Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I remember as a teenager becoming disgusted at realizing how enthusisastically self referential (reverential?) people in show business were. It happened while watching Micky Rooney and Judy Garland act out a script about two kids putting on a show where they would act out a script -- as if it was the bestest thing EVER! I remember thinking of a whole list of other movies about making movies (Singing in the Rain) and plays about plays (I think Hamlet gets a pass here just for longevity) and just wondering why drama drones couldn't come up with plot devices that weren't actually about themselves.

Here is me trying to understand the self-referential impulse by direct experience.

I just noticed that this is the 307th post to this blog. That means that just a few weeks ago I published my 300th posting. That seems like kind of a lot, I guess. Especially considering that I actually wrote some of them, instead of merely posting links to other sites or embedding video clips. At any rate, is is a round number ending with 2 zeroes.

I'm not really impressed with myself. Perhaps when I get to 1000.

Debt and Equity

From P.J. O'rourke's book Eat the Rich:

"There are two main kinds of investments: debt and equity. Debt is just lending money. A General Motors corporate bond is a "debt instrument." You lend GM money, and GM promises to pay you back, plus interest. Your savings account is also a debt instrument. You lend the bank money, and the bank promises to let you withdraw it, never mind that the interest is less than you'd get from keeping a sock full of buffalo nickels under your bed. And your checking account is a debt instrument, too. You lend the bank money and they...charge you for it? Plus ATM fees? This is probably why so many pistol-waving people rob banks and why so few pistol-waving people rob General Motors."

Might I also add to this list ridiculous overdraft fees on debit cards, fees on getting your past statements, fees on fee administration, and a fee creation fee (they have to pay someone to come up with all those fees).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne'er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
'Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I'm weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

Music by Elizabeth Poston
Words by Joshua Smith of New Hampshire 1784.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Most Aggressively Inarticulate Generation

I am a huge fan of the declarative sentence. I advocate for the active voice. This poem pounds the nail through the parchment, fixing the bill firmly to the door. It makes the statement about making the statement you want to make.

So watch it already. Yes. You. Now.

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

H/T to Damien over at Adventure in Progress

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mindful Warmth 5 - Burning

This is one of a series of articles on my recent experiences burning wood to heat my home. You can read the earlier articles by clicking on the links below:


To light a fire seems like such a simple thing, and it really is if you have good tinder, sufficient dry kindling, a good supply of fuel logs, and (this is critical) a lighter or a few matches. Simple.

Try doing it without a match.

Even with a lighter, it takes a modicum of skill to get a good fire going quickly and with a minimum of smoke and fuss. This is important because the fire in question is inside my house. Therefore, any smoke won’t harmlessly drift off in the breeze. It will suffuse itself throughout the rooms of my house and settle on everything. Not a big deal perhaps until you consider what an entire winter of smoke will do to your wardrobe, your furniture, your carpets. Everything takes on a kind of sour unpleasant smell – not at all the delightful flavor you get from things which are properly smoked like, oh bacon for instance.

I soon learned that the idea is to get a good hot blaze going very quickly to heat the stove up as fast as possible. The heat creates a strong draft that will pull all the smoke up the chimney and outside where it belongs. The quicker things heat up, the stronger the draft. I learned to facilitate this by leaving the stove door open about a half an inch to allow lots of oxygen to feed the flames. Once things are going cheerily, I can close the door, and the stove will draw air in through the controlled damper system in the back. According to the owner’s manual, this system draws air in underneath the fire so that it burns from the bottom, allowing a more complete and controlled burn. It seems to work, as we always end up with a very find ash indicating that all the wood has burn quite thoroughly, yielding up every last BTU latent in the fibers.

Before lighting, I like to build the fire structure. The tinder goes first. I find that newspaper works well if twisted tightly into mini logs so that it burns longer. Paper egg cartons do well for tinder, as does cardboard especially if rolled up into tight spiral tubes. I recently tried paper milk cartons and found that these work wonderfully. They are waxed cardboard, and the combination of wax and paper burns evenly and long so that the flames have plenty of time to catch the tinder.

For kindling I have been using the small chips that inevitably collect around the stump during the splitting process. I periodically gather them up so that they don’t get underfoot and make my stumble, and place them in a large covered plastic bin. They dry quickly and when dry catch fire very easily. While this works well, I can see that I won’t have nearly enough of this to last the winter. So I’m going to have to make my own kindling. Easy with a small hatchet and a few dry logs. It’s a matter of a few minutes to split them down into sticks, enough kindling for a few days. You do have to mind your fingers.

I have also been the recipient of a gift of two barrels full of wood scraps from some finish carpentry project or other. This is kiln dried pine. It catches on fire very easily and make good kindling.

One the kindling is cracking and roaring a bit, I will place a few good sized logs on. My woodpile has been drying for about 18 months now, and the wood is well seasoned and burns easily and well. I don’t hear much sizzling, which is the sound you get when moisture is coming out of the wood as it is getting ready to burn. Just good clean low roar of flames and oxygen coming together and casting a nice warm glow that spreads through my entire house.

Once the stove is warmed up, the radiant heat warms the floor and walls of the house. The warmed air moves upstairs into the bedrooms to warm those spaces. Once it is warmed up I find tossing on a log about every 45 minutes or so will keep things going nicely. It really doesn't take that much. Once I piled it up pretty high, and I could tell things were getting a little too hot. I closed the damper in back a little to slow down the airflow and things settled down to a slower more even burn. I'm sure that as the winter moves on, I will learn more about how to keep the stove going efficiently.

Being warm in winter makes my bride happy. I look forward to a happy winter.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ambushed, Firebombed and Fragged for Jesus

I was first introduced to Matt Chandler (pastor of The Village Church in TX) listening to recordings of one of his talks at the Acts 29 Network conference earlier this year. I found his style engaging, his thoughts penetrating, and his focus challenging.

Internet Monk recently pointed to this talk he gave in front of a seminary class at Southern Baptist Seminary. I can't embed it, but take time to go to the link and listen to it. It's about 40 minutes long, but well worth it.

This is a combat veteran speaking to the troops still in training about what they should REALLY expect when they hit the beach. He pulls no punches here, and calls those fresh faced kids out in a pretty spectacular way. I have known some seminarians that I wish had heard this. I think I may have heard it sometime before I almost went to seminary.

He also calls out the whole pastoral industrial complex of american evangelicalism. It's amazing what Jesus can do in spite of us.

At moments over the last several years, I have thought that I might be hearing noises. Those noises sound an awful lot like what I remember when I thought I was hearing God's call years ago. My perspective on those noises now is quite different than it was 25 years ago. I haven't been fighting on the same front, but the battle scars I am carrying definitely change the way I see things. I am perhaps beginning realize the depths of my ignorance at 20. I had no way of knowing how different things really are when you get older. How different I am, now that I am older.

The shepherd game sure looks different from this angle.

It's a hell of a business, taking on hell and telling it where to go in Jesus' name. I have seen pastors ambushed, firebombed and fragged. I think anyone who sits in a pew can benefit from hearing this just as much as a prospective pastor.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Paglia on Pelosi. Holy Hygeia!!

Taking a brief break from burning logs to mention this column on Salon.com regarding the pending bill on national health care (among other topics). The column is written by Camille Paglia. Yes, that Camille Paglia, the she wolf herself.

She is well known for her lefty liberal stances on...well...just about everything, but at least she serves them up with real style and thoughtfulness. Surprisingly, in this column entry, she offers a harsh, if not overly detailed, criticism of the bill that many of her liberalistic colleagues are having orgasms over. It sounds like Camille has a headache and would just rather do something else.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mindful Warmth 4 - Moving

This is one of a series of articles on my recent experiences burning wood to heat my home. You can read the earlier articles by clicking on the links below:



I have learned that wood must be moved several times during processing operations, and much of the effort of wood heating simply involves the act of moving it around. It seems that each chunk of wood must be moved a minimum of three times, although 4-5 times seems to be more common as I am still figuring out the best way to manage the whole process.

Actually, I am not so much managing the process just yet. I am inventing it. My mind is often taken up with figuring the most efficient layout for the various piles, scheming to find the materials to build the sheds and platforms, planning the placement and construction of each, and flowcharting it all in my head. None of it happens spontaneously. Unless I pick it up and make it happen, the wood just sits there until is sprouts mushrooms and returns back to the soil, it’s BTU’s unused. The brainpower required really is enormous. It's a good thing I have plenty to spare.

At this point, the process looks kind of like this:

Once dumped out of the truck or trailer, the large chunks must be moved to the splitting area. I usually will do this a few at a time as I need them. Once split, the logs must be moved to a drying area. For this I am using my main woodshed (actually, a platform). Since the main woodshed is still full of this year's fuel, I am preparing a secondary drying area on a group of wood pallets nearby. Once the wood in the woodshed is depleted, the pile of recently split logs on the pallets will replace it and will remain there to dry until next winter.

The main woodshed is a walk of perhaps 100 feet from the back door. Not bad in the summer, but verging on the inconvenient in 10 below January weather, with the snow hip deep. To make that trip daily to haul up the day's heat may get tedious. Therefore I have plans to stage the dried wood to a smaller intermediate woodshed near our back door. Then a load or two at a time, it will be brought inside to warm up – apparently placing cold wood in the stove is a waste of energy. Then it will finally be placed in the stove to burn.

So, my latest project is building that small woodshed on the back porch. The plan is for this woodshed to hold several weeks of split, dried wood, carried up from the main woodshed. It is about 5 steps from the back sliding door, and when finished will be covered with a modest overhanging roof and some kind of tarpaulin door to keep out blowing snow. It will be a new chore for my girls to bring up wood once or twice a week to keep this woodshed well stocked. From here it will be easy to bring it inside.

Once inside, I plan to build a small wood box that will hold one or two days worth of wood. Once placed in the box, any ice or snow can melt off, and the firewood can achieve room temperature before being placed into the firebox. I expect this box will be 3-4 feet long, perhaps 2 and a half feet front to back and about 2 and a half feet deep, with a hinged lid. It will also be the girls’ job to keep this full.

It is something to think of all those trees, growing here and there, all coming down and being cut into pieces. Then they come to my house and are broken into still smaller pieces. Then little by little they flow into my home and into my wood stove to keep my family warm. Every single piece moved by me, with the help of some good friends on occasion.

It is an amazing and gratifying thought.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mindful Warmth 3 - Splitting

This is one of a series of articles on my recent experiences burning wood to heat my home. You can read the earlier articles by clicking on the links below:


The wood arrives in my yard in large chunks that may be several feet in diameter. These won’t fit in the stove and even if they did would require a pretty hot fire to burn. So the wood must be split into smaller chunks, anywhere from 8 inches across down to 2 inches depending on:

  • How much work you want to do: Bigger chunks require less work to split.
  • How will be carrying it: I tend to split small so the girls can easily carry it.
  • How fast you want it to burn: larger chunks will burn more slowly releasing the heat evenly over time.

Some wood splits easily along straight even grain lines. Birch is a pleasure for this reason, as are most oak and maple logs. Sometimes you will get a particular log that had a limb coming out of it, or is the crotch of two trunks. In these cases the grain goes all wavy and weird and splitting it becomes a matter of a good eye, true aim, a bit of luck and a whole lot of grunting and whacking.

There are machines to assist in splitting wood. Gas powered small engines drive a piston with a wedge on the end that can make quick work of

the nastiest piece of curly grain crotch oak you and imagine. These machines are most efficient with two people operating, one controlling the piston, the other loading and unloading the logs. For many people, owning such a machine is not a good use of capital, but renting one or borrowing one is a great way to get your wood split in a hurry.

I split my wood by hand using a crude but effective tool called the monster maul. It is a steel handle about 2.5 feet long, with a large solid steel triangle welded to the end. It weighs close to 16 pounds. With it I find that I can split pretty much anything, even though it may take multiple whacks. It take a great deal more energy and strength than many people have, but I enjoy it and find that it works just fine for my purposes.

Eventually, I will add another lighter ax to my tool chest so that I can use it to split the smaller logs without having to lift the monster maul. When it comes to a log that is 26 inches across though, the M2 dependably gets the job done.

The process involves lifting the log up onto my splitting stump. The stump is a large section of tree trunk selected for its size, weight and relatively level top. Once placed on the stump, I’ll stand a pace or two back, raise the maul over my head and swing it down. If it is the first split on a large trunk, I will swing down purposefully and with all the strength and intent to go straight through down to the stump. If it is a particularly thick log, or has uneven grain, I will often penetrate but not split it on my first swing. Some logs are so tightly grained that the first few strikes will actually bounce off. But with repeated hammering, it will eventually give way, and with a satisfying crack and thud, I will have two pieces of wood on the ground where there was once a hefty log.

Subsequent splits are easy. Rather than splitting each log down the middle, I tend to strike off slabs from the outside and work my way in. It’s less work and as I have practiced my aim has improved where I am getting pretty good at striking the wood on the right spot.

This, however, is another place where one must be always mindful. If the attention wanders at the critical moment, of even if I don’t put enough strength into the blow, the maul can deflect, and small chunks of wood and my maul go flying in unexpected directions. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I imagine that at some point it is possible that my shin or ankle might catch a fast moving 16 pound chunk of steel. I would like to avoid this occurrence and so tend to focus on what I am doing whenever splitting my logs.

I enjoy the rhythm of this work. I enjoy the sounds and smells of the cracking wood. I like feeling the axe moving downward and burying itself in the log with a thunk. I like that feel of the perfrect hit that just separates the log cleanly and evenly, ready to stack. I enjoy the slight membrane of heat coming off my skin that staves off the crisp cold air I’m working in. Again, the novelty has not worn off. It’s work, but it is play too. Perhaps this is the best quality of all real work, and to find the play hiding in the work is an art in itself.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mindful Warmth 2 - Harvesting

This is one of a series of articles on my recent experiences burning wood to heat my home. You can read the other articles by clicking on the links below:


Wood can be delivered, cut, split and dried, but of course this increases the cost significantly. Even if it is delivered all ready to burn, it still must be stacked in a convenient sheltered location. When needed, it must be carried into the house and placed in the stove chunk by chunk. There is no automatic feed, and no thermostat that turns on the fire when the temperature dips below 68 degrees. My own nervous system (or mostly my wife’s) is the thermostat. We can’t set it and forget it; not at any point in the process. This isn’t a bad thing, but it certainly is different.

In my case, I have laid up approximately 4 cord of wood (a cord being roughly 128 cubic feet). Almost all of it I have cut, hauled, split and stacked myself, with some help from neighbors and friends. My woodpile is almost all “tornado wood, remnants of trees felled in the tornado of 2008 that passed a scant 2 miles from my house on it’s way to cutting a 40 mile swath across the eastern part of the state.

