Saturday, November 24, 2007

It's Never Too Cold . . .

. . . as long as it's not snowing.

Yesterday I had two brave helpers, Jordan and Sean, come over and help me with my treehouse. The temperature was a crisp 27 degrees (yes, that's Fahrenheit), which according to "felt like 16." But we got up there and got to work. The supports for the roof of Phase I are done; and we started putting on the first set of slats for a lattice under the railing (so younguns and olduns don't fall off). I think I screwed up the design for the lattice, but it helped to get a few pieces on and see how it's going to play out. We can always redo it later.

Good times. Here are a few pics.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

No Sex for You!

As a Christian I believe, along with the majority of Christians across time, that the primary witness to the historical activity of God in the world comes through the scriptures, known as the Bible and the Old and New Testaments. As a preacher, this means that when I preach I do so from the starting point of passages from scripture. What is said in the scripture reading for a given Sunday is where I begin my discernment of what the Holy Spirit calls me to preach in my sermon. The funny thing is, the scriptures speak of all sorts of things.

Including sex.

We have many Separations Of Church And in our present world. We have the tirelessly cited Separation Of Church And State. We have the less widely publicized Separation Of Church and Politics. There is the comforting Separation Of Church And Money; and the insidious Separation Of Church And The Other Six Days Of The Week. My new favourite, after this morning, is the Separation Of Church And Sex.

I preached from a scripture passage that addressed sex. So the sermon was about sex. I spoke to all the parents of young children the week before, informing them that, at their discretion, they might elect to have their young children step out of the sanctuary during the sermon. I wanted to make sure I did not brooch a topic with their younger children that they preferred to postpone until later. I even had a gracious member of the congregation offer to tend these young ones until the sermon was over.

So right after the scripture reading and before I began the sermon proper, I made the announcement for dismissal of young children. Several left; one tried to leave but was asked to stay by a parental unit. So far so good.

Now, I've never preached on sex or sexuality so directly as this morning. And any time I brooch one of the Separation of Church And topics, I assume there's going to be some resistance in the human heart, and maybe some comments suggesting a little more modest presentation. But I wasn't quite prepared for what happened about a minute into the sermon.

Presbyterians don't move during a sermon--our western European congregational culture generally doesn't allow it. (Laughter can be OK; I think guffawing is off-limits, though.) So my eyes quickly found the movement when an older elementary-age child made his way out of the pew and towards the door. Now, you ought to know that the door from the sanctuary to the Parish Hall--where food is served, coffee is drunk, and young children are corralled during racy sermons--is at the front of the sanctuary. So this young lad had to walk right through the view of the congregation as he departed.

I had said the word "sex" or "sexuality" probably five times by now. That was enough for this one: as he left the pew and headed for the door, he had his fingers in his ears. No lie: his elbows were high, his fingers straight, plugging up those delicate receptors from any mention of the bad word I was uttering. (What I could see that the congregation couldn't was that his face was screwed up like I had made him suck a lemon!) The sight struck us all as funny, and frankly, when the sermon's going to be about sex it's not a bad thing to crack the anxiety with a little laughter. So we stopped and giggled for a little bit, then got back to business.

But this young man wasn't having any of this business. He was determined to keep his ears pure of this preacher's scandalous words. And so he did.

I can't complain; I can recite with laughter (instead of tears) the first time someone walked out because of my sermon.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Unexpected Power

Yesterday I flew from Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) to Manchester, NH. My conference in D.C. had ended and it was time to rejoin Sara in New England. But before I boarded the plane I had to fulfill the promise I made her: I have to call her from the airport before we take off.

I sally up to one of two pay phones next to gate B25 in BWI. I begin to punch in the phone number of our calling card and realize that the keypad is not working properly. By the time I press the keys hard enough to register, the little woman inside the payphone has given up on me and flips me off with her three-tone discordant beeps. "Your call cannot be completed as dialed." At first I think it's my fault. Had I entered the numbers improperly? What about the "1"? I can't tell anymore whether I need to punch in "1" before the "800," or if this is one of the counties where the unitarian prefix has been excommunicated. So I try again. Once again I get the three-tone wave from the witch in the box. (She really doesn't sound sorry that my call can't be completed. They need to get some voice-acting lessons for these things.) While I struggle with the keys, I notice two things. First, there's an 800-number to call for "Repairs" under the handset. Second, there's another phone right next to me; the more times I hear the shrill triple-tone, the shinier and more appealing the other phone gets.

