something fishy this way comes

No, it's not Farenheit 451--but a meme from Zalm. And I will get to it, I promise. As he says, I am always up for meme action (call me crazy, but I kind of like it).

Unfortunately for moi, I have to take my dog to the vet. She did something to her back left leg and has been going light on it, very light, using it only when she absolutely must, for two days. I'm a little worried to tell you the truth.

She's older, 13 years, and well, we'll see what the vet says.

So if I were a vet... I would fix this problem!

And I will get to the meme later, at the very least to give me something to take my mind off what's looking to be a hectic week.


i'm gettin' this book

I heard this story today, about Tim Brookes' quest for a new guitar.

I'm a Martin owner/player on the acoustic side and a Fender fanatic (Stratocaster--the rock guitar) for those electric moments, of which I like there to be very, very many.

The guitar, according to Mr. Brookes outsells all other instruments combined in America. Rock on dudes! "I love guitar stores," Brookes tells us, "They're the only place on earth where a man will alow himself to shop like a woman." I don't know if that's quite true, but it is for all real men :)

I'm definitely getting Tim's book, not withstanding this mediocre review.

In related news--for guitar playing that will defy your ability to string adjectives together, listen to anything by this man.



truth to power

My friend Megan posts this today, in the middle of the post she references this.

I appreciated the tone of the post, and I agree with Megan: we need more civility in politics, as well as all other areas of our culture.

Favorite quote from the Dulcius post:

"Speaking truth to power does not mean being a butthead"


going to the big house

Two Fridays ago I was helping staple bulletins when I got a call from some guy who said, "You've been accused of having a big heart." I was tempted to tell him he would never get a conviction, but he persisted.

I was being offered the opportunity to get "locked up" at the local Red Lobster for one hour on June 30th. It is all a fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association of America (MDA). I always used to watch the Jerry Lewis telethon when I was a kid, loving the moment when he would shout"tympaniiii..." and weep as the numbers turned over. Millions of dollars!

So, full of nostalgia, I said yes to being thrown behind bars for Jerry's kids.

No pressure now, but if you'd like to help raise my bail, go to this page. You can donate online! It is, of course, tax deductible and will give you a warm fuzzy feeling that will last at least as long as it takes to click away from the donation confirmation page.

I'll get locked up on June 30th, and if I can smuggle my new maglite sized digital camera in with me, I'll post some pix of my time in the hoosegow in this blog. Won't that be special!

who is my neighbor

My day hasn't been nearly as eventful as Eric's, but I did get the opportunity to be a neighbor in the Biblical sense of the word--me and four other people.

I was heading toward home about noon and approaching the intersection of Highland and Beech streets about a block and a half from my house. I noticed three people standing at the curb, a woman and two men, with hands joined as if they were preparing to play ring around the rosy. Getting closer, I noticed two of them were holding up the third, an older man. It was obvious that he would not have been standing without their support. I pulled to a stop across the street as they eased the man to the ground. A fourth person was running toward us, having parked in a driveway a few feet down the block.

The older man, his name was Robert, had fallen while taking a walk. The two passerby saw him sprawled on the ground and helped him up only to find that he couldn't stand on his own. My wife said later that she has seen Robert walking many times and he always looks as if he is about to fall.

The fourth person whipped out a cell phone and called 911. The dispatcher must have asked her for a location because she looked over at me. "Where are we?"

"Beech and Highland," I said.

Meanwhile on the ground, Robert said he wanted to get up. His helpers, whose names I never learned, were convincing him through the use of gentle physical pressure to stay where he was.

"Shall we call his wife?" asked the woman with the cell phone. Robert said we should and that his wife's name was Julia. He gave us a number which turned out to be wrong. Amazingly, he trusted us to search his wallet but it was no help. We asked him the number again, and he recited it. It was different this time, and corrrect. As this happened the other man, who had been kneeling half in the roadway in the path of oncoming traffic, excused himself and left.

"Hi, is this Julia? My name is Donna..." she said and began explaining the situation. Julia said she would be right there. The woman holding Robert up looked like she was getting tired. Just as I offered to spell her, I noticed EMT's standing above us. They had arrived in less than two minutes. The woman who had held Robert in a seated position now asked if it was okay for her to go. "God bless you Robert," she said as she left. "And you too," said Robert.

As the EMT's attended to Robert, I walked to the corner to look for Julia. Apparently, they lived only a block away, and half a block from me. I saw her way down the street, walking slowly.

"She's walking!" I said; I had thought she would drive over. I hopped in my car and drove over to pick her up. Despite having a much younger man in mirrored sunglasses pull up in a convertible and say, "Are you Julia? Hop in," she did.

By the time Julia and I pulled up, Robert was perusing a waiver he needed to sign. He had refused a trip to the hospital. The EMT's did manage to get him to agree to a ride home.

As they wheeled Robert to the ambulance, Julia introduced herself to Donna. "I'll be praying for you and Robert," said Donna.

"Thank you Donna. I believe in prayer."

"Prayer is powerful," said Donna.

Julia turned to me. "Where do you live?"

"About a block away from you," I said. "Do you know Jeno?" Jeno is my next door neighbor, a very gracious and very elderly man who has lived there forever. "We've lived here for years and I don't know many of the new people," Julia said.

"Can I have your address and phone number," she asked. I wrote it down on the back of a copy of Robert's refusal form.

"If you see me out working in the garden," she said, "stop by!" And then she turned to go grab a ride home with her husband.


precious little time

Almost no opportunity to blog today. Book proposal almost done. Kid's got 'art night' tonight.

Finished Noonday Demon-I had to set special time aside to get through the last 50 pages.

Starting a new book now. Hope it's good.

See ya.


coffee and writing detour

This does and doesn't fit in the direction I'm going with the cofee and writing posts. Hence the detour title.

