Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009


The lattice fence project was not complete without a rail on the top. Now instead of a purely functional child-death-prevention-device, we have a child-death-prevention-device upon which once can also set one's martini while gazing out into the bucolic splendor of our forested property and listening to our babbling brook.

I recommend you wait until summertime, however. It was a little chilly for outdoor martini drinking today.



A couple of weeks ago while visiting my mom's house, my eyes alighted on a gift we bought her a couple of years ago. It's a game called "Wine-opoly," one of the many knock-offs of the vastly popular "Monopoly," first made in 1935 by Parker Brothers. For some strange reason--perhaps because I was on vacation and my mind had no other pressing projects to work on--I immediately thought it would be cool to have a Monopoly game based on church history. But "Churchhistoryopoly" makes for an unwieldy name. So I took the prefix from "ecclesiology"--the study of the church--and the suffix of the game, and . . . voila! Ecclesiopoly.

Not content to leave the idea in the stratosphere of the abstract, I got to work with Publisher, Wikipedia, and Google. After a few days on the machine, I was ready to proof the game board in black and white:
Due to a glitch in my Publisher program, the cool graphics of hands worshiping and the twin steeples of Our Lady of Tyn Church in Prague smeared when I printed them. Sigh. I'll have to go minimalist this time around.

Here are the sections getting trimmed before I glued them to the board:
One fun aspect of this project was learning obscure facts from global church history. Did you know that the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus evangelized Armenia in the first century?
With the help of my in-laws' Monopoly game, I got the specs on the title deed cards. Of course, you don't put houses and hotels on your properties here; you put sanctuaries and cathedrals on them.
After discovering that a blank game board and box from the internet would cost me about $30, I decided to take a cardboard box we already owned and cannibalize it for a board and box. Cost of supplies for this part: $4 in packing tape.
Gluing the tiles to the game board took almost a whole bottle of rubber cement:
I had to do some serious work to customize the appearance of the bills. But once that task was done, they printed and cut easily. I wish multiplying cash were this easy in real life!
I chopped up some wooden dowels I had lying around for sanctuaries and cathedrals. Here they are before dying:
And here they are in food coloring, looking more like holiday okra and rhubarb:
Dye in food coloring overnight, bake them to dry, then rub lightly with linseed oil to keep the dye off the hands during play:
And at last, the final product, ready for play!
Now I just have to find some church history nerds who will be jazzed about play-testing a game called Ecclesiopoly. Where will I find them?


The Power of Music

Two weeks ago we went to the home of friends for a dinner party. Gwendolyn played her usual social butterfly role, and behaved magnificently for a nine-month-old through visiting, appetizers, and the main course. But by the end of the meal the sedentary habit of adults was taking its toll. Gwendolyn began to fidget, fuss, and grab for everything breakable on the table.

Then our host introduced the string trio that would play for our pleasure between the main course and dessert. The three high school students (also brothers and sister) played with great expertise on violin, viola, and cello. They performed a set of classical pieces: Handel, Beethoven, and Bach. The melodious strains, that might as well have been played by seasoned professionals, floated through the chambers of our hosts' home.

And the music rapt our daughter. For the entire set, Gwendolyn stood in Sara's lap, listening to the notes, her eyes moving from one set of strings to another. The movement of the musicians' hands captivated her. Occasionally she would squeal with joy, then look at one of the adults around her with a big grin, as if to say, "Are you watching this? This is awesome!" In a moment, however, her eyes would return to following the fingertips that flew across the vibrating strings. I think it was as much a treat for the adults to see Gwendolyn enjoy the music as to hear the music itself.

As for me, when I was not watching my daughter soak up the sound, I was transported to a place I rarely visit. The liquid joy of the violin's notes took me back to high school and college, coming into the house unannounced and hearing the cascade of notes falling from my dad's bedroom. During those years he had begun to take up the violin again--after many years sacrificed to medical practice--and I could hear the reveling in his playing. He did not play as someone frantically trying to master a score; he did not play as a student trying to impress a jury. He played as someone discovering the emotion behind every note, as long-parted lovers would reminisce over a meal together.

The violin, and especially its rendition of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, swept me back to my father and moved my soul with memory. As Gwendolyn performed her own happy vocal arrangement for the piece, I wept for love and loss. It was a moment I could not have anticipated, though every time I see a violin I think of Dad. The music spoke in a way that remembrance alone could not. I re-lived the deep quiet of the house, the sound of mellifluous notes drifting down from upstairs, the dark blue carpet on the steps that carried the songs like a slow waterfall, the ache and strain of the final notes that rang from my dad's whole body as he danced with the movement of the bow. And I found myself in a different kind of joy.

Praise the Lord for the power of music!


Monday, November 09, 2009

For the Album

Some time ago I wrote about how I sing improv for Gwendolyn on a regular basis. Sometimes a song sticks well enough that I remember it from week to week. One of these is a song that I often sing to my daughter while she's having her bedtime bottle. It's a modification of Frere Jacques, sung to the same melody:

Seour Espoir,
Pourquoi pas dormis,
Toute la nuit?

