2005-09-30

i remember alice

Apparently my little blogger post devouring problem has been resolved. Apparently. We shall see.

Remember Alice, the 80 year old churchmember who fell asleep at the wheel and careened into a parked car? The Alice who said,

"Well, I don't think I'll be coming out of this place alive," from her hospital bed.

Alice came home from the hospital today.

Lillian, the 94 year old from the same hospital visit marathon day, is also at home and resting comfortably.

Thought you might like to know.

2005-09-29

staring into the mystery

Saw Kay today, she’s dying. Liver cancer. Six months.

I took communion to her. We read the lines together from the Book of Worship. We ate bread, we sipped grape juice, recited the Lord’s prayer, trespasses and trespass, just she and I. At the end I prayed for her, for her family, for a sense of peace in difficult times, an easing of any pain and an assurance that God is near at hand. Kay was weeping when I finished.

Because I can be self-conscious and insecure, I wondered if the tears were because of something offensive in my prayer.

She kept crying but I said nothing. I just held her hand. What do you say?

For the last day or so I had been feeling peaceful, content, complacent. I even allowed myself a few moments to indulge in the notion that I was a pretty good pastor. My brief visit with Kay left me shaken, my self-satisfaction in tatters.

Kay dropped tears onto her shiny polyester pants. There is nothing I can do to stop her from passing, to diminish her pain, or even to mitigate her loneliness. All I can do is hold her hand as she goes. All I can do is stare into the mystery with her, and share with her my hope, my faith, that God is not going to disappoint.

it's ten years later and still i haven't a clue

Zalm memes, I respond...

10 Years Ago:

I was two years into a ten year gig as a student minister; still in the process of losing my illusions about what it’s like to work in a church. My first daughter was sneaking up on a year old and my second daughter was being knit together in the secret place. We took 27 kids and 4 rented 15 passenger vans to South Dakota to work on the Pine Ridge Reservation. I watch the videos now and still can’t believe we did it. I was thirty years old.

5 Years Ago:

Still happy in my youth director job. Joy and I celebrated our tenth anniversary. Kristin started school this year.

1 Year Ago:

A year ago I thought blogging was stupid.

Yesterday:

…was Wednesday. I thought about what my next career might be, which is about all I do nowadays.

5 Snacks I Enjoy:

Pretzels, all kinds but especially these. Nacho Cheese Doritos. Doritos. Garlic toast drizzled with olive oil accompanied by a glass of white wine. A good microbrew. Cheez-Its.

5 Songs I Know All the Words To:

“You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon; “Heavy” by Collective Soul; “Missing Love,” by PFR; “Shouts of Joy,” by Phil Keaggy, “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” by the Beatles.

5 Things I’d Do with 100 Million Dollars:

Give 98 million away, get an MFA and retire to write every day.

5 Places I’d Run Away To:

Long Beach Island, NJ. Somewhere near Yellowstone. San Francisco. Somewhere near Rocky Mountain National Park. An undisclosed location.

5 Things I’d Never Wear:

Anything with a logo. Women’s clothing. A speedo. Spandex. Any kind of gold chain anywhere on my body.

5 Favorite TV Shows:

You’re kidding right?

5 Biggest Joys:

Seeing Jesus when it’s all done. Being there with someone when they fall in love with Jesus. Traveling long distances by car, alone (yes, I know it’s weird. So?). Seeing Phil Keaggy play guitar in person. Helping a congregation that loves to worship do what they love.

5 Favorite Toys:

This laptop I’m typing on. My guitar. My other guitar. Words. Any Myst game.

5 Fine Folks Who Can Now Consider Themselves Tagged:

Will. Stephen. Eric. Cowtown. Educat.

2005-09-28

further adventures of gnod

If you have explored the link from the previous post, you may have discovered that the literature-map resides at a place called gnod or the global network of dreams. Whatever.

Interesting idea, this gnod. There's fun stuff in the movies and music area as well as in books.

Have fun.


Posted to: movies | music | books & also...

like an author? map 'em!

By way of Lifehacker, comes this distracting, fun, but not always accurate new thingy: literature-map. Type in an author's name and watch him or her get mapped in two-space with other well known writers. Kinda cool. (Make sure not to click away too soon! The maps evolve dramatically after a few seconds).

Not always accurate however. Seeing C.S Lewis and Frank Peretti almost on top of each other almost made me spit Coke Classic all over the monitor via my nose. On the other hand, I can totally see David Foster Wallace occupying the same litscape as Salman Rushdie.

One tip for the litmap geeks (since they all read my blog, you know): I don't know if you're using factor analysis or what to come up with the topographies, but you could easily make it complex by using font size to make 3-d literary tag-clouds.

Here are litmaps for a couple of my faves:

Larry McMurtry
Umberto Eco
Jose Saramago
Anne Lamott

And some smarty pants somewhere in the T'rati dungeons must be working on more generalized 3-D tag clouds. Don't ya think? Psych.

2005-09-26

be careful what you ask for

One needs to count the cost when one presumes to speak about great and noble sentiments. The day on which I preached about self-emptying proved to me that at least in some cases, the sermons I write serve primarily for my own edification.

Late Saturday night, we got word that an 80 year old woman from our church was in an accident. After church I drove up to Lehigh Valley Hospital to see her. She's a little banged up, but the real concern is persistent double vision. A patch over one eye is the only thing that prevented her from seeing multiple Jims entering her hosptial room.

She says she may have blacked out while driving, for reasons not yet known, and slammed into a parked car. We love Alice. She's been in the church almost every one of her 80 years. The news that she was hospitalized brought a collective gasp at all three of our worship services.

Alice is fairly pessimistic most of the time, and this did not brighten her outlook on things. "Well I don't think I'll be coming out of this place alive," was almost the first thing she said to me. It's never safe to assume anything in a situation like this, but I told her she was full of it. Apparently so did another member of our church who had left a moment before I walked in. I guess Alice was singing the same sad song to all her visitors.

She was nodding off while I talked with her, having not slept since being admitted. "Maybe you should pray for me and go on home, Jim," she said, and I did.

Back in Pottstown, I stopped off at our local hospital to visit another elderly member of our church. Lillian is 94. When I got to her room she was climbing back into bed. Her dinner had arrived while she was in the bathroom and when she noticed it, she climbed back out of bed because she preferred to eat sitting in a chair. She can't see very well, and she kept calling the meal "breakfast," so I told her it was evening and this was dinner. Then she grabbed the knife by the wrong end (it wasn't a sharp knife) and the fork by the tines. I offered to cut her dinner for her, and she said, "please." I cut up her roast beef on toast and placed the utensils correctly back in her hands.