Another quote from The Noonday Demon:

"...we live in an era of dazzling, bewildering technologies, and we have no concrete grasp of how most of the things around us work. How does a microwave function? What is a silicon chip? How do you genetically engineer corn? How does my voice travel when I use a cell phone as opposed to a regular phone? Is it real money that a bank machine in Kuwait deducts from my account in New York? One can research any of these particular questions, but to learn the answers to all the small science questions of our lives is an overwhelming task. Even for someone who understands how the motor of a car works and where electricity comes from, the actual mechanics of daily life have become increasingly obscure."
This reminded me of Cool Whip. Why? Because I recently read Power Failure: Christianity In the Culture of Technology. In the initial essay in this collection, Albert Borgmann serves up Cool-Whip as an example of "opaque" technology. He lists the ingredients of Cool Whip...
Water, hydrogenated coconut and palm kernel oils, corn syrup, sugar, sodium caseinate, dextrose, polysorbate 60, natural and artificial flavors, sorbitan monostearate, xanthan gum and guar gum. Artificial color.
this food technology offers to us the convenience of whipped cream without having to procure the cream and the other ingredients and then go to the trouble of whipping the stuff ourselves. This, Borgmann says, is the nature of technology...

"All of these attractive features can be gathered under the notion of availability. … Nearly everything that surrounds a citizen of [advanced industrial society] exhibits the opaque and commodious availability of Cool Whip and rests on a sophisticated and unintelligible machinery."

(The concatenated quote is someting I found cited in this article by Andy Crouch in which he formulates a connection between Borgmann's book and a book by Robert Farrar Capon called The Supper of the Lamb. Supper is something about which I will certainly have something to say in a future post. One could say in fact that this whole coffee and writing series is heading home for supper, after a fashion.)

It isn't that Bormann, or Solomon is anti-technology. Decidedly not. In fact, both admit their dependence on it to do their work. Solomon even implies that his work as a writer would be incomprehensibly difficult apart from certain forms of technology.

The point is that technology's role in the life of our society can be and often is as an inhibitor of connection. In Crouch's article, he says it succintly, "So disburdenment comes at a price, that of 'disengagement.' "

It is disengagement that concerns me, not technology. There are obvious ways in which technology encourages engagment. Take for example, what I am doing right now. One of the reasons I have taken up blogging is the possibility for engagement with people I would never otherwise meet.

Of course, as Solomon and Crouch note, everyday technologies exact a price proportional to their opacity; putting ordinary schmoes in a position of dependence, almost obeisance. I could offer examples of this, but if you regularly deal with any kind of recognized common technologies (like computers), you probably have many of your own. The dizzying array of technologies in suprisingly common places, like our food, exacerbates the consequences of choice. As Solomon writes...

"You are in the realm of uncertainty even when you select your own dinner. This kind of escalation of choices in not convenient, it is dizzying. When similar choices present themselves in every area...the result is a collective uneasiness that explains much, in my view, about the rising rates of dpression in the industrialized world."

Of course, my interst lies less in the area of depression--notwithstanding my own experience of it--than in the idea of connection, in other words, community: how is it cultivated, and sustained, what is its origin (or perhaps I should say Who), and most importantly, what exactly is it? But I'll have more to say on this later--not that you really want to hear it, but I really need to write it down.

My apolgies in advance for future ennervating posts.

Jannotti tag: psyche


does he or doesn't he

Gotta love that Obscure Store and Reading Room.

This one's a gem.

"Men accustomed to the automatic and dependable hand clasp accompanied with a brisk up-and-down pump at dinner parties and college reunions, now must preface their greetings or goodbyes with intricate and split-second calculations based on body language, length of friendship and other factors.

Do I shake or do I hug?"

If you're a guy who's hung around a church for any length of time, this is a question you've asked yourself repeatedly. There is always indecision around this issue, especially for us Christian types, who must always tread lightly around the issues of male to male relationships.

A great article, well researched.

I think the author, Douglas Brown, misses something though...

"...men too engage in the combination handshake-hug, says Floyd.

"It follows what we call an 'A-frame' configuration; the only body contact is the shoulders," he says. "Men often do it with their handshake in between them, so there is a physical barrier. The third thing is the aggressive patting on the back that comes along with it, which is a very combative gesture. It's a way for men to say, 'I have positive feelings for you, but let's show them in a way that is masculine and gender validating.' "

This "aggressive back patting" is not something that happens only in the A-frame configuration. It is, in my experience, quite a common man-hug feature. A-frame or full bear, there is always the 3 pats on the back; just as a reminder to each other that you are men. Men! Dammit.

He does come back around to it at the end in describing "The Bear"...
Guys dispense with handshakes altogether. When they greet, the left arm drapes over the partner's right shoulder; the right arm goes around the waist. The left hand usually pats the partner's back.
At times, there is even some subtle grunting. Mmm.

everybody's doing it

McCarty's Musings has started something. Everybody, well, a couple of people have posted the answer to the 'what kind of reader are you?' question on their own blogs. Bad Christian's post is truly confessional and thought provoking (when is he not?).

So in spite of my desire to be non-conformist, I'm joining this bandwagon. Here's what kind of reader I am.

I read slowly. It often takes me a month to finish a novel, especially some 500+ page monster like The Confusion by Neal Stephenson. Lately I've started a book or two and failed to finish. My time is too precious to waste on a book that proves uninsteresting or says nothing.

I read used books. I can't remember the last book I paid full price for. The other night my wife and I took the kids to Barnes and Noble and I actually bought a book there, from the discount table. My wife, seeing the book in my hand as we left, said, "You paid full price for a book!" as if this might cause Jesus to return at any second.

I read whenever and whatever I can: books, magazines, blogs, cereal boxes... While traveling, I will go into a restaurant like BW3, where everyone else is in a group and where twenty five TV screens are screaming some sporting event, with a book. Waitresses and waiters will sometimes stand by my table waiting for me to finish a paragraph and look up, as they might do if I were praying. I sometimes read in supermarket checkout lines and traffic jams.

I read three to five books at a time. Except for right now, when I am reading two that are long enough to be five.

I read maps before I travel so I will know the exact locations of used book stores near my destination. I then plan my schedule around visits to those stores. For example, prior to the only visit I have yet made to Texas (to hang out with some people from this church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area), I researched the location of and route to Larry McMurtry's bookstore in Archer City. I scheduled the whole trip around a visit. When I entered the back room of building one (there are five!) of Booked Up, there was the man himself, stacking books. He said, "Hi." I responded, "Hi." My favorite brush with fame.

