Thursday, December 30, 2010

Excuses, excuses

Sorry for the light blogging.  I'm trying to catch up on the things that got pushed back over Christmas.  Regular service will resume...soon.  Maybe.  In the meantime, here's another fabulous letter from my great-aunt's sweetheart.

Letters to Lillian, June 6, 1922

Sampson Mine.
Llanada Calif.
June 6 1922

Dear Lillian- Your most welcome letter arrived yesterday, but since the mail here is tri-weekly I did not write until tonight. By tri-weekly it seems to mean one way one week and try to go the other way next week. But in a week or so we will have daily mail at another post-office.

     My first mail was my grades. I did not do quite as well as I expected in first aid, but all my other grades were what I expected. Monday I received quite an assortment of mail. Two circular postcards, or to be more precise, one of them was to tell me that my pictures were ready, the other was a circular. Then I had an invitation to Harry Brown’s wedding, a letter from my kid brother and one from you. Pretty good for one mail. Do your part and see if we can keep it up.

     You will observe that I use both sides of the paper. I do not want to pay freight, and I may write for some time, so I must keep down the bulk.

     By the way I am something more than chemist now. I am storekeeper too. The fellow who kept store left Saturday and I inherited his job. But I do not expect to keep it as another fellow is here to take it. Said fellow, a Mr. Black is going to move in with me tomorrow. I have a large tent to myself, which I do not need. When we get time we intend
to move across the creek onto the knoll, where it will be cooler in the evening and where my wireless will be better.

     I have been rather busy today. I ran an analysis this morning and another this afternoon. Each is done in duplicate. I cannot run two at once on account of lack of apparatus. In fact I had to leave out one determination this afternoon because I did not have enough crucibles. But I can do it at the start of my next analysis. Tomorrow morning I have to collect a sample and analyze it. The next morning I have to go to the upper camp for another sample, and then analyze it. We expect to start operations any day now, the present delay being for engine supplies.

     Running a store has its disadvantages. No matter if I am busy and someone wants to buy something, I have to find time to sell it. I handle everything salable. Shoes, clothes, groceries, tobacco, guns, meat, and vegetables about comprise the list. This writing paper came from my store.

     I have not gathered my radio together yet as I am waiting for payday. It is about due now so I expect to get set up soon.
     You ought to see me now. The 49’ers had nothing on me. I have not touched a razor to my face since I saw you. I want to see what it feels like to have long whiskers. I will get picture for you before I cut them so you can see too.

     Your suggestion in regard to having your dad come on a fishing trip is taken under advisement. Fish are nix here. About 10 miles away there is good fishing but no road to it. The hunting here is excellent. Last Sunday we nearly ran over some doves, quail call quite often, rabbits are numerous, and deer are plentiful.

     The scenery up here is quite unusual. The Panoche valley, near here, on the road in, is quite pretty. I have already mentioned the wildflowers.

     You say that Maynard [Lillian’s brother] is afraid that you will be untrue to me. Tell him that if he worries about it as little as I do he will not be annoyed. Not that I don’t care, but my opinions are different.

     I spoke to the boss about coming down for July 22. I told him why I wanted to come and he only kidded me along. You see this place runs day and night seven days a week when it once starts. But I think that I will be
able to get away for the occasion. I would like to see Violet [Lillian’s sister] take the big jump and I want to see you too.

     In all probability time drags more for you than for me because here I am busy all of the time at work that I like. The result is that I do not get much time to think. But I have even been figuring what nearby mountains I could climb to see Berkeley and San Francisco and see that your town is all right anyway. I get some consolation out of looking at the moon, knowing that you can see it the same as I, but the satisfaction don’t compare to seeing you.

     Everyone around here seems to be part or all Spanish. Dennis the carpenter has an Irish enough name but he has a Spanish wife. The cook is Spanish as are all of the kids in camp. I saw two today that I had not seen before. Small girls. They came to buy some stuff at my store.

     One thing that I nearly forgot to mention is that my kid brother signed up for the Citizens Training camp at the Presidio, July 6 to August 4. Which is all the more reason why I should come up the latter part of July. I think that I will be able
to get away all right.

     I was prospecting about the other day, and I came across some wet cells which will be very useful to me. They will save me about $12 [in today's dollars: ~$150] on my wireless if I can make them work. I claim to know something about such things so I expect to have them in running order about an hour after I tackle the job. But whether I can use them or not is what bothers me. I can undoubtedly get electricity from them but it may be noisy.

     Now that it is night I have to wear a hat. I have my straw Kelly on for an eyeshade. Generally I go about with no hat, no coat, sleeves rolled up and my shirt open at the neck. That’s the kind of place this is.

     Well the paper won’t last for many more letters if I don’t quit soon. So.
     Goodby for this time.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Obit du jour: Sally Goodrich

I really must insist that you read the obituary of Sally Goodrich who founded the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation a few years after her son was killed during the 9/11 attacks.

Her husband explains, “The idea that we could go to Afghanistan — where the Afghan people were taken advantage of by Al Qaeda, manipulated, and where the planning for our son’s death took place — and provide an alternative way of looking at the world was very appealing to us.”

If only this had been our collective response to 9/11...

Monday Morning Preacher: Marathon Christmas Weekend

The Friday night sermon was pretty good. The Saturday sermon was OK. The Sunday sermon...not so much.

I've never been the absolute solo clergy person in a parish before (well, I did a summer stint in Fort Bragg, but even then there was a clergy associate; besides, it was summer). This was BRUTAL, man. I thought I was doing well, having two sermons in reasonable shape last week. But the Sunday sermon--whew! I was already pooped on Saturday and could not gear myself up to whip that sermon into shape.