My apologies for you true francophones out there: here is what I think I'm singing:

Sister Hope
Are you awake?
Why not sleep,
All night long?

~ emrys

In the Jordan

As I mentioned recently, we have a creek running through our property which provides aesthetic value to us and to most young visitors to our home. This little brook begins just uphill from our property in a pondy marsh; it ends about five hundred yards below our property, where it empties into the Susquehanna River. It’s a short body of water, of little note to most who drive past or over it.

But things become memorable when we have significant experiences with them. So it is with our little creek. Last summer, three young friends were visiting to do some construction. They had ridden to our house on their bicycles, so when it came time for them to depart, they hopped on their bikes and headed down the steep dirt road towards the main highway.

One of our friends lost control on the graveled curve and rode down a rocky slope into the forested creek. Judging from where I found his bike later, he nearly missed striking a few trees head-on—praise the Lord! Bruised and bloodied, he managed to climb up out of the creek to the road, by which time another of the youth had run back to our house. Meanwhile, a good Samaritan had picked up our victim and brought him back to our driveway. (Thanks to Joanne and the Spirit’s timing.) From there we called 911 and his parents.

In spite of a frightening amount of gore, he only needed a few stitches; more than a year later the signs of his accident do not in the least deprive him of his good looks. I daresay perhaps those slight scars will be marks of that strange pride we derive from surviving ordeals.

After retrieving his bicycle from the creek—which fared considerably better than our friend in the tussle with nature—I decided to name the creek after him. So the babbling brook that courses past our house is now Jordan Creek.

Congratulations, Jordan; I wish that getting one’s name into history did not require such suffering.

~ emrys

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Uncle's Calling

is to teach his niece how to carry herself in a dignified, civilized manner, even when her parents aren't watching. Here's my latest contribution to the education of my niece Reese:

~ emrys

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Dangerous is the New Cool

When we first walked through our house as prospective buyers, the screened-in porch and the creek went miles towards convincing us to buy. We stood on the north side of the house, outside the huge picture window in the kitchen, and looked over the edge of a steep slope to a babbling brook below. We said, “Wow! Living next to a creek--this would be so cool.”

We bought the house, and have enjoyed the summer nights of listening to the cool running water through the open windows. We have stood on the edge of the slope overlooking the creek and dreamed about treehouses, gardens, and lumber. It was totally cool.

Then we had a baby.

Now we have a crawling baby.

And soon we will have a running toddler.

The steep-sided canyon that runs so close by our house has gone from cool to dangerous. If Gwendolyn’s crawling habits are any indication of future performance, then before her mother gets one box of candles out of the trunk, our daughter will be out of her car seat, across the flower bed, and over the edge.

So our creek canyon needed a fence. Thanks to the grace of a friend who dropped off some doomed lumber (thanks Stan), our local construction supply store, and two summers of experience constructing fences, I was able to throw up a fence that will keep young children from falling to their deaths without entirely depriving us of our view.

Now our creek can still be cool, but be a little less dangerous.
~ emrys

Monday, November 02, 2009

A Morning with GBaby

Here's a few shots to give you an idea of what GBaby can get herself into in such a short amount of time. Upstairs with Daddy at 8am while Mom makes breakfast, but she wants breakfast NOW!

Then, after applesauce with cereal, muffin bits, cheese and a drink, it's off to play.

By 11, she couldn't take it anymore. Time to nap.

This shot is from yesterday morning, a cute jumper that Mom made last week :)
Have a great week!

Acting Dead

The last Sunday in October has been dubbed "Reformation Sunday" in the Presbyterian Church. It is an opportunity to remember that the Church is always being reformed by the Spirit. In order to put reformation more vividly in historical context for our congregation, I have twice preached in the persona of a historical reformer. In 2007 I preached a sermon as Augustine of Hippo (AD 5th century); this year I preached as John Calvin (Geneva, 16th century). I took the text of one of his sermons, donned a robe and Genevan beret as he would have worn (thanks to Barbara and Courtney), and put on my best French accent.

This form of preaching has been well-received the past two times I did it. And I enjoyed the challenge of having to alter my ego a little bit. The most difficult part for me--which I did not expect as I decided on and began this project--was with some of the content of John Calvin's sermons. As a medieval, John Calvin put full stock in a legal and punitive concept of atonement for sin. This is only one of the many threads of atonement theory in the scriptures, and not one that jives with my personal experience of faith. So preaching the gospel using only this type of atonement was a challenge. I had to recognize and commit to a different understanding of how God solves the problem of sin than I'm used to. However, many of my brothers and sisters still cling solely to this view of atonement--so it's not as if it's irrelevant today or stuck in the 16th century. It's just different for me.

So I stayed true to Calvin, and I think people were blessed by it.

One of the not-so-hard parts of imitating Calvin is his enjoyment of learning and the presence of children. Here's Jean Cauvin learning from Hayden how to operate a punching skeleton toy: