Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Going Digital

It's official. As in a Mirror, my (first) fantasy fiction novel, is now available in Kindle (.mobi) and other e-reader (.epub) formats. See the link on the right side of this blog page to get your copy.


Thanks to Sara for setting up the PayPal link.

Happy e-reading!

~ emrys

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tin Years

 As soon as last year's anniversary was over, I looked to see what the material was for the ten-year anniversary. Tin. Tin? Other than being a poetic pun on "ten," I couldn't see why tin made an attractive material for gifts. I certainly didn't understand why it came after bronze. But in the spirit of this discipline, I obeyed the list and racked my brain to think of something I could make out of tin that would be useful for Sara.

And I came up with nothing. Less than what I dreamed up for bronze.

I discovered that I possessed something made out of tin (a large popcorn tin, in fact), but had no idea what to make.

After discarding all sorts of completely useless ideas, I settled on the prospect of wrapping something otherwise useful in tin. Since ten years has a benchmark quality about it, in our decimal society, I decided to make a photo collage and set it in a shadowbox frame wrapped in tin.

 One cheapo shadowbox frame and an hour later, I had a system down for cutting, bending, and wrapping the tin around the wood.
 The edges of tin pieces are sharp. I think I spilled more blood making this gift than the last nine put together. I hope Sara appreciates this--if she doesn't appreciate the quality of the craftsmanship.

Every one of these annual projects has a kindergarten feel to it. I sometimes feel as if I'm putting myself back in kindergarten, doing art projects that the parents will coo over because they're obliged to do so. Then three years later, when the next clay paperweight comes home from school, the old one will become a garden ornament or fodder for the trash truck. But it's the thought that counts, right?
 I beat the surface of the tin, both to hide my unintentional scratches and to reflect a momentary thought that after ten years any relationship, though it may shine, will also have its fair share of dents and divots.
Last but not least, the collage of ten representative photos, one from each year together.
This, I think, is the strangest one of my anniversary gift series. Fitting perhaps, though, as it seems strange to reflect on ten years of married life. As I imagined what photos I would want to include, I struggled to remember what major events happened in 2003, 2004, and 2007--to name a few. Funny how time collapses certain spans flat while preserving some signature moments.

I wonder what it will be like at twenty years.

~ emrys

Merry Christmas!


\
Dear Friends and Family:

Merry Christmas!  We hope that you are able to fully appreciate the joy and wonder of this season.  If you need a little help, take a 2-(almost 3)-year-old out to look at Christmas lights!

Gwendolyn is everything you would expect from an active two year old.  She will very proudly tell you that she’s “Two and a haff be tree” (translation: “I’m 2 1/2 and will be 3”) since she’s recently figured out she has a birthday coming up!  Christmas trees and lights are a thing of wonder and so much fun to enjoy with her! 

2011 was fast and full.  Highlights this year include  Emrys’ 5 year anniversary at Nineveh Presbyterian Church, Sara’s 6 years of remission and our 10th wedding anniversary. We are also celebrating the new little one that will be joining our family in June 2012.   Our area was hit with record-breaking flooding in September, and amidst the devastation it was amazing to watch a local community, and a larger faith community, come together to help out. 

Our lives are full, we are blessed, and the guest bed’s made up—we’d love to have you visit!

Love,   Emrys, Sara & Gwendolyn 

P.S. Our home phone number will be changing on January 1st so if you need the new number, please email us.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Unlikely Bedfellows

Growing up I used to watch a lot of Tom & Jerry cartoons. The implicit violence was both extreme and cartoonish: both characters fared poorly, then always came back in full health for the next episode.

Angels and demons made a frequent appearance in the show. Tom or Jerry, when faced with a decision about whether to maim, cripple, or torture his nemesis, would have a haloed figure dressed in white appear on one shoulder, bending toward mercy. On the other shoulder would appear a horned red figure, whispering cruelty into the other ear.

What a genius way to depict the struggle of conscience! Where did these guys come up with this stuff?

I just discovered that the twin angels (lofty and fallen) of Tom & Jerry have existed for at least six hundred years. As I read through Book I, Chapter XIV, section 7 of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (ed. McNeill, trans. Battles), I found this nugget, during Calvin's discussion of guardian angels:

" . . . the common folk imagine two angels, good and bad--as it were different geniuses--attached to each person."

Calvin remains noncommittal on whether persons have their own guardian angels. But I'm sure he'd be happy to know that the commoners' speculation about them brought entertainment to so many children of my generation.

~ emrys

Monday, December 05, 2011

Much Ado About . . .

concrete.

The addition to our first floor, completed in August, brought about eighty new square feet to our kitchen, making it a real potential "eat-in" kitchen (which it was billed when we bought it, but never actually could serve that way). As a result, however, most of our kitchen is sea-foam green tile, with eighty square feet of unfinished concrete pad.

And the concrete pad is not level.

We have dreams of installing hardwood laminate (bamboo, to be specific), and are nearing our savings goal to pay for the stuff. Before it can be installed, however, the "new" section of floor needs to be level. To ascertain just what might be needed, I conscripted my HandyGirl to do some assessment (note sunglasses to protect eyes from concrete chips I was chiseling):


With a one-and-one-quarter-inch drop over forty-eight inches, the length of the new kitchen area would require a significant volume of concrete. I have worked with just enough concrete to know that screeting and troweling are not my thing--especially in confined spaces. So I spent a lot of time comparing "self-levelling" concrete. Several suppliers make it, but it turns out that no weekend warrior homeowner buys the stuff, because the DYI retailers don't carry it. (This should have tipped me off early; but it didn't.) So I had quite a runaround with the commercial sales departments of Lowe's, Home Depot, and our brilliant local guys to find out how much this part of the job would cost me.

The short ending: $700 to be able to pour a level floor without troweling. Yikes.

About a week before I was to suck it up and take the plunge, I spoke with my brother on the phone. Chris has done a whole lot of random construction and remodeling work on homes. I floated some questions to him about concrete applications. After kindly indulging my plan for a while, he asked, "Why don't you just use wood?"

Huh?

From that conversation, a new plan was hatched which would involve no troweling, no mixing, no warning labels about caustic lime. From leftover wood already in my possession, I am now laying down strips and screwing them to the concrete. Each strip is one-sixteenth of an inch thicker than the one before, gradually raising the finished floor surface to accommodate the concrete's bias.


In case I wondered whether my work would hold up under the soon-to-be-installed new flooring, HandyGirl Quality Control was on the job, testing every run.


It seems that trying to run twenty-two feet along the same two slats is great fun when you're two and a half years old.

Total cost of leveling: $50 for concrete anchors, a big Thank You to Russ for allowing me to borrow his hammer drill, and one home-printed sign for the front door that says "Uneven Pavement"--at least until the new floor is in.