Christmas is tough to preach anyway. What more can I add to what's already been said? And then to preach it three days in a row! I felt like I was grasping at straws towards the end, there. The thing that saved my bacon, preaching-wise? Reading lots of blogs in the previous weeks. Lots of people sharing lots of thoughts and images which stirred up my own imagination. I owe a lot to The Lead, Dirty Sexy Ministry, and Seven Whole Days who pointed me to articles, sermons, and images that I used on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Christmas I respectively.

Solo pastor or no, I didn't do Christmas alone. The other thing that saved my sorry self? I didn't need to worry about anything else. I don't know about your church, but at All Saints, San Leandro, the lay leadership was incredible. Everybody did what needed doing; I basically just showed up--as did everybody else. Those services wouldn't have happened without a lot of help and support. One of the things that first drew me to the Episcopal Church was that the sermon wasn't the focus of the service. I am so grateful to all of those who made the services run so smoothly you didn't even notice.

I doff my hat to all of us who served our hearts out last weekend. I'm taking the day off. I hope you are too.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday Funnies, 12/26

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you a picture of clergy everywhere later today. Maybe during services.

h/t Cute Things Falling Asleep

Friday, December 24, 2010

'Twas the day before Christmas...

and all through the house,
there was panic and mayhem
because I have so much I have to do before the end of the day that I don't have time to think up clever quatrains, all right?! Sheesh!

So I leave you with one inspiring obituary of "Fred Hargesheimer, a World War II Army pilot whose rescue by Pacific islanders [which] led to a life of giving back as a builder of schools and a teacher." He died (at age 94) on the island where he had been rescued.

And, for fun, the LONE RANGER! Fred Foy, the announcer for many years, also died this week.

Hi, ho, Silver! Away!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Eve homily prep

I'm thinking about my Christmas Eve homily and was reminded of these pictures from my brief time in Uganda. They were taken at the entrance to the Kolping Guest House where I first stayed when I arrived in March 2008.Looking at them now, I'm shocked at how shabby the house next door looks. The guest house itself was so well-kept, quiet and restful.

Posted by Picasa

The thing about these photos and this experience, though, was that Before Uganda (B.U.), I thought of the Christmas story as a rural story; now I can see it as an urban one where animals live very close by. I have a slightly better sense of how crowded it was, how dirty, how little privacy there was.

Of course, it's not an inn at all in the Bible, not how we tend to think of it. The NIV has changed "inn" to "guest room," which is more accurate, but changes the picture. Will I preach about any of this? I don't know.

I'm going to go back to pondering now.

I have the weirdest cats in the world

Shouldn't you be sleeping on a heater vent or something?

Letters to Lillian, June 1 1922

Sampson Mine
Llanada, Calif.
June 1, 1922.

Dear Lillian.—I suppose you have written but I have not received any mail yet. That applies to all my mail. I can’t exactly say that I am pining away with lonesomeness, but I may begin to pine or redwood or something like that soon if I don’t begin to get some mail. Maybe the postman can’t find Llanada. If that is the trouble I will have to hunt up a new postoffice. The one I have is too far away anyway. Which reminds me of a difficulty. When I ordered my pictures I told them to send them to me. The girl suggested C.O.D., to which I agreed. It looks like I will have difficulty getting a C.O.D. package, when the postoffice is 16 miles and the mail is left for us 5 miles away. Oh well I will probably get them sometime.

My work has not officially started yet, in that my analytical work has not gotten under way. I did some analyses today but did not get any finished results. Most of my work so far has been remodeling the laboratory and getting started. After we built the furnace I built a still. Then I had the carpenter put me in a window. I moved the sink myself. When I get time I will whitewash the place. I figure that a nice bright laboratory is conducive to more accurate work.

Well I guess that I will have to move tomorrow. I have been staying in the manager’s house and he is due tomorrow night. I have a tent all picked out but not swept out. I have not decided whether to use a broom or a shovel. It is right next to the laboratory which has its advantages. When I get my radio installed and working properly, or maybe I should say if, I get it working properly I can run an extension to the laboratory and have music with my work. It appears that instead of getting numerous holidays I will have to work most of the Sundays. But I will be able to come down before winter. Last year the chemist was here until the middle of November. This company seems to have a bad name in some ways, one of which is the analytical work. I intend to make an improvement there. I have done more at fixing up the lab. in a week that the fellow last year did in six months.

I told you before that we were near the Monterey National Forest. As a matter of fact we are in it. The nearest place on the map is Idria 1 ½ or 2 miles east of here. The elevation of the lower camp is about 2500, the upper camp being 3500. The climb up is nearly as bad as the climb up Grizzly peak in Berkeley. I have been up twice, Sunday to look at the place, and Tuesday to get samples.

The kerosene lamps here are a nuisance. I gave the boss a line, showing him the advantages of installing electric power and he may do it. At any rate I will have to get some source of electricity for my radio. I have been working on the coils lately, having made considerable progress. I may have to set up a tent and move into it in order to get my radio working. I have the site all picked to put a tent, but I have no tent. One of the fellows says that the road gang has a tent that I can get. If so I may move a second time.

The cook’s kids are some kids. When I am in the lab. they look in once in a while, and when I am in the house they show up a little oftener. The girl is quite according to my ideas. The only trouble is that they are leaving Saturday. The main difficulty seems to be a case of indigestion. But for a cook to quit on account of indigestion seems unreasonable.

Lately I have been having a quiet environment. All the other men have been working on the road. At noon the dinner bell rings and I go down to dinner all alone. Generally five or six places are set to make it seem less lonesome but I certainly have individual service. At noon there was a whole pie on the table. I did not even cut it. No, I did not eat it all either. I did not eat any. Speaking of food, last night we had some meat so tough that the boss said that he could not stick his fork in the gravy. I[t] was pretty tough at that. Generally speaking the food is pretty good, but if I was in Berkeley and eating it I would last about two days. The indigestible methods of cooking are all represented, particularly frying. Speaking of frying, have you learned to pan broil a steak yet?