I read, as Bad Christian has reminded me, because it is a gift. I pray regularly that I will always be able to exercise this gift.

Technorati tag:



Here's a lovely paean to reading at McCarty Musings.

Every time I open a book I think, 'Maybe I’ll fall in love. Maybe I’ll change.'


coffee and writing part iv: let's get together yeah yeah yeah!

goto part iii

Starbucks Gossip's current post is about a Starbucks Marriage. Says the abstract,

"Arthur Odle and Rebecca Lightfoot would meet in the morning at Starbucks and get coffee each day before they went to work. The bride says: "When he proposed to me, it was at Starbucks. I didn't accept right away, but when I did, that was at Starbucks, too. I said jokingly that so much had happened here that we might as well get married here too. He laughed. I laughed, but then we thought about it."

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg wrote a classic book, The Great Good Place, about how social connectivity develops in neighborhood coffee shops. His book is a great shambling mass of information and history of Great Good Places, what they have been, are, and are not. He is not a Starbucks fan, in fact, he seems to imply that any chain or franchise operation by its very nature mitigates against it becoming a third place. You'll have to read his book to see why, since listing all of his reasons is not really my point.

My point is to disagree with him, but only in a qualified way. I think he's right about Third Places (his coinage) in general. The problem is, and he does admit this, there are so few of them. And if you live in a town like Pottstown, PA that has no venue to develop into a third place and you lack for resources to create such a place as a going concern, you need to find one. Well, you could do without one, but why?

Human beings are wired for relationship. Some of us are introverted (very much so in my case), and require scads of time alone. Even so, without connection even us intorverts would die. This has been amply demonstrated by a number of people, but particularly by Robert Putnam in his breakthrough work Bowling Alone.

This is why I make the trip to Starbucks as much as I can. True, the people I see there are not ones I would even have a chance of meeting at home in Pottstown. And the interaction we have there is usually fleeting at best.

However, I've been going down there for a long time now and have gotten to know a fair number of the staff, as well as my fellow regulars. Some of those fleeting interactions have actually developed into deep friendships. Take my friend Matt for example. His wife worked at the Lionville Starbucks and Matt would come early in the morning before, plant himself in an overstuffed chair and study the scriptures. One day I asked him what he was looking at. That's all it took. He's now moved about as far away as he could and still be in the US, but for a while there he and I met every Monday morning. As we became fixtures, other customers would initiate brief conversations with us: Lou, a project manager for a cable company who came in (still does) each morning for his Venti Vanilla Iced Latte; Reba, a friend of Matt's from church; Noreen who owns ten acres of land (around here that's a plantation) and stops in to read before running errands all morning. A little community developed. Just by sitting around at Starbucks.

Sure, this could happen anywhere. If there was a place.


elongating the blogroll

I've been reading a blog called From the Salmon for a couple of weeks now. I think it's real good.

I've added it to the roll. It was this post that put it over the top. I get tall person guilt too, though apparently I'm not as tall as zalm, who is also a newbie in the bloggiverse.

geez. how about some civility

This story is sad. Neighbors suing and countersuing. Complaining. Yech.

I once had a zoning board president look at me with genuine astonishment and say, "You came to support your neighbor?" when I came to a meeting to... well, support my neighbor. June, who lived next door to us, wanted to put in a central air unit and needed a variance because the unit would closer to my house than the arcane regulations permitted. There were three other cases heard that night and four or five 'neighbors' present for each. All of these people were there to prevent passage of their neighbor's variance. Most of these involved air conditioners. One woman, who was an artist, said her neighbor's new air conditioner would disturb the silence she needed to paint. Later in her testimony, this same woman mentioned that she keeps her windows closed because she herself has central air!

We have one world here that we have to share. Isn't it time we learned to get along a little better?

I know. I'm dreaming. Tell me about it.

Turn of the cooling fan to the Obscure Store and Reading Room

job? what job?

Wookie hookie.

About people who called in sith yesterday.

more media rabble

Another story from NPR; this one about viral internet media and its influence on culture. Gotta love the new demographic category... "the bored at work network." Are any of you in this cohort?

If you are, you can now do something productive and enter the contagious media showdown! Woohoo.

"You can never predict what millions of internet users around the world will all of a sudden go nuts for."

"Some things, like the dancing baby, just become kind of part of our shared lexicon..." Uh huh.

Links for some of these things are available at the NPR story site referenced above. My favorite one however, is not on that page despite its mention in the story. It is here.

late to the ball

BK said the other day, "He decried it for so long, and now he's totally into it."

Well, I'm not totally into it, but blogging has proved to be a new fascination; not only writing my own, but especially reading those of others. I did indeed resist it for a long time, mostly because of the few blog entries I had read, mostly of a political nature, that were so nasty. Conservatives and liberals alike seem to be better at calling each other names than articulating some sort of coherent vision. Ah, well that's a soapbox for another time and almost certainly for another blogger.

Catherine Seipp had this commentary on NPR about why she blogs. She articulates perfectly my own reasons for acquiring my new fascination...

"It eliminates the fearful procrastination that used to hang over my head before writing. Because, after all, blogging isn't really writing, even though it is. It's just fooling around; jotting down thoughts in what I think of as an online notebook."

Preach it, sister.


Raining today. And not the serotonin kind. Blah.


stephenson sample

Here's a short passage from The Confusion, just to give you an idea of what I'm dealing with here...

Setup: one of the main characters, who I should not name because it's a spoiler for those who haven't finished reading the first book in the series, has just engineered and then scuttled (by means of homemade phosphorus grenades) an ambush by the Marathas in Hindoostan. They fight using elephants...

"One of the elephants made known his intention to turn around and go back. [Unnamed Character] could not discern, from this range, whether his driver was of the same mind, or not; but it did not matter, for the elephant was leaving. And perhaps he was some sort of a leader among pachyderms, for the idea spread to the others fast and unquenchable as phosphorus-fire. When several elephants with razor-sharp blades all over their tusks decide to pirouette in the midst of a tightly packed mob, there is apt to be disorder, and such was the case now; [Unnamed Character] could not really see through the arch of radiance, but could infer as much from the vocalizations of the Marathas, which sounded like every Italian opera ever written being sung at once."

the hills are alive...

