Saturday, April 30, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

This ain't no fairy tale

Yes, I watched the royal wedding and had a grand time, though it has killed my Friday. But I tell you what, my pet peeve was every time a commentator called the wedding a fairy tale. It would have been a great drinking game, except you wouldn't have even made it to the processional halfway sober.

I'm not exactly sure in what sense they are using the word "fairy tale," but from the little I've heard and seen, this didn't seem like a fairy tale wedding to me. It looked like a couple of adults who care about each other and have spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what to do. Ain't no magic wands around here. Kate Middleton was not transformed from a scullery maid. The prince was not in disguise.

What struck me about it was how un-fairy-tale-like it was. It looked to me like a normal wedding, albeit with an inordinate amount of hoopla and expense. But the wedding part of it, the two people saying "I do," looked normal, happy, and decided un-star-struck.

Here's the Prayer after the Royal Wedding--one that I think would make a lovely anniversary prayer for any couple:

God of all grace, friend and companion, look in favour on William and Catherine and all who are made one in marriage. In your love deepen their love and strengthen their wills to keep the promises they have made, that they may continue in life-long faithfulness to each other; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday Book Blogging: Books on Wine

I have narrowed down my job search even further to a position in marketing with an emphasis on social media in the wine industry. And the more I look into wine as a business, the more fascinating it becomes. In an earlier post, I talked about networking. I'll be talking to a friend and say, "Oh, by the way, do you know someone in the wine industry?" I have been amazed how many times the answer is, "Why, yes. Yes, I do." Who knew?

So as I search and network and apply, I'm doing quite a bit of reading. Oh my, how much there is to learn! Here are three books I'm working on right now.

I actually went ahead and bought WineWise which was amazingly affordable, given its scope and beauty. Good thing it's affordable, too, since I now want to try all kinds of wine I'd never heard of before, like Viognier. So well-written, too. Very accessible. Here's a teaser:

In the world of fine white wine, there is life beyond Chardonnay. If you want that life to include vibrant spices, honeysuckle and rose petal scents, and the unmistakable aroma of lychees, then you may want to give Gewurtztraminer a try (say it five times fast: guh-VERTZ-tra-meener).
Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized WineIt's blending very well with the second book I'm reading, Judgment of Paris, which is a fascinating story about how California wines come to world prominence, but is a bit of a tough read just because there are so many names and quite a bit of technical information about wine regions and how wine is made. It was made into a not very good movie, sadly, called Bottle Shock, which I saw when it first came out and loved anyway, mostly because of Alan Rickman. I'll post the trailer below. Here's a teaser:

The winery's equipment for pressing grapes and aging wines was badly out of date,and the vineyards were run-down. At the Pasteur Institute, Tchelistcheff had learned the importance of cleanliness around a living product like wine, and it was a shock for him to find a rat floating in a tank of Sauvignon Blanc at Beaulieu.

You'll be glad to know that was back in 1938.

Finally, a friend of mine found a very practical book entitled (straightforwardly) How to Launch Your Wine Career. Well, here's hoping. And if you know anyone in the wine business, let me know, would you?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Various & Sundry: Good Friday/Earth Day edition

And what do you need to mark both Good Friday and Earth Day? Clearly, it's environmentally-friendly cardboard coffins! I personally think this one is most appropriate for our Lord and Savior, don't you?

I liked this obituary for Jess Jackson, founder of Kendall-Jackson wineries, who I'm sure would be buried in a coffin decorated with grapes. Interesting to compare the Wine Spectator obit with the NY Times, which emphasized his horse racing efforts.

I thought this essay by a Lutheran minister on the sexual ethics of Dan Savage was very interesting. It was brought to my notice by blogger Conor Friedersdorf who notes "that the prohibition on pre-marital sex cannot survive a society where people get married in their late twenties or early thirties; that pre-marital sexual relationships are fraught with ethical questions apart from whether they should exist at all; that the teachings of Jesus Christ might easily be applied to a lot of those questions; but that the folks who normally provide guidance in how to follow Jesus eschew that role." It makes me wonder if the sturm und drang over homosexuality over here is to distract from the fact that we're not looking at anything regarding how people by and large are living out their sexual lives over there.

Finally, in celebration of Earth Day, heed the helpful advice of this oh-so-paper-saving bulletin board.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Letters to Lillian

Introduction to Letters to Lillian

I have bad news. Last week was the last letter. Jim died in the hospital, and Lillian never married. She worked as a paralegal, lived at home with her father, and died in 1957 of cancer.

The legend in the family was that Lillian had had a sweetheart who had died in South America. Fresno doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?