I told her about Alice's accident while she ate. "Oh, you must be Jim!" she said.

"Yes Lillian, it's Jim."

"I thought you were a man from the hospital. Oh! Thank you so much for helping me with my dinner."

She ate slowly, and I arrived home late for dinner, frustrated, and feeling empty. At the table I was snippy and exhausted from preaching, bookstore arranging, driving 90 miles, and visiting two hospitals. My younger daugher came to the table wearing a sweater, shivering in an 80 degree house under three layers of clothing. Fever.

Wonderful. "Like I have the energy for this," I thought.

After dinner I tried to relax but two phone calls from church members made that a bit difficult. They both wanted to say "thank you" for various things, but I perceived them as more of an interruption than anything else.

I read some of your blogs, posted to my own, briefly popped open and then shut my current read. Finally I went to bed and despite my exhaustion, had a hard time getting to sleep.

That's how it ends. I just wanted you to know that I have just as hard a time living by the words of Paul as anyone else.

2005-09-25

bible quiz

UPDATE: My wife took the test. As expected, her score was in the low 90's. I'll never hear the end of this. :-0

So, Eric via Bryan posted about this (2005) bible quiz and, what else is new, I went right over and took it.

I got an 89 out of 100. Ordinarily I'd be pretty darn proud of that score, but my wife would probably ace the thing. Seriously, Joy, you need to take this quiz. I bet you get a score in the 90's.

Here's a table of my results--I stink at the prophets. But hey, I cleaned up in New Testament, so I got that goin' for me.

TopicQuestionsRightWrong% RightLink
ACTS AND PAULINE LETTERS1515 0 100%Test me on ACTS AND PAULINE LETTERS.
GOSPELS1717 0 100%Test me on GOSPELS.
HISTORICAL BOOKS1312 1 92%Test me on HISTORICAL BOOKS.
PENTATEUCH1715 2 88%Test me on PENTATEUCH.
PROPHETS1811 7 61%Test me on PROPHETS.
PSALMS AND WISDOM LITERATURE109 1 90%Test me on PSALMS AND WISDOM LITERATURE.
REST OF NEW TESTAMENT1010 0 100%Test me on REST OF NEW TESTAMENT.
TOTAL10089 11 89%Test me on everything.

loving yourself

So, here's a portion of the sermon I wound up with this morning. Thank you to those who chimed in on this topic. I cut some stuff out, mostly for length, and added a few links. I started out by addressing some Christian cliches that people quote as if they're in the bible, but they're not, this was the last one...

“To love others you must first love yourself.”

Try and find it in your bible. You won’t. Because it’s not there.

I loaded up some bible search software on my computer and searched for the phrase “love yourself.” Indeed, a whole lot of verses came up as results. And most of those verses had “love” and “yourself” both appearing in the same sentence. They never appeared next to each other, however. There were always a few words between them. And in almost every case, what appeared between “love” and “yourself” was the phrase, “your neighbor as.” Not once in all of the scriptures, and I checked multiple versions, the King James, New King James, New Revised Standard, the Jannotti Standard Edition… in none of those did the phrase “love yourself” appear even once.

The idea that we must love ourselves in order to love others is not in the bible. But it must have come from somewhere. I’ve heard this supposed doctrine so very many times. Even the esteemed Stanford University School of medicine offers a course called, Love Yourself, For Everyone Else’s Sake,” which promises a “six-week program designed to nourish your whole self so that you increase your capacity to give love and care to others.”

Perhaps something like that sounds attractive to you, or at least it sounds sensible. It is certainly smoothly worded, almost comforting. Increase your capacity to give love and care to others. And what better way to do that than by loving yourself a little, or a lot more. It sounds almost like it must be true.

So, why is there nothing like this in any version of our scriptures? Why is a God who claims to be more interested in love than anything else, in fact, a God who claims to be love, completely silent on this issue of self-love?

Well, we have to be careful about making a theological argument from silence. It’s not usually a good idea. Just because the scriptures are silent about “loving yourself” doesn’t necessarily mean anything. The most likely reason for it never appearing anywhere in the bible is that self-love simply wasn’t on the mind of the biblical writers.

But that right there is significant. The biblical writers never thought to mention “love yourself.” Why not? Or more to the point, why do so many modern day psychologists and preachers and well meaning Christians think the idea of self-love is important?

The apostle Paul has picked up what I think is a bad reputation for some of his more strident pronouncements. He seems to be saying some pretty harsh things at times, particularly as regards the role of women in the church and in marriage. Well, I don’t have time today to combat that impression, and Paul probably doesn’t care whether I defend him or not. What I will say is this: I think when we concentrate on those seemingly hard-line sayings of Paul we are totally missing the main theme that runs throughout all his writings. That main theme is summarized pretty clearly in the early verses of Philippians chapter 2.

How does this statement square with the idea of loving yourself so that you can love others?

Well, it doesn’t.

The reason Paul didn’t give any thought to the idea of “loving yourself so that you can love others,” is that he was too preoccupied with the self-abasing, the self emptying love of Jesus, as he makes clear when he writes

4
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…


He speaks of Jesus giving up on his status, considering it to be nothing. For Paul this was the essence of Christ’s sacrifice. Not to minimize Jesus’ saving death on the cross, but to highlight it as the capstone, the culmination of the laying down of every single day of Jesus’ life.

Here we have the heart of Paul’s theology. Jesus gave himself away, even to the point of emptiness, even to the point of being like a slave. Even to the point of utter humiliation and, of course, death.

That’s good news, apparently. But the ‘bad’ news for us is that even before Paul mentions Jesus’ self-emptying love, he’s urging us to become like minded with Jesus.

Paul would probably not make a good psychologist. In fact, a number of theologians have questioned Paul’s sanity over the years. Even if we admire his wholehearted devotion to Jesus, some of the things his devotion caused him to write certainly seem insane.

Paul’s doctrine of self-emptying just doesn’t suit the modern world.

Self-emptying doesn’t grease the wheels.

Self-emptying leaves you used up, chewed up, and spit out.

Self-emptying allows other people to take advantage of you, to walk all over you.

Self-emptying will not help advance your career.

Self-emptying will destroy your entire future. Look where it got Jesus.

A self emptying life leaves you completely vulnerable; and who is going to look out for you then?

In other words, Paul’s theology flies right in the face of almost every tendency we have as human beings, and therefore must be crazy.

I had a music producer once tell me and my bandmates, “In order to get ahead in the music business, you have to lie.”

I agreed with him, which is why I’m not in the music business today.

What that producer was saying was that in order to make it in the seriously competitive world of popular music, you have to invert Paul’s theology: you must put aside the interests of others, and look primarily to your own interests. You need to do everything to fulfill your ambition, including lie. That’s the way to the top.

Living by Paul’s theology is not going to get you ahead in your career. It’s not going to help you win friends and influence people, though many people might think of you as a saint. That’s not necessarily a compliment, many saints were probably crazy too.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves. It’s a strong statement. Do you know the kind of strength it takes to make a habit of considering others better than yourselves? It takes almost superhuman strength, or should I say supernatural strength: a strength that comes from somewhere other than you.

Paul’s theology requires the supernatural strength of Jesus. It makes us completely reliant on God.

When I was struggling with health issues some years ago, I sat down with one of the pastors at my church. He encouraged me to face the overwhelming fear that I had at the time and asked what I felt as I did so. Something was wrong with my central nervous system, I had tingling in my hands and up my right arm; all the time. I worried that it might be MS, and eventually an MRI revealed that indeed, I might have that insidious disease. I remember one day when I told Bob my deepest fear.

“I feel like my life is totally out of my hands, like there’s nothing I can do. There’s no telling whether or when something more might go wrong with me. It’s scary. It’s almost to the point where I have no other choice but to rely on God’s mercy.”

“Did you hear what you just said,” Bob asked.

“Yeah, I guess I did.”

Do you know how scary it is to completely trust God?

When it’s all said and done, I think that’s the reason “consider others better than yourselves” sounds insane and “look not to your own interests but to the interests of others” seems loopy. It puts us completely in the hands of God. And that’s scary.

Nonetheless, it is what Jesus calls us to: “Love your neighbor as yourself…”, “this is my command, love one another.

And what Paul calls us to: “do nothing out of selfish ambition… consider others better,” “nothing counts except faith working itself out through love,” “above all things, put on love…,” “love never seeks its own way.”

It is not true that we must love ourselves first in order to love others. That’s where I end up. A graduate student named Nicole whose website I read, wrote about this passage in Philippians a couple of days ago. She came to the conclusion that ultimately it’s not loving ourselves that frees us to love others, but being among people who are sure of their standing in Christ. She wrote: “It is not that I must love myself in order to love others. No, it is that I must know that I am loved in order to love others.” When we share life with people who put Philippians 2:3-4 into practice, we do not need to even think about loving ourselves. We know that we are loved. And such community is only possible when we know and share, not the self-love of modern pop psychology, but the self-emptying love modeled for us by Jesus. It’s the only kind of love there is.

2005-09-24

highborne for a day

There is a great cafe in North East, MD (that's the name of the town, you may recall it from this past post).

I'm sitting in it now, listening to a guy named Rory sing "No Such Thing." The owners and staff are friendly, and they let people from out of town sit here for hours taking advantage of their free wifi(!). Breakfast was good, and the others that just went by on a tray looked even better.

When my business here is done, I may come back for lunch.

In North East? Stop by the Highborne Cafe, next to the barber shop, not 100 feet from the corner of Cecil Ave and South Main Street. Tell 'em Jim sent you and they'll say, "Who?"

2005-09-22

and another thing...

if anyone has any idea how that funky thing got up there way at the top of the page, I'd love to hear it.

if anyone has an idea about how to get rid of said funky thing, I'd love to hear that even more.

that is all.

UPDATE: Problem solved. It was the fault of an errant exclamation point! I didn't put it there, I'll tell you that much. Whoever's been messin' with my code... why I oughta...


Thanks to zalm for the assist.

help me write my sermon

UPDATE: Thanks for the thoughts so far! Zalm tried to trackback but because he's so immersed in thought right now, he accidentally tracked back the post above this one. You can read his thoughts here.

Don't know how this one will go over, but here goes...

One of the scriptural texts for this week is from Philippians 2. Click on the quote below to see the whole passage. I'm mainly interested in these first few verses:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus...


Here's where you come in. I invite you to share your reaction to the following statement, as well as your thoughts regarding the juxtaposition of this statement with the quote from Philippians above (if any). Ready? Here goes:


To love others you must first love yourself.


Comments are welcome and encouraged.

2005-09-21

funny or sad

Found a should-not-be-surprised-at-this kind of story over at Obscure Store.


The rest of the week, supplies kept coming. Dental services. Toys. Meals. They stacked up around the town.

Then on Thursday, the Lansing State Journal ran a story about Horn's tale. But some of the dates she'd given for the story didn't match what she'd told volunteers who had helped her. Suspicious, they called City Hall.


I can't decide whether it's funny or sad. I think I'm leaning toward sad.

doo, doo, doo, bloggin' out my back door

This morning, since I had a long day of bible study and sermon preparation ahead of me, oh, and some blog tinkering too, I pulled my laptop out to the backyard. Since the house is older than dirt, there are no outlets here in the back, hence the setup you see.

'Twas a wonderful day here in the eastern part of the country. It almost made me forget about the bleak future (both mine and my church's) and about another hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast. LHM.

A gorgeous day has given way to a spectacular evening, the setting sun painting the dual cooling towers of the nearby Limerick nuclear facility in shades of pink and orange.











"We live in a beautiful world."







2005-09-20

what if...

Jimmy Patterson plays a game of what if today at Sticky Doorknobs. I'm feeling tender and pretty emotional today, but I think his column would have brought tears to my eyes anyway.

I ought to close up shop here and put up a link that points to his site.

Thank you, sir.

2005-09-19

how to become a real person

I don't even know what to do with this article on "How to Go From Introvert to Extrovert" (found it via Lifehacker). Was he trying to be funny? 'Cause this cracked me up.

In order to become an extrovert, I found that I had to overcome several blocks to being more extroverted. Chances are that if you’re in the same boat, you have some of these blocks as well

Heh. So, I'm blocked! That explains everything, I guess.

I hate to miss out on all the fun, so here's my tongue in cheek guide:



"How To Become A Real Pers... I Mean, Introvert."

Are you shallow? Have tons of "friends" but no one who really knows you as more than just a cell phone number? At large parties, do you secretly wish you could just make yourself spend more time by yourself?

Well, now you too can join the thousands who have become less shallow, more like a real person. Become an introvert! It's easy, here are a few quick steps:

Get a(n inner) life. Though it may feel strange at first, spend more than thirty seconds at a time thinking.

Throw out that blackberry! You don't need all those social parasites you call friends in your life. Choose to really be present for a few people. This may be difficult at first, since lots of people will think you're a stalker or something. You can start paring down your list of false friends by suddenly looking at the ceiling while they're trying to tell you something important. Introverts do this all the time. Soon the only people who can stand to talk to you will be those who really think you're swell.

Go Away. Spend a couple of days camping by yourself. You'll love it (if you survive)!

Stop Listening To Extroverts. They always think they know everything, and they're not shy about telling you about it. You should know, you've been one of them your whole life.

If you start practicing right away, and can get through the Extrovert Withdrawal symptoms that inevitably come with becoming real, you'll join the few, the humble, the Introverts.

2005-09-18

blessed are the poor in spirit. or is it happy?

For a whole host of reasons I can't share, this week was hell. Sitting here on Sunday night, I'm wondering how I can keep up this pastor thing for much longer. I'm not sure I will.

Today I had a very sad conversation with two people who will probably leave our church. I knew it was coming because of their circumstances, which dramatically and painfully changed this week. I wanted to tell them they should stick it out, stay here. I wished to be able to promise them the congregational support they so desperately need at this sad moment in their lives. But I couldn't. As I considered beforehand how I might encourage them, I realized that there's really nothing for them here. It made me wonder if there's anything for me here either.

I don't know.

Meg at Bridget Jones Goes to Seminary recently shared a reading list from one of her classes this fall. One book in that syllabus is an overlooked gem. It's called Leaving Ruin by Jeff Berryman. In light of the current situation in my life and ministry, I'm thinking today about one particular passage...

The poor in spirit. Should they memorize blessed or happy?

Tom Martin is here this morning. He's sporadic these days, and just had his twenty-seventh birthday, but he didn't tell anyone, and, unbelievably, we let it slip, and I think I heard he went to see Mission: Impossible at a cheap matinee, alone, and didn't leave the theatre until after midnight. Now he's in the corner, leaning his metal chair against the wall, balancing without thinking, chewing a straw and watching the morning sun playing tag with a cloud. He's trying not to imagine his wife's mouth buried in the face of another man, trying not to imagine the bed, and that's like saying don't see the white mountain, which of course, you always do. She left him and their four-year-old daughter not three months ago, and went north to Virginia, and Tom thinks it's for good. I haven't seen him break, but he showed a picture little Meghan drew, and I had to suck air, because it was mommy with a suitcase. The class helps out, but he's wounded, tearing his soul apart, probably, looking for the right piece of gut to graft into the wound. But no salve cleans, and no suture can repair, and he is face down, eating dust, crying to Jesus, and he must qualify for poor in spirit. I would say the kingdom belongs to him.

2005-09-16

reestablishing

Slimbolala's David has posted two items in the last day or so that speak poignantly about the experience of Katrina evacuees. In the first, he writes about the need to accept his family's new hurricane evacuee circumstances and settle on reestablishing some sort of pattern, any pattern for their life. He writes:

For the past two days we've been in a state of constant "decision thrash", making choices, reversing them, revising them, and reverting back to our original choices - over, and over, and over. When you have no information to base your decisions on, there are no good decisions. When you have no information, each new little scrap of information radically reshapes your decision-making landscape. Choices which made sense an hour earlier are suddenly untenable.
After making some decisions, they went to the Red Cross and found themselves in among lots of other New Orleanians. "It felt good," he says.

No doubt. Ersatz neighbor-hood is better than none at all.

I'm enjoying lurking around Slimbolala. You may want to give it a read yourself if you haven't already.

birth of a news item

Here's our local newspaper's story about the surprise birth I mentioned on Monday.

Natalee (I had the spelling wrong), Beth, Bob, and Alyson are all okay. They all looked a little shell-shocked when I last visited with them (Tuesday evening), but they're alright.

here's your sign

I don't know how he stumbled on it, but NBR at Strangely Warmed found a church sign generator. This could prove addicting. If you want a magnet of your sign you need to fork over $7.50.

I've always wanted to find a church honest enough to admit the following...

2005-09-15

tipsy once again

Coming to you today from the Lehigh Valley International airport.

In all the hubbub over the last couple of weeks, I'd forgotten about my post on tipping, in which I asked...

what is your standard tipping practice when you dine out? I want the whole deal. If you tip at all, whether or not you give a percent of the bill and what percentage scheme you use. Do you do the old school "tax times two" method? Inquiring minds want to know.
Some comments, if you really want to know who wrote these you can go to the original post, I'm not giving names here.
===
I am a tax times two-er.I often go as high as 20% if the server goes out of the way to help and be pleasant. Our server wages here in OK are still typically around $3 an hour with the expectation of tips. It's insane.
===
I usually tip 15%-20% depending on the service. Sometimes I'll stoop down to 10% if the service was crappy.
===
I usually tip 15%, 20% if the service and the attitude is good. I don't, however, base it on the food quality. Quite unfair.
===
I've gotten more generous with my tips as I've gotten older, and especially after I became a freelancer myself. First, I leave a minimum of $3, regardless of the size of the check (assuming we eat a meal, of course). I figure that even if my wife and I split an entreƩ, the waiter still has to go to the same amount of trouble to serve us. So, that $3 may be 30-40% of the check, depending on where we eat. If the $3 minimum doesn't apply, I leave about 18-20%. Poor service still gets 15%; everybody can have a bad day.
===
We generally tip 20% unless the service is poor. Even if it's acceptable, we tip 20. You never know what the circumstances are that service was less than stellar: server too busy, oversat his section, slow kitchen, boyfriend dumped her, girlfriend slept with his brother, church sucks...never know.
===
20%. It's easier to figure out than 15%.

Now, the most interesting thing about each of those comments may be the way they reflect the (blogging) personality of the commentator, but that's another post.

The reason I asked about tips is, a while back there was a little blip in the popular culture (I was going to provide a link to the NYTimes aritcle that caused the ruckus, but they want $3.95 for it. Idiots.) about why tipping should go bye-bye. The waiter ranted about it. So I asked a couple of waiters (and a waitress) what they thought about a standard wage and no tips. I also asked for comments here on tipping practice.

The conclusions I draw from the response from servers (unanimously, vitriolically opposed to taking away the practice of tipping) and those who commented here are as follows:

1. Getting rid of tipping as a standard would create the perception that servers are netting less than with tips, at least in the places I tend to frequent, which are not usually high end places.

2. People who read this blog are decent tippers.

3. I need to rethink the way I tip, which if you recall, was to default to 20%. I still do that, but if I have coffee only, I notice that the server does a ton of work back and forth back and forth with that stupid coffee pot. They work almost as hard then as they do if I order a meal. So, say coffee is $1. What? Do I leave 20 cents? Well, that's what I did until I read your comments. Now I leave $1. It's worth it.