"wit dee sound of mooozeeek" -- This is a quote from a movie, one that doesn't feature Julie Andrews but does feature some of her countrymen, at least in animated form. Feel free to guess.

Anyway, I am one of 5 lucky contestants in the latest round of Fire Ant memeing. Here goes...

Total volume of music files on my computer: 0 bytes. That's right. Sorry to say. The good thing is I have nothing to fear from the RIAA.

The last CD I bought: Crystal Lewis' Greatest Hits. This is so sad--I bought the CD over a year ago!!! I didn't realize it until just now. Anyway, I bought it for one song, another thing I almost never do, "Come, Just As You Are." Beautiful. But she can rock too. Check her out.

Song playing right now: Eh... only the music in my head, which happens to be "She's Sad She Said" by the Judybats, which contains the line "I said what music?/ She said the music in my head. Sometimes it makes me wish I were dead, it's like a requiem, it's like a rodeo. Can't you hear it/I said...no."

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me:
"Missing Love" by PFR.
"Broken" by Joel Hanson, late of PFR.
"Run" by Collective Soul
"World of Mine" by Phil Keaggy
"King of Glory" by Third Day, even though I don't really like them. This song makes me cry.

The one album I'd pick for the typical desert island experience: "The Beatles" by The Beatles. Cause it's got "Dear Prudence" on it.

Two people to whom I’m passing the baton:
Will at Fishdance Waves (because I picked all his choices last time and I know we'll have nothing in common on this one)

Matt at merexistence (because he needs something to take his mind off of the rain that's probably falling outside his window right now).

fascinating, and a little spooky

I don't know what this says about me, but I just Google'd my blog's title. I was very unsurprised by the results, until I reached the very last one, this one.

It's a list of blogs that mentioned Blue Like Jazz. The list that came up was in chronological order by date mentioned. This blog is about 2/3 of the way down the page. I noticed in that listing a link to "more books" so I followed it and saw this! Every single book I've mentioned so far is listed. Very cool, as well as a tad unnerving.

Did you know about this? Why didn't you tell me.

I'm going to play around with this one a bit. More to come...


so, i'm strange

Try this recipe. I call these "Not Lemon Cookies" since my wife made lemon cookies, which I don't like, and these are my response:

1 & 3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup regular sugar
1 T molasses--the darker the better.
1 & 1/2 tsp vanilla extract***
2 eggs (large)
1 tsp baking soda
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter and 1/2 cup Smart Balance*
2 large handfuls of chocolate chips (heh-heh; daddy's in the kitchen now!)
2 shakes** of espresso (very finely ground espresso roast coffee--I use LaVazza).

Don't pre-mix the dry ingredients. Just throw it all into a mixing bowl, except for the chips. Mix it on medium speed (I use a kitchenaid mixer at speed 3) until its dough-ish and smooth. Throw the chips in by the handful (you did wash your hands, right?) and finish mixing.

Drop the cookies using a wooden spoon onto a lightly greased sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. 12 minutes if you prefer, but I like them slightly underdone. Enjoy with a freshly brewed french press of Starbucks Italian Roast, which is what I'm doing right now.

*you can obviously use all butter if you want the super high calorie version. Oil is a no-no.
** this is achieved by holding the can over the mixing bowl and gently shaking it twice so that some of the grounds fall into the bowl.
*** We make our own vanilla extract by sticking 5 or 6 whole vanilla beans into a 750ml bottle of Vodka and letting it sit for 40 days. After this, the beans are still useful for making vanilla lattes!

episode and aftermath

The title of this blog comes not only from the convergence of the two stories in this early post of mine, but from my interest in depression. It always seemed as not so much an illness or condition as a choice. Until I had my own episode. I will spare you the details of how I slid into depression, though that is how it felt, like a long spiraling slide, down and down. Denial was my shield, or so I thought. If I didn't admit that I was depressed, maybe it would go away. It did not.

All of that happened a few years ago. I have not experienced another episode since, though I learned both during my own stuggle, and by reading this book, that a sequel is a distinct possibility now that I've had the initial depression. I began reading "The Noonday Demon" because I wanted to know more about what happened to me and, if possible, why. This has happened, but there is more.

I just now finished the chapter titled "Poverty" in Solomon's book. Many of the stories in the book are truly heartbreaking, but those in the Poverty chapter are absolultely brutal. I've had many conversations in which well meaning people have insisted that the ultra poor have generally caused their own situations. At the very least, they have perpetuated their poverty by not seeking honest work. I've always felt that this theory and the sentiment behind it smacked of defensiveness. After reading Solomon's explanation of poverty and depression, I'm tempted to view the causality theory as utter nonsense.

Here is a (somewhat lengthy) quote from the final paragraph of "Poverty."

"...I do know this: we have been trying to solve the problem of poverty by material intervention at least since biblical times and have in the last decade tired of such intervention, realizing that money is not a sufficient antidote. We have now overhauled welfare with the cheery thought that if we don't support the poor, they'll work harder. Is it not worthwhile giving them the support, medical and therapeutic, that would allow them to function, that could free them to make good on their lives? It is not so easy to find the social workers who can transform the lives of this population; but without programs of raised consciousness and allocated funding, those who have the gifts and the devotion to work with such people have scant means to do so, and the terrible, wasteful, lonely suffering goes on and on and on."

Earlier in the chapter he had written this, which I found almost scandalous,
"If one makes the conservative estimate that 25 percent of people on welfare are depressed, that half of them could be treated successfully, and that of that percentage two-thirds could return to productive work, at least part-time, factoring in treatment costs, that could still reduce welfare costs by as much as 8 percent--a savings of roughly $3.5 billion a year..."
After citing a few examples of doctors that have had success in treating indigent depressives, he adds, "Each of these doctors, uses techniques of tenacious care. In all of this work, the per patient per year cost is well under $1,000."

Jannotti tag: psyche



I ran across this "Weblog in Print" article by Ted Olsen in Christianity Today's current issue.

To disparage rights altogether would be to side with Esau in despising his rights as firstborn. And undervaluing rights has led to atrocities from Abu Ghraib to Auschwitz. But let's remember that we guarantee rights to guarantee our obligations. The gospel liberates individuals and repeatedly assures Christians that they're "joint heirs" with Christ, but it's not big on the rights of self-interest. We're heirs first of Christ's suffering. We're slaves of Christ, slaves of righteousness, and slaves to each other.
Biblical freedom is not the "rights" of American autonomy.

Olsen reminds us of Paul, who played the rights card when he needed to, but persistently referred to himself as a slave (the Greek word behind servant in these passages is doulos, which literally means slave, one who does not belong to himself) when writing to his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Reading the article, I was reminded of a song by Keith Green entitled Trials Turned to Gold in which he sings,

"He's brought me low so I could know the way to reach the heights.
To forsake my dreams, my self-esteem, and lay down all my rights."

I always thought Keith Green may have gone a little overboard with that couplet, but perhaps Paul would have agreed with him. This kind of talk certainly sounds alien in our distinctly rights-insistent culture.

Where do I stand? I think I find myself resisting Paul's setiment, "Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all..." but only because of a stubborn tendency toward wanting things my way. It may not often work to my personal benefit to live out a preference for others, but my personal benefit was not something I was considering when I promised myself to the man of sorrows. There are times when I need to repeat the following, through clenched teeth: "You are not your own. You were bought with a price."

first lines

This story from NPR is a few months old but somehow I missed it back in September '04. You don't actually need to listen to it to suvive this post.

On the story's homepage, we read,
"You can't judge a book by its cover, but librarian Nancy Pearl thinks the first line can tell you a lot. "I think when you read a good first line it's like falling in love with somebody," Pearl tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "Your heart starts pounding… it opens up all the possibilities." And while a good first line doesn’t always make a good book, Pearl says the chances are better with a strong opener."

So I thought, why not start a "first line" meme. This may require a little bit of research on your part, unless you have a great memory. Find and post a few of your favorite first lines. These can be from fiction or non-fiction. And we'll count the beginnings of first chapters or the beginnings of the introduction/foreword/preface as valid first lines.

Here are a few of my favorites; two from non-fiction and three from fiction.

From The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon:

  • "Depression is the flaw in love."
From Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything by James Gleick.

  • "You are in the Directorate of Time."
From Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella:

  • "My father said he saw him years later playing in a tenth rate commercial league in a textile town in Carolina, wearing shoes and an assumed name."

From The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin.

  • "This all started because of a clerical error."

From 'Til We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis (his favorite of his books, and mine too).

  • "I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of Gods."

Anyone else care to play?


ooh! look! another quiz!

Cultural Creative
















What is Your World View?
created with QuizFarm.com

"Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational."

Thanks to Living Room for posting this What Is Your World View quiz.

Unlike my previous go-round, with the Pew Center Typology, this time I'm pretty pleased with myself, having turned out to be a Cultural Creative. I like how that sounds. I'm even okay with the bit about shying away from organized religion, since I tend to agree with Eric in preferring to speak in terms of theology as opposed to religion. And I've never been very organized. Just ask my wife. Better yet, don't.


no more retail

this stinks. I hate to do this.

But I'm de-blogrolling Christian Retail.

I like the blog alot. This post is especially good, and one of the better pieces of writing I've read anywhere.

I'm not sure where Ben has gone though; his last post was almost two months ago. Maybe he has finals and stuff. Oh well-- if he suddenly posts again, he'll be back on the roll.

trying new things

Greetings gentle readers. Both of you.

BK asked me to write something for inclusion in a new folder we are giving out to visitors to and new members of our church. I've been putting it off for over a week now and he probably doesn't even need it anymore.

Anwyay, I've written something and I invite you (whether you are a churchgoer or not) to read it and comment. Since I haven't yet established the personal web page I'm allotted by my ISP, I'm including the article in this post. You may respond via the comments link below, if you like.

Or you could simply visit some other blog that doesn't require homework.
Why Should I?

Let’s say it’s Sunday morning. It’s raining and 40 degrees. In a certain house in our town, a man is roused awake by his wife. “Get ready for church,” she says. “Why should I drag my tired body out of this bed and go to, of all places, church? Okay, the sermon is good, especially when Pastor Jim is preaching, and they have that modern-ish music at the 9:30 service. But I can get good music on the radio if I look hard enough, and half those pastor types put their sermons on the internet nowadays. I can just stay home where it’s warm and dry,” he says, though because he’s not quite awake yet, it does sound a bit slurry.

I have a hard time arguing with this guy. This is the way I feel on rainy Sundays, and sometimes when it’s not raining. “But you’re the pastor!” Yes, that’s true. Perhaps I should not be feeling that way, but there it is.

Let’s face it, from a certain point of view church is simply not an attractive idea. This is especially true of the way church is often ‘done’ nowadays. It’s even truer in the mainline denominations, and the Methodist church is certainly one of those. Say the word “church” to someone and the mental picture they’ll form is likely to feature 150 year old hymns and strict-faced people telling them, from the pulpit and other places, how to behave.

I’m not going to argue that this picture doesn’t reflect reality. But I am going to suggest that there is something more, something deeper.

The number one reason I go to church, and would go to church even if I weren’t required to be there, is relationships. “Now hold on just one minute!” you say. “The number one priority in a church is supposed to be God!” I can’t argue with that; you’re absolutely right.

But get this—God is with me all the time. God is everywhere I go before I even get there. I can go nowhere to get away from God’s presence. If I want to be with God I don’t even have to get up from the chair in which I am sitting as I type this.

If I want to
experience the presence of God in this world however, I’d better get myself into relationship with God’s people, and that means spending some time in church. And it’s not because church buildings are in and of themselves containers of God’s presence. It’s that church buildings are, at least once each week, containers of people who know God, and that means that God himself is there. I can say this with confidence because of something the apostle Paul wrote, “The church is the body of Christ.” Jesus said so too, although he wasn’t quite as succinct as Paul. Jesus Christ is present to the world today through his body, which we call the church. Not a building but a people.