~ emrys

Sex and Death Warmed Over

Dracula: The Un-Dead, published in 2009, is the self-proclaimed sequel to Bram Stoker's original Victorian horror story. Bram Stoker's great-grand-nephew Dacre Stoker and "Dracula documentarian" Ian Holt teamed up to co-author the definitive continuation of Bram's classic tale.

Readers seeking to gorge themselves on the Victorian twin taboos of carnal relations and blood-soaked death will not be disappointed. Four of the original characters from Bram's novel reappear, twenty-five years after the Transylvanian Count is defeated--or so we thought--in the Carpathian mountains. The English heroes of the first novel are still alive and kicking; but between alcoholism, depression, and drug addictions, they have been reduced to pale shadows of their former selves. They find themselves--with Quincey Harker, the Hamlet-like non-hero--sucked into more battles with the vampiric realm. This time they fight not only the Count but also a greater demon: the sadistic and sexually weird Countess Bathory.

The deep darkness of the first Dracula, told through the intriguing lens of correspondence written between characters was enough to draw this reader well into this new book. One comes expecting the same horrific battle between terrified good and mysterious evil; the greatest fear in Bram's telling grows from one's not knowing how vast and formless is the shadow of the vampire. The Un-Dead, however, surrenders the sharpest weapon of the horror story by revealing too much. The narration attempts to inform the reader about too much of the inner lives of the characters, rather than allowing the mind of the reader--which is often darker than any author's pen--to infer from the action. In writer's club parlance, The Un-Dead "tells when it should just show." The revelations are so numerous, varied, and at times long, that the reader gets distracted from the movement of the plot, which would otherwise keep readers turning the pages late into the night.

(Full disclosure: this reviewer admits that these faults often arise in the work of freshmen novelists, of which he is one.)

Perhaps the overindulgence of words stems from the intent of the authors, as described in an extended authors' note at the end of the book. The young Stoker and Holt composed this piece in order to "reclaim Dracula" from its use by so many other authors and screenwriters in the last hundred years. At the same time, Stoker and Holt sought not to alienate the Dracula fans who have come to the realm through the other (admittedly bastardized) versions of the Count's story. As a result, the thick blood of Vlad the Impaler gets diluted in The Un-Dead until the dreaded nemesis of Bram's novel seems a hobbling hodge-podge of motivations, desires, and choices. The authors' goal of exhaustive historical accuracy does not rescue the book, as descriptions of people and places often come across as professorial name-dropping that should have been left on the cutting room floor.

The real bite of a horror story like Dracula, un-dead or otherwise, is the power of a simple narrative simply told. The insight of the great Aristotle is as instructive here as it was thousands of years ago: a story has a beginning, middle, and end. In a horror story, those parts ought to be just long enough to inflict the wound of fear. Then the story vanishes in the night, leaving the reader with an insatiable desire for more. In its attempt to reclaim the name of Dracula for the Stoker family, The Un-Dead may well have put the nail in the coffin of other would-be heirs. And Dracula-geeks will likely find saliva dripping from the fangs at all the insider information buried in the text. As frightening tale destined to become a classic, however, The Un-Dead is too anemic to bring Bram's popular legacy back from the grave again.

~ emrys

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Dark and Deep

Any book with a series head "Studies in Dogmatics" ought to fill the reader with trepidation. Not so this reader, who dove into Holy Scripture by G. C. Berkouwer like a freshie into the Loch Ness. Much like the waters of that ancient lake, the text of Berkouwer's work (translated from Dutch by Jack B. Rogers, 1975) proves to be deep, dark, and cold.

But even the dream of tackling a textbook plumbing the mysterious--even murky--depths of such a subject as "holy scripture" must fill the reader with awe. After all, the relationship of holy scripture to faith, ethics, the Church, and the Holy Spirit presents such a tangled web of ovular logic and philosophical crenelations; I would accept the challenge to write a textbook on the Trinity instead. Yet Berkouwer took up the pen to follow each thread in the Gordian knot of holy scripture, the essential and overflowing witness upon which so much of the life of the Church depends. For such courage, at very least, Berkouwer's work ought to be praised.

Holy Scripture possesses a density of thought and logic which forces the reader's mind either to slide over large pieces of thought or to creep slowly through each piece of terrain. A fifteen-hundred page work might have brought his readers to the same heights of erudition and wisdom; instead Berkouwer (edited slightly by Rogers) makes us scale the sheer wall of nearly four hundred pages to reach the crown. Reading this work is work. With almost non-existent use of metaphor or illustrative narrative, Holy Scripture calls for a constant upward climb toward complete analysis of the subject at hand. When logical purity requires the use of numerous negatives rather than the blanket assertion of a positive, Berkouwer does not shy away, but demands that the reader's mind follow the circuitous route to the precise goal of understanding.

For all the challenge in its reading, however, Holy Scripture delivers the package promised by its table of contents: a comprehensive study of scripture and its relationship to certainty, canon, authority, interpretation, the "God-breathed character," reliability, clarity, sufficiency, and ("But wait! There's more!") preaching and criticism. Like an inchworm plodding its way along every nook and cranny of an oak leaf, Berkouwer leaves no boundary, no contour, no edge unexplored. Holy Scripture is a master work for those in the Protestant and Reformed traditions of Christianity.

Before taking the header "Studies in Dogmatics" to heart, this reader anticipated some new insight into the nature of scripture and its relationship to the Spirit or the Church. I craved some spice which would take the pottage of dogmatical analysis and produce something flavorful and new. About one-third of the way through the book I realized I would not find it here. This conclusion reflects no ill of the text, however, only of the errant assumptions of the reader. Taken for what it is--a grand survey of the intersection of the bible with all these different topics--Holy Scripture offers a breathtaking view of the landscape. Berkouwer serves as a guide who, from the top of Pike's Peak, can point your telescope to central Iowa and tell you what variety of corn is grown in that farmer's fields. The book reveals several lifetimes' worth of education and reflection on the most important texts the world has ever known. A more solid work on orthodox, Reformed dogmatics no one could desire.

After the climb has brought us to the summit, however, we are still unable to gaze through the rock on which we stand. At the center of scripture is a mystery rather than a logical syllogism. In Berkouwer's words, "the unique authority [of holy scripture] can only be acknowledged and experienced on the way; it is not acknowledged on the grounds of a preceding consideration, and the way then followed as a conclusion" (p348). More to the point--and more in keeping with the Reformed tradition of which I find myself a part--scripture is nothing without the Person to whom it points and who speaks through it: the person of Jesus Christ. The faithful struggles of those wrestling with scripture occur within the context of faith in the Spirit of Christ calling us from behind the text. Far from being either a scientific or a magic book in possession of which we might find ourselves, scripture is one vehicle by which we find ourselves in the possession of another--then swimming in a grandiose mystery as dark and deep as life itself. This is the life, the challenge, and the joy of all who follow the Lord Jesus Christ: to live in and through, and to struggle with, holy scripture. Kudos to Holy Scripture for braving the depths of this struggle.