My parents have been trying to track down an official obituary, but haven't been able to find one. So you are welcome to think, if you wish, that Jim was sent home from the mine and reunited with Lillian and they lived happily ever after. Maybe they did.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Danger! Cupcakery near the library!

For weeks now I've been passing the Coming Soon! announcement on a store named Ganache--an upscale cupcakery at Sonoma and Georgia on my way to the Vallejo library. And now it has opened, which is DEADLY!

I looked in the glass case, pointed, and said, "Is that...bacon?" Yes, indeed, there was a maple bacon cupcake AND...(wait for it) a Chicken and Waffle cupcake. The owner, Nicole, told us that cyclists come over on the ferry, show up, get their Chicken and Waffle, and cycle away.

I did (bravely I think) get a Chicken and Waffle, which was...interesting. I actually liked the maple frosting combined with the chicken. The cupcake itself was not the most interesting part, though I guess with "waffle" flavor (actually vanilla), it shouldn't be.

We also got the more traditional red velvet (good flavor, a little dry), as well as a key lime (tasted rather lemony) and a chocolate mint (still untried). All gorgeous, as you see. I wonder if these cupcakes were a bit older; it was almost 6 when we got there. I will be FORCED to go again on Saturday when they're at the Farmer's Market--though it will have to be early since we were told last week they sold out by noon. (Next time I go, I'll photograph the savory cupcakes.)

It's really great to see this kind of shop in Vallejo. I am wishing it every success. I'll probably help.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday Book Blogging: Reviews, Teasers, Scandals, Previews

I had a grand time this weekend reading Judi Dench's chatty book And Furthermore. Story after story about her time in the theater (mostly), television and movies. And let me tell you, she is quite the practical joker. For example:

And Furthermore"We had a big scene at Crewe Station with three big theatre companies all going off in different directions on other trains, with a huge number of suitcases. So we put two stage weights in the case for this particular person...Everyone used to take their case and swing it up above their heads, but of course his case was so heavy that it swung away from him and threw him on the floor...[Another actor told us] 'I have never seen anything in my life so amateur!' She was quite right of course,but oh gosh, it was an irresistible afternoon. Waiting for it to happen was the best bit, when everyone else picked up theirs, he was dragging his along the floor."

Don't worry; people get her good too from time to time. Just delightfully fluffy.

I also finished The Gifts of Imperfection which I highly recommend, enough so that I'm putting the purchase box here. Maybe it's the research part that appeals to me. Maybe it's how the research forced the author to recognize how her own life had been limited. Maybe it's because she's just such a companionable person. At any rate, I thought it was great, and I'm not one for self-help books usually. Here is a teaser:

I e-mailed her back and explained the relationship between shame and perfectionism: Where perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking. In fact, shame is the birthplace of perfectionism.

In other book news, if you are following the Three Cups of Tea controversy, in which 60 minutes revealed that parts of the book were exaggerated for dramatic effect and Greg Mortensen's charity suspect, Good Intentions Are Not Enough is collecting a wide range of responses to the subject. Very painful to watch this all go down.

And the trailer for the movie based on The Help has just been released. What do you think?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Plain Clothes Clergy: I'll be there on Easter.

I spent the weekend gardening, and it was lovely. On Sunday morning, I listened to the Palm Sunday Eucharist podcast from St. Laika's while I was digging rocks out of the bed in which I hope to plant corn. I loved it. It was just what I needed.

And now I am looking at Holy Week with dread. Particularly Easter Sunday. Because, to my astonishment, I find I will be one of the strangers who shows up on your door on Easter Sunday, and I fully expect to be judged for it.

I know because I remember doing it. Not overtly, and not (I hope) intentionally. But I wondered, who are all these people? Why do they come for Easter? And why don't they come any other time?

Well, now I know: at least some of us are there because we love the church enough to make the effort to attend on its major feast days even though there is absolutely nothing there that feeds us spiritually or emotionally. Even though we've been hurt by it in the past. Even though we feel excluded or out of place. Even though we think the music is dull or the preaching is bad or the building is ugly.

Last week on Facebook, I posted the link to an article about young adults and the church called Bored to Tears. The author, exploring the matter-of-fact way in which young adults told her that "Church is boring; spirituality isn't," notes, "if I’m honest, it’s been a very long time since church has felt particularly spiritual for me, either." I noted that I, too, am at a point where I drag myself to church. And sometimes don't.

The longer I'm out of the church as a paid member of its keeping, the more I appreciate that showing up is an act of sacrifice. Not to God, but to a church I still wish to support. A church that sometimes seems to think I owe it something, that "because the Bible says so" is reason enough to attend. That still thinks the church is the institution and doesn't see that the church is the work of the people of God.