I guess that I had better quit pretty soon as it is nearly 9 o’clock. But first I should mention the wild flowers. The Spanish dagger is the most conspicuous. It is similar to the century plants having a flowering stalk about five feet high. Two very pretty thistles are represented, one having a red shaving brush for a flower, the other having a varicolored flower shaped like a poppy. The Mariposa lilies abound. They are in various colors, white with lavender spots being the most common. Mistletoe, although not a flower, might be mentioned. It is very plentiful here. In fact I wish you were here to enjoy it all. Many flowers other than the ones I have mentioned are common.

Since I do not wish to tire out the postman I will quit now. You see if I get him all tired out he may not bring me a letter from you which would be a calamity. So start a letter soon to

Sampson Mine
Llanada Calif.

Introduction to "Letters to Lillian" here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On the end of DADT

For me, Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a reminder that sometimes a compromise is compromising.

I wasn't paying much attention at the time, but as I remember it when this deal was struck during the Clinton administration, it was considered a step forward from an outright ban on gays in military service.

In retrospect, from my perspective, DADT proved itself to be oppressive, with gay servicemembers bearing the burden. Was anyone kicked out of the military for not asking? Because surely a lot of people were kicked out even when they didn't tell.

I wonder if one of the things to be learned from this is that a compromise is unacceptable when the burden of the compromise is unevenly shared. And I hope we can begin to see that "I think it's icky" (or "wrong" or "sinful") is a very different burden from "I will not be allowed to serve. I will lose my livelihood. My loved ones will not get the support your loved ones get."

And perhaps once and for all we can get past the tired "troop morale" trope that got trotted out for African Americans and women. It's time for that old saw to retire.

This morning on Twitter, Obit Mag said RIP DADT, with a link to a 2008 article about gay WWII vets. I thought about their stories as I listened to the President's speech this morning.

RIP, DADT. I understand why you were born. But you still lived too long.

Cote d'Ivoire update

First the good news:

"The disputed president of Cote d'Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo, has said that he is ready to talk to rival Alassane Ouattara, who was recognised by the UN and other international observers as the winner of November 28 presidential runoff poll."

Now, the bad news:

Patrick Achi, a politician named by Ouattara as minister for economic infrastructure, says he does not trust the Gbagbo camp's assurances that they are allowed to safely leave the hotel for talks.

"We do not trust these claims. We do not have any problem talking to [Gbagbo] but he has to recognise that Ouattara is the democratically elected president of this country," he told Al Jazeera from Abidjan on Wednesday.

You can understand their skepticism, given that Gbagbo has cut off food and medical supplies to the hotel where Ouattara is headquartered. And armed men in uniforms are reportedly abducting people from their homes at night"

“Abducted persons are reportedly taken by force to illegal places of detention where they are held incommunicado and without charge,” the United Nations said in a statement. “Some have been found dead in questionable circumstances.”

Meanwhile, France has urged its citizens to leave if possible. The World Bank has frozen loans to the country. And "Mr Ouattara has also appealed to the West African Central Bank (BCEAO) to cut off Mr Gbagbo's access to Ivory Coast's deposits, making it impossible for him to pay civil servants and soldiers."

Will keep you posted. As you know.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Teaser Tuesday two-fer, December 21

I'm still reading Portia de Rossi's memoir about her struggle with anorexia, Unbearable Lightness. Man, is it a tough little read! Here she is weighing herself on Christmas morning:

I was ready to receive my Christmas present, the gift of health and self-love that I'd given myself this year. With complete calmness and acceptance, I looked down at my feet.


"Merry Christmas, Portia"


Stork Raving Mad: A Meg Langslow Mystery (Meg Langslow Mysteries)So for a break from the bleakness and craziness that is the anorexic mind, I'm reading Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews. The heroine, Meg Langslow, does not weigh 89 pounds, what with being pregnant with twins. She's also wonderfully sane.

"If my water broke, it wouldn't contain ice cubes," I said, pointing to one sitting in the middle of the puddle. "Trust me, only ginger ale."

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading where you can find all the details.

Have a very merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday...afternoon preacher: Talking Politics

I talked about both Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the DREAM act in my sermon on Sunday. I don't normally talk about political hot button issues for a number of reasons: one, because I rarely know enough to say anything interesting or helpful; and two, because it tends to exclude those who disagree. It creates this "us" and "them" situation. I think it's especially bad to assume that everyone in the room must agree with one particular political position and to preach as if we are all insiders--the "good guys."

When I do mention politics, I try to acknowledge there are different views. But more importantly, I try to find a way to apply whatever is the principle at the core of the political situation to all of us. In this case, with the DREAM act, I said that my sense was that people didn't want to vote for it because they were afraid it would send the message that the U.S. rewards illegal or bad behavior; and that was exactly the pressure that Joseph was facing. If he married Mary, would he be tacitly endorsing immorality? And the deeper point for the congregation (myself included) is that when we face choices that don't quite set well with the rules, what is the deeper principle or law or morality that we are out to demonstrate? Compassion? Forgiveness? Love?

One of the things that drives me crazy is self-righteous political grandstanding from the pulpit. Too often I feel we let ourselves off the hook by preaching against "them"--those fools who can't see the plain truth and right course. For me, it always needs to come back to us, those hearing the words, and what we are supposed to do out there in the world.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ivory Coast update

Oh God.

Hundreds of people in Ivory Coast are reported to have been abducted from their homes since last month's disputed election, the UN says.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says some of the assailants wore military uniforms and there is evidence of "massive" human rights violations.

More than 50 people have died in violence in recent days, she adds.

Church leaders: Put that "Donate" button on your website NOW!

I just read an article yesterday that contained this important tidbit:

A full 22% of a year’s worth of online giving takes place on December 30th and 31st.