I spent that week at some of my neighbors’ houses with a chain saw cutting up downed maples, oaks, birches, poplars and pines. I sawed the trunks and limbs into sections about 2 feet long, and loaded them into pickups, trailers and the back of my Subaru. I drove them to my home and dumped them into my backyard, into an area that has since been designated as the Cellulosic Heat Processing Zone (CHPZ). It consists of several platforms composed of wood pallets laid on the marshy ground to keep the firewood from rotting, and a large raised platform I constructed out of leftover construction lumber. This will eventually be my main woodshed, but as I ran out of lumber to build the sides and roof, it is still just a platform with a tarp over the woodpile.

Cutting and splitting is just hard work, but it is not mindless work. Anyone who has ever used a chainsaw, and felt it buck, or seize when your attention wandered knows this only too clearly. This is a tool that would just as easily remove a human limb as a tree limb and which one it goes to work on has everything to do with how much attention the operator is paying each second.

All in all, however, I find it pleasurable work. This could be because the experience is still novel to me. Someone who has had to do this their entire life may feel differently perhaps. It is dirty, smelly work, with it’s share of sweating, hard breathing and sore muscles involved. Yet the body adapts and I find that each chunk stored up produces a sense of emotional warmth I don’t get from fuel oil. Just knowing that I am heating my own house by my own work, not dependent upon petroleum imported from foreign nations (except for the gas to run the chain saw and drive the truck that hauls the wood) feels pretty darn good. Odd how physical ease and freedom from labor makes me ultimately FEEL more enslaved, but toil and sweat give me an ineffable sense of freedom. This is just the first part of this whole wood burning thing that seems delightfully paradoxical to me.

I have been working with borrowed chain saws, trucks and trailers. Eventually, I am going to need to buy my own tools for harvesting wood. I’m looking forward to it.

Mindful Warmth 1 - Introduction

Some parts of this country have more heat than they know what to do with. In these northern climes, heat becomes a precious thing between October and April. It doesn’t come naturally. It must be made. And the making of it doesn’t come cheap. During the winter heating is a major part of the family budget, whether that heat comes from oil, gas, electric, wood pellets, or good old fashioned burning logs.
Most of those heat sources don’t require much thought beyond the writing of the check. You pay your money, and the guy comes with the big truck and fills that 250 gallon tank in the basement full of heating oil (basically diesel fuel). Or the gas guy comes and fills that big gas bottle outside with propane. Natural gas isn’t as common in this part f the country, but for those places that do have it, it works pretty much like electricity, piped directly into the house. Both sources come over the wire (or through the pipe) and you just pay the bill. You can arrange to have your wood pellets delivered, and you must then fill the hopper, but once the hopper is full, you’re good for a while.

Burning wood, though, that takes thought. I have been burning wood now for almost a week. I have been preparing to burn wood for about a year and a half. I must say that heating your house by burning wood is a qualitatively different experience from any other type of heating method I have experienced. It is a mindful, and intentional in a way that separates it from other common forms of household heating. This makes it perhaps the most eccentric and philosophical method of home heating. Perhaps you would see that as an undesirable quality – why would you want to have to think about your heat?

My answer to this is “because heat is costly,” and the cost is not measurable in mere dollars and cents. The extraction, processing, transport and distribution of energy makes up an enormous sector of our economy. It employs highly paid professionals like engineers and scientists as well as skilled and hard working technicians who run the machines, often in extreme and dangerous climates. Let’s not forget the risk-taking entrepreneurs who stake enormous wealth to find and develop this energy. If they win the bet, the payoff is big. Really big.

Governments negotiate for the rights to acquire energy. Elections can swing on it. Regimes rise and fall with it. Wars are fought over it.

So I view heating my home with wood as doing energy for amateurs. I am neither engineer nor scientist, nor wildcat roughneck. I’m just some guy who wants to keep his family warm through the snowy frigid winter months. I want to do it myself, instead of paying someone to do it.

Heating with wood may be cheaper in cash, but it is certainly more expensive in terms of attention, much like playing the piano yourself requires much greater attention than listening to a concert on a CD in the car. Wood heat is mindful heat. It is warmth that requires attention.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Operator, Get me Jesus

Our church is doing something new next week. We are a pretty small group, somewhat scattered geographically. We want to have an impact for Jesus, and are realizing that it might be a very good thing if we went to him in prayer more. So we are going to attempt to eliminate excuses about travel time, gas money and so on by holding a prayer meeting by conference call.

Reminds me of this song...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fox Hunts

I first saw a fox do this on a PBS Nature program on Yellowstone. I couldn't get that video pasted in here, but this is a reasonable substitute for if you can't use the link above. No explanation needed as to why I love this piece of video.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Moosilauke at Low Res

I realized recently that a few of the videos I have up on Youtube have not been actually posted here.

This was taken a few years ago during a hike I took up Mt. Moosilauke in NH. I had been up north on business, and I needed a break. So I brought my gear with me and made plans to play hooky for the rest of the day. It had been raining, but that is no impediment to the truly psycho...er...I mean dedicated hiker. I changed out of my suit and into my walking clothes and headed up. I only had a few hours before dark to make 8 miles up and back, so I did not dawdle. It began to clear a bit after I reached the summit. It was a great walk. Being in mid November, I pretty much had the mountain to myself.

The poor video quality can be blamed on the fact that I shot this in 15 second clips with my 2 megapixel digital camera.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Tyrant's Forge

Much to think about in this short quote. Read it three times. I found that in a single reading I tended to catch only the buzzwords, but not some of the more fundamental ideas.

"Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles."

-Patrick Henry


I'm not a big Halloween guy. It's OK, but I don't get particularly exercised about it either way. I think part of that comes from the fact that growing up, the trick or treat thing was not very practical. I lived in a rural area where the density of housing was pretty thin compared to city or suburban neighborhoods. To really canvas a reasonable number of houses would literally require a few miles of walking on streets without street lights. Now the challenge wasn't that my Mom objected to all this on safety grounds. That wasn't her issue at all. While I do remember one time when I was very little when my Mom drove us around to some houses around town, as I grew older we were pretty much on our own. If we wanted to engage in the Halloween ritual, it was our responsibility to come up with a costume. If we wanted to trick or treat, that was fine, but we were walking. When asking for candy (which I'm not all that crazy about anyways...I've always been much fonder of baked goods) involves that much work, it just becomes less important.

And while the whole satanic scariness sturm und drang that infected the evangelical subculture of the 70's and 80's gave me some thought, I never really got that upset about that angle either. We are pretty far removed from the ancient druids. Whatever spiritual teeth may have existed in the rituals of defunct cults of bygone eras have long ago been pulled, leaving Halloween an ineffectual doddering invalid that can't even manage to gum the demonic candy it is blamed for chewing up and spitting all over our children.

I have a hard time thinking that kids begging for candy while wearing Scooby Doo outfits and princess dresses are really channeling demons. Unless you consider incipient diabetes and insulin hangovers as demonic.

Having said that, I don't care for some of the costumes I'm seeing over the past few years, although mostly on aesthetic grounds. I think dressing up as a movie monster a la Chucky the killer Cabbage Patch Kid, or Jason the Hockey Mask Slicer is kind of lame. I understand that these are the monsters of our time -- I just don't like them. When Dracula and Frankenstein were the dominant monster stories, those were the costumes. Today our monsters are, I think, more monstrous and more monstrously bland for it. To read Dracula, and to read Frankenstein (and to a lesser extent to see the movies) one catches glimpses of deeper aspects of the human condition. These stories show us something about ourselves. Even ghost characters have some kind of mirroring charm. But these latest movie monsters, if they are mirroring our selves or our human plight, it seems to me mostly a dismal and wretched view. These guys aren't really even fun. They are one sided and ultimately banal, in spite of the temporary terror they inspire.