Please know, if you see me, that I'm not there because I love God, though I do. I'm not there for the beautiful music, though I appreciate it. I'm not there for the preaching, though I will be very happy if the sermon is good. I am there out of a sense of duty. I wish it were otherwise, but that's the truth.

Image from ASBO Jesus http://asbojesus.wordpress.com/

Friday, April 15, 2011

Various and Sundry, April 15

I actually didn't flag a lot to share this week. I did love this obituary for Thomas Eisner, an entomologist who studied insect chemical warfare, among other things. The obit quote: “Insects won’t inherit the Earth,” Eisner once said. “They own it now.”

I had to laugh this week when that blog entry about The Giving Tree that got me all hot and bothered a couple of weeks ago showed up on Andrew Sullivan's blog. I'm not the only one to get hot and bothered. Best of all, though, was this video from Sassy Gay Friend, staging an intervention.



And of course you MUST check out this year's winners of the Washington Post Peep Diorama contest. Congratulations to the winner!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Job Search Update: the Spam edition

Yesterday on LinkedIn I received this message:

Im an agent/blogger/publicist/talent scout if you think that i can help you with your career/company please just let me know...

P.S I can also offer you free advertising in my Blog are you interested in that?

ummm...no.

But that is just PEANUTS compared to the email I received this morning in response to a Craigslist ad for an administrative/personal assistant position I applied for.

Hello,

Thanks for your response and your interest. I will like to properly introduce myself before going into detail of the job.

My name is Henry Clerk 49 years old, Originally from (London) UK,but I have spent 14 years of my life here in United State,presently on a business trip and I need a Personal Assistant urgently to run my errands until I return back to the US. I own an electronics and clothing store in London, United Kingdom. Here below is the job description.

So far, so good. Not sure why I need to know that he's 49, but if you're just skimming the paragraph, it's OK.

1. You will run errands for three times a week and two hours each day.

Umm...ok, which of these would it be? But probably it's 2 hours, three times a week. He just didn't write it clearly. Moving on...

2. You will do my business shopping.
3. You will receive my packages which will be shipped to the nearest UPS office to you.
You will go to the UPS office and pick up the packages. The content of the packages are electronics, clothes, my business and personal letters.
You will open the packages and confirm the contents for record purpose.
4. You will ship out some of the packages where I want them to be shipped to. (You don't have to pay for the shipment. All expenses and taxes will be covered by me)

Damn straight all expenses will be paid by you. But this is starting to sound strange. AND THEN...

5. You will receive payments from my clients on my behalf which will be written payable to your name so you can cash them at your bank. The payments will be in either check or money order. The payments will be for the services you will be rendering and to do my business shopping.

All right, done. We've entered crazy spam land. The only thing left is to see how this deteriorates rapidly for the rest of the email. I've bolded my favorite bit.

Job Requirement:

1. You must have good communication skill.
2. You must be efficient, reliable, responsible and trustworthy.
3. You must be able to perform your tasks effectively
4. You should be able to work 3 times per week and 2 hours each day.

Payment and Work Duration The Job will last for three months. I want to open another electronics and clothing store in the US when I return and if there is need to extend your services, an amendments would be made to your wages and you will be notified accordingly. I will meet you in person when I return back to the US . I am willing to pay $400 per week. Your weekly payment will be deducted from the payments sent to you by my clients.

I need the service of a personal assistant because I am always out of town for business trips. I have been checking my files and what i would want you to do for me this week is to run some errands out to some of the orphanage home,I do that every month .The funds will be in form of Cashier's Check or United Postal Money Order and it will be sent over to you from one of my clients and i have some list to email you once you received the funds,You will make some arrangements by buying some stuff for the kids in the nearest store around you so you can mail them out...I will get you more information on that,I will like you to get back to me with your Contact.

Details such as:

Full Name:
Full Contact Address: (Not P.O Box)
Phone Number:
Age:
Sex:
Email:

Once i received your contact information i will get back to you with the tasks ahead,Understand you will also be paid as well as its important for me to make the necessary steps before i get to the state.

Best Regards,
Clerk

What do you think? Should I take it...to help the orphans?

Letter to Lillian, July 31, 1922

Introduction to Letters to Lillian

[letter written in pencil]
Sampson Mine
Llanada Cal
July 31, 1922

Dear Lillian - I am sorry to inform you that the reason for the pencil is that I am flat on my back in bed. I have been in bed almost continuously since Saturday morning. Friday I was in fair shape as shown by the fact that I ran down to the road twice in the Ford. Today is the day I am supposed to go, but I couldn't get to the Ford let alone run it.