Thanks to my colleague Mark who passed his copy to me.

~ emrys

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Laugh or Cry?

While we waited for our lunch to arrive at our table today, I looked over and saw this sight:


My daughter is not yet three. I fear that by the age of six she will be texting with one hand and, without looking up, reaching out and asking "Mommy, would you please hand me that latte?"

~ emrys

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Girls Will Be . . .

A recent posting on a blog I follow, during a rant against overprotective parents, schools, and communities, lifted up the ubiquitous aphorism "Boys will be boys." In my present context I hear this refrain used to excuse boys kicking balls in the house, hitting other kids when they're angry, and consistently choosing loud and dangerous activities over quieter, more intellectual pursuits. When I hear it used in narratives about adult males, it often excuses misogyny, driving fast and dangerously, and the willingness to eat food from someone else's plate at a restaurant.

I do not wish to take issue with "Boys will be boys" here.

But I have a daughter. My question is, What will girls be? To couch it in parallel terms: what would it mean to say, "Girls will be girls"? (My use of the phrase is speculative; I have never heard it said.)

May I say "Girls will be girls" in order to excuse time-sucking attention to wardrobe choices? Does it play as a reason to accept adopting a victim stance in situations of conflict? How about talking trash about other girls when they're not around? In the adult world, is it fair to say "Girls will be girls," and then accept a woman's use of her sexual charms to bait men? Or accept gossiping as an alternative to conflict resolution? Or explain away emotional outbursts?

If (we) boys get a bye on so many things because we're boys, I'd like to know in advance on what things my daughter gets a bye. I don't want to waste parenting energy on helping my daughter out of difficult behavior if I have the option of saying, "Oh, well. Girls will be girls!"

Curiously,
emrys

Monday, November 07, 2011

Technicality

On Saturday we had friends over for lunch, adventures in the woods, and marshmallows roasted over the fire. For the first time this year I had the time and excuse to make a bonfire across the creek. I have oodles of leftover wood from various home projects (construction and demolition) whose finest end is to bring warmth and light to a chilly autumn evening. Long after our friends had left, I kept the fire going. Gwendolyn came to help.

Fire seems to draw all humanity into its ring of illumination, and my daughter is no exception. She quickly noted my use of a fire stick to move logs around. I set down the stick to get more fodder for the flames, and she went for it.

"I help," she said.

Having gone just out of reach and seeing her stepping boldly toward the roaring flames, I jumped back toward her. "No," I said. "I don't want you that close to the fire. When you're older, you'll be able to help stir the fire."

Gwendolyn stood still, watching the flames while I took the stir stick out of her grasp. I turned over a log, set the stick down, and went to retrieve more wood. When I came back to the fire, she had picked up the stir stick again and looked at me with the conviction that comes so naturally to a two-and-a-half-year old.

"I older," she said. Then she reached into the fire with the stick.

I laughed. "You're right, my lovely. And it looks like you've matured quite a bit in the last three minutes."

~ emrys

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Resurrecting a Kilt

Immanent Halloween Party

+

8 Yards of 17oz Worsted Wool

+

19 Pleats

+

5 Years Stuffed in a Cardboard Box

=

The Ironing Job from Hell


~ emrys

Extra Hands

I try to involve my daughter in as many home projects as I can. I try to discipline myself to sacrifice efficiency and aesthetic (both of which I value) in order to offer her more experiences with tools, textures, and technical skills. I can't take her up on ladders, and many of the tasks that require power tools still have to wait until I'm on my own. But there are so many in which she can participate.

I take her out to work in the garden. She loves to dig in the dirt, pile it up and stamp it down, and say, "Wookit, Djadjie!" when she discovers a slug or unpicked acorn squash. Two days ago she helped me to carry branches from an overgrown bush to the brush pile; it's "work," but she loves it. I imagine her willingness comes in part from the new experience and in part because I'm doing it and she wants to imitate. She'll stand next to me and patiently hand me deck screws while I put together a frame. When the pile of weeds needs to go to the compost bin, she'll load up her arms and waddle across the yard with me. She'll take her socks and run them from the hamper to the sock drawer.

(Herein, by the way, is the best interpretation of the bugbear passage from Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:48, usually translated "Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect." Exegetes have struggled since Jesus spoke them to understand his word "perfect." I believe it refers to a child's innate tendency to imitate parents. Life has an imitative quality about her--she knows her purpose is to have the same purpose as the one who bore her. The Christian knows what she is about, because she is imitating Yahweh, and Yahweh knows what Yahweh is about. What have you seen your parent do? Do likewise, especially if your parent is God.)

A few days ago I had to make pies. I brought Gwendolyn over to the counter, gave her a cutting board and a mini rolling pin, and helped her measure flour, salt, and shortening. We filled up the Kitchen-Aid bowl with a triple recipe and took it to the stand mixer. I told Gwendolyn that I would let her pull the switch to start the mixer. I put the paddle in, raised the bowl, and told Gwendolyn (who by now knows just where the switch is) to turn it on. Just as the words came out of my mouth, I realized my mistake.

A triple recipe is seven and a half cups of flour--nearly two-thirds of the bowl's volume. And the mixer switch has no child lock on it to limit how fast she turns on the mixing blade. Thus in the blink of an eye Gwendolyn had slammed the power up to speed 4. Before I could reach the switch myself, the paddle had thrown flour all across the counter:
Sacrificing aesthetic and efficiency--that's what we're about. And giving Daddy more things to do before Mommy gets home.

I turned off the mixer and looked at my daughter. In spite of the artificial pallor now dusted across her body, she had on her impish grin. "Lookit, Gwendolyn! We got flour all over the kitchen!" And we laughed.

~ emrys

Buccaneer

Last year, during an aggressive game of Hand and Foot, I accused my mother-in-law of being a pirate. She informed me with her usual grace that she most certainly wasn't a pirate . . . but that she could be.

A few days ago I discovered, after leaving Gwendolyn unattended with table ware for too long, that the potential for buccaneering is genetic:

Look out, Blackbeard!