How's that for motivation to get that "Donate" button up this week, despite the Christmas craziness?

It's really easy to set this up. I helped a friend do this just last week through PayPal. Seriously, get this done, people!

Sunday Funnies, December 19

This is one of the Christmas Cards The Bloggess sold in order to give gift cards to needy families.

Who wouldn't want to send that to friends and family?

His name, btw, is James Garfield. Duh.

I'm going to church now.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ivory Coast update

Not good.

Supporters of Alassane Ouattara had planned to march on the offices of state TV, which has praised Laurent Gbagbo.

At least 20 people have died in Ivory Coast in clashes between troops and demonstrators, says a spokeswoman for incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo.


International pressure is growing on Ivory Coast incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo to cede power to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara after last month's disputed presidential election.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says Mr Gbagbo must stand down by "the end of the week" or face EU sanctions.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has called for African nations to remove Mr Gbagbo by force if necessary.

Please continue to pray.

Christmas Various and Sundry, December 17

Once again, so much good stuff out there. I will try to keep it to the essentials, which this week means Christmas-themed stuff.

The Lutheran Zephyr had two--TWO--posts on the War on Christmas, one naughty (well, snarky), one nice. Guess which one I preferred? Hint: It's the one that started, "For many years Christians have waged a persistent and spirited war on Christmas."

For those who will be home for the holidays and not entirely comfortable there, I recommend this advice on how do you deal with racist relatives over the holidays. It's actually applicable in a variety of circumstances.

For you data junkies out there, Cool Infographics presents Christmas in the World. Favorite factoid, the world's largest Christmas gift was...the Statue of Liberty. Makes it so hard to return. And if you regift it, France would notice.

And finally, for absolute heart-warming goodness, read The Bloggess's experience with a snowballing random act of kindness. You will not regret it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Letters to Lillian, May 28, 1922

Sampson Mine
Llanada Calif.
May 28, 1922

Dear Lillian—
     I am starting over again as I have some more time.
     This morning we went to the upper camp before breakfast. Regular Sunday morning hike you know. The boss went along and I did a little sampling. I picked out a place to put my wireless too. The only trouble is that I should not have a wire over 400 ft long. I will have to have one about 1500 ft. the way things look.
     The enclosed flower is a Mariposa lily. I suppose you have seen them before. They come in various colors.
     There is a vacant tent next to the laboratory which I may take.
     Well I must close now.

Letter with Mariposa Lily
 Introduction to Letters to Lillian here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

For your Christmas shopping needs

Commercial break!

My sister has a shop in Portland, ME, called Ferdinand where she makes and sells T-shirts, cards, and other cool stuff. If you don't happen to live in Portland, ME, you can also get stuff online either through the shop website or at her Etsy store.

This, for example, is the Kitchen Gorilla Gift Set, just to give you a taste of what I'm talking about.

You can also see her stuff in person at various stores around the country, as you see here.

Just so you know, I'm not the only person to think her stuff is cool.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, December 14 -or- how I met Portia de Rossi

So I'm reading Portia de Rossi's new memoir, Unbearable Lightness. My new, autographed copy of Portia de Rossi's new memoir, Unbearable Lightness. She was at the Barnes & Noble in El Cerrito last night, so I went with a friend to see her in person. Talked with her for this and that for, oh, hours.


Actually, here's what it was like:

When we got to the Barnes & Noble, there was a little table in front of the store with three people with tickets. If you wanted a ticket, you needed to buy a book. She wasn't doing a meet and greet. So I went in the store to buy a book, expecting there to be a huge pile of them somewhere. After wandering through the store, I finally asked a staff member where they were. They were all behind the counter. Why? I do not know.

So I bought my book and went back in front to get my ticket and also got a little speech. We were told, "Don't ask her about Ellen. [She's Mrs. Ellen de Generes, you know.] Miss de Rossi will include a personal name, but no personalized message. No photos."

OK, then.

Wandered around the store some more and accidentally entered a no-fly zone where a uniformed security woman said, "No standing in this aisle until after Miss de Rossi comes through." OK. We shuffled off to the business book section, but noted the table set with bottles of water just behind her.

Over the PA system, those with tickets 1-10 were invited to gather in the cookbook section "on the right-hand side of the store." Ummm...which way are you facing that it's on your right? I was ticket #14, so I looked to see if there was any clue from the way people were moving, but I didn't see it.

And then, in the distance, in the back of the store...a procession, and a woman with a blonde ponytail in the middle. It was she! She apparently made her way up the aisle unmolested, but then those with tickets 11-20 were called to the cookbook section.

Which was on the complete opposite side of the store, of course. "Do not ask about Ellen. She will include a name, but no personalized message. No photos." Did I want the book personalized? The truth is, I'm thinking to sell it on eBay once I'm done. My friend astutely and truthfully noted, "We don't know who we're going to give it to yet."

Those of us in line chatted about this and that. I heard about other celebrity book signings and how this compared (pretty standard, apparently), and then we were all marched in a line around the store to stand behind a pink line of tape and be ushered one by one into the presence.

"Don't ask about Ellen. She will include a personal name but no personalized message. No photos," said the staff person. "You will hand in your ticket and you will be escorted to see Miss de Rossi," each person was told as they reached the pink line. The woman ahead of me was walked around the corner. I reached the pink line.

"Don't ask about Ellen. She will include a personal name but no personalized message. No photos," said the staff person. I handed in my ticket. My friend and I were escorted to...the table.

