriguing posting this evening by my old friend Mike Kruse, at, on originality and plagiarism in preaching. Added a couple comments of my own, which see.

In Christian ethics, it's never a matter of the lesser of two evils, but the greater of two goods. So which is better-- preaching a doctrinally-sound sermon that is not one's own? Or coming up with something original that may be poorly-researched, badly-organized, and maybe heretical?

But why should that be a forced choice? Most weeks we don't have three funerals and two parishioner operations and a lost child or (append your choice of pastoral emergency) to attend to. Most weeks, our Sunday sermon is the focus and summation of our ministry for the week. Most weeks, the Lord expects us to put in the work to come up with the words to contain the Word He wants us to give our people, whether by study and writing or out of the sweat of the pastoral trenches. It's like a little incarnation, what God does with us in the pulpit. He calls us to the ministry of the Word and says, "I want to work through you. I want to bring the Living Word to these people in this time and place through you." How's He going to do that if we're cribbing other people's work?

I know it does happen. When I did my parish placement as a second-year theological college student, I regularly visited the elderly widow of a certain clergyman. This reverend gentleman had published two or more collections of his sermons for use by hapless preachers. But, said his widow, "My Eric always put some preposterous statement or other somewhere in the middle of each one, to make sure the preacher looks it over first and makes an effort to make it his own." Some subscribers only learned of those little traps while blithely reading out the borrowed work in the pulpit. Oops! "I'm sorry, dearly beloved, Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt, not into a slotted spoon!" But whether that sermon-mining device ultimately works for or against theological candor, I'm still struggling to say.

Now, the last thing I want on my gravestone is "Here Lies an Original Theologian." All truth is God's truth and we share it together. And if some preacher thinks another's words are exactly what his congregation needs to hear on a given Sunday, for sweet honesty's sake, let him give credit to that other servant of Christ! But how can anyone justify using another's sermons as a matter of habit? Wouldn't the water get a little stale?

But maybe I'm committing a worse sin-- going on about a fault I have no temptation towards myself. As an itinerant supply preacher, I feel guilty if I revamp and re-preach sermons of my own!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wennie Gets Her Fifteen Minutes!

Rhadwen's profile is up on the Meankitty Gallery at! She says I took long enough getting around to writing her publicity piece, only pounding it out in the waning minutes of 2006. As if I didn't have enough to do! And then the wait for Meankitty's Typing Slave post it.

But now, there it is, and Rhadwen invites one and all to go to and see what a fierce and selfless cat she is (not). She's not sure how it will affect her reputation, but I tell her, her reputation proceeds her. As with the current cat sitter who creeps in, fills the food dish, and escapes before Rhadders can use her jeans leg as a scratching post.

I've moved the birdfeeder to the side yard outside the dining room window. Wennie asks, since it's so close to the dining room, why don't I just open the window and let her dine? As it is, she gazes at the feathered visitors and dreams . . .

Even so, it's Llewellyn who has scored the latest bird. Obviously, he cornered it on the back porch, scarfed it down, and thereafter upchucked it whole onto the study carpet. Oh, lovely. Thank God for lots of paper towels!

And no, I did not take a picture of that!