~ emrys

Nearing Completion

Even though the autumn chill sets in with increasing speed, work has yet to be done on the front of the house. Each time I go out I don more layers of clothing to complete the next task. Here's the inside header in place:

And here are the spacers I inserted between the batten so that I could have a continuous surface on which to place a trim board:
 During a visit from GrannyAndGrandad a few weeks ago, my father-in-law offered to help with the staining of the T-111 siding that went on with the first floor expansion. The gentleman at 88-BC (our local construction supply store) did a good job at finding a color to match our existing board and batten siding. Here I am beginning the edging around the electric service:

 Grandad made the confession that he just can't keep his clothes clean when painting. So we got hold of a flood cleanup coverall which not only protected his clothes but made him look official and creepy at the same time (like the hazmat agents in alien conspiracy films):
 Work began with Grandad wielding roller and I the brush:
 In no time at all we had given the thirsty boards their fill of Cabot stain, sealing them up for years to come:
A few days later I got the trim boards placed under the rafters (the near end has yet to be stained):
 On the outside, I wanted a piece of painted fascia in place before any gutter was put on. If I ever do something like this again, I'm going to put the fascia board on before the roof's drip edge goes on. It was difficult prying the drip edge out in order to slide the board underneath. (I suppose I could alternately set the drip edge 3/4" away from the ends of the joists.) Here's the raw fascia:
 And then the whole kit-n-kaboodle, with perhaps as much paint and stain as I'm going to get on this autumn:
When we discussed colors for our home (which we bought almost entirely brown with a few marks of hunter green), I proposed that we give it three colors: golden yellow (siding), burnt orange (windows and trim), and dark red (doors and other minor trim). I like the idea of a brightly colored house, especially in winter, but keeping organic colors like those of the autumn here.

Sara didn't go for it. So we stuck with the dark brown siding, and every chance I get I add a little more hunter green. It's demure, but working well so far.

~ emrys

New Wineskins

Sometimes the old ones just get worn out, and you have to get new ones. Here are a few of the replacements we've made in the past four months or so. See if you can guess which one is old, and which is new:
New lady bug wellies for old snow boots.

New black chacos for the ten-year-old beaters.

New Timberlands for the old EMS boots.

A new--aw, c'mon, I'm just kidding! We'd never trade in our GTot for anyone.

~emrys

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Mess

I have a hypothesis about the editing of books published by major booksellers.

I think that in the early years of an author--the time in which the first few books are published--the editing of one's work is ruthless. Like a director seeking to break out at a film festival, the editor works over every piece to slim it down to perfection. "Does this scene really contribute to the story? No? Axe it!"

This editorial attitude changes as the author's books sell better and better. By the end of the career of a prolific author, the editors know that the name on the cover will sell the book, almost independently of the contents. So the editing grows slim, and the final work becomes less streamlined. Like a director who does a film just because she wants to work with So-And-So, the editor will not scrutinize too much the foibles and excesses of the accomplished author.

I just finished Eugene Peterson's The Pastor: A Memoir (2011). I noticed soon into the book a few of those tripping points that I have come to assume would be edited out. Small typos, tiny piles of split infinitives, paragraphs that seem to run on, and vignettes that seem not to connect to the larger narrative appeared as I read. I noted more and more frequently things that, if I were the editor, I would trim out or slim down.

For a finished product bound for the shelves of readers everywhere, the final work seemed still a little, well, messy.

Peterson reflects on many decades of pastoral ministry. He writes as someone who has seen a congregation through almost every phase of its life cycle. He considers his own movement from Pentecostal to Presbyterian to Presbycostal. He recalls the shift from preaching every Sunday to writing a contemporary translation of the bible. He remembers individuals, families, and communities in light of their successes and foibles.

As someone who shares Peterson's calling, I resonated both with his stories and with his observations about God's work in the world. I laughed at some of the things that only pastors can laugh at; I felt the starkness of the badlands through which every pastor must pass. Perhaps most of all, I shared his conclusion that pastoral ministry contains a lot of mess.

Just as God's grace is unbounded in Jesus Christ, the role of the pastor is unbounded. The places and directions in which the Spirit works in human life are unbounded. We humans are a grace in progress, far from finished and far from neatly done. Like a vinedresser pruning in the wind, those who tend the people of God wind up in a mess. Sometimes The Mess is painful, sometimes poignant; sometimes The Mess is grandiose, sometimes colorful. In any case, life-being-redeemed is usually messy. Life is full of errors, infinitely split relationships, voices that run on, and events that don't make sense in the larger scheme.

I have now let go of the editorial oversights. Perhaps I am allowing room for editorial wisdom greater than I have as a reader (and pastor of only five years). Perhaps Peterson and his editors knew what I am still discovering: the task of the pastor is not to cover up, neaten up, or pretty up The Mess, even for the sake of sales. The task is to point to where God's grace is redeeming The Mess and proclaim that love will emerge from it. Even as he writes his memoir, Peterson shows he is the pastor, revealing the grace in The Mess.

Thanks to my brother Wes for passing on The Pastor.

~ emrys

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Before He Was Really Famous


In 1987 Eugene Peterson published a book entitled Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Two decades later I was entering ordained ministry, and Eugene Peterson had become a household name in mainline Christian, and especially Presbyterian, circles.

This book is a blast from the past, gifted to me from a retired colleague. On my last study week I dove into it.

Peterson describes the pastor of the late twentieth century as a "shopkeeper" of the Church, no longer concerned with the things of God but consumed by the routine tasks of keeping things running. He issues a strong call for pastors to reclaim their professional vocation as ministers of the word and sacrament. To do this, he proposes three basic areas in which pastors must find again their center.

First, he says that pastors must again become persons of prayer. He takes great pains to redefine prayer as communication with God rather than a simple echo of the desires of society and congregants. He finds roots for a scriptural understanding of prayer in the Psalms, and asserts that pastors must take their cue for a prayerful life from the variety and richness found in those poems. (I see in this section prescient echoes of Peterson's work with the psalms which would lift them up as essential to Christian spirituality.)

Second, Peterson says that pastors must listen to scripture. Once again, he goes to great length to clarify how reading and studying scripture have usurped the pastoral calling of listening. He accuses methods of learning--test-taking, bubble-filling, written examinations--of poisoning our understanding of how scripture speaks and how we ought to listen. Peterson touches briefly on a few ways in which some students of scripture have understood the bible as a document speaking to and connecting with all of human life. He also asserts the primacy of the spoken and heard word (as opposed to the written and read word) in God's way of redemption.

Third, he asserts that pastors must take seriously both their calling to be spiritual directors and their mandate to get spiritual directors for themselves. He recalls a deep and wide history of the Church which assumed that all pastors would serve in this capacity and would receive direction from others. He bemoans the (apparently current as of 1987) belief that pastors are self-sufficient lone rangers tending a communal flock.

I resonated with much of Peterson's book. In the worldview of academic publications, this book is old, published twenty-four years ago; yet his admonishments are timely to me. I read little which shocked me with its novelty; instead, I received helpful reminders of things that friends, colleagues, and teachers have been telling me for some time. (Maybe this shows that I am the inheritor of a generation of pastors for whom Peterson's insights were novel breakthroughs.)

I was surprised by the urgency of his tone at the opening of the book. I was not in ministry--or even high school--when this book was published; but I know from listening to the leadership of the Church for the past ten years or so that the late 1980s may have been a time of reckoning for the Presbyterian Church, in which Peterson labored for much of his ministry. The numerical (and financial) decline of the Presbyterian Church (and especially the PC(USA)) began in the 1970s and continues today. The 1980s may well have been the time when congregations had to shed the idea that decline was a temporary phenomenon and required no attention. Decline also frequently gives birth to twin devils: hyperactivity and peacekeeping, against both of which Peterson rails in the early chapters. The disciplines he encourages all require a level of peace (abstinence from anxiety) which may have been in short supply in the mainline congregations of the 1980s.