I want to experience God in my life, in other words, I want a relationship with God. So every Sunday, raining and 40 degrees or not, I get up. I prepare myself to experience God, and I do just that by being with His people, the church.

I hope you’ll come and see for yourself what I’m getting at.


so sorry my michigan friends

Too bad.

Eric posted this, referring to this. I laughed so loud reading it that the staff here at Starbucks had to give me significant looks.

Then I thought... hmmm, what area code is 616? Turns out it's Holland, Michigan and environs. Home of Hope College! Laura, Carrie...so sorry. You are now residents of Satan's area code!

something's fishy

Slacktivist has a thought provoking post about car fish.

These things have always been a pet-peeve of mine. My wife (who I love so much it hurts despite the fact that we disagree about so very many things) put one of those things on her car (a Saturn) and shortly after that, the car passed to me. Me! I had to drive around with that fishy thing. It did help me in the courteousness department, I will admit that. But I'm the kind of person who despises labels of any kind because I think we should do less advertising of our supposed beliefs and more living of them.

Anytime I comimtted a traffic faux-pas (which is, notwithstanding this post about what happened last Friday, almost never), I'd self consciously scan the area for the inevitable bystander shaking their head in the "it's one of those fish people," fashion.


this is not funny, not at all.


This story is not funny...

Until you get to the guy's response at having the police search his house because they suspected it was a den of iniquity.

Let's hear it for my home state!

Apparently the previous tenants of the rented house were the actual brood of vipers. The new owner moved in and, as the article says,

Shortly after he arrived, he said, a Verizon bill came in the mail, addressed to something with the word "entertainment" in the name. Petronella said he opened it, assuming it was a phone bill for the house. It was for $9,000."I know I didn't make that many calls," he said.

But maybe the most amusing thing, considering the events described, is the Home News tagline in the banner over the story.

Thanks to Jim Romenesko's Obscure Store and Reading Room for the inspiring post. A regular read for me.

it can't be!

Something you need to know about me before you read the rest of this post. Politics bores me to tears. This is mostly because I don't believe there to be political solutions for the hot button issues out there; especially considering the noisome, shrill quality of our current political climate. I feel reaffirmed in this view almost every time I hear a political story in the news and the ensuing, super-intelligent sniping from people on both sides of it. I come away mistrusting each of the opposing views and feeling as if we haven't heard the truth, but more importantly, that we've forgotten how to be decent human beings to each other. This isn't always the case, but almost.

Okay, so with that out of the way... Andrew Cohut of the Pew Research Center was on All Things Considered yesterday speaking about the center's political typology. Now, this was a political story so I almost ignored it, but it was also a statistical research story so I involuntarily began to salivate, owing to my long ago career as an advertising research professional (if that term can be applied to one such as myself).

So not only did I listen to the story, but I also followed the link that NPR provided so that I could take the survey myself. I answered the questions honestly as any good former statistician must, all the while figuring I would show up as some sort of independent, the kind that almost nobody likes, which is what I am.

I came up as a liberal.

My conservative friends are now saying, "Knew it!" and my liberal friends are saying "I got a large oil painting of that happenin' " Actually both are probably, instead of making those comments, doing something productive right now; which is to say they are not reading this post.

I almost cried. I began whispering the prayer of the heart, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner." And then you know what I did? I hit the back button on the browser, changed one answer on the form and recalculated my results. This next attempt brought the label DISAFFECTED.

"Ahhh," I sighed, relieved.

You can take the quiz and play with the psychological implications of toying with your answers here. Have fun!


coffee and writing part iii: the void

Starbucks tries to be consistent. They have standard brewing procedures, as McDonalds has standards for burger preparation. A Big Mac is just as disgusting in Pottstown as it is in Cleveland as it is in the northern suburbs of Denver. There is no McDonalds in Pine Ridge, SD so I can’t compare. And a cup of Gold Coast tastes the same in all those places too.

This is one of the reasons I like Starbucks. I’m apparently not alone in this. There is at least one former SBux detractor who has come over to the dark side and for pretty much the same reason.

Once I moved here from here, I immediately searched for three things: used book stores, farmers’ markets, and Starbuckses (that's how Gollum would pronounce it I think). It took me two months to find a decent used book store, and what I thought would be the farmers’ market capital of the world turned out to be the farmers’ market hole of the universe. I was used to the Cleveland West Side Market. I was spoiled.

I also discovered that there is a vast Starbucks void running along a northwest line from Trooper PA clear over to State College, 181 miles away. I took up residence exactly on this line. To the north it is somewhat better, but not enough. And to the south, there is plenty of the Green and White, but one has to travel on the dreaded Route 100 to get the closest one. My friend Mike Holliday, a local guitartist-singer-songwriter has a song he always dedicates to “the other travelers on Route 100 who try to kill me at 100 miles per hour every morning,” the song is called Accident Waiting to Happen.

There is a Dunkin Donuts not a quarter mile from my house. The grocery stores around here sell multiple varieties of Starbucks whole bean coffee. Why do I bother? I do have a reason, but that’s for another post, another time.

oh, please

Here's a story from NPR .

Here's the article in the CSM to which the story refers.

Here is the website for the Midnight Mission.

I took a brief look at many of the pages on the mission's website, and it seems to be independent of the city. The CSM article infers (though doesn't come right out and say) that the mission is a project of the city of LA, leaving the way open for anyone to conclude that it is funded by city money.

The mission's faq says -- "The Midnight Mission relies almost entirely on community-based private donations. On a limited basis we will accept government based funding. In fact, a very small percentage of our operating budget has come from government sources like funds used for Project Safe Sleep."

And I'm not sure I would call open dorms with concrete floors "posh." Though, compared to some of the conditions I've slept in while working on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, I'm sure the midnight mission is heavenly.


book meme: the revenge

Will at fishdance waves has his book meme answers up. I'm graciously providing this link to his post even though he has poured derision on my beautiful home state therein.


why i smoke

For those of you in California or Texas, the weather here in the east may seem to be (in the case of Megan) a distant memory, or (in the case of Eric) a nightmare. Today, though! It is a little windy, I must admit, but it is 69 degrees and a sky so blue it hurts your eyes just to look at it (Burt Lancaster as Doc Graham in Field of Dreams). We have to savor these days when they come.