I step over to the other phone, whose keypad works like a new Jaguar, and talk with Sara. I hang up the phone and my gaze falls to that 800-number marked "Repairs." I've got 45 minutes before my flight and I've been reading A.J. Jacobs' book, "The Year of Living Biblically," so I'm feeling morally inspired. I dial the number.

The automated system, with a voice as smooth and silky as HAL from 2001 but more seductive and less creepy, asks me why I'm calling. She gives me several choices, to which I respond verbally. She seems to understand. Slick. Here's a phone I can get along with. (Of course, slick and sexy is what I expect from a company whose name has a "V" and a "Z" in it.) I enter the phone number of the unit next to me.

"I've pulled up the records for this account," says EXI (HAL's cuter cousin), "and determined that you'll need the help of a customer service agent." I am struck by an inexplicable sadness; but there's no time to mourn. Maybe I'll call EXI another time. Two rings later, my customer service agent picks up.

"Thank you for calling V*****n. May I have your name?"

"Uh, yeah. Emrys: E, M, R, Y, S." Why did she need my name?

"Thank you. Now is this inquiry regarding phone number 410-805-9560?"

I look over at the plate under the handset holder. "Yes."

"How can I help you today, Mr. Esumrus?" Once again, good etiquette whose intentions have gone sour. I cringe as my name is butchered.

"I just tried to use the phone, and the keypad was not working properly."

"Hm. I'm looking at the records here, and there was just a service call to check that phone yesterday. We sent out a technician--was the phone serviced yesterday?"

I clearly needed to be more specific about the situation. "I don't know. This is a pay phone at the airport, so I can't say whether it was serviced yesterday."

"Well, the handset should have been fixed yesterday."

And even more specific. "Well, the handset worked fine for me. The keypad is the problem."

"Oh, the keypad." I hear typing at the other end. "And Mr. Ermphphns"--Mr. Bell clearly didn't anticipate Welsh names crossing the wires--"is the account in your name?"

The communication gap widens. I feel like Indiana Jones trying to make it out of the temple before the earthquake swallows him. "No. Actually, I'm in Baltimore Washington Airport, at a pay phone. I just tried to use the one next to me and it didn't work. That's why I'm calling."

"OK. You're at the airport. Can you tell me where you are?"

Did she do that intentionally? Is she yanking my chain? I look around for clandestine recording devices or a crew with Candid Camera hats on. I feel like I ought to be whispering into the phone. "I'm next to gate B25."

More typing. "Alright, Mr. Esumrus, I'm looking at sending a technician out tomorrow between 9 am and 8 pm. Would that be all right?"

I think we missed something here. Maybe where my agent is, they don't have airports. Or maybe individuals own their own airports and the phones therein. Strange--she doesn't have an accent like most customer service agents do.

And I'm holding unexpected power; I feel like Frodo in Mount Doom. The repair of this poor BWI payphone hangs by a single thread, dangled over the pit of oblivion, victim to the whim of a passer-by. I giggle with the sudden urge to tell her that I want it repaired only between 6 and 7 am on Sunday. The thought of a technician trying to get here with his gear before security is open tickles me. I look around again for cameras. "Um, I just stopped to use the pay phone. Anytime you come by will be fine with me." Thanks, A.J.

"All right, Mr. Emuphras, we're going to send a technician out tomorrow between 9 am and 8 pm to fix the keypad of that phone."

"Thank you, that will be perfect."

"Thank you for calling V*****n. Have a good day."

"No, thank you. You just made my day that much funnier." All right, I didn't say that. But I was thinking it. I'm glad pay phones have not totally succumbed to cell phones. They're still good for something.

~ emrys