If my guesses are accurate, I'm not sure how this context affects the applicability of the book to the present day. I am convinced that one of the primary roles of a pastor is to be an anxiety-abstinent presence in places of fear and foreboding--of which there are far too many in the Church today. There are few better ways to cultivate the Spirit of Peace than prayer, listening to scripture, and spiritual direction. Thus, although circumstances may have changed, the call may be the same.

I would expect nothing less from a calling derived from scripture, for no matter the rich variety of behavior to which we are called, it's all rooted in the same God and Christ. If I had to co-author the 2011 revision of Peterson's book, I would add a fourth discipline: to proclaim hope. Prayer is, in a sense, already conformed to this habit; listening to scripture will engender the need to do so; spiritual direction of individuals may or may not include it. But I believe proclaiming hope--the hope of The Resurrection for us and the Church--is an essential part of pastoral integrity.

~ emrys

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Remembering the Future

Mutually assured destruction. We rarely use the term anymore, being as it is the year 2011. In the year 1959, however, when Walter M. Miller, Jr. published A Canticle for Leibowitz, the world had just begun to reckon with the possibilities of atomic power.

By way of three acts, Miller paints a triptych with panels from the twenty-eighth, thirty-second and thirty-eighth centuries--spanning nearly two millennia after the twentieth-century nuclear holocaust ("the Flame Deluge"). Miller's storytelling, like the desert monastery in which each panel is set, burns away the excessive adornment of so much apocalyptic fiction. What he leaves is the gem of the human heart placed in a setting of bare and ruthless detail.

The initial plot seems almost absurd: a monastery devoted to the preservation of fragmentary pre-holocaust documents, written in a language now almost dead ("pre-Deluge English"). Yet the dedication of the monks so perfectly mirrors our common humanity that we will bite into Miller's world. And once we've taken the hook, we're yanked into a strange new world that leaves us gasping in wonder.

Miller sketches the monastery, its strange monkish characters, the "Empire of Denver," and a new world order with stark lines, leaving vast white spaces for our imaginations to fill. He spares us any attempt to explain every technological detail, which discipline only lends power to his story. The details he does fill betray the author's context. The Church of New Rome uses Latin, as did the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church. Computers with amazing capabilities still take up the space of a wall cabinet. And bindlestiffs are required for tramping across country. But these anachronisms from the 1950s do less to detract from the story than remind us that Miller was writing--as the cover reminds us--a "prophetic" book to a real world.

The best novels (of which Canticle counts in my estimation) weave together many thematic threads from human experience. One brilliant pattern in the story that surfaces in Canticle is that of memory. The monks of St Leibowitz struggle to keep the relics and memorabilia of a twentieth-century electrical engineer, even though they don't understand what his texts mean. When scientific discovery catches up again to what was lost in the Deluge (which was nearly everything technical), the monastery becomes an accelerator for humanity to gain again the power of the atom. But with the first holocaust eighteen hundred years in the past, will those who regain the same cataclysmic power choose something besides mutual annihilation?

Canticle has a dark conclusion, yet the blackness is not total. At the end of a strange story, full of monks but with only cross-wise references to the divine, we see a sprig of hope rise from the rubble. The sprig bears no blossom, however, perhaps because what Miller saw in the post-Hiroshima landscape also had not yet come into leaf.

Mutually assured destruction does not drone from news commentators in our day. Our fears are different from those of Miller's time, at least on the level of nations. Yet inasmuch as Canticle serves as an allegory for the human soul, its message is perennial: how do we rescue ourselves from cycles of evil--personal, familial, social--when we constantly receive new tools for evil to infect? Can we be rescued? Or does the destruction wreaked by human evil serve as an inevitable conclusion from which we can only hope some shred of new life will emerge?

In Canticle Miller draws us into these questions with compelling storytelling. Even sixty-two years later, his work is well worth the read.

(Thanks, Frank, for loaning me your precious copy. I shall try to preserve more than a shred of it until we next meet.)

~ emrys

Monday, October 10, 2011

Innovation

Birthday parties are so much fun, especially when there are creative folks around to make it special.

Here's Grandma encouraging the kids to play a game that involves dropping clothespins into jars on the ground--perfect for the two- to three-year-old age group. To do so, they need to stand on chairs and lean over the back of the chairs. Note that this is not the use for which chairs are invented. In fact parents all over the world tell their children on a regular basis not to stand on  chairs and never to lean over the backs. We might also observe that the designers of the clothespin and the glass jar didn't have kids' party games in mind.


In the foreground is Mom, holding up a laptop computer so that Dad--who's overseas right now--can be part of the action. Laptops were made to be mobile, but not to serve as hand-held recording devices. But they do double-duty if necessary.

I love this example of how we are always putting things to unintended uses. In the name of creativity we'll stretch tools and devices beyond the range of their original purposes. And thereby we sometimes invent or conceive things we didn't know we needed.

This may not be unique to humans, however. Notice the dachshund using a food supplier as a source of shade.

~ emrys

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Not Really Famous

"You're famous!" they all said, the day after a photograph with me in it appeared in the Binghamton paper.


Sure enough, someone supplied me with a copy of the page. There am I, with the driver of the truck filled with supplies for our flood relief and recovery station at Nineveh Presbyterian Church. (Lord, bless the Red Cross for their great generosity to us in this time!)

But what does the caption say? "Red Cross warehouse workers in Binghamton load cases of Moldex for flood victims in Nineveh."

Actually, I was a pastor, unloading cases of Moldex in Nineveh. Strange how the truth gets twisted in the recording.

Well, I suppose I could be doing worse things than unwittingly serving as PR for the Red Cross--like unwittingly serving as an advertisement for Moldex. (I've never used it; I have no idea if it works any better than chlorine bleach.)

In case you're curious, the article below the photo had no direct connection to Nineveh or the Red Cross. I guess the joining of image and word here was totally free association.

If I'm famous now, it's for the wrong reasons; and only to people who already know my name and face. Isn't there a phrase for that--"big fish in a little pond" or something?

~emrys

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Illumination

In my experience, for those who retain even a passing memory of high school history lessons, the Middle Ages are a vacuum of knowledge. For most of us, historical consciousness drops off with the Gothic sack of Rome in AD 476 and picks up again with Leonardo da Vinci's invention of the helicopter. The millennium in between is, at best, an echo of the Monty Pythonic declaration that "there's some lovely filth over here," and, at worst, simply dark. Hence this era has acquired the moniker "Dark Ages."

Except among us geeks. And so it came to pass that, after a lively discussion with a favorite fellow geek of mine, I found myself gifted with a copy of Chris Wickam's The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000.