Moreover, they are humorless. Vampire jokes abound, and Frankenstein humor is plentiful. The jokes that arise out of these slasher stories are grim and gritty; to hear them makes me feel like I've just eaten sand.

And as monsters they are purely materialistic, without spiritual dimension. There is no spiritual fear involved. Our older monsters seemed dangerous because in large part the danger they presented went far beyond physical danger. There was something of them that always endangered our souls (even Frankenstein...where the real monster was not the creature, but the Doctor who toyed with God's work by reanimating the dead). Today's slasher monsters are merely gaping pits full of blood and screams and darkness; the terror they induce arises from a soulless view of humanity. All of the terror is fear of physical death - albeit by a variety of creative and dramatic means.

So as you see, all my objections seem pathetic and anemic, a matter of taste rather than of principle.

I guess I'm probably both over simplifying and over-analyzing, but that's what blogs are for. I was inspired to this rant by an article in the NY Times on how schools are systematically de-fanging the celebration of Halloween by attempting to remove any remaining vestiges of fright from the children's costumes. Reading the article, I found myself rooting for both sides of the argument, but also not really caring. I don't see this as a critical front of any kind of culture war and it seems odd the people get so exercised about it either way. Mostly, I think the whole thing is kind of funny, but I can't quite explain why.

BTW - my kids are dressing up as a Peacock, and as Nancy Drew. Those are their own choices, and they are putting together their own costumes. They will be doing the candy begging circuit with some friends as a gang in a van.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hungry? or just Snacky?

Listening to the radio on one of my looonnnggg drives today. On Point, a pretty good issues and interviews radio show produced by WBUR of Boston had an hour on "Jobs and the Class of 2009." It featured a panel of three recent grads discussing their not too terribly successful attempts at finding work so far. I got the distinct feeling that they weren't so much searching for gainful employment as they were rooting through the refrigerator trying to find something to eat. I noted that none of them seemed truly hungry. They were still at that sort of snacky stage where they knew they wanted something to eat, but weren't quite sure what and they seemed more than willing to stand there with the door propped open until inspiration struck. I wondered how long it would take before pretty much anything mom plopped down in front of them would be the most delicious thing ever.

Of course, this is because the question you face at 24 is very different than the question you face at 46. Early on it's about passion, joy, meaning. How can I find a job that I love? What do I really enjoy doing?

At least, that's the question if you are a middle-class recent college grad who has supportive parents with a basement room with free internet access. On the other hand, when middle aged become a more important descriptor than middle-class; when dependents become a bigger fact than dependence; when you have no financial margin and not even any margarine...the choice becomes simple, although not necessarily easier.

I found the discussion fascinating, but I kept thinking about what these kids will do in 20 years if they find themselves in a similar spot. Probably, like me, they will take a job selling appliances, while launching out on an entrepreneurial adventure just to try to forestall the foreclosure monsters and keep everyone in shoes and oatmeal a little longer. And...be grateful for the opportunity. At a certain point, fulfillment becomes more about a full belly then a full heart.

And that's OK.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Rodrigo y Gabriela have come out with a new album titled 11:11. Holy Smokes. All new original material, no covers. What I have heard is just outstanding and every bit as energetic and passionate as their original album. This is music that make my hair stand on end and puts fire in my belly.

This is a live performance of one of the numbers from the new album. I love how Gabriela is so sweet, with her halting french at the beginning, but give her box with some strings on it and she is all business.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Nutty (and bolty) Anglicans

Thanks to InternetMonk, I'm pulling this pretty terrific video over that has an outstanding (and very thorough) explanation of what exactly is going on in those wooly Anglican worship services. You know, wazzup with all those robes and candles and smoke and chanting and kneeling and all that crazy stuff. It turns out that there's a reason for all that, and the reason is that it all points to Jesus -- just not with words. Could it be that we can actually worship God with water, bread, wine, cloth and all those mundane material things? Could we even use our bodies? (gasp!) As if Jesus actually is the Lord of all of it, and not just the ethereal and intellectual. A pox on gnosticism.

I particularly loved his take on the the Anglican Altar Call, the reaffirmation of baptism through the use of the aspergillium, the historical development and essential meaning of vestments, his simple explanation of real presence, and the description of Anglicanism as holding that delicate spot astride both the Protestant and Roman traditions. This resonates powerfully with me.

The Nuts and Bolts of Anglican Liturgy from St. Peter's Anglican Church on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's Just Snacktime Before we have Coffee Downstairs

My church is in the middle of a four week series on Communion. The readings and sermons and prayers all will focus around communion, with the purpose of exploring it's meaning and how Christ meets us in the bread and the cup. Best of all, we are celebrating the feast every Sunday for four Sundays in a row. I never really understood the once a month thing. If it were up to me it would be every Sunday 52 weeks a year. Talk about being fundamentalist -- that just seems fundamental to me.

I came across this interesting post at the blog "2 Ages Verging" on why Evangelicals don't get the sacraments. Ryan Cordle posits that it has much to do with the fact that evangelicals don't seem to want to face up to death. He might have something there except that most evangelicals don't make any connection with death and the eucharist. It may be true the Ev's are dense about death, but if there is no connection between death and the sacraments, then it seems unlikely that this is what causes evangelicals to miss the point.

Worth reading anyways.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Short Takes September 09

A few random quick observations:

Walking through Boston Commons yesterday and received an insight into why Hollywood movie productions cost in the millions. Several large party tents were set up for cast and crew to prep for scenes, and presumably for extras to hang out, etc. Each of these enormous white tents (the kind used for outdoor wedding receptions) was service by an enourmous portable air conditioning unit. Air conditioned tents. In Boston in September on a day that maybe topped out at 70 degrees. Not saying that's a bad thing, but..it may explain some things.

Reading a collection of Jack London's short stories. We've all read To Build a Fire -- it's in every high school American Lit anthology. I am struck by the muscularity of his prose. It is not spare and telegraphic like Hemingway's. It is extraordinarily rich, with almost painful attention to moment by moment detail. Highly descriptive, using the whole range of all the parts of speech. But it is not flowery or fluffy. It fairly pounds you over the head, but in the most fascinating and engaging way. Very american. He should get more attention than Hemingway. It's much better stuff. (with the possible exception of H's The Big Two Hearted River -- his only short that I really liked).

Took the kids up Mt. Major on Sunday. It's a nice 4 hour hike up and back if you take your time. About 1.5 miles up. About 3 miles going down the back way. Went up it barefoot. I tell you what, that gets people's attention. Some are impressed. Others decidedly not so much -- they seem to think it's a little loopy. It certainly changes one's gait and the way one walk. I spent much more attention and energy on where to place my feet. It was a good experiment which I will probably repeat. I need to toughen up my feet more, or get some moccasin-like shoes. I have my eyes on something call Vibram FiveFingers. Gotta save up my dough first.

My wife is involved in a "bible study" at the home school co-op with which we are involved. Something for the parents to do while the kids are in their classes. It's put out by Focus on the Family with backing of such luminaries as Os Guinness and RC Sproul. It is about TRUTH! I looked through the first chapter notes. I have no quarrel with it, but I mentioned that it really holds no interest for me for the simple reason that I have very little interest anymore in arguing with anyone. The conversation turned to time she recently spent with a neighbor who has led a tough life -- let's just say one that is fairly overflowing with humanity. As a result, her speech and conduct is broad and coarse. Even so we both know her and like her. As the Bride described their weekend to me and we talked we agreed that telling this woman where she was wrong would be useless at best, and more likely completely counterproductive. What she needs is not truth, but love. It is conceivable that love and grace would open the door to truth, but that love and grace would have to come first. Yeah. I'm pretty much done arguing with people.