A question raised in my mind based on the comments: Some mentioned "bad" or "good" service, or mentioned "attitude" of the server. I wonder, what constitutes bad service? What's good service?

My conclusion: Wait staff in high end restaurants might do okay with a standard wage and no tips. Indeed, some of the tonier places on the east and west coasts have already moved to such a system. I don't think the rest of us patronize places that would benefit from getting rid of tips, however. I'm with the waiter at Waiter Rant.

Tipping is valuable practice, probably more valuable in relational than monetary terms. I'll explain why later, but if you want to comment on the nature of good or bad service in the meantime, feel free.

I have to run now to meet my arriving party...

2005-09-14

have you seen...

...this man?

If you (like a couple of friends of mine) work at a certain famous coffee chain, you just might. Pour this in your cup and drink it:

"People are not fearful," Schultz said. "They look forward to me being in the stores. It's not about me trying to discover something that's wrong."
Whatever.

Hey, at least I'm certain that my favorite Starbucks would come up smelling like a rose if they got a visit from The Man. They're the coolest.

Watch out Matt, you live close to the guy!

H/T: Starbucks Gossip

don't flame me. I got this off a conservative blog

Reporter: Mr. President, what is your opinion of Roe vs. Wade?

President Bush: I really don’t care how folks got out of New Orleans, as long as they got out.


H/T to The Upward Way Press

2005-09-13

i never thought i'd be saying this

I'm not a Democrat. I'm not a Repbulican. I didn't vote for Kerry nor did I vote for Bush. Some of you know this already, some of you don't. Personally, I've not been a Bush supporter since before his first term. I've disagreed with most of his politics and the politics of the republican party in general. I don't find much to agree with from the democrats either. Months ago I joked about being disaffected, which is how I see myself at least in terms of politics. I just think we can and need to do better across the board.

Today however, the President I didn't vote for did an honorable thing, something I don't think he needed to do but am glad he did. Here's what he said...

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."

"I want to know what went right and what went wrong, I want to know how to better cooperate with state and local government, to be able to answer that very question that you asked: Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm?"


The President isn't to blame for the storm, he isn't to blame for the response, though it definitely could have been better (at the state and local as well as the federal level), in my opinion. But he is the head of the administration under whose watch these things took place and given that fact, I believe leadership requires him to acknowledge that the "buck stops here." I'm glad he said what he said. I don't think I'll be joining the Republican party any time soon though, so my conservative friends can forget about that.

And for my liberal friends... I think you ought to give some credit here. By all means keep up your dissent, but our President's words today need to be acknowledged for what they are. This was the right thing to do. Don't be like Brian Unger (who I usually enjoy very much) and NPR, who today are the victims of remarkably poor judgment and timing with this commentary (it was broadcast yesterday).

NPR also reported on Bush's claim of responsibility, that story is here.

Since I don't have a politics category and don't feel like creating one, I don't know where to post this. So I think this one will be...

2005-09-12

strangers

UPDATE: Our local paper covered the service. I believe the print edition even has pictures, maybe they'll put some online later.

Strangers
By Jim Jannotti.
Delivered as an address to an interfaith worship service that included six faith communities on September 11, 2005 in Memorial Park, Pottstown, PA


We’ve come together on this bright day because it’s Sunday and most of us are in the habit of going to church. But as fate would have it, a few weeks back five Pastors and a Rabbi got together (sounds like the beginning of a joke doesn’t it?), and so now we’re doing our Sunday thing together and out of doors.

When you heard that this special worship service was happening you may have reacted with some skepticism. I don’t blame you. It is worship with strangers, after all, and who wants to do that?

Four years ago today our entire nation was given an opportunity to be better than we’ve ever been. The 9/11 attacks were horrific, but the response across America was inspiring. For a shining glorious moment, we moved closer to becoming an America in which no one is a stranger.

As is often the case with shining moments, that one proved brief.


In the months, some would say weeks, following our national tragedy, America gradually went back to being what it was before and is still. For all our many strengths, we remain a nation of strangers living next door to each other.

That’s not true everywhere, nor is it true all the time, but it does ring true to me as I consider what’s happened to our civic life and our politics during the past four years. It rings true as I watch the seemingly endless and sad finger pointing that has followed the destructive forces along the Gulf Coast, the resulting displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, and worse, the destruction of their homes. I could list the reasons why I think we’ve chosen to be this way, but it would take too long and probably result in us all getting into an argument. And arguments, as much as we seem to love them in our country, are not why we’re here today.

Arguments are what happen when for whatever reason, we can’t or won’t make the effort required to move beyond stranger-hood. It’s hard work cultivating a shared life. “Don’t be a stranger,” we say to those who haven’t come around in a while. It’s an interesting command. “Don’t be a stranger.” It implies that there’s work involved in being a friend and neighbor.

And it does take work. Work that in my darker moments, I fear we will not choose to undertake. I wonder if we can work as hard at building each other up as we do at tearing each other down. I wonder if we can work as hard at forming communities as we do at forming arguments. I wonder if we will ever move from being strangers to being friends.

Someone once asked a well known itinerant Jewish preacher, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer, which I should mention, didn’t come from the preacher but from the man who asked the question, was “the one who showed mercy.”

And there’s the work. This worship service asks what God requires of us. Well what God requires of us is a love of mercy; to favor compassion over suspicion. What God wants is for us to look at another and see a neighbor rather than a stranger. So maybe it’s a neighbor we haven’t met yet. God wants us to be as creative in seeing reasons for friendship as we are in coming up with reasons for animosity.

We can begin here and now, at this time and in this place. What better day than September 11? What better place than here, where many of us ought to be strangers? You may have come skeptical, and that’s okay. But come you did, and now you’ve been given an opportunity. There’s no better place and time than here and now for each of us and all of us to begin moving from stranger-hood, to neighbor-hood.


NOLA Slimbolala blogrolla

Slimbolala has been added to my blogroll. It is written by David Olivier from New Orleans. He is in Austin, TX for now having evacuated during the early stages of Katrina. I linked to his blog after reading a piece he wrote for the Morning News called Notes From the Storm. Despite the trying circumstances he and his family have faced in recent days, he has retained his sense of humor, to wit, this. He also claims to be late to the b'sphere, having started his blog in January '05. Well, he's not as late as me.

Blessings to you and yours David, and to all who are trying reassemble their lives following Katrina.


can't resist quoting

Okay, I can’t resist.

Though I’m not done reading Gilead and I wanted to hold off quoting from it until I was done, I must do it. This is just too good to pass up.

I’ve laughed out loud more than a few times reading this book, though I don’t think it's meant to be comic. Yet owing to Robinson's success at never allowing the narrative to take itself too seriously, the book is sometimes a riot.

For those unfamiliar with the novel, the book is simply a letter written from an apparently dying father and pastor to his son. This quote has nothing to do with anything, it’s just fine writing:

When she woke up, she was so glad to see me, as if I had been gone a long time. Then she went and fetched you and we ate our supper in the parlor—it turns out that whoever brought the [TV] trays brought one for each of us. Since supper was three kinds of casserole with two kinds of fruit salad, with cake and pie for dessert, I gathered that my flock, who lambaste life’s problems with food items of just this kind, had heard an alarm. There was even bean salad, which to me looked distinctly Presbyterian, so anxiety had overspilled its denominational vessel. You’d have thought I’d died. We saved it for lunch.


It was “distinctly Presbyterian” that killed me.

stuff like this doesn't happen every day

Bob is a church member, he serves as an usher once a month. His wife Beth is 42 and their only daughter Alison is 18.

At dinner last night, as Beth tells it, she wasn't feeling good so she didn't eat anything. She woke up in the middle of the night with sharp abdominal pains. Bob thought it might have been a bowel obstruction, something he had to deal with a few years ago. The pain had doubled him over. Soon Beth was doubled over too, her pain steadily worsening. She did manage to make it to the bathroom but once seated there could not get back up despite repeated attempts, it simply hurt too bad.

Alison called 911. The astute EMT's told her to tell her father to get Beth onto the floor. That was when they saw the head. Beth was about to be a mother. Bob delivered the baby onto a towel on the bathroom floor and was holding his new daughter when the EMT's walked up the steps. "She's here," he told them.

Beth had no idea she was pregnant; thought, in fact, that she was going through 'the change.' "I guess not," said Bob at the hospital this morning where everyone is doing fine. Alison's little (4lbs, 11oz) sister may or may not get the name "Natalie," but we can call her that for now. God's knows her quite well already, regardless of the name.

I've heard stories before about women giving birth having not known they were pregnant; never believed a single one of them. Neither did Beth, until today.

2005-09-11

pepper day consequences

Had one of those Jamaican Hot Chocolate peppers with my dinner tonight (I smoked a rack of ribs and made some Ancho-Garlic barbecue sauce to go with 'em).

The pepper farm classified the heat factor of their peppers on a 1 to 4 scale. Jamaicans were 4's.

I didn't really eat the whole thing. I just cut tiny pieces and had them with a morsel of rib meat and barbecue sauce. The pain was memorable. I'm still not right. I might have some more tomorrow for lunch.

UPDATE: Not that anyone asked, but I thought I'd post the recipe for Ancho-Garlic barbecue sauce, as best I can remember it (with optional smoking instructions)

butter for sauteeing (you can use oil instead of course)
1/2 Fresh Ancho Chili (I used a fist sized Ancho Mulato) cut fine.
3 good sized cloves of fresh garlic, crushed
3/4 cup of ketchup
1/3 cup of good quality Maple Syrup
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup of dark brown sugar
3T apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp of dry mustard
dash of worcestershire sauce
pinch or two of salt, if desired

Saute the garlic and the pepper in butter over moderate heat for one minute, stirring briskly and constantly. Remove from heat and add the rest of the ingredients in any order you like, stirring as you go. Return to low heat and simmer for 1 hour or more. Let stand to cool for a couple of minutes and then puree the mix in a food processor or food mill.

Optional second phase: Transfer the sauce to a small cast iron pan and place it in your smoker with whatever you're cooking. It should sit in there for another hour to get a mild smokey flavor to it, but it still tastes great if you skip this step.

2005-09-10

pepper day

The woman stting across from me in the horse drawn cart wore a shirt she bought in Tucson that had a picture of two chili peppers on it with a caption that said, "Bite Me."

The cart was carrying my friend Cora (who goes by Sissy) and me from Meadow View Farm into the town of Bowers, PA where the annual Chile Festival was taking place. The smell of Jamaican Hot Chocolate and Biker Billy peppers rode on the breeze while the slats on the cart framed eager pepper pickers in red.

We had been in the fields ourselves minutes earlier, browsing among the twenty 150 foot long rows of I don't know how many varieties of peppers. I love peppers. I could have stayed all day. But after buying up four pounds of the stuff, I wanted to sample some Blackberry Hot Pepper Ice Cream (Sissy had the Peach Hot Pepper) and head to town.

The festival in Bowers actually started at the Meadow View farm, but outgrew it. Sissy and I arrived early, 11am, so it wasn't crowded yet. Bowers is a town so small it doesn't merit a label on this Google map. Population is about 5,000. I'm sure that figure doubles, at least, during the pepper fest. There was live music, hot and spicy food (like the jerk pork I had for lunch) and chocolate chili ice cream for dessert. Beautiful. Apparently everybody and their brother shares my opinion. By the time we left at 1pm, there had to be at least two thousand souls milling about the not particularly immense park where the festival was held.

When we saw the line of people waiting to make the horse drawn trip back to their cars, I decided to walk the mile to the farm, retrieve Sissy's car and pick her up. That saved us some time and allowed us to make a speedy exit just as thousands more, I kid you not, were arriving for the afternoon. Our peppery purchases in the trunk, we sped homeward on nearly empty roads, as every car in PA must have been looking for a spot in Bowers.

On the way home, we stopped at one of Sissy's favorite spots. An out of the way farm grocery store called Echo Hill Country Store where to my immense delight, and in perfect accord with the spirit of the day, I found some of this; chocolate with chilis. Forgive me for the irreverance, but what I like to call the Dagoba Prayer (it's their slogan, printed on the back of the chocolate chili bar) makes a perfect benediction to this day.

"You can deprive the body, but the soul needs chocolate," (with maybe some chili too...).

2005-09-09

vogue for rednecks

Jimmy Patterson cracked me up yet again today. At the end of today's Daily Dose he wrote this...

editors at Vogue say if Men's Vogue is a hit, they plan to introduce Vogue for Rednecks, which will cater to dentally-challenged, abdominally-enhanced, fashion-deficient men and women. Editors say features will include how to floss, when it's time to throw a pair of sneakers away, and how to color coordinate caps and overalls.


Read the whole thing here. Thanks for the laughs Jimmy, we really need 'em.


Posted to:
Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

So there.

2005-09-08

comment or not

Well, I'm not sure what's going on with my comments. If you've noticed, the raindrops link is sometimes there and sometimes not. Haloscan has nothing in their forums about this. Any other haloscan users out their having similar problems?

Well, I guess you can respond via the comments if the link is there... or email me via my profile.

thanks Frank

I'm not a sports fan, I'm especially not a fan of most of the professional sports we Americans idolize.