The Inheritance of Rome is a textbook, one of the Penguin History of Europe series, and thus it lacks the plot in a novel and the agenda of a book like Are We Rome? That is to say, the one-and-three-quarter-inch tome (in paperback) is not for the hobbyist historian, nor are Wickam's long sentences, packed as they are with the equivocation and hesitation common to serious students of history. Still, in spite of the fact that the pages don't turn like a John Grisham novel, I quite enjoyed the read.

I appreciated Wickam's intent (and execution of that intent) to shed the traditional tendencies either to romanticize the early Middle Ages or to dismiss it out of hand. He set out to review the archaeological and manuscript evidence, then to let those voices speak for themselves without the interpretive lens of twenty-first century hindsight. Inasmuch as the task may be accomplished, I think Wickam may have done it.

In his final chapter he makes several observations ("drawing conclusions" would be too strong a term for Wickam's work) that are supported by the previous 551 pages. I found them valuable, so I recount them here. (Reader beware: the remainder of this post may be dull to those without a taste for historical analysis.)

1. In a passing statement meant to introduce his main observations, Wickam commented that the Middle Ages lacked "liberalism, secularism, toleration, a sense of irony, an interest in the viewpoints of others." I could meditate for a year on that sweeping description alone.

2. One main "break" or "shift" in history occurred with the break-up (emphatically not the fall) of the Roman Empire. The world did not end in any sense with this break-up; but it was marked especially by the loss of the land tax as a means of gaining revenue to support a unified military--at least in the western Mediterranean.

3. Another main break in history came with the Arab conquest from Persia to Spain in the seventh century. Though most of our history books focus on the "fall" of the Roman Empire, the Arab empires from 600-900 actually did a good job of maintaining the economic structures of Rome, more so than Byzantium and much more so than western Europe. In the years 400-1000, the Arab caliphate maintained the greatest concentrated power and unification of any other political entity. Why do we leave that out of our texts?

4. Until Charlemagne, it did not occur to rulers that a central purpose of governments (kings) was to bring people to religious salvation. But the Carolingians blossomed what Wickam calls "moralized political practice." Among other attributes, for the first time kings believed they ought to be "policed" for their morality by the heads of the Church.

5. At the end of the Carolingian era in western Europe, "structures of public power" broke down, which helped bring about what we now often call "feudalism," or the sharp division between peasant and aristocratic classes.

6. Byzantium (the Roman Empire's inheritance centered in Constantinople) flourished in the mid-900s in large part because the Arab empire broke up. If the latter had remained solid, would Byzantium have survived?

7. While the Roman Empire broke up and shook down, the "barbarian" territories from Roman history--especially northern and eastern Europe--underwent a "stabilization of political and social hierarchies." This stabilization established the seeds for many of the main players in Europe today (Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Denmark, England).

Wickam describes not only historical moments, but underlying structures of significance from that period:

1. In the West, wealth and power came to be based on land, rather than on prestige and money as in the Roman Empire. As local aristocracies became more powerful, this meant that those who worked the land (peasants) came to be under the control of the landowners.

2. Power also derived more and more from permanent political structures. (This point was more obscure to me--I'm less sure of how this differed from any other time in history.)

3. The "culture of the public" was a strong holdover from Rome, in which the most powerful people were civilians of influence (rather than military). These holdovers of public life took the form of tax-raising leadership in the Arab states, and the form of assemblies of free men in the West. In both cases, individuals could contribute to the policies and politics of at least their localities. As the middle ages progressed, the people's power in the public sphere waned in the face of waxing aristocratic power (who owned the land and the military) until what Wickam terms "the caging of the peasantry" came to pass.

I wrote most of the above to get it lodged in my mind (or at least on record) because information from a textbook does not stick the way a novel or op-ed piece does. As I read along, questions or insights would dawn on me then pass away. I hope that if any of them was important, it will return at the right time.

It has occurred to me while reading Wickam that I would like to know how the "rule of law" arose in Western Europe. It seems to me that in our society and religious culture this philosophical principle underpins so much of how we think and what we do. Yet as Wickam describes the cultures of the early Middle Ages, I see little evidence of this principle. So a 600-page book has left me with just one memorable question at present: when did the "rule of law" develop in society, and how was it absorbed into political and religious practice?

That should send me into another book right quick . . . as if I need any more books on my list!

Many thanks to Megan for an illuminating read.

~ emrys

Friday, September 30, 2011

Strange Fragrance

In order to complete the new shed roof over the east side of the house, I had to buy a stack of 4x8 OSB (oriented strand board, for those of you who have my curiosity) to produce the roof surface. As I unloaded the truck with my materials on it, I smelled a familiar scent. I thought perhaps it was a passing thing, one of those strange moments the brain conjures of its own accord. So I gave it not a second thought. I walked back from the garage to the truck tailgate to retrieve the next piece of OSB and smelled it again.

Peanut butter.

I leaned in closer to the stack of new chipboard sheets. Yes: the scent became stronger. OSB smells like peanut butter.

Now, when the shingles have been placed and all that remains of the OSB is a few remnants stacked under the carport, I still catch a whiff of peanut butter walking around the garage. Every time I smell it I am taken aback, perhaps because fragrances carry more emotive impact for me than visual or auditory stimuli. Or perhaps it's the out-of-place-ness that snags me, like a picture of your mother hanging in a raspberry bush.

I bought some caulk with which to seal the chinks along my new construction, and chose brown to match the general tone of our house. When I drew the first six inches of bead, it happened for the second time this project: I detected a fragrance out of place. I leaned in to the fresh caulk, and there it was, unmistakable.

Chocolate.

Brown caulk that smells like chocolate. Clever marketing strategy? Perk purchased by Nestle to open up their market to construction workers? Mask for even more pungent volatile chemicals? I'm not sure I'll ever know. I do know it wasn't a fluke, because the second tube smelled the same way.

Our Mazda, at 187,000 miles and totaled by the insurance company, is in the sunset of its life. We are maintaining it as long as the engine is good and peripheral costs don't get too high. But it has some quirks which soon will make it qualify for jalopy status. One of those oddities is the fact that the windshield leaks over the steering wheel every time it rains.

Our mechanic said that a proper fix meant taking the windscreen off, patching the body, and resealing the windshield. "Couldn't you just caulk it?" I asked. "No," they said, "That will only result in greater erosion of the roof." I respect these guys: they want to get the job done right.

But our Mazda is not worth all that labor. And I have caulk. So I drew a bead (dark brown, unassuming against the gold-and-black exterior palette of the car) along the windshield. I've driven it in three days of rain since then, and not a drop in the cabin. Plus, I get a whiff of chocolate every time I get in and out of the car.