So, I'm savoring it. Right now I'm sitting outside smokin'

... a chicken. Despite my tendency toward addictive behaviors-- to wit, this and this, I've never experienced even the slightest pull toward tobacco. Though I do think pipe tobacco has a nice mellow thing going.

The unfortunate bird has not been rolled in paper and lit like so many dried leaves. It is on my charcoal grill. I do have an electric water smoker but I find that an improvised arrangement with a charcoal grill works better with chicken, due to the shorter required cooking time. Poultry can easily dry out in a smoker.

A friend of mine bought me this book a while ago, which has turned me into a regular barbecue fiend. He also gave me the water smoker--is that enabling? I smoke all year long now. If I get good at this blogging thing, and also get a digital camera or scanner, I might post a picture of me smoking in the snow someday for you all to shake your heads at. Again, addictive behaviors.

I'm out in the back with hickory scent wafting, a steaming cup of addiction relief on the table. Soon I may pull out some Andrew or some Neal.

Pastor Boy came over not too long ago, sat down opposite me and said, "Sundays are draining." He's right, but I've found the perfect two step antidote to chronic or acute Sunday Pastoral Energy Defiency (SPED).

1. Make Monday your day off

2. Spend the afternoon with a good book, good coffee, and a good smoke.

pulpit view

It's 7am Sunday morning. The sermon's ready, I'll say that much. Not that it's any good.

I'm off to preach it three times.

Pastors must know when their sermons are boring or not about much, I certainly do. It's hard to get up there with such a work and put it out there for everybody to hear. It's as if I am saying, "I spent twenty hours on this thing. It doesn't show at all, but listen anyway."

Maybe they'll hear passively this morning and something will kick in later in the week, like medication. Or in the case of the current piece, maybe they'll just forget it. That might be better.


hard day's night

I am a huge Beatles fan but that's not what this post is about.

This morning I decided to take myself out to breakfast and work on my sermon for Sunday. Around here, from about 7 to 8:30 am (peak productivity time for me), there always seem to be two young girls, two cats, a dog, and a wife making all sorts of noise. So if I'm going to get any writing done I either have to put on some headphones and some Beatles music, or PFR, or maybe some Collective Soul, or I must leave.

Today I left, and as I said, took myself out to breakfast. The meal wound up costing me $146.25. That's $6.75 for the bill, $2.00 tip, and $137.50 for the speeding ticket I got on the way.

Waaaah. I know--people get speeding tickets all the time. This was heinous though, because 1. I was guilty, 2. The officer was so chipper he came off sounding snide, and 3. I sped through a school zone.

It happened like this: I turned right onto Kaufmann road and proceeded past the blinking 15mph School Speed Limit sign without looking at it or even noticing it (I had to drive by the spot later in the day to find out where it was exactly). There was not a pedestrian soul in sight, though the school itself was plainly visible on my left. I was traveling at 30mph, the regular speed limit being 25. There was the police cruiser off to my right watching for speeders. I glanced down at my speedometer to reassure myself that I was not one of them. My hand almost went up in a friendly greeting, just because I was feeling good and there was an interesting story on NPR (which I cannot now recall).

Glancing in my rearview I saw the officer pull out, and on went those party lights. "Why is he stopping me?" I asked aloud, since there were no other cars on the road (did I mention there were no pedestrians either?).

Only when he arrived at my window did I realize what I had done. "You were traveling at double the speed limit; this is an active school zone," he said in the tone he must reserve for child killers.

I said nothing. People always sound disingenuous when trying to explain their traffic foibles. Officer Friendly even asked me if I had any excuses. "Most people try to make excuses," he said when I told him I had none. I wondered if that was an invitation or just an observation. He left for about three minutes and returned with the citation, on goldenrod.

Need I state that I got very little work done on my sermon over breakfast. Some progress has been made since then, but not much. It's gonna be a long night.



I just spent a decent portion of my life trying to unravel a musical mystery over at the Fire Ant Gazette.

You should have seen me here in my living room hunched over the notebook, butt on the couch. I spent at least 90 minutes (at this sitting, I'm not even counting last night) scanning lists of virutally unknown one-hit wonders from the years 1983 and 84; racing to figure it out before someone else did. It gets worse... as I got closer to the answer, I repositioned myself on the floor in the 24 inch space between the sofa and the coffeetable, excited, my face a foot from the notebook screen.

Now, in the glow of victory, I'm thinking about all those guys I knew back at the University of Rochester. We called them "throats," as in cut-throat. These guys (women too, but they were vastly underrepresented in the throat population) would be the last to leave the stacks in the Rush Rhees Library (or Nipple of Knowledge, owing to the bright red light fixed atop the mammarian shaped spire of the library) at night. Any night. Whether there was an exam the next day or not; even on Fridays and Saturdays.

I worked at the library during my junior and senior years at the U of R, and I would see the same guys emerging from the stacks every night I closed.

Maybe they were just obsessed, like I was, with figuring out a mystery. Chasing the evanescent clue that would unlock for them the secret and vast pools of knowledge.

Or maybe they were just trying to ace out the other guy, like I was when I won that contest.


the book meme lives!

Response to the book meme posted...

by my friend Megan at Quiet Here.

sermon prep

Don't know if you picked up on this or not, but I'm a pastor (that's me in the pulpit). Associate pastor to be exact (you can find my boss, Big Kahuna Pastor at fishdance waves). Hope you'll still read my blog now that you know. This week BK has given himself a hiatus from preaching for the second week in a row. He has handed that responsibility to me. With this in mind I have come to my favorite Starbucks to write myself a killer sermon on the first few verses of the 17th chapter of the gospel of John (my favorite book of scripture, as I've noted previously).

I've been here for about two hours now and haven't written a word. I've done a lot of staring out the window, nursed a latte and then got a grande (that's a medium) Italian Roast, which is yummy, finished preparing for my weekly Thursday morning bible study (also on the gospel of John, chapter 14-15), and neurotically checked the Gazette to see if Eric has updated the partial scan of the album cover that is mystifying his entire global readership.