Afterwards, I realized that what happened there was amazingly similar to this:

We arrived at the table where Portia sat and I put her book in front of her. "Welcome to El Cerrito!" my friend said. Portia (now that I've met her, I feel I can call her Portia) said, "Actually, it's lovely here." She turned to me. "No name?" Slack-jawed, I shook my head. She signed her name. "Garden state of the East Bay!" said my friend. "I've never had a chance to be here before," Portia said. "I've been to San Francisco many times, of course." I think she said something else. Or my friend did. I don't remember. It's all a blur, until I said, "East Bay all the way!" and we quickly decamped.

As my friend said later, we choked. But I did get an autographed book.

At any rate, I started the book, which is really good. Painful, but good. Here, at long last, is the teaser:

I sat on the dark green vinyl sofa facing the kitchen and smoked four cigarettes in a row to try to take away the urge for the icy-cold sweetness, because only when I stopped wanting it would I allow myself to have it. I didn't take my eyes off the freezer the whole time I sat smoking, just in case my mind had tricked me into thinking I was smoking when I was actually at the freezer binging.

So what are you reading? Any good story behind getting the book?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Morning Preacher

So there I was at a memorial service on Saturday. And there was the son of the deceased, giving his eulogy. Holding himself together nobly as he talked about his father, an incredibly active man who suffered for many years from Alzheimers, the son began to wrap up his Eulogy with Henry Van Dyke's poem on dying.

"I am standing upon the seashore..." the son reads. And a cell phone goes off.

The son, bless his heart, yells, "I'll get it! Is it for me?" as the woman in the second row scrabbled to silence the ringer. Crisis averted, he started the poem again and finished his eulogy.

Very adroitly handled, I thought. I told him afterwards that I planned to use that line if a cell phone goes off while I'm preaching. When, I probably should say.

Do you have any good techniques for handling electronic interruptions?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Funnies

Apropos of nothing. I just liked it.

Darn it! Now I want a croissant.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ivory Coast update

The latest from the Cote d'Ivoire presidential election is that the current president, Laurent Gbagbo (i.e. "the loser," according to almost everybody) is willing to talk. "Let's sit down and talk. If there is a problem, we will sit down and talk," he tells reporters. To my ears that sounds like a prelude to an attempt to set up a power-sharing agreement. I am not alone in thinking this is a bad idea.

Meanwhile, "The United States said Friday it was looking for more ways to pressure Ivory Coast's incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo into handing power over to his election rival Alassane Ouattara." One form of pressure already applied is that the African Union has suspended Ivory Coast's membership. "AU official Ramtane Lamamra said Ivory Coast would remain suspended until opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara "takes over" from Laurent Gbagbo."

Not much word that I've found about what things are like for people on the ground. The UNHCR reports that around 2,000 Ivorians have fled to Liberia and Guinea. And the NY Times has a disturbing story that reports that "the government’s security agents, often wearing hoods, have beaten, shot and killed opposition activists and residents in neighborhoods known to support...Alassane Ouattara." Can't tell, though, if food and fuel shortages continue, though I doubt the situation has improved.

A huge tip o' the hat to Sahel Blog which provided the links to these stories.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Various and Sundry, December 10

My goodness me, so much to share. I will try to restrain myself.

First of all, I have updated my blogrolls over to the left, there, to more accurately represent a) the blogs I read and b) the blogs where there's stuff being written regularly. A couple to highlight: Texas in Africa, "An academic blog about African politics, security, development, & advocacy," which sounds much drier than it is; and Cool Infographics, which makes my data-happy little head explode. I also can't believe I didn't have Seven Whole Days or The Divine Latitude on my blogroll before now. Quite shocking. And there are so many more good blogs out there but I am trying to keep the list to a manageable size.

I liked this entry from another very fine blog, Good Intentions are Not Enough, on the Do's and Don's of Holiday Giving. Very good thoughts on making your charitable giving effective.

Speaking of holiday gift giving, I thought this video was very funny. Yes, yes, it's an ad. Yes, it traffics in stereotypes. It still made me laugh. Make sure to listen to the announcements in the background.

Continuing the subject of how to interest young people in church, I appreciated my co-worker Kellor Smith's thoughts on this subject on the Confirm not Conform blog. My favorite line: “They just assume that I already belong; it wouldn’t occur to them to invite me back.” Good food for thought as grown-up children attend Christmas Eve services with their parents.

And finally, for something completely different, check out this article about the University High Cross Country Team. It ran (so to speak) over a week ago, but I didn't see it before last Friday. Get a kleenex.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

New feature: Letters to Lillian

I wanted to introduce you to a new feature that will be showing up on the blog: Letters to Lillian. These letters were written to my great-aunt Lillian by her sweetheart Jim Campbell in 1922.

Jim was a recent Cal graduate who found a job working in the magnesite mines of Llanada, CA--a place which is still in the absolute middle of nowhere, about 75 miles west of Fresno. And, of course, if you wanted to stay in touch, letters were the only option.

I have these letters because they were given to my mother after the death of her cousin. Mom's cousin's widow handed Mom a box, and among the contents was this packet of letters. Mom read them and was completely charmed. I think they're charming, too, and very touching. And now I get to share them with you.

Though I hope to post them every Thursday, the mail can be irregular. I'll do my best, though.


Letters to Lillian, May 27, 1922

Sampson Mine
Llanada Calif.
May 27, 1922

Dear Lillian—

Rather early in my stay to be writing, but I do not believe that you have my address.

This place certainly comes up to my expectations. One difference from what I expected is in the matter of women. There are two women and a girl in this camp and two girls and a woman, or maybe more in the upper camp. The girls from the upper camp were down this morning. One was very good looking.

The laboratory suits me fine. However, I am rebuilding it. I expect to get in a new window, I am putting in a new furnace, it being half done, and I intend to put magnesite tops on the table and a workbench. One workbench is already covered with magnesite.