Some other books I'm reading or have read recently:
Evangelical is not Enough by Thomas Howard
Tehanu by Ursula LeGuin
Small Strong Congregations by Kennon Callahan
The Shack by William Young
Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Rice and Vampyres

Vampires are trendy.

150 years ago, I imagine very few people had any concept of "vampire." The concept existed in folklore of many cultures, but doesn't seem to have been a strong motif. In the beginning of the 19th century, some writers began using the folkloric material continuing in fits and starts until Bram Stoker writes the quintessential vampire novel, Dracula at the end of the century. It is quite a powerful and beautiful work by the way, and one I recommend. From that point vampire is ushered into the popular imagination. From there, it was mostly the work of movies, radio and television -- mass media -- to take the vampire and defang it. In spite of Nosferatu, the Hollywood vampire soon became a symbol of camp and mockery. As the world left behind it's belief in good and evil, especially of any kind of supernatural good or evil, the mills of Hollywood mashed and rehashed the legend of the Dracul until it was more of a joke than anything else. Certainly by the time I was growing up, no one really shivered in horror at the thought of the blood drinking undead. There have been many appearances of vampires in popular entertainment, mostly using it as a convenient plot device, like time travel, to bring conflict and suspense to a story. Dark Shadows, Night Stalker, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Need I say more?

But even as the vampire seemed stalled in either black capes or mindless minions of darkness, Anne Rice reinvented the vampire completely with her group of novels that became knows as The Vampire Chronicles. First released in the early 1970's, the core of these stories dwelt in three volumes. Interview with a Vampire, The Vampire LeStat, and Queen of the Damned. I did not discover these until the late 1990's, when I was approaching 40 years of age, and they completely entranced me on several levels. I will come back to this in a bit.

Now as if out of the blue we have Twilight and True Blood, and suddenly vampires are sexier and more hip than ever. I'm not necessarily saying this is bad...I haven't really paid much attention to either one. I just find it fascinating that vampires have suddenly taken on a certain fashionability.

Now Doug Wilson weighs in on why all this hubbub about vampires is bad because it makes light of evil. If a vampire is a symbol of evil then of course we should “honor the symbol” and stop making it all sexy and stuff. Well far be it from me to dare to disagree with Mr. Wilson, who could effortlessly dismember me with his tongue alone, never mind his pen. Far be it from me indeed, but I think he is really missing some pretty big chunks of what we might call “the point.”

Symbols can certainly be enduring, but are seldom static and are constantly subject to re-imagining or even re-purposing. Witness the Christmas Tree, the Easter Egg, and even the cross itself. What is the literary purpose of the vampire as symbol? It is, I think, more complex than an initial cursory look might suggest.

I’ll be coming back to this, in particular to discuss the work of Anne Rice along these lines, and in particular to look at how her work has now transformed into a truly fascinating re-imagining of the gospel stories. She no longer writes vampire books because the process of writing them, and exploring the deeper themes suggested actually led her out of her self proclaimed atheism and back to Jesus and to His church. That’s a fascinating story.

So why am I getting all worked up about this? Mostly because I have found the work of Anne Rice, so easily dismissed because it is about vampires, to have been profoundly influential. Early on I detected in her writing a seeking and searching for truth, and discerned her direction and pointing toward Jesus. I am most gratified that I was right, and I am enjoying watching her publishing her journey, both in essay format and in her fiction.

Look here to read about it and we’ll talk more later.

Friday, September 11, 2009

There's Reform, and Then There's REFORM!

I've tried to write about this several times, but the whole expanse of it just seems to get away from me. Rather than write a full and reasoned treatise, here are just a few observations.

I think that the whole idea of Health Insurance may be completely wrong. Insurance is for disasters, not for bills. With life insurance, the payout is at least predictable based on the policy your purchase, so the actuaries can figure out the pricing accordingly. Medical bills are notoriously unpredictable, so huge margins must be built in.
  • Imagine sending the bill for your brake work or your oil changes to your auto insurance company. That's not what insurance is for. Insurance is for crashes. Repair insurance is available, but we call it an extended warranty. Most financial advisors will tell you it's a bad deal. Insurance is for crashes. For repairs, you plan, save or use your credit card.

  • Health insurance makes the insurance company the customer, not the patient. The money comes from the insurance company, so the medical provider is much more interested in doing things that make the insurance companies happy. This has to skew things.

  • Making the government the insurer really won't help this. It doesn't matter if the government does a good job of it or not. The concept is skewed from the get go.

So it seems to me that Health Care reform -- real reform -- is not about deciding who insures who. It should be about getting rid of insurance altogether and finding other ways to finance medical expenses.

This isn't all my idea. I was kind of thinking about this, but in a very fuzzy and undefined way, and then I read David Goldhill's article in The Atlantic Monthly called How American Health Care Killed My Father. Not sure I see all his solutions, but I think they are much closer to real reform than what is going on now.

One Possible Response to 9/11

I've been thinking a lot lately about carrying a gun.

This would involve some expense, a lot of training and practice, a definite adjustment in lifestyle and habits, and a some amount of legal work to secure the appropriate permits and government permissions.

I would also involve a certain amount of explaining. Not all the time, since the idea of concealed carry is that it is concealed. Most people should have no idea that you are carrying a weapon. Nevertheless, I would expect that many of my friends and acquaintances would be somewhat put off if they did know. And some of them might react very strongly against it.

And that's fine. I have my reasons. I am purposely not going to make a defense of carrying a gun here in this post, although I might later. If you are interested in learning any variety of reasons why an American citizen might want to go about armed, you can simply google about and you will find many many essays on why it ought to be considered not only a right, but a responsibility. Some of it is pretty gassy stuff, full of dramatic hamfisted emotional appeals and proclamation, but a lot of it is worth considering.

I'm mostly throwing this up to see what anyone else thinks about it. Especially as a christian, to many it will just rub the wrong way. Here are a couple of things to consider:

  • Are we citizens, or are we subjects? Should this make a difference in our conduct?
  • Self defense is a legal construct. Does it have any biblical basis? In what circumstances?
  • On what basis could a Christian ever consider doing violence to another human? Especially since our Great Example seems to have raised victimhood to a moral imperative. Or is this a misunderstanding?

Any comments?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Knocked on My Can by a Ton of Bricks

I am seldom sick. When I am, it’s more of a nuisance than anything else. Toward the end of August I got a bit of a taste of what it’s like to be really sick. I was completely knocked on my can for at least 10 days, and I’m still not quite 100%.

It all started in the beginning of the month when my youngest mysteriously came down with some cold-like thing including general misery and a barking cough. Instead of coming out of it in a few days, as is usual, it hung around for her for almost 2 weeks. So after 2 weeks of barking and spewing, it was no wonder when the oldest also was stricken. Not quite as much misery, but lots of coughing. I bugged out for 4 days, heading to Denver on a business trip. I returned home on a Thursday and kept working through Friday afternoon, although in retrospect, I could feel something coming on.

Friday afternoon it dropped on me like a ton of bricks. My fever spiked up to almost 104. I was racked with pain in every muscle in my body, and a remarkable number of places that aren’t muscles. This kept up all through the weekend, with a brief respite Sunday morning, and then slammed me to the mat again late Sunday afternoon. I was taking all the usual over the counter medicines but nothing made a dent. Then in desperation – exhausted from lack of sleep and in amazing pain, I took some hydrocodone (Tylenol with codeine) that I had left over from a minor surgical procedure some time ago. For the surgery, I didn’t really need it. Now, ironically, I most certainly did. I gotta tell you, I LOVE that stuff. When you really need it, the right medicine is the best thing in the world.