     Tomorrow morning the boss intends to take me to the hospital, either in Hollister or Fresno.

     The trouble is due to intestinal obstruction where my appendix was. There is a large red swelling divided down the center by the operation scar so the cause is easily seen.

     It is interesting to see the amount of life about as I lie here in bed. Flies of course are to be classed as only a pest, although I get a great many with my trusty swatter, said swatter being purchased in Woolworth's on Fifth and Market at about 12:20 PM July 24. I bought one for the lab. and one for the tent.

     As regards other life a bird tried to get in the tent, and one or two of these little flycatcher lizards sought to penetrate the screen

     I do not wish to annoy you with further details of my illness so I will close. I will give you further information as soon as possible.

          So save some of your love
               for      Jim.

[Insert]

J.L. Maupin, M.D., President
D.H.Trowbridge, M.D., Secretary
[caption under illustration]
Modern Fireproof Hospital

Fresno, California,
Tues. August 1-1922

P.S.
     Mr. Campbell had his operation this morning,- is awake now and doing nicely. He will probably be here for several days--perhaps longer so a letter addressed to him at the "Burnett Sanitarium-Fresno-California #116- will reach him.

JB Campbell
By - AM.O.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Much news from Cote d'Ivoire

Ouattara shakes hands with Gbagbo's former chief of staff
So it looks like Ouattara is finally IN as the one and only president of Ivory Coast, though the getting there was really ugly--atrocity ugly, International Criminal Court ugly--as "about 1,500 people were killed and a million forced from their homes."

Sahel Blog directed me to Andrew Harding's blog on the BBC website which offers a first-hand ground-level view of events in Abidjan, the main city of Cote d'Ivoire. He reports that "the general mood as far as I can judge it now, is one of widespread relief. Let's see how long that lasts."

The big fear people offer is that there will be reprisal killings. Amnesty International reported "men in military uniforms have been conducting house-to-house searches in neighbourhoods for Gbagbo supporters in places like Yopougon and Koumassi. Amnesty quoted a witness who saw a policeman belonging to Gbagbo's ethnic group being taken from his house on Tuesday morning and shot dead at point blank range." So, yes, this isn't all peaches and cream with a tidy resolution and peace restored.

Please continue to keep the Ivory Coast in your prayers.

Bill Cunningham New York

Last night, I went to see the movie Bill Cunningham New York. Loved it. Loved. It. Why do I always forget that I love documentaries about the lives of interesting individuals? You'd think, what with my obituary obsession, I might actually want to see these people before they're, you know, dead.

Bill Cunningham is a fashion photographer for the NY Times, now 80 years old, still toodling around New York on his Schwinn bicycle, standing on the street for hours to take photos of fashion. As one person put it, "He's like a war photographer; he'll do anything to get the shot." And his eye is amazing. Things I would look at and just think, 'how odd,' he says, 'how beautiful'. And once he shows you, you see how beautiful it really is.

It reminded me strongly of another portrait film, Herb and Dorothy. I guess I'm just fascinated by people who know what they like and really could give a rip what anyone else thinks.

Just this morning I was reading a chapter in Brene Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection on Creativity, and she talks about "the comparison mandate" which stifles it.

The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of "fit in and stand out!" It's not cultivate self-acceptance, belonging, and authenticity; it's be just like everyone else, but better.

Bill Cunningham is not like anyone else, and he's not interested in the people who are like anyone else. I think the greatest thing about this film is that it made me want to be more...me.

If you can go see it, do. Here's the trailer.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday Book Blogging: what you read in school

Over on Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog there's a discussion going on about what kind of literature is taught in school and how it is taught and which books should be used. I recently had a discussion about this with the friend who took me to opening day and her high school daughter. Can I just say, Berkeley High uses THE most depressing literature in their English classes? And they are all, of course, socially conscious.

Way to make reading all about duty and proper behavior. I agree with one commenter who said, "I have always found a lot of classroom pedagogy (particularly at the middle/high school level) to be more motivated by a perceived need to force a certain set of predetermined cultural signposts on students than by a desire to foster any love of learning. It's far more akin to forcing kids to eat vegetables than it is teaching them to make a nice salad."

I found myself wondering a) Why no humor? b) Why no essays? c) Why no short stories? Do they not count? I don't even know if they include any poetry. If they do, I hope it includes Billy Collins poem about students strapping the poem down to a chair, just to say you don't have to do that.

I asked my friend's daughter how long it took to read a novel. Two months. Two months!? That sounds like strapping a novel down to a chair and "beating it with a hose/to find out what it really means." Why not read something, get the gist, look at one piece, and move on? This is why I don't get why there are no essays or short stories in the mix. Or are there, and this is just Berkeley High?