Postmarked Berkeley Calif.
You will wonder at the postmark. You see I came with the boss. He is going back tomorrow. Myrtle* probably knows the other fellows that were along. Calvin Moore is the son of the other boss. Ed. Norton was along too. Both attend Berkeley high. We came down quite rapidly. The speedometer went as high as 50. When the speed cop caught us we were doing about 45 or 47. But he only gave a warning.

Tomorrow morning I intend to go up to the upper camp. You see the magnesite is quarried about a mile from here and brought down on the tramway. It is burned and pulverized. The sample for analysis is taken at this time. Then it is loaded onto trucks and hauled to Mendota. As yet, the work has not started. When it does start, a matter of two weeks or so, my address will be changed, but until then it will be the one enclosed

I intend selecting a site for my wireless tomorrow. The main difficulty will be a long lead in. In other words, my aerial will be some distance from my instruments. But I do not think that it will be too long.

Just as a matter of interest, the boss was just telling about the impersonation of the Britisher by the fellow we heard up at the University.

So far I have not connected with my sleeping quarters. I am staying in the guest house now with the boss. I will probably move tomorrow.

Well it is after 10, which is real late down here so I will have to close.

So write soon to
Sampson Mine
Llanada Calif.

P.S. I am a real chemist now JBC

*Myrtle is Lillian's sister.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Scenes from the home office

Actually, Jack, I'm posing this to sell on eBay.

Ivory Coast update

"Gbagbo: thief of power"
previously here and here

Uh boy. So basically there's a standoff going on between the new president, Ouattara, (recognized by the UN, other African leaders, France (which formerly colonized Cote d'Ivoire) and the US (and undoubtedly others)), and the old president, Gbagbo, who, helpfully for him, controls the military. Though Ouattara has rebel forces in the north and UN Peacekeepers guarding the hotel where he bases his operations.

Some "unscrupulous persons" have approached neighboring Liberian warlords for help--for which side it wasn't clear--but Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is stepping on that pretty hard.

Meanwhile, there are shortages and some serious inflation; the price of beef is up 25% and potatoes 60%, according to the BBC.

Though most African commentators are calling for Gbagbo to step down, there's some muttering about a power-sharing deal which sounds like a peaceful way out of the mess, but I think it sends a very bad message. And I'm sorry now that they went that way in Zimbabwe and Kenya. It suggests that bullies can keep their power if they complain loud enough.

"Power-sharing" reminds me of a time when I was a classroom interpreter. In a "Jeopardy"-style game which teamed boys against girls, the girls won by a couple of points. "That's not fair!" the boys cried. And the teacher gave in and said, OK, it's a tie. Not that there's a clear "teacher" in this case. But the model set by Zimbabwe and Kenya make it easier for the election losers of the next country, and the next, to say "not fair!" and claim some legitimized (if not legitimate) power. Legitimized by some outside force, rather than the voters of the country.

The thing is, though I agree that Gbagbo should relinquish power, it's hard to see how that will happen without violence. Please continue your prayers.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A scene from the home office


We lead such an exciting life.

Teaser Tuesday, December 7

The Lonely Polygamist: A NovelI am reading so slowly these days! It's taking me forever to get to the next book on the pile by my bedside table. But this week, I can report on a new book which (so far at least) is fantastic! It's called The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. I got it because someone, somewhere wrote, "You MUST read this book!" And, obedient soul that I am, I complied. And I'm not sorry.

I was worried it was going to be one of those self-important novels, but it's almost a farce. I can't wait to see where it leads.

Here's the teaser:

Now all three women had their backs to him and in the sudden silence of that room he knew that minty breath and tied bootlaces weren't going to make a bit of difference. The wives waited for him to say something but his tongue hung in his mouth like a hunk of old bread.

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children
Previously, on Teaser Tuesday:
I finished Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, which was wonderful! A really inspiring story and with some very practical thoughts about doing good and the fundraising required to do it. Room to Read is building libraries around the world (10,000 libraries, according to the email I got from them yesterday), and John Wood has paid a real cost to himself in terms of his personal life--one he seems willing to have paid. Here's an additional teaser on that very subject:

One frustrated woman opined that Room to Read was "your wife, your mistress, your child, your family dog, and your career." She then told me that nodding vigorously in agreement while grinning was not the proper response.

I highly recommend both of these books.

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading where you can find all the details on this weekly event.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sermon: Advent 2 - Judgment

This is approximately what I said. Roughly, anyway. Though it's been abridged. And I left my notes on the pulpit so this is from memory, and the ending's not right. Other than that, it's exactly the sermon I gave.

One thing that's great, though, is that for the blog, I can actually use the pictures I referenced in the sermon!

A few years ago, as I was applying to various churches for a rector's position, I saw a church that sounded interesting, so I thought I'd find out some more about it before putting in my application. As I went to the website, I saw that their newsletter was called The Winnowing Fan. I thought that was kind of an ominous name for a church newsletter. And as I read on and looked at the job description more closely, it became clear to me that, though they never really came out and said so, women need not apply.

Implicit in the very title of its newsletter, this parish shared the message that they thought it was crucial to separate the wheat from the chaff. That is not, however, what John the Baptist says. He is very clear that this job belongs to the Messiah alone.

Today I want to take a look at one of the great themes of Advent: judgment; and explore how this is something we should actually look forward to.

To do that, I want to take a look at three ways we use judgment negatively and try and flip that around.

1) You will be judged but I will not. The first bad use of judgment is when we suggest that I have already been ushered through the judgment phase while you have yet to be threshed (and probably burned). But the wheat isn't separated into one pre-threshed pile and one un-threshed pile. It's all one big pile of wheat that needs to be winnowed. No one is exempted from judgment--and that is no bad thing.

2. I have to be very, very careful not to do anything wrong or I will be judged.
One thing that occurred to me as I was learning about this winnowing process is that chaff is not evil. It's just...chaff. It's not the essential part of the wheat, but the dry husk around it. Like the trappings of religion rather than the meaty kernel of religion itself.