Does this all count as sermon prep? If I were punching a time card, would any of the items above (with the exception of the bible study of course) be adjudged as work? I've thought about John 17 a great deal. How can I not at Starbucks--ah, but I've not yet arrived at that point in my coffee and writing narrative. I'll 'splain later.

Well, my apologies for a boring post but I must leave my office away from the office.

Maybe I'll be struck by some divine inspiration on the drive home, as opposed to being struck by anything or anyone else, and therefore count that as work.

You're welcome to offer any comments you might have on John 17:1-11.


coffee and writing part ii: starbucks syndrome

go to part i.

A lovely blog about Starbucks calls the company "America's favorite drug dealer." The caffeine has nothing to do with my affection for coffee however. Nor is it related to my love affair with Starbucks.

I grew up hating coffee. Loved the smell, though. Still do. It was just that the reality of coffee never matched the fantasy brought on by the full, complex bouquet that wafted from the freshly opened can (this was before the days of bags and gourmet beans; you wanted coffee, you bought a can).

I only started drinking it when I was hanging out with my buddy Joel, back in the Ohio days. Joel has always loved his wife deeply and faithfully, but as long as I've known him coffee has been a much more constant companion than Jennifer. He always had a travel mug with him wherever we met and at whatever time of day. We would sit at restaurants over breakfast and talk for two hours or more, Joel using his travel mug instead of the coffee cup, getting refill after refill. I got tired of stopping the waitress (sometimes, waitresses--we would sit there long enough that the shifts changed) from filling my cup. One day, I just let her pour away. The first sip reminded me again why I didn't drink coffee. I threw a few communion cups of half and half in there until the liquid tasted more like coffee ice cream.

One day while traveling with my friend Brad to a Young Life weekend, he pulled in to a Starbucks. "Ugh," I thought. Somehow Bradley had become hooked on the Caramel Macchiato. We had to wait for his drink for a few minutes and the wonderful fresh ground coffee aroma overcame my resistance. "I'll have a small coffee," I mumbled.

"Tall traditional?" asked the young woman in the green apron.

"Yeah. That."

"With room?"

I actually figured out what she meant. "Yes, please." She handed me the cup. I moved swiftly to the half and half and began to pour, but I noticed that my usual amount of half and half didn't produce the expected coffee ice cream effect. I sipped the coffee despite my fear and entered a whole new world.

"It tastes like it smells!" I yelled at Brad who was still waiting for his cafe mula-mula, or whatever it was. He looked at me with an expression that was clearly intended for everyone else in the store. It said, "I do not know the person over there near the half and half."

Didn't matter. My coffee dreams had come true.

look for part iii, available soon exclusively at serotoninrain.blogspot.com.

coffee and writing part i

Most of the book has been written at a Starbucks in Lionville, PA that I frequent. Monday's are usually my day off. I get up at approximately 5:45 and take the quickest shower I can, given my severely diminished alertness, trudge out to the car, leaving one or two garbage cans at the curb in the process, and join the stream of (usually) slow moving vehicles snaking down Route 100 south from Pottstown. It's a 17 mile trip to Lionville. I am not typing this from there, it's Tuesday.

Yesterday I was listening to Morning Edition while driving to Lionville. During a segment on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, a CIA agent reminisced about requisitioning supplies for their secret location in the mountains of Afghanistan. He said they sent off a list and as a joke, included 100 lbs of Starbucks coffee. To their delighted surprise, they got it.

I smiled, knowing that even though the traffic would be bad I could get my Starbucks easily, much easier than those guys got theirs. This was a great comfort to me.


surprising development in Texas

I wonder what my Texas friend Eric thinks of this story?

A north Texas developer created a non profit organization that donates a 1/2% of the sale price to educational efforts in his development, Castle Hills. Most love it, however there are dissenters. One says that most of the proceeds actually benefit affluent families who don't really need it.

A quote from the story: "The fund gives full-time, passing college students $2,000 dollars a year... Over the last 4 years the Castle Hills Schools Foundation has distributed more than a million dollars. The money's gone to 11 schools and college attending residents, while other developers are looking at it. Next year the Schools Foundation will also help Castle Hill's teachers pay tuition for advanced degrees."

A novel idea. Though since I'm completely unfamiliar with the development in question, I wonder if there's anything to the insularity argument. I notice that the money only goes to schools in that one development and perhaps that's not a bad thing, especially since other developers are considering similar initiatives.

This may just be old news to Texans, (even those who live 300 miles and half a state away)--but the story didn't make it to NPR til this morning. I did find an item on PRweb about it, dated March 2005 so I guess it still has some currency.



I just love these writer stories on NPR, and they seem to serve them up once or twice a week. This one is a commentary by Christian Bauman about his mentors.

"There's never really an answer to the question, 'where did you learn how to write?' anymore than there's an answer to, 'where did you learn how to raise children', " he says.

Christian Bauman is the author of The Ice Beneath You which I have not read, though some of the reviews I've seen are very good, like this one and this one. What's even cooler is that he grew up in Doylestown, PA very close to where I live now, and he now lives in New Jersey, where I grew up.

As an aspiring, and until recently, unpublished writer, I fins encouragement in his story of origin. He says, "high school didn't work out for me... nevermind thoughts of an MFA in writing." But don't take that to mean he never got an education. After spending an unsuccessful year trying to market his first novel (The Ice Beneath You), he took his manuscript back to the couple who originally, and unwittingly, inspired him. They played good cop/bad cop with him, the wife cooing over his book and then leaving the room, the husband simply saying, "we need to talk," as he tapped his finger on the manuscript.

"Where did you learn to write?" In the end, the only way he can answer is to point to those who made the investment in him; even if they didn't know at the time what they were doing. I know I'll keep thinking of Chris Bauman's story as I labor over the late stages of this book (proposal); as I struggle through many daily moments of uncertainty as to whether or not I have anything worthwhile to say; as I regularly lament the fact that I got a business degree instead of the MFA I cannot now afford.