But I found myself resonating with this commentary from Frank DeFord.

I don't really think his proposal would work, I think we're too far down the divided road for that, but I appreciate the sentiment.

2005-09-07

It's Actually Better If You Don't Know Hebrew...

... you may think that's just a fact of life, especially if you've ever tried to study Old Testament Hebrew! Oy.

Well, now your lack of this knowledge is workin' out real good for ya. See, Stephen at Wild Olive Branch is running a contest on who can come up with the most, uh, creative "translation" of an advertisement... or a propaganda poster... or... oh just go here and figger it out for yourself. There's an actual prize involved!

(I'm sure you can do better than my flimsy attempt, which is the second comment.)

2005-09-06

relief

There are two sides to every argument. Relief for hurricane ravaged areas has certainly become the argument du jour.

Here's one side. I think the reality may be slightly more nuanced than this commentary from NPR allows, but no matter how you slice it, there is an awful lot being done and effectively so. We've seen a bit of the worst, now perhaps "the better angels of our nature," will come into view.

A friend of mine told me not to hold my breath the other day (he was referring to the finger-pointing, argument mongering), and I'm not. But I won't stop hoping.

Perhaps you are contemplating what you can do to aid in accomplishing the huge task that is before us as a nation (I'm just talking about relief work, there are other huge tasks but we'll get to those). If you are, let me suggest one option. UMCOR is the United Methodist Committee On Relief.

UMCOR's Hurricane Katrina FAQ has answers for those who want to help and who need help.

Make a donation via UMCOR. 100% of your money will go directly to hurricane relief. 100%.

Maybe you'd like to make health kits or flood buckets.

These links and tons more are available at UMCOR's website. You don't have to belong to a Methodist church, or any church to get involved.

blogroll blather

I've added a new blog, by Eric St. Clair, to the blogroll. I don't know Eric and he doesn't know me, I'm not even sure he knows I read his blog. I hope that this addition does not lead to Ericonfusion for some of you, all the more so since both are 'Eric S'. Perhaps I will have to refer to this Eric as Fire Eric and the new Eric as St. Eric. No, that's not really appropriate.

I like Eric's blog, though I've forgotten how I found it, and he seems (in his writing) to be a nice guy. You have to give the guy credit, he did due diligence in his efforts to aid in Katrina relief. He's posted a mesmerizing shot of the Gateway Arch, too.

Give him a read and maybe a link too. Maybe you'll get the Eric seal of approval! (No, not that Eric, this Eric).

2005-09-05

because he said so

Ever the independent spirit, I've decided to bump a book to the top of my reading list because another blogger said I should. Congratulations Zalm, this may be the first time in my life I've done anything someone said I should do.

Okay, not really.

I picked up Gilead today because Zalm wrote, in a comment of his responding to a comment of mine on one of his posts, that...

you should really think about clearing off your list for Mrs. Robinson. As a pastor, as a father, and as a man who loves literature, you are going to adore Gilead. I promise you.

Early results are promising.

molasses, molasses everywhere

As I was reading the post from Julie I referred to here, I was dumbfounded by her mention of a Molasses Disaster of 1919. I think my word for word reaction was, "What the hell is that?"

So today, since I made it a point to sit around doing next to nothing, I casually typed Molasses Disaster 1919 into the Google seach box and came up with this.

Not that I didn't believe Julie, of course. Even so, I was surprised at how destructive this event was. So just remember that the next time you're baking those cookies I gave you the recipe for.

"there's like a sort of buffoon like quality to it,"

and no, that's not what my congregation says about my worship-leading!

"... I believe that everybody universally on the planet likes to watch men dance..."

It's what the sister of the lead singer of OK Go said during an interview on NPR. She's talking about the internet download sensation, a video to A Million Ways by OK Go. I'm not sure she's right about the unviersal appeal of men dancing. But the video is killer!

You've probably heard of this already, you've probably downloaded the video too, but I never heard of them before. I'm kind of glad I did simply because I like the song.

You can watch the "A Million Ways" video and others by the band here, if you've never seen it before it's a fun way to spend three and a half minutes.

antidisesgooglementarian ism

what's really entertaining about this post about Google on Metafilter is not the uber-hysteria it seems to be inciting, but the comments. I chuckled. Hope you do too.

2005-09-04

hurricane thoughts from the high prairie

The evanescent Lone Prairie blog is back, retooled and rethought by author Julie Neidlinger. It was only gone for a day or so really, but that was a sad day, a dark day. No, I'm just being overly dramatic. But I am very glad she didn't stay gone.

And she's written a quality post about the aftermath of Katrina. I especially like the way she takes the time to place this catastrophe (and that is a good word for it) in the context of other catastrophic events in history, wondering how they would have been perceived in our media saturated age...

"Would Galveston's 1900 hurricane have been the worst thing ever? The earthquake of '04? How would Hurricane Andrew be covered differently in today's media climate? The great Boston molasses tragedy of 1919? The Long Island Express hurricane of 1938? The 1972 earthquake in Managua that forced millions of people into stadiums, parks and schools? The flu pandemic of 1918? The fall of Rome? Pompeii? The tsunami that nearly liquefied part of Alaska's coast in 1964?"

It's a long post but very good. I'm thinking a little differently about things for having read it. Click over when you have a few minutes to read and think.

to live is to risk

From the Morning News website (the article was actually publised Sept 2)...

All our cities will be ruins someday. To walk out a door or ingest a hamburger or bend to tie a shoe is to risk your life. You stoop; an invisible, unseen bullet might just whiz past your head, or it might fly straight through your throat.


I offer this link without comment because I'm hoping you'll think your own thoughts about it, and I'm not done thinking my own yet.

maybe the coolest thing I've ever heard

Do you have an RV? Wanna be a genuine good person?

Then you need to go here and check out how you can help out hurricane victims. I know most of you readers are not in or near Texas. But if people in Washington state can offer to open up their homes, then people anywhere in the US of A can lend their RV's. Right? I thought you'd agree.

If you want you can link directly to Scott Chaffin's business website and find the information you need. Click to Buck's on the Brazos.

Heck, if you really wanna do this and you live in the eastern half of the country, I might even be willing to help you drive (I've never driven an RV but so what, Jabbor Gibson never drove a bus and he did okay.)

H/T to both Eric and Cowtown Pattie for the "hookup." Get it? Hookup? I just kill myself sometimes.

2005-09-03

i'm purple

Your Blog Should Be Purple

You're an expressive, offbeat blogger who tends to write about anything and everything.
You tend to set blogging trends, and you're the most likely to write your own meme or survey.
You are a bit distant though. Your blog is all about you - not what anyone else has to say.