John spoke correctly when he spoke of Jesus getting rid of the chaff; Jesus was all about the true heart of religion. The real problem with religious chaff is when we want to hold onto it as essential, rather than being able to let it go.

I learned (thank you, Wikipedia) that in wild grains it is much harder to get the chaff off the grains, while domesticated grains have been bred so that the chaff comes off easily. It seems to me that one of our goals is to be this domesticated grain, willing to let go of the chaff, whatever it may be: our customs, our culture, our habits.

When we spend all our time worrying about not getting it wrong, we may, in fact, find ourself focusing more on the chaff--the protective outside layering--than on the true heart of faith

3) Santa Claus vs. Saint Nicholas You know the Santa Claus model: "He's making a list and checking it twice/Gonna find out who's naughty and nice." But that's not the Saint Nicholas model of judgment.

Compare that with this story of St. Nicholas (whose feast day is today), in which he provides money to a man who had lost his fortune for the dowries of his three daughters. Nicholas could have said the man was foolish or careless-or naughty-to have lost his money. He could have said the daughters deserved no better. Instead, St. Nicholas' impulse was to help them when they could not help themselves.

And that is why I think we can look forward to the day of judgment with hope. God is not interested in us being "nice." God is interested in the heart of the matter, in finding the wheat in the chaff, and sends his son into the world that the world through him might be saved.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Funnies

I'm posting two Dr. Science questions today. The first one is just so those of you who don't know about Dr. Science can hear the intro and end credits (though the middle is great too). Mostly, I just want you to understand more about insect religion. It is my job to share these important findings with you.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cote d'Ivoire update

The plot thickens. Today, the sitting president, Laurent Gbagbo, took the oath of office to serve another term. And shortly thereafter, the challenger, Alassane Ouattara, who was originally declared the winner of the election, also was sworn in as president. Soooo...this isn't going to be a smooth transition, then. I'll keep you posted.

A good background on the situation here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

News from the Ivory Coast

I didn't put this in the Various and Sundry post because it deserves one of its own. I just wanted to highlight for you the news from Cote d'Ivoire, which you can see there on the map.

There was a presidential election last Sunday, and the opposition candidate was declared the winner. But the president, who lost re-election, closed the borders to the country and barred foreign media on Thursday which, as one reporter wrote, is "a dangerous development that barely falls short of a military coup. But not the traditional type of coup against a sitting president, it's rather a coup on the future one."

And now, what do you know? The sitting president has been declared the winner of the election.

Not a pretty picture. One you might want to keep your eye on and add to your prayers.

Various and Sundry, December 3

Not a whole lot going on this week, but at least it's more interesting than April 11, 1954 which, according to a Cambridge University researcher (who apparently had little else to do), was the most boring day in the 20th Century. Well, I wasn't there, so I wouldn't know.

I thought this perspective on Hanukkah was...kind of funny, actually. Judy Bachrach calls it

a wannabe holiday around 2,200 years old, which essentially venerates rabid orthodoxy over assimilation, conformism over individual choice, death over life, and begins this year on Dec. 1. Back in the day, the motivation behind the radicals’ revolution was to prevent Hellenism, a movement launched by Alexander the Great with traditions of rationalism, beauty, and learning, from infecting their group. You can imagine what the religious rebels, who called themselves Maccabees, would have thought of, say, universal health care coverage. Or the teaching of evolution in Texas public schools.

Ummm...OK. Hadn't thought of it like that, but since I know nothing about it, I can't possible assess it. A rabbi gives his response here.

Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess, writes a very moving article about the beauty of different, and asks readers to answer the very difficult question, "Tell me why you are beautiful." I certainly am having trouble answering.

Through a series of links, I finally found the origin of an amazing piece answering the eternal question, "How do we get young people to come to church?" Tamie Harkins answers that question in 20 simple statements which should be nailed to church doors around the nation. She calls it a fool-proof plan, and I believe it. I can't pick a favorite because they are all my favorite.

In obituary news, I loved this obit for Frank W. Lewis, cryptic crossword creator for The Nation for over 60 years. I was always hopeless at them, but you've got to admire someone for whom the clue "S" results in the answer "Largess." And can we just give a hand to his wife of 74 years who proofread all his puzzles?

Finally, I hope you will take a look at the fine selection of hats for choirs compiled by Dave Walker at his blog, CartoonChurch. This one has "secret compartments for biscuits, periscopes and strepsils. The points can be raised or lowered to access the oddments using a series of pulleys attached to the handle." But there are many excellent options. So hard to choose!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

World In Prayer

It was my week this week to write the World In Prayer prayers. And here they are:

World In Prayer, December 2, 2010

O God, as we pray to you, may we see the world with the eyes of the prophets who proclaimed your coming. Through our words and thoughts and deeds, help us to prepare the way for you, O Lord, this Advent.

We pray for the work of diplomacy throughout the world as the reactions to the Wikileaks documents strain relations between nations.

We pray for Egypt as they have their second round of voting this Sunday after a first round marked by violence and suspicion of fraud.

We pray for Iran and the European Union as they meet this week in Switzerland for talks about Iran’s nuclear program.

We pray for North Korea and South Korea as tensions continue after North Korea’s attack last week and South Korea’s ongoing military drills.

We pray for Sudan as it prepares for a referendum on Southern Sudan’s independence.

Come, Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace

We pray for the Corvallis Mosque in Oregon (U.S.) after its offices were burned in an apparent arson soon after the arrest of a thwarted bomber who attended services there.

We pray for the families and friends of the 29 miners who died in the Pike River Mine in New Zealand as they mourn.

We pray for the U.S. Congress as it debates whether or not to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that would allow openly gay soldiers to serve in the U.S. military; and the DREAM act that would allow those who arrived in the U.S. illegally as minors to gain permanent residency.