One of the things I told my friend and her daughter was that I read The Great Gatsby in high school and didn't see what the fuss was about. Then I read it again in college and realized I didn't understand a lot of what was happening. Still wasn't my favorite, though. Then I read it again in my late 20's and realized how much had gone completely over my head as a naive college student. I read it again in my 30's and thought, "Boy, did I miss a lot of that book when I read it before." I need to read it again and see what else I find.

TNC had a great line in his entry: "For me, the love of books is premised on a kind of voluntary submission. The authors I love, are the authors I trust. I freely hand over a portion of my consciousness to their work, and settle back to see what they make of it."

It's tough. Obviously, I think literature, reading, critical analysis is important. But is there a way to do that that isn't (I hate the word) punitive--either to the students or to the writing? I think it's a shame that we have students read books because they are Great Literature when they don't have the experience to filter what's happening. But maybe the stretch is worth it. All I know is I've never considered The Scarlet Letter without a shudder.

What did you read in school that you think, "Boy, was I not ready for that"? And what you think would be great for students to read?

Obit du jour: Hedda Sterne

Which of these things is not like the other?

I loved this picture accompanying the obituary of artist Hedda Sterne who died at 100. It's a 1951 photograph from Life magazine of Abstract Expressionist artists who had sent "a notorious open letter to the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1950 accusing it of hostility to 'advanced art.'”

I don't know who all the other artists are in the picture, although Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning are among them. What struck me in the obituary was that Sterne, according to the obit, "never developed a marketable artistic signature." Emphasis on "marketable." "Her frequent stylistic changes, reflecting an exploratory bent, made her an elusive figure."

I love Mark Rothko, but I can see how his work could become a parody of itself, and how no one would want to buy it if it suddenly and completely changed. The thing I love about this obituary is the sense of a woman always striving, always exploring; how fearless she was. I also get the sense of fame as a curious master, and that one's level of fame may have as much to do with one's tolerance of it as one's worthiness of it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Garden update, April 9

At long last it is a full-on gardening weekend. I have donned my grubbies and nobody'd better get in my way. So far, I have thinned the lettuce, planted more lettuce varieties, planted radishes, green beans, and basil, and transplanted some cosmos and cuphea (which is an experiment this year).

This weekend is also the big spring party at Annie's Annuals, which is never good for the ol' bank account, but so much fun. I always try to hold myself back. It never happens.

Before I go, here are a few ridiculous number of photos of the current activity in the garden. Proportions are a bit off in the photos. I'm afraid everything looks the same size.

Blooming in the backyard:

Here's some mimulus which really took off and got itself established over the winter. I'm very happy with this. It's a much smaller plant than it looks like in the photo. Still pretty showy though.


This photo makes the pulmonaria look so grand. It's really a very modest plant. This whole thing is maybe 9" around. I've always had a soft spot for pulmonaria, aka lungwort, which isn't very showy but it's just so sweet.

In the front yard:

It's the first time I've gotten tulip bulbs in in the fall. Still looks a little spotty, though, if you ask me.


These sparaxis, though, look terrific! I love these little guys! They have been a mite trampled by Certain Dogs.


I planted these purple agrostemma in the fall and they're growing like weeds. Well, for a lot of people, that's what they are. I just love 'em though. The yard's heavy on the purples, but I don't care. Underneath, you'll see a plant who's name I can't remember; we just call them "spoonflowers."


Speaking of purple, these wisteria over the front gate are just about to explode! I remember a couple of springs ago hearing a radio announcer talk about a "wisteria outbreak." Well, it was actually "listeria," but I think outbreak describes the event very well.


The first blooms are out on the hollyhocks--at least on this one. I think I have four varieties in the front yard among the azaleas (also blooming up a storm). You'll see the bend in this hollyhock stalk as it leans out to catch as much sun as it can. I'm a little disappointed there's not more activity among the hollyhocks, but they're probably not in the best location.

Finally, over in the raised beds, I put the tomatoes (left) and peppers (below, front) in the ground on Monday. The peas (below, back) I planted earlier and don't seem to be thriving, but I'm hoping they'll get a move on now that it's getting warmer. I'm very pleased that I got to use the beds during the winter for a couple of things; the winter peas never really came through, but I did enjoy some very good beets.

It's time to do some more plotting and planning (as well as plotting and planting). I hope you get to indulge your hobbies this weekend as well. Enjoy!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Various and Sundry, April 8

I'm going to have to make it quick since we're taking the new old man, Mr. Jed, to the vet for a check-up--and to see if he's deaf or just ignoring us.