I asked the guys at the local construction supply store if they knew the brown caulk smelled like a Hershey bar. They just stared at me. "Oh, well," I said. Then, maybe trying to distract from my unique olfactory experience, I told them that I was testing the caulk to see if it had auto body applications.

One looked at the other and asked, "Didn't you do that to your car?"

"Yep," he said.

"Did it work?" I asked.

"Yep."

Ah, the sweet smell of success.

~ emrys

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Processing a Flood


** I (Sara) drafted the following blog on September 15th as I worked on coordinating a rural relief site for our community members affected by the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee in the Southern Tier of New York State on September 7th and 8th.**


I have heard and seen so much in the last three days as I helped to coordinated hot meals, non-perishable foods and cleaning supplies for many of our neighbors who have been flooded I hear stories that remind me that this is not a crisis event that will meet a neat and happy resolution at the end of the week.  

I hear stories from volunteers who are taking hot meals out into the community who stumbled up a family sitting in their kitchen in tears, not knowing what to do next, and afraid to leave their home for fear of looters.

I hear stories of houses that have been yellow tagged and have to have a particular inspection before the power can be turned back on, but the inspections are not expected to be done in our area for two weeks.

I hear stories of families who had already received their fuel oil or wood pellets for the winter, some still owe on payment plans, but have lost all their heating fuel in the flood.

I hear stories of families who had their freezer stocked with their garden produce, their butchered livestock, their winter's groceries, who have lost it all.

Amidst all these stories, I see amazing things happening around me.


I've opened my mailbox to find boxes of supplies, thanks to blogger friends spreading the word of our area's needs. 

I’ve seen our volunteer fire fighters, and some trucks and crews from other communities spend days pumping out the basements of homes and our church.

I’ve watched as local folks brought in boxes and boxes of produce from their garden that would have been sold at farmer’s markets, but they’re not going to have markets to go to for the coming weeks. 

I’ve watched as food has piled through our doors so that we can meet the immediate needs of hot meals for those who have spent their days throwing ruined items from their homes out into their yards.

I’ve watched teenagers spend hours loading up those piles into trucks to haul into the town dumping site.

I’ve watched car-loads of clothing arrive to be shared among those who need something clean and dry to wear.

I’ve had folks walk up and hand me cash donations from anonymous donors for use wherever it is needed.

I’ve watched a community rally around our own who are devastated, again. 

This is not a one week relief effort.  As we are heading into fall and winter, our church had already begun collecting items of gently used children’s clothing, gently used toys and non perishable food items for distribution near Christmas as part of our church's  Christ’s Bounty program.  Last year, we had 125 families in our area request food baskets and we were able to meet that need.  This year, we expect the need to be greater. 

In the fall and winter, our schools request donations of boots and jackets to help children who arrive at school without adequate seasonal clothing. Again, this year, we expect these needs to be even greater. 

While today folks in our area need cleaning supplies, a hot meal, and a listening ear, as winter comes and the temperatures drop, the needs will become even greater.  We hope to be able to minister to them today in a way that will help to alleviate their worries of tomorrow.


 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”  Matthew 6:25

After the flood waters receded we were able to provide two weeks of hot dinners - over 1,000 meals served, countless quantities of cleaning supplies, toiletries, clothing and other household items have been shared among our neighbors.  


The work continues, as less frenzied, less urgent pace.  The needs of today include more cleaning supplies, sanitation of wells that have been contaminated by flood waters and the subsequent testing to see if the water is potable.  


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Down on the Farm

Gwendolyn and I went to the graduation party of a friend of ours from the Church. She finished her associate's degree in agriculture and business; she's going to continue the family tradition of tilling and reaping from the soil. So the graduation party took place in the barn, around which were lots of cool pieces of machinery just perfect for crawling around and over. Here is Gwendolyn with James, Emma, and Lina on the corn head of the combine:


That's probably the most expensive piece of equipment she's yet sat on. A few more years and she'll be asking if she can drive it!

~ emrys

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sadness

I am sad.

I wish that I could euphemize the feeling by saying I'm "just a little blue," like when we sugar-coat anger by calling it "frustration." But I cannot.

I finally said it out loud today. Even while praising the Lord for all the blessings I have seen this past week, I feel sad.

I have seen so much suffering and so much loss in the last ten days. I have watched and listened to too much pain. It has resonated in my heart and dyed the fibers of my soul. I am sad.

Exhaustion makes it impossible to hide; its intensity makes it impossible to ignore anymore. So I shall dwell in it until it is time for something else.

~ emrys

Friday, September 09, 2011

An Unruly River

In June of 2006, the Susquehanna River rampaged past its banks.  It was called a "100 year flood" as the last one that was that bad was in 1914.

It is 2011 and Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee have both come to visit this week, bringing with them lots of rain.  The Susquehanna has again defied its banks.  Our house is high and dry.  The village where the church is, is not.



More on our local flooding can be found at www.wbng.com. Prayers are greatly appreciated.  If you're interested in helping in any way, please email me at thrivingmama (at) gmail.com

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Studying the Past

Several history teachers have reiterated the maxim (formulated in several different ways), "Those who fail to study the past are doomed to repeat it." The implication (or explication) made is that we should study history so we don't repeat it.

One of my friends and colleagues, a student of history by education and hobby, says, "Those who fail to study the past are doomed to repeat it; those who study the past are doomed to repeat it." He is not convinced that study of history exempts one from getting caught in the cycles of human failure, social evil, and structural collapse.

I am not sure which maxim to take to heart; but I do know that I enjoy studying history.

I took John Thompson's course on Early Church History in the autumn of 2004, for which I had to purchase Cyril C. Richardson's book Early Christian Fathers. Though not an exhaustive compendium of Christian writings for the period, the book includes some of the writings from between AD 100 and 200 which, aside from scripture, have had the most influence on the culture of the Church. I picked it up again to read during this summer's study leave.

I find that scripture's status within the Church causes me to read it differently than other texts. Usually this bears good fruit: I read the scriptures more closely, more frequently, and with the expectation that they will speak to my life. Sometimes, however, because they are the "word of God," as we say, they become dehumanized and disjointed from life with which I can relate. When I read texts chronologically close to the scriptures, however, I give myself permission to chew on the human a little more intensely. I accept that these could have been written by someone I know--or even by me!--if I had but been born in the proper century. And thus I relate more closely, and find some fascinating gems.

"The more things change, the more they stay the same" (le plus ca change, le plus c'est le meme chose). In some ways, reading the early Christian writers reminds me of our own day. They insist that Christians must accept the paradox of the Incarnation: to slide Jesus into the categories of entirely divine or entirely human is to do violence to the good news. We still have a hard time holding on to this paradox. They struggle with whether Christians are living an ethic befitting the gospel. They try to explain the Christian faith in ways that intersect with contemporary philosophy and culture. We're still doing all these things.