Like a lot of things, I'm conflicted over this. I like being offbeat (except on Sunday mornings at 9:30am), and hey, I'll take the trendsetting classification even if it's not true. All about me though? That hurts. Smarts, just a little bit, in the heart.

we are knit together you and i

Okay, enough strife. This post courtesy of my wife. It's about knitting. No kidding!

Joy found this wonderful knitblog with great creative presentation of knitwear and knitting disasters. On Thursdays she writes "What The Hell Is This?" articles. And there are hats that she refers to as "brain suckers." (Maybe Kanye West, Pat Robertson, and Dennis Hastert have worn them? -- oops sorry, I promised I wouldn't).

I laughed, and I don't get into knitting.

Incidentally my wife knit a couple of scarves that looked like this, and my first reaction was "What the hell is that!?"

dumbass award

Since Pat Robertson didn't come up with something monumentally stupid to say publicly this week, others felt the need to fill the void.

This week's dumbass awards go to:

Kanye West. Nice work s---forbrains! Way to help out the cause. "We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way -- and they've given them permission to go down and shoot us!" His next sentence was... "George Bush doesn't care about black people!"

Honorable mention goes to Mike Myers (he's dope, and that's not a compliment). As the linked article points out, he actually handed the microphone back after West outed himself as a first class jackass. Maybe he panicked. (ed.: before I get spamwhacked, I know they weren't handing a mic back and forth; it's a figure of speech...)

But the stupidity factor was high elsewhere as well. Tied for first as dumbass of the week has to be...

Dennis Hastert: Get a brain please! "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed," "...you know we build Los Angeles and San Francisco on top of earthquake fissures, and they rebuild, too. Stubbornness."

Come on people. Pull it together here! Isn't there enough going on without you all trying to outdo each other displaying your knee jerk, compassionless, politically pretentious rhetoric? Guess not.

The sign on our church right now says, "A closed mouth gathers no foot." It's a stupid saying but these guys need to hear it.

2005-09-02

follow up

As a follow up to yesterday's post I offer a commentary by Leon Wynter from NPR.

"Last Sunday's official evacuation looked like nothing more than the start of a very long weekend; people with available credit, mostly white, stuck in traffic."

Draw your own conclusions.

I read a comment on someone else's blog today that suggested we wouldn't be seeing the sad stuff we're seeing in New Orleans if this catastrophe had happened in say, Salt Lake City. Sure we wouldn't. The blindness is astounding.

_____
"If she were not poor and black, this would not be happening to her."
_____

If ever you find yourself refusing (stubbornly refusing) to believe that there is systemic evil in our country that's just as deep as in every other, take a look at what we've seen in America this week and juxtapose it with what we've seen in Somalia, Israel, Afghanistan... How far can your denial muscles be stretched?

Am I bugging you? Don't mean to bug ya.

2005-09-01

rueful ruminations

What's happening in the South has everyone talking and thinking. Today, Eric wrote some brief observations on something Michael Spencer wrote. Though Spencer's observations seem sound and I found myself agreeing with each item he mentioned, I wondered at the end what he was trying to say. (That's no slam on Spencer, it may be simply that I'm a bit daft.)

I commented to that effect on Eric's post and added that I think the sad rage, looting, and violence that we are seeing and most likely will continue to see in New Orleans reflects not simply that it isn't our (our) finest hour, but reflects instead who we really are. Here's exactly what I wrote...

I have no problem at all with the term we. I can own what's happening there (here). When I read the piece though, I honestly couldn't figure out what he was trying to tell me.

Finally in his comment he said, "it's a culture problem, not a race problem." I would say it's a human problem and what we're seeing in our country today is who we really are. It ought to make us rethink (metanoia-- turn around, in other words, and to employ an oft misunderstood word, repent) who we are, each of us. And when we're done rethinking, to act.

Eric responded with this...

And, of course, we're powerless to change who we are, without some Outside Assistance.
I readily agreed. But after thinking about it, I'm not so sure. Not about how we can't change without God, of course I believe that. After mumbling to myself for a few minutes, I finally said out loud to the coffee machine, "we're powerless to change ourselves, period."

If I want a change in the essence of who I am, and sometimes even when I don't, it is the Other who authors the change. I may provide the assistance, God's is the power.

Eric reads this blog regularly (to my great honor and astonishment I might add), and I don't want to sound like I'm disagreeing with him since I believe he might just affirm what I wrote above. The point of this scatterbrained post is not to quibble over Eric's or Michael Spencer's semantics, but to suggest that the violence, rage, blame casting, etc that Spencer talks about in his post is in part the result of the misguided notion that we have the power to change ourselves. Now don't go arguing with me over little changes in habit and stuff that self discipline and hard work can accomplish. Okay, I grant you that. I'm talking about an essential change in who we really are. As I said, what we've seen in New Orleans today and yesterday reflects who we really are (I heartily agree with Eric's choice of the word 'we'), and that's not something that changes through our efforts.

As Jen pointed out in another comment at Eric's place,

After 9/11 we had a clear culprit at whom we could direct our anger - 20 specific people: Osama bin Laden, 19 hijackers, and in a larger sense Al Qaeda.There's no one to blame for this natural disaster and so people are blaming whomever is next to them - the President, the Governors, the Mayors, the police, the military, etc

That's a good point. This time there's no one to blame. We're not to blame for the disaster that occurred, even though there is a debate that is worth having regarding coastal development and civic design etc, there's no one to blame. And that's trouble. Because there needs to be somebody to blame. Anybody! Anybody! So long as it isn't me.

Remember Adam's words in the garden, when God asked if he had eaten from the tree... "The woman you put here with me, she gave me some of the fruit and I ate." Notice how he blames everyone present but himself (okay, he doesn't mention the serpent either).

So self reliant, so self sufficient we are. Until disaster strikes and we realize we need each other... and then, we've either fled the scene or been stuck there for whatever reason (possibly our own choice but not only that--how many people are in New Orleans now only because they lacked resources such as a car and money to fund their flight?) and there's no one to help.

Calvinists might chalk it up to 'total depravity.' I think that's a way of trivializing something by labelling it.

The fact remains, whatever you call this disorder in us or whether you even believe in it, that we need each other. We are not self sufficient even when we think we are. We are powerless without the Other as well as others. The sooner we learn that, the better. I am hopeful that it's not yet too late for those immediately concerned with the situation in New Orleans to learn that. Further I have faith that God has placed (and will place) people there who proclaim this truth with their lives.

But what about the rest of us?