I could literally feel the pain ebbing away, and my body relaxing. Suddenly the fever broke and I started sweating profusely. I mean profusely – like running off my body in trickles. It was wonderful. I slept like a baby, only waking at midnight to pop two more pills.

I kept up this regimen for a few days. Did I mention that all through this time I was also coughing? Racking spasming coughs that at times were so bad I almost couldn’t breathe. I had to go to my knees so that I wouldn’t throw my back out from my coughing fit. Even now, my neck is stiff because I think I kinked something in there during one of my monumental hacks. Even as the fever abated, the coughing continued. I tried to work the following Tuesday, and stumbled my way through a training program, but on the way home my fever spiked again and I clearly needed some medical intervention. I was at the doctor’s office the next day and was diagnosed with pneumonia. This is the third time I have had to deal with pneumonia. I should have recognized it without the doctor’s help. Azithromycin did the trick and put me back on track, but it took a few days still before the coughing really began to fade. I’m still coughing up the occasional slug, but they aren’t the dark foreboding green the originally were, nor are they so abundant. God bless antibiotics. They get a bad rap, but as I said, when you need it the right medicine is glorious.

My wife was a beautiful angelic nurse to me through this. And then as I was coming out of it, her coughing got worse and she also was found to have pneumonia. We are such a sharing family! She skipped the flu part, thank goodness, but it even now struggling with the tiredness that comes from not being able to take full breaths. It’s a sluggish feeling from not having enough oxygen. I’m still struggling with that a little, although I can breathe deeply now without tossing up a lung.

As a result of this I lost 10 days and a solid week of income when I can least afford it. I am self-employed and if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Any opportunity to finish the summer with a nice hike in perfect weather was lost. Time I would have rather spent with my girls went down the drain. Our 23rd wedding anniversary was an afterthought, as we both just felt glad to be alive. I shed about 12 pounds in a week as I had no appetite for the first 6 days and ate very little – but I wouldn’t recommend the plan. It’s a little harsh. The feeling of helplessness and even occasionally some fear that this was more than just a passing treatable sickness is memorable. I don’t care to repeat this again anytime soon. Sickness just hollows out your life. I am more than ever grateful for good health. It’s a tough way to be reminded.

Here's what else I was reminded of...the care and concern of neighbors and friends. Our church family kept track of us, provided meals and other kinds of support. Neighbors checked in and helped how they could. We had to go through it ourselves, but it was good to know that we were not completely alone. Someone outside our house actually cared, even helping take care of our poor orphan children who pretty much had to fend for themselves for 3 or 4 days when both of us were pretty much out of commission. Community ain't now joke. It's a cliche term, but it exists and it's as real as breathing. If you ain't got it, get some.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ramayana Lite

I recently stumbled across one of the most amazing films I have ever seen. I am fascinated by it and keep going back to watch sections of it on YouTube.

Sita Sings the Blues is a personalized retelling of the Ramayana, one of the great sanskrit epics, the twin tale of the Mahabarata. The movie is subtitled The Greatest Breakup Story Every Told. Nina Paley took inspiration from this ancient tale, the breakup of her own marriage and the songs of Annette Hanshaw. She created this stunning interweaving of animation styles, ad lib interview, storytelling and music. The animation alone is inventive and beautiful work, fascinating to watch and sheer delight. The integration of Annette Hanshaw's music is exceptionally clever, but manages never to feel strained. And for westerner's like me, this Ramayana lite is an easy way to be introduced to this ancient and profound tale.

It's about 1:20 long, but worth every bit of it. If you want to take it in chunks, it is also available on YouTube broken into 10 sections. I warn you...they are like potato chips. You may not be able to stop once you start.

As you might imagine, there are many detractors of this film. Because of it was made by a white american woman who is not Hindu, and because it takes a light tone regarding some things that many Hindus feel are very sacred, it treads some difficult ground. As a westerner, I can see where Ms. Paley actually was working out of a real reverence for the material, but her way of honoring it is to personalize it. She makes it very clear also that she is really focusing on the role of Sita, and developing her concept of Sita's side of the tale. In the actual sanskrit story, Sita's role is very small -- almost a side note -- compared to that of Raman.

The idea of honoring a story by personalizing it is a very western concept. I get it, but I can see why some of her critics might not. Regardless, I would encourage everyone to see this.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Oh Martha, The Cows

If you aren't churchy, then this story probably will leave you scratching your head. But...if you are churchy, or have been churchy in the past, you might think this is kind of funny. Hat tip to Jacob over at The Mockingbird Blog

An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended the big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was. “Well,” said the farmer, “it was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns.”

“Praise choruses?” said his wife. “What are those?”

“Oh, they’re OK. They are sort of like hymns, only different,” said the farmer.

“Well, what’s the difference?” asked his wife.

The farmer said, “Well, it’s like this – If I were to say to you “Martha, the cows are in the corn”’ – well, that would be a hymn. If on the other hand, I were to say to you:

Martha, Martha, Martha, Oh Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA, the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows, the white cows, the black and white cows, the COWS, COWS, COWS are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, the CORN, CORN, CORN.
Then, if I were to repeat the whole thing two or three times, well, that would be a praise chorus.”

The next weekend, his nephew, a young, new Christian from the city came to visit and attended the local church of the small town. He went home and his wife asked him how it was. “Well,” said the young man, “it was good. They did something different however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs.”

“Hymns?” asked his wife. “What are those?”

“Oh, they’re OK. They are sort of like regular songs, only different,” said the young man.

“Well, what’s the difference?”

The young man said, “Well, it’s like this – If I were to say to you ‘Martha, the cows are in the corn’ – well, that would be a regular song. If on the other hand, I were to say to you:
‘Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry
Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth
Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by
To the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth.
‘For the way of the animals who can explain
There in their heads is no shadow of sense
Hearkenest they in God’s sun or
His rain Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced.

‘Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight
Have broke free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed
Then goaded by minions of darkness and night
They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn have chewed.
‘So look to the bright shining day by and by
Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn
Where no vicious animals make my soul cry
And I no longer see those foul cows in the corn.’
Then if I were to do only verses one, three and four and do a key change on the last verse, well that would be a hymn.

Sense and Nonsense in Policy Making

The right rages and rants on the healthcare hobbiehorse, but it's not helping me much. They are busy blowing buzzwords out their betooshkas. I haven't dug in deep to the data. I am working too hard just to keep my head above water. But here is what I hear, out of the corner of my ear, and I don't like it much.

Socialized medicine
This is apparently the horror of all horrors. Unfortunately it is rather bloblike, with a clearly undefined shape. No one seems to want to explain what they mean by it, or why it is bad. It is socialist, though. That seems to be enough. But...are the proposals on the table REALLY socialized medicine? No one seems to be able to tell me.

Health Care will be Rationed
OK, it is rationed now. My insurance company has some strong opinions about what they will use my premiums for and what they won't. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. That is how insurance works. But why shout as if everyone has indiscriminate access to medicine now? It ain't so. Should it be so? Maybe. Maybe not. That's a different question.

Bureaucrats will make your healthcare choices for you
Again, they already do. It's just that they are paid by the insurance companies, not by the government. And again, I'm not saying that's bad, but you can't talk like there aren't hundreds of thousands of pasty faced cubicle dwellers checking off forms to determine what procedure they will or won't pay for right now.