I loved Don Miller's blog entry Should The Church be Led by Teachers and Scholars? The teachers and scholars didn't like it so much. I also loved his review of Love Wins. Best one I've read.

The Good Intentions are Not Enough blog requested entries for a Day Without Dignity to counter the TOMS shoes Day Without Shoes--very fascinating. One entry I particularly liked (though it's hard to choose, I liked so many of them) was this one from Project Diaspora. The author's pointed questions:

Who are these people in “developing countries”?

Is the developing world a homogenous other? Why do we keep reproducing these dichotomies and stereotypes? “People there don’t have food; people there don’t have clothes; people there suffer; they grow up barefoot; they all need shirts”

Isn’t there inequality in America?

Why do “we” need to “remind ourselves” and “get a taste” ? It’s really about “us”, isn’t it?

Ouch.

And finally, my favorite obituary for the week was this one for Selwyn Goldsmith who literally wrote the book on Designing for Disabilities, developing the curb cuts we've grown to expect. He also worked on, as it is called, potty parity. I loved this: in revising Designing for the Disabled, "He concluded that having "different" or "extreme" needs is not unusual, but in fact "normal"." Things like, you know, strollers. Or being a child. I thought that was a great insight.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Letter to Lillian,July 25, 1922

Introduction to Letters to Lillian

Mendota Cal
July 25, 1922

Warfield Building, SF, 1922
Dear Lillian-Although we did not meet in San Francisco I suppose that I will have to call it alright. I was about ten minutes late myself so I guess that it was my own fault. I did not leave the company's office until a quarter of twelve and I had to go to the bank after that. But even so I would have been all right had it not been for the fact that I went into a store to buy this paper and ink to write you with. I have enough paper and ink to last several months now and plenty of envelopes.

     When I reached Oakland I put in a three month's subscription to the Tribune and also bought a couple of wireless instruments. I had to eat my dinner on the boat.

     We arrived in Mendota last night about on schedule. The truck that broke down when I was on it was not in yet. The part arrived only yesterday and he took it up yesterday afternoon, returning last night. This morning he tore down his engine and does not expect to go up until Friday. The other truck went up yesterday afternoon and came back this morning. We will go up with him this afternoon, soon I hope, as it is 3 o'clock now. The train will be in before we go. That same train left Oakland this morning. I say we will go up, as there are three of us. I have a cook and a mine foreman with me, besides plenty of baggage.

     How did the girls at the office treat you when they noticed your decoration. Personally I feel very proud of you. I have some sweetheart I'll say.

     Well I guess that I will have to cut this letter short as we will probably start soon. Well, the main reason of this letter is to start you writing so start right off if you have not already done so

     With the best of love
            Your Jim

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sermon: The man born blind (John 9) [abridged]

This is about as straightforward a story as you will find in Scripture. And that is problematic for a preacher. There is very little left to explain.

This passage did raise one question for me as I read it, however, and that is this: why did the man's neighbors bring him to the Pharisees? There wasn't any reason to, as far as I could tell. This wasn't like leprosy where he needed to be examined and declared clean. But it seems they wanted an explanation, something more than, "I was blind and now I see." (This leads to one of the funniest exchanges in Scripture as far as I'm concerned. The neighbors ask the man, "Where's the guy who healed you?" and he says, "I don't know," as he's thinking, "since I was blind at the time!")

So they bring him to the Pharisees. I have a lot of sympathy for the Pharisees in this situation. This group shows up; they thrust this guy in front of them; they say, "This man was born blind and can now see; explain." You can imagine the Pharisees are thinking to themselves, "What kind of a scam is this?" So you can understand why they questioned him as they did and wanted witnesses to verify that the guy was actually born blind. If he was indeed born blind and can now see, that breaks all the rules.

Here's the thing: When reality breaks the rules, the rules do their best to reassert themselves.

They do this in three ways:

First, the rules try to make you fit back into the rules. If no one has ever been healed of blindness after being born blind, then clearly he can't have been born blind.

Second, the rules try to make you betray or deny your experience. "Give glory to God," the Pharisees say. "We know this man is a sinner." Give us the right answer, this suggests, and we will have no problems.

Third, if you don't fit the rules, the rules can be used to kick you out. Often, as in this case, with an ad hominem attack: "You were born entirely in sins." It's so much easier if you are the one at fault; all the more reason to kick you out.

I confess, I have some sympathy for the rule people. I know I have been one at times. Losing the rules is very frightening. If these rules aren't true, then my whole system falls apart. If the rules aren't true, then what can I count on?