On the other hand, how strange it is to read Irenaeus, writing to the congregations who visit and pray for him, exhorting them not to try to deliver him from martyrdom (by force or prayer)! He considers himself to be less than perfect as a disciple of Jesus until he's been killed for his faith. How foreign this is to the Christianity in my culture! The growing emphasis on Church tradition as a guide for the faith seen in so many of these authors points to the culture of what is now known as the Roman Catholic faith. The Reformers of the sixteenth century railed against the authority of Church tradition--their invective helped to define the Protestant faith. Yet in the context of the early Church there was good reason to lift up tradition as a light for believers.

Through all the writings, there is agreement, as there is today in all Christian Churches, that Jesus Christ is Lord and head of the Church. In this all the early authors agree, as do all the New Testament authors. As my life and ministry become deeper and murkier with knowledge, experience, and the conundrums of the human condition, I am comforted that the Bedrock of faith is consistent throughout the aeons: we follow Jesus Christ, God With Us. In that we are united and in that confession lies our salvation.

The important thing has not changed in eighteen hundred years.

~ emrys

So Much Information

I've heard it said that getting a PhD amounts to learning more and more about less and less until one knows everything about nothing. I've had several--may I say dozens?--of professors whose positions required them to get PhDs. I've gone back to see a few of the PhD theses they wrote, to discover that the thesis has been printed maybe three times and covers a topic so specific or obscure that no general publisher would touch it with a ten-foot pole.

Maybe this is the destiny of PhD theses. I suspect they serve a different function than the thrill of reading.

Recently I thumbed my way through a thesis entitled The Role of Zechariah 1-8 in the Development of Apocalyptic, by Steven R. Swanson (1982). I had a hold of the only copy of the two-inch thick tome in existence outside the University of Edinburgh. There was something earthy about reading the text, typed on one-sided archival paper by an IBM Selectric, complete with handwritten corrections. It brought me back to a time when writing was dirtier, and riskier, because the writer faced the page directly rather than enjoying the clean service of a purifying computer screen with its infinite second chances.

The thesis was exhaustive. I became drenched in a deluge of scholarly names and competing theories. My mind followed down rabbit trails as long as a two-line dependent clause into dead-end counterexamples. Conclusions stood, instead of on the bedrock of convicted certainty, on the loamy soil of differing authorities.

This is the purpose of PhD theses: to display how much information one has acquired, and how it all fits in. Nothing can be left out, if it's been published in peer-review. A book for the casual student might be titled, Grasping for the Thread, or A Foot in Both Worlds, or some other metaphor to evoke the excitement of a prophet (or prophetic school?) navigating the re-establishment of post-exilic cultic faith. (Oh my gosh, there I am doing it!) But this one isn't: the title is too honest, too gritty for common consumption.

But The Role of Zechariah 1-8 in the Development of Apocalyptic does not intend to suck the reader into the great drama of prophetic history. It seeks to display to a host of academically savvy examiners that the author has done his homework. This end--since Mr. Swanson is now a Doctor--it achieves. To the less academically savvy reader like myself, sometimes the forest gets lost for the trees.

Now I've read more about Zechariah chapters one through eight than I'll ever have time or will to use. But I know that the work's been done, the concepts have been thought out, and I have a Doctor to call if I ever get stuck on the interpretation of one of these chapters.

~ emrys

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Maka Funzowd!

A few days ago Gwendolyn and I were on our way out to pick veggies from the garden. Geared up in pink hoodie and bright red ladybug boots, she opened the back door and led me onto the porch. Then she went through the screen door with the gait of a woman who knows what she's about. She had crossed the stone patio when I came through the screen door and eased it shut behind me.

At the far edge of the patio Gwendolyn turned and said, "No, Djadjee! Maka funzowd!"

I try not to pass over toddler-speak that I don't understand. I usually ask Gwendolyn to repeat something I don't get until we can make a connection. Sometimes she becomes visibly irritated at how long it takes me to comprehend.

"Djadjee" is "Daddy." I had no idea what "Maka funzowd" meant. "What was that?" I said.

"Maka funzowd!"

Still uncomprehending, I would have asked again, but she didn't give me time. With determined steps she walked back past me, mounted the top step to the screen door, and swung it wide open. She watched as it opened to its farthest reach, then swung back with a bang against the frame.

Then she looked at me with a broad smile. "Maka funzowd!" And with that, she tramped past me toward the garden.

Translation: "Let the door go, Daddy! It makes a fun sound!"

I laughed out loud and followed my daughter to the tomatoes.

~ emrys

Monday, September 05, 2011

Hurricane Motivation

The outward movement of our east wall (see previous post) produced an unusual trim on our house: the first floor wall comes out about six inches farther than the second floor wall. Thus we have a ledge at the top of the first floor wall. We found out the first time we got a heavy rain--and to a greater extent when Tropical Storm Irene made her way through our woods--that in spite of our contractor's best efforts, water gets in through the ledge. We had water dripping from the inside of our door frame and window. It made our hearts sink: our next dream was to get new flooring in the kitchen. But there's no point in new flooring if it's just going to get wet.

When we started dreaming about moving the wall, we also dreamed about a shed roof that would keep weather off the front door and window, and give visitors a place to stand when arriving on rainy days. With the discovery of water entering the wall, we took the money that would go to the flooring and pushed up the schedule on roof construction to . . . right now.

Last Monday I dug the hole for the corner post, and borrowed a truck (thanks, Bobby!) to pick up the building supplies. Here's the roof, all stacked up in our garage:
On Tuesday, Conner and I sank the first post and got the other two cut:

 On Wednesday I got the header up on the posts and kerfed the siding for the plate. The bear of the job was getting the flashing under the tar paper, so that in the future any water that got in through our old board and batten on the second floor wouldn't slip through to the first floor. It was a blessing and a curse to discover that the guy who built our house didn't put up any plywood on the outside of the exterior studs. The blessing was that it made it easier (though not easy) to get the flashing in; the curse is that we've got one fewer layer of protection and insulation than most houses have.
 On Thursday, Brandon came over and helped me to get the plate up:
 On Friday, Conner and Brandon helped me to secure the plate with lag screws:
 I'm into public service--like putting teenagers to work so they don't have as much energy to get into trouble elsewhere.
 When they weren't arguing about the existence of faeries or whether The Hulk could survive a nuclear winter, these two did a respectable amount of labor--for freshmen.
 While we were at it, we got the rafter stencil cut and the first two rafters in place:
That evening I had a little extra time, so I got the first half of the rafters done; the haze in this photo is from the humidity and coming rain building up in the air:
 On Saturday, I finished the rafters:
On Sunday afternoon I got the first half of the sheathing on:
As of this evening (Monday), I finished the sheathing but for a few nails. The light drizzle in which I had been working turned to real rain, so I had to knock off for the day. At least now there's a physical watershed away from that exterior ledge, so I don't feel under so much pressure to work fast.

I think I'll need a holiday from major house construction after this project's done.

~ emrys