Government ruins everything it touches
Could the gummint be more efficient? Sure. Could the gummint be more effective? Sure. Is there a tremendous amount of waste, boondoggle, porkbarrel and earmarking? Absolutely. But seriously, if we had anarchy -- no government at all -- do you really think that life would be better? Like the Israelites shouting for a king, all human societies must organize somehow. Tribes or Kingdoms or Nations -- every society forms some kind of government. Ours is actually pretty sophisticated and just compared to what history has served up. Without the government we have - flawed as it is - we would not be enjoying the freedom and prosperity we enjoy today. Sure, keep governmnet in check. That's wise. But don't go around blathering about how government is by nature the greatest evil, and must never be trusted with the public welfare in any form. That's just ignorant manure coming right out of your mouth.

Healthcare Reform will Balloon the Budget
I think it already is. So we can't just sit still. This is not to say that would should adopt something that would be financially disastrous in the long run just because it is politically expedient now. Nevertheless wouldn't it be better to do SOMETHING about it, even if it is less than perfect? Obstructionism is not going to get the budget under control.

So I don't want to know what horrible apocalyptic fate will befall us if we actually do the tiniest smidgen of what Mr. Obama has in mind. Don't rail prophetically about the awful desolation that will be post-healthcare reform America. Tell me how YOU would fix it. Present private sector solutions that will work. Give us counter proposals. The antithesis to the thesis of a proposed bill is not to scream hysterically at the congressman. The antithesis is to present your own bill, with different solutions. Then lets pick something that looks like it might actually solve some of the problems, get it passed, and move on.

Stop bloviating. Start renovating. Give me fewer bumperstickers and better ideas. Stop throwing those sticks and stone. Let's use them to build us something useful.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Advice for Hikers

I'm a big fan of ultralight hiking. UH used to be kind of fringe, but apparently it is going more mainstream. I know this because now columnists for the NY Times are writing about it. Not just writing about it, but giving advice because they practice it themselves. Nicholas Kristof has a nice little editorial piece on how to get up and get out into the woods. He gives some good advice, but I would temper it some by simply adding one suggestion. If it's your first time, plan a short trip (perhaps 1 overnight) with a route that has options to bail out. You don't want to use the option, but just knowing you have planned it in gives you confidence.

My favorite piece of advice:

10. In grizzly or polar bear territory, carry bear spray (which is a bit like mace). Frankly, the spray is unlikely to stop a 1,000-pound bear hurtling toward you, so experienced hikers respond to a menacing bear by using the spray in one of two ways. The first option is to spray yourself in the face, so you no longer care what the bear does to you. The second option is to spray your best friend beside you, and then run.
New application of an old joke.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Saga of Bavychlorskjevya boskjorB - Canto the Second

For those of you that have been waiting anxiously for the next installment in the Icelandic Saga of Bachelor boB (that's Bavychlorskjevya in Icelandic) here is the most recent post. Apparently he lives, but only by the skin of his teeth, and perhaps a few knuckles.
I should be dead.

Note that there is no humor in that statement.

I endured cold, rain, sleet, heat, non-existent trails, deep sand, sharp lava, impossible footing, quicksand (for real), bog, drought, sand storms, fog, impossible wind (tent was literally flattened, then dragged across the sands with me+gear inside = 250 lbs. *several* times in a night+day), etc. But all of that really means nothing.

My 20-day hike ended yesterday (Thursday), for on Wednesday afternoon (day 10 or 11; not sure) I was swept away during a river ford. Two rivers off of a glaciar have re-routed themselves into one. After hours of trying to travel upstream, through crumbling moraine, ice, and hidden mud pits, to get across or above the source, I went back downstream to the original jeep ford and headed across.

The current swept the very loose bottom from below my feet, a Leki hiking pole snapped, and I went under. Mind you, this river is ragging and barely above freezing, with a large floating ice content. I was tumbled, above and below the surface, for several minutes. A shoe was pulled off by the force of the current, but the gaitor kept it to me. Knowing that I would never make it out without both shoes, I gave up on stopping myself or standing up in order to secure the shoe and lost the broken Leki in the process. Somehow I managed to get my right wrist through the shoe´s laces.

At that point I was in fast and deep enough water to follow the advice I´ve read of getting yourself feet-first+head up going downstream. From that position, I dragged my hands to try to stop myself. They and my feet found bottom very abruptly soon after, but dragged for some time. Though stopped, I could not stand for the soaked pack, so I rolled over to face upstream. Trying to stand, I suddenly realized that my legs were so numb that they were failing, so I forced myself onto my knees using the Leki and both arms. Once up, I headed for the far shore only to be swept away again.

From there, I dog-paddled for the shore like my life was ending. (It was..) Thankfully, the current threw me to the bank and I dragged myself up it.. I could no longer feel legs or hands, which was good, as I dragged myself up the bank to behind a large boulder. (The wind was still gusting 40-60 kph.)

I have never even heard of someone shaking the way I did as I put on my rain jacket and pants. I was screaming to keep going and the blood was pouring from my hands and knees. The rain gear did what nothing else would of as I lay trembling behind the rock. Once I could stand, I headed for better cover, and noted that I had been swept downstream at least a mile.

My right hand was unusable, the shoe laces having constricted it in the current. I somehow managed to get my tent up with my left hand and right armpit. For the time, I thought my right wrist was broken. Though the howling wind quickly dried the pack, it had about 10 new lbs. of volcanic sand in it. My clothes were worthless (soaked + sand), but the waterproof sack and synthetic sleeping bag did their roll. That night was sleepless as the wind turned into a sandstorm. I sat up to support the tent "roof" for the worst part.

When morning came, I was coherent enough to know that no one was coming for me, no one would be coming by, and I was far enough away from the route to likely never be found. I did what it took to get walking again, having lost nothing except the one Leki.

My best way out was back across the same river. I cried at its edge.

Then I used my brain a little better than in the preceeding 24 hours. I followed the river for several kilometers downstream to the lake it entered. The area is currently in its seasonal drought and the lake is very low. Before reaching the lake, the river split into dozens of channels. I zigzagged my way across them, feet renumbed with ice water, until I was fully on the opposite shore.

This was still a very risky route, as the river *out* of the lake is impassable, which is why the trail takes the route it does. When I saw jeep tracks around the shore, I knew that it had recently been crossed and the tears now flowed from relief.

Around the very large lake´s shore, insane wind and deep sand still battered me, my hands and knees missing lots of skin and covered in cuts and blood blisters. My right hand was still about 50% too large and the fingers barely worked.

That´s when I saw 2 hikers, standing on the south shore, watching me approach. When I got to them, all I could say was, "I hope you guys are doing better than I am."

They had driven to the new dam (which removed the impassable drainage river) and hiked out to see if the river I was swept away in was fordable. They needed to know in preparation for doing a hike that covered some of my same route. I briefly told them my story, how to successfully cross it, and we 3 returned to their car. They were openly surprised by my route, being solo, and having survived. Icelanders don´t mince words.

An unimaginably different 24 hours later, I am back in Rekjavik (capital), showered, in twice laundered clothes, have about half my gear cleaned and dried, have the tent functioning again (it´s now died 3 times; I showered with it last night), have eaten a great pizza, cheese, fresh bread, and skyr (yogurt), it´s calm, bright sun, and quite warm, and I´m planning to fly to the north in order to do the end of my original hike. (That will skip the center section that virtually no one goes to/through, for very good reason.) I am covered in large, deep bruises, I´m almost certain that I have a damaged (not broken) right-front rib, my back hurts very badly in one spot, and I look like I fell off a mountain bike at full speed. But I´m not going to waste the next 12 days.