This isn't much comfort if you are the one who has been kicked out, of course. We can probably all think of a time when we've been kicked out of something or left something--a relationship, a group--because the rules didn't fit our reality. And that's painful. Often we want to stick around to convince them. We just want them to see what we see. We wonder, how they could be so blind?

But the likelihood is that they are scared. Scared that if they see what you see, their world will fall apart. As hard as it is, we need to have compassion, even as we are rejected--or walk away on our own.

Or maybe you are saying to yourself right now, "Surely I am not blind, am I?" Maybe you are facing something where the facts in front of you do not fit the rules. For you, I would offer the great command of the Bible: Do not be afraid. Jesus is Lord over all Creation. If something is real, it was created by God. You do not need to be afraid to love and accept it.

Reality breaks open our world into something larger, perhaps more frightening, perhaps more freeing than we are used to. But "scary" doesn't mean "bad." Nor does "free" mean "as it pleases me." It means that every time our world breaks open, we can see a little more like Jesus sees and can take our next first steps into believing in him.

May Jesus open our eyes, and may we be blessed to see and to believe.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tuesday Book Blogging: review of Blackout and All Clear; The Controversial Giving Tree

The Anonymous Historian and I have been playing phone tag since she returned from Paris so I haven't been able to get the "Can you believe when..." and "I knew that she..." stuff out of my system, so I hope the review below won't contain any spoilers.

BlackoutThe two-part book Blackout and All Clear concerns a group of time traveling historians, part of the same group of Oxford historians Connie Willis has introduced before. This time, they are in London during the Blitz--not the safest place to be. The anxiety level of the protagonists is high throughout the latter half of the first book and the first half of the second book, almost to the point where it was annoying. But then again, they were getting bombed every night, which would set anyone on edge, time-traveling woes or no.

All ClearThe thing that was most powerful about this book was the feeling that you got of what it might be like to live through the Blitz. The constant uncertainty, the constant lack of sleep, the people you know getting hurt or killed. You also got a much better understanding of how many people were part of the war effort in one way or another. One of the historians is unhappy to be assigned to a theatrical group as part of her national service, but comes to see how this, too, was part of getting through the war. Another historian has come to study heroism, thinking it would be at Dunkirk. Instead he finds it...everywhere, and in the smallest things. A third historian, originally placed with child evacuees, comes to see even her incorrigible charges, the horrible Hodbins, have a role to play.

Despite their length, the books are incredibly well plotted. It's a very lean 1,100 page novel and a total page turner. I lost a lot of sleep reading way too late at night.

It was also simply fun to see familiar names, places, and events seen through different eyes. Alan Turing almost hits one of the historians while biking recklessly to Bletchley Park. The Queen of England, General Patton--and his dog--all make an appearance.

But mostly this is about all the people who won the war through their day to day efforts, and all the small events upon which history turned. In her acknowledgments, Willis thanks "the marvelous group of ladies who were at the Imperial War Museum the day I was there doing research on the Blitz--women who, it turned out, had all been rescue workers and ambulance drivers and air-raid wardens during the Blitz, and who told me story after story that proved invaluable to the book and to my understanding of the bravery, determination, and humor of the British people as they faced down Hitler." These books are dedicated to them, and are a worthy paean.

***

In other book news, Chaplain Mike over at Internet Monk posted a sweet entry about his favorite book The Giving Tree. Little did he know how many of us hate-- HATE with a white hot passion -- The Giving Tree, so much so that he ultimately had to close the comments.

What fascinates me is how wide the commentary on The Giving Tree runs. I thought this collection of brief responses to The Giving Tree captured the complexity of thought very well.

So what's your take on The Giving Tree? Tale of grace and generosity? Of environmental degredation? Of the subjugation of women? Love it? Hate it? I am now supremely curious to hear how other people hear this.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Introducing...

Jed
Jed is an almost 13 year old Golden Retriever that we got from the amazing Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue up near Sacramento.  He likes sleeping.  Following people around is good too.

Monday Morning Preacher: Even John Chrysostom had bad days

I preached up at Fort Bragg yesterday, which was great fun. The waiter at Eggheads remembered me--including my tea order!

It was funny trying to prepare my sermon on the man born blind. No one seemed to have anything to say about it. "Yup," the commentaries said. "Born blind. Healed. Good one, J-dawg."

I eventually went looking for other sermons and found this one by the great 4th Century preacher John Chrysostom, Mr. Golden Mouth. He couldn't find much to say either. The upshot of this sermon is we should know our Bible so that we can "exhibit all boldness of speech towards those who attempt to accuse, and who say anything against the Christians, and to stop their mouths" like the man born blind did.