We pray for the Ivory Coast which has sealed its borders in response to confusion and disarray after last week’s presidential run-off election.

Come, Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace.

We pray for those who are unemployed. We pray for those struggling to make ends meet. We pray for those mired in debts they cannot pay.

We pray for charities whose work depends on the donations they receive this month. We pray for businesses hoping to end the year in the black.

As we mark World AIDS day, we pray for those who suffer from this disease; those who are orphaned by it; those who search for its prevention or cure.

We pray for those who are cold or hungry. We pray for those who are sick. We pray for those in prison. We pray for all those in need. We pray that we may be among those who care for them and who find you in them. We pray that we may be ready for your arrival.

Come, Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace. Amen.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You can get it on eBay

And that includes a private dinner for 4 with President Bill Clinton. I'm not kidding.

I'm very curious to see how much this goes for. Stay tuned.

Update: The dinner went for $102,450.00. Travel to Little Rock not included.

A story for World AIDS Day

I was very moved by this story written by a young woman in western Kenya.

When I was 14, I was sent home from school sick. When I reached home, I developed an acute headache and then I was hospitalised. There they discovered some symptoms of meningitis. I was in hospital for one full week, and recovered from the meningitis. But they also told me I was HIV positive. I was so depressed, I couldn't imagine where it had come from because I was so innocent. I used to think anybody who could test positive must have acquired it through promiscuity.

I was staying with my sister, but when I tested HIV positive, she thought it would harm the family and so she sent me away. When I very first got the news, she was a bit supportive. But then she started to tell me not to touch her children, not even to share the table with them, or to wash next to them. Due to the stigma she told me to leave her home, which was around 4km away from where I live now.

The thing I really appreciate about it is that it's a story FROM a person with AIDS rather than ABOUT a person with AIDS. It's a tough little story, but not without hope. And the woman herself certainly doesn't seem to see herself as a victim.

What happens next? You'll have to read it to find out.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Discernment is driving me crazy

Last week I linked to a blog entry entitled Discernment Looks Boring which talked about the new Harry Potter movie and how its slowness was representative of the hard work of discernment.

I realized today that I'm also struggling with discernment with this whole job search process. The running around and doing things part is easy; the actual sitting down and figuring out what I want to do? Not so much.

I've spent all morning doing stuff and avoiding the thinking stuff. As soon as I post this, I will shut down the computer and go and think.

The big question is "what do I want to do?" Since my answer to that is, I don't have a clue, the first thing I need to figure out are what are the smaller components that add up to "what I want to do."

Finding a job is hard enough. I had no idea it was going to be that much harder to find out what kind of job I'm looking for. What a slog! Keep me in your thoughts and prayers.

Turning off computer now.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Morning Preacher: Killing the children

If tomorrow were as clear now as it will be tomorrow night, we would probably presume on its joys or be distracted by its sorrows...Our life is so constituted that we must live by venture.

Great quote, huh? It's from my beloved Interpreter's Bible 1952, the exegesis on Matthew 24:36: "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

I especially love that word "venture," and had all sorts of thoughts about where to go with it. There's venture capital; what is the equivalent when what you venture is your life? And how does the word "venture" illuminate the season of Advent with that same Latinate "vent" in it? And then "adventure"! And maybe talk about the Harry Potter movie...Oh, man, I was having a great time!

But it just didn't fit. Did not fit. Could not make it fit. And so I had to lose it: this quote from the Interpreter's Bible, the word "venture," the word play, the Harry Potter reference...all gone.

A friend of mine calls this "killing the children." And it feels that way--these little brain babies that you gave birth to, all gone. But what is left isn't about my little brain babies, but about the message I want to convey. There was still a message about venturing forth, about adventure, about Advent. But it didn't get all tangled in a passel of my kids running around unsupervised.

I realize now upon writing this that I haven't really killed the children at all, just internalized them. They were all there, informing the sermon. They just weren't running the show. God willing, it made for a more coherent message. And who knows? These children may grow up to be their own full-bodied message someday.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Hermione Granger Series

I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1 the other day which was very good--very tense! I kept finding myself unclenching when there was a moment of comic relief, not knowing that I had been clenched for long periods of time. It was like an isometric workout!

I understand why they are the Harry Potter books. But let's be clear, here: there's no way Harry survives without Hermione. None. Since they came to Hogwarts, Harry needs Hermione to get through each year: academically, emotionally, and physically. Ron, bless his little heart, knows this full well, saying to Harry early on in this movie that he won't be able to make it alone--and specifically that he needs Hermione.

I've been trying to think what the--let's call them the Hogwarts books--would look like if they were written from Hermione's perspective rather than Harry's. I mean, it is quite a journey from this:

to this:

[photos courtesy of the Harry Potter wiki]

Befriending Harry Potter was the making of Hermione, too, of course. She could very easily have stayed simply a star pupil, obedient to authority, successful within the system. Kind of like Percy Weasley. Instead, she became a morally complex character who walks away from school for what she perceives is a larger purpose despite the very high costs to herself. (I am reminded of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose movement in Nazi Germany.)

Seeing the story from Hermione's perspective, Harry is not so much heroic when he wishes to go it alone as broken, an abused child from a neglectful family where the best you can hope for is not being noticed and the only person you can count on is yourself. Ron gives Harry a family, but Ron himself is not completely reliable. Hermione, however, is steady as a rock and consistent throughout. She holds these characters together, and she holds the series together.

I say it again: if there's no Hermione Granger, there's no Harry Potter. Or at least he doesn't get very far.


In other people's blogs, Kurt Weisner does a very helpful side-by-side of the book and the new movie--full of spoilers, so don't read it if you haven't seen the film yet.

And Jan Edmiston has a great entry on how the movie is like Advent called Discernment looks boring. I highly recommend it.