My fingers are very painful, so this has not been easy to write physically or emotionally. I´m not going back to check or correct. I just want everyone to know a few things:

I did something stupid. I should have known better. It almost cost me my life. Hikers die in that same river every 2-3 years and I knew that. I really should be dead. I´m not going to play the "What if...?" game and/or the "If only I had..." game. I´m just going to accept that what happened is what happened and continue to live accordingly, appreciating that I´m (mostly) okay and knowing that things can go from fine, to nightmarish, back to almost normal at dizzying speed. Life is perilous, tenuous, and precious.

Think about that and be happy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Don't Laugh...It Could Happen

Stumpy Worship

I recently attended a half day conference on worship and leading worship. It was conducted by a well known worship leader and musician (or perhaps he was a musician and worship leader). I say "well known" but that really is a relative sort of thing. That is to say he is well known in certain praise-and-worship-leading worship leading circles. Yes...I meant that sentence to read that way.

I suspected that I was in for something less than stellar, but I went into it saying that I was not closed to his message. I really was "openish" to what he had to say. I must say that I was not disappointed.

His initial message, about an hour and fifteen minutes of expounding on 2 Chronicles 29 was actually pretty good. Not earth-shaking, but a reasonably solid sermon on how YHWH calls us to worship Him and how he uses worship to shape us. Then we went to the Q&A and this is where we began to part ways. Every question and every answer was about music. The underlying assumption was a basic equation: music=worship. The reflexive property applies and it is an exclusive relationship. Worship is music and only music. There was no discussion of the reading of scripture, sermons and homilies, coporate prayer and confession, or even of sacraments. In his explanation of the text, he focused on sections like this:

As the offering began, singing to the LORD began also, accompanied by trumpets and the instruments of David king of Israel. The whole assembly bowed in worship, while the singers sang and the trumpeters played.
Yet he completely ignored these sections, and their implications for Christian worship:

They brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven male lambs and seven male goats as a sin offering for the kingdom, for the sanctuary and for Judah. The king commanded the priests, the descendants of Aaron, to offer these on the altar of the LORD. 22 So they slaughtered the bulls, and the priests took the blood and sprinkled it on the altar; next they slaughtered the rams and sprinkled their blood on the altar; then they slaughtered the lambs and sprinkled their blood on the altar. 23 The goats for the sin offering were brought before the king and the assembly, and they laid their hands on them. 24 The priests then slaughtered the goats and presented their blood on the altar for a sin offering to atone for all Israel, because the king had ordered the burnt offering and the sin offering for all Israel.
It was as if all that other stuff, the altars and the utensils and the blood and the animals and the sacrfice...that's not worship. It's something else.

Of course, Jesus is our sacrifice. We make different kinds of offerings than Hezekiah's priests, but our offerings ought not be limited to the musical kind. At one point, he even said something like, "I led them in worship for about 30 minutes, and then Paul preached..." I managed to not scream -- but just barely.

It's all just too truncated. Not wrong really, because music is and can be worshipful. But it is like playing basketball without any arms, just legs. You can do the running around part, but there are huge sections of the game that are simply missing. It would be easy, if you didn't know better, to think you were actually playing the game, because you could certainly still get all sweaty and out of breath from running around on the court, but it ain't the real deal. It's just part of it.

When worship is singularly about fuzzy feelings and the buzz you get from loud instruments played too high for too long, then it is so limiting. The scripture makes it clear that the apostles dedicated themselves to prayer, reading the scripture and the breaking of bread (communion). There is no mention of music. How did we get to the point where we have gone to the polar opposite of the Church of Christ and those old school orthodox Presbyterians that actually banned instruments? Now we don't ban music, it's ALL about the music.

The seminar section was followed by a 2 hour "worship concert" where his band performed lots of the music they had written for worship. I kept a rough count and I would estimate that about half the songs were actually about Jesus, using biblical images and wording to sing about God's character and work. The rest tended to be songs that expressed the singer's love, passion, commitment, dedication, etc. Nice songs, but dangerous because they sound like gospel, but they are not. These "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs did not dominate, but they were certainly a significant part of the repertoire. I can't condemn them entirely, because there is certainly an element of this responsive lyricism even in the Psalms. Yet it seem perilous to repeat them so often because the lead us to think that we can impress God if we are passionate enough, committed enough, or love him enough. Safer, I think, to repeat songs and stories about what God has done and is doing. Dead men can't sing, but Jesus can raise the dead and give them new voices.

One of my colleagues spoke in his defense to say that in the area from which he comes (Belfast Ireland) and in which he ministers, he almost certainly is reaching people who have been too long chased from the gospel by the church. I allow that this is almost certainly true, and is a perfect example of how God's grace can and does reach across our shortsightedness and incompetence to draw his people to himself. He meets us even in the stumpy awkward sessions we call worship services and his gospel prevails -- in spite of what form or shape our meetings take.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Zahl and the Promethean Overturning of History

This is one of the best explanations of the biblical (from an evangelical point of view) response to the current conflict rising around the question of the church's acceptance or rejection of homosexuality. The post is from InternetMonk, one of my go to blogs, and he quotes at length from a talk by Rev. Paul Zahl, and Episcopal minister. Here is a taste:

I shall begin this brief keynote address summing up the actual reasons why traditional Episcopalians are opposed to the consecration of Gene Robinson and are also opposed to the blessing in the church of same-sex unions. I won’t harp on this, but feel the reasons need to be acknowledged, publicly, and theologically. It is not fair to call people on the traditional side “homophobic”. Of course homophobia is possible, but it is also a terrible slur in the contemporary context. It is like the word “anti-semitic”. It halts all discourse. Full stop. And it destroys people and careers. Homophobia and anti-semitism are real things. But as words, they are used overmuch today to tar and dismiss voices that may in fact be sincere and liberal.
This is such an important point. It seems that on this topic, there is no room for reasonable disagreement. To do less than totally and unreservedly accept the position that homosexuality is normal and acceptable and healthy is "homophobic." The H word is the new N word.
The second “theological” argument traditionalists want to use is the hermeneutical one. I myself think this is second in importance to the theological “domino effect” I have just tried to spell out. The hermeneutical objection to the Robinson consecration is very important, but it is not decisive in quite the same way the argument from anthropology is. Nevertheless, we believe the plain and unexceptioned meaning of the Bible is against the practice of homosexuality in all cases. We cannot get around this. And I am grateful when folk on the other side acknowledge and do not try to weasel out of the “fact on the ground” of the Biblical voice against their idea. Yes, I realize there are wholly inclusive implications to Jesus’ and Paul’ s Gospel, but they stop at the Rubicon of homosexual practice.

I'll stop quoting here, but go and read it. It amazes me how the leadership of The Episcopal Church has set themselves so boldly in the role of teacher and scold, set to bring the rest of Christendom kicking and screaming along with it, for it's own good. The arrogance is breathtaking, all the while accusing the traditionalists (for lack of a better term) of being the arrogant ones. It all feels a little like That Hideous Strength.

While I have not really ever been in agreement with the basic arguments of the promoters of the homosexual agenda, I have often found myself sympathetic with their desire for inclusion, love, and acceptance. Every person wants these things. I can certainly appreciate what it feels like to feel locked out, excluded and disregarded and why it is important to help people so afflicted to find relief. For this reason I have had a hard time articulating how to reconcile the two sides in my own mind. These paragraphs have gone a long way toward at least helping me articulate my disagreement without resorting to ad hominem. I am not yet clear on how to solve the problem of exclusion in any complete and zpractical way, but I'm pretty sure that inclusion ought not be based on overturning what the church has always believed. As Zahl says, it feels promethean.