He then gets in a little dig at popular culture: "Yet if a harper, or dancer, or stage-player call the city, they all run eagerly, and feel obliged to him for the call, and spend the half of an entire day in attending to him alone; but when God speaketh to us by Prophets and Apostles, we yawn, we scratch ourselves, we are drowsy." Same old story, because people are people, you know. Entertainment is going to be more fun than study.

I found this gospel an interesting text to illustrate the "plain meaning of Scripture" argument. The truth is, when the meaning of Scripture is plain, there's not much more to say about it. It's when it isn't plain that the preaching gets interesting. And challenging. And contradictory. If all Scripture were so plain, there wouldn't be much to preach on.

I'll post the sermon in a bit.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Opening Day

First it was wonderful.

The weather was perfect and the crowd cheered as each player was introduced and charged on the field. Baseball! And a whole new season ahead! And a homerun for our boys in green and gold in the first inning!

Then it got funny.

Stomper, our suave elephant mascot, decided to sit right in front of me for a while. Just as the shortstop made an egregious error.


Then it got ugly. Five errors? Ugh. Stomper banged his head against the metal rails in front of him as he watched. It's going to be a loooong season.

Cote d'Ivoire update

Things are not good, as a third day of fighting continues.

Neither side is particularly clean here. Those supporting the generally recognized winner of the presidential election were part of a massacre in the town of Duekoue.

A spokesman for the UN mission in Ivory Coast, Guillaume N'Gefa, told AFP that 330 people had been killed in Duekoue as Mr Ouattara's forces took over the town, most of them at the hands of the rebels.

More than 100 more people were killed by Mr Gbagbo's troops before they left, he added.

Mr N'Gefa said a UN team was still investigating and those figures were likely to rise.

Earlier the International Committee of the Red Cross said at least 800 died, while Roman Catholic charity Caritas put the figure at more than 1,000.

Staff of the ICRC who visited the western city of Duekoue said the scale and brutality of the killings were shocking.

Texas in Africa posts notes from a friend in Abidjan:

Things are escalating rapidly. I think there will be revenge killings for a while. And if any pro-Gbagbo forces are able to muster any strength back -- they will try to return the revenge again. It is absolute slaughter and chaos here right now. I am hoping the worst is over-- at least I thought it would be this morning when I woke up-- but unless Ouattara somehow starts controlling the FRCI [Forces Republicain de Cote d'Ivoire, which supports Ouattara] and his supporters-- I think it will continue for a while. And the way I see some of the Twittersphere egging the conflict on-- is worrisome. So much propaganda and cheering at the "democratization." SMS has been suspended (or at least ours is) so maybe this will stop some of the calls for violence, but cells are still working most of the time-- and almost everyone here has one-- so they can easily connect and find their opponents.

Doctors Without Borders also reports "hearing constant gunfire along with the occasional heavy detonation, and that’s been going on for a few days now. We had been moving around, visiting clinics and helping patients up until a few days ago. But the situation on the streets has deteriorated to such an extent that it’s just become too dangerous to go outside."

I don't even know what to say. Prayers continue.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fools Day

A little trick from spring and the weeping cherry tree.

Various & Sundry, April 1

It's April Fools Day, and also opening day for the A's, and a friend has offered me a ticket! If it's for real, she's my new best friend for evah! If it's a prank, she's dead to me. DEAD! You hear me?

Ahem. Moving on.

I think it would be fun to get a set of these stamps from Jesus Hates Papyrus. I don't think they're generally available though. At least I haven't been able to find them. Jesus doesn't like it.

This blog entry will not come as a surprise, but as an affirmation that what you always thought was true is, in fact, true: success (in anything, I would assert, though this is about humanitarian aid) has to do with effective people rather than great technology.

In project after project, the lesson was the same: information technology amplified the intent and capacity of human and institutional stakeholders, but it didn't substitute for their deficiencies. If we collaborated with a self-confident community or a competent non-profit, things went well. But, if we worked with a corrupt organization or an indifferent group, no amount of well-designed technology was helpful.

After finishing All Clear, I was particularly intrigued by this obituary for Erlund Hudson, an artist "who captured life on the Home Front during the Second World War," such as these women turning bedsheets into bandages.

Finally, please listen to this week's This American Life episode. I know I frequently refer you to the latest This American Life episode because it is amazing. I'm going to do it again: It is amazing. You will be mind-boggled that such things can happen, and can continue to happen in the name of justice. And then when you have listened to the report, go to this website for an idea of what to do about it. "Kafkaesque," someone called it, and that about sums it up. Seriously, listen to this